Delegate Says Russian Federation ‘Riding Roughshod’ over Geneva Conventions
The humanitarian situation in conflict-ravaged Ukraine is dire, the top United Nations officials for humanitarian affairs and refugees told the Security Council today, as they outlined the need for increased aid amid the violence and mass forced displacement unleashed by the Russian Federation’s military offensive.
“The lives of millions of civilians are simply at stake,” Martin Griffiths, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told the Security Council as he briefed them on the situation in Ukraine. He highlighted that, on 1 March, the Secretary-General will launch a humanitarian appeal that includes both a flash appeal and a refugee response plan.
“We have all been watching the military offensive in Ukraine with a sense of disbelief and horror,” he continued, noting that the recent events have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis caused by eight years of fighting in the eastern part of the country. Those needs have increased exponentially and now expand across the entire nation. As a result, the United Nations has increased its humanitarian presence, he said, noting that its movements have been hampered by an initial lack of assurances that they will be protected. Today, he finally received assurances in that regard, he said. In the meantime, local groups, including the Ukrainian Red Cross, are coming to the aid of civilians and evacuations.
He went on to describe the damages to critical civilian infrastructure, such as health, electricity and water and sanitation, caused by fighting in cities and towns. “This effectively leaves civilians without the basics for day-to-day life,” he said. They are the ones who will bear the brunt of aggression, he underscored, emphasizing that, the longer the offensive continues, the greater the cost, with women facing greater risks of gender-based violence and children being exposed to physical harm. In addition, the economy could implode, causing a ripple effect that will exceed national borders.
Filippo Grandi, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that, unless the conflict halted immediately, the global community should expect to see up to 4 million refugees in the coming weeks, an overwhelming burden for those countries receiving them. In the face of this, he noted that citizens and private companies have donated over $40 million to his agency in just a few days and he called on Governments to contribute, as well.
Hundreds of thousands of people are seeking refuge in countries bordering Ukraine, seeking food, shelter and support, he continued. It is the largest exodus in Europe since the Balkan wars of the 1990s and includes 280,000 refugees going to Poland, 94,000 to Hungary, 40,000 to the Republic of Moldova and 30,000 to Romania and other States. “We may have just seen the beginning,” he cautioned, commending those Governments in allowing access to those in flight, both Ukrainians and third-party nationals alike.
Noting that Ukrainian refugees will join the swelling ranks of those from Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere, he stressed that humanitarian workers could not keep pace. “The responsibility that you have to ensure peace and security prevail over power struggles and narrow national interests has never been as urgent and indispensable a task as it is tonight,” he said, emphasizing: “If you fail and we fail, it may be too late.”
Ukraine’s delegate said that the Russian Federation has attacked kindergartens, hospitals and orphanages, mobile aid brigades and ambulance crews in his country. “There is no debate — these are war crimes,” he said. Against that backdrop, he applauded the decision by the International Criminal Court Prosecutor to open an investigation on possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the appointment of an Assistant-Secretary-General to serve as the United Nations Crisis Coordinator for Ukraine.
In the context of the provision of humanitarian corridors for civilians, he cautioned that, despite assurances of security, “Russian words often do not match their deeds”, and these corridors may instead become military targets. “Do not listen to Russian lies — listen to Ukrainian cries,” he said. In a similar vein, he urged delegates not to be misled by Russian Federation allegations of racial discrimination of refugees. If any cases become known, they will be investigated, he said.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, President of the Security Council for the month of February, speaking in his national capacity, emphasized that “the special military operation conducted by the Russian military does not have the goal of occupying Ukraine or harming the local population.” There is no evidence of the death of civilians caused by the Russian armed forces, even though the opposite is being claimed as “dirty lies replicated in Western mass media very unfortunately have become a dangerous mark of our times”.
He underscored that Moscow’s goal is to demilitarize the country and protect the people of Donbas and of Ukraine. As a result, there are no humanitarian concerns in the territories held by the Russian Federation’s armed forces. After the radicals departed, local authorities were able to provide all necessary services. However, there are humanitarian concerns in towns where the Ukrainian authorities hold sway, as they have given an order to provide arms to all citizens who request them, including newly released prisoners. The end result of this is mass killings, robberies and looting, he said.
The special operation conducted by the Russian Federation does not impact civilian infrastructure, he continued. Over five days, there has not been a single documented case of targeted destruction and no evidence of the death of civilians caused by the Russian military. The opposite is constantly being claimed.
France’s representative stressed that the Russian Federation is violating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and “riding roughshod” over the Geneva Conventions. The humanitarian devastation is tragic, he said, noting the escalating number of civilian victims, including children. With that in mind, the protection of civilians and humanitarian workers is paramount, he said, calling for unimpeded and unhampered access to all those in need of assistance.
The United Kingdom’s delegate decried Russian Federation President Vladimir V. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine, which has resulted in the threat of a humanitarian disaster for 44 million people. She went on to describe people hiding underground in Kyiv to escape violence, while missiles rain down on Kharkiv and cluster munitions destroy residential areas. The Russian Federation’s representative may dismiss the United Nations reporting on this as hysteria, she said, but over half a million people have already fled Ukraine’s borders, while another 7 million are displaced.
India’s representative applauded the beginning of direct talks between the parties to the conflict. Differences, he said, can only be resolved by sustained diplomatic efforts. He highlighted his Government’s provision of humanitarian aid, including medical supplies, while also expressing his concern over the plight of Indian nationals trapped in Ukraine, noting that Government officials stood ready in neighbouring countries to offer assistance.
China’s delegate warned against politicizing the process of the provision of humanitarian aid and said the United Nations and the international community should approach the matter with neutrality and impartiality. With that in mind, he underscored the need for direct dialogue between the Russian Federation and Ukraine. The Security Council should play a constructive role in any action it takes, he stressed.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, who is also the President of the Security Council for February, began the meeting by announcing that 12 of the staff of his Government’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations were being expelled. It is a gross violation by the host country of the Vienna Convention, he said. His delegation needed to start an arbitration procedure on the host country in order to maintain a normally functioning Mission.
In response, the representative of the United States said that it was not the subject of the current meeting, particularly given the gravity of the subject under discussion. The steps taken were in full accordance with the Headquarters Agreement, he said, noting that those diplomats asked to leave were engaged in activities that were not in accordance with their responsibilities as diplomats.
Also speaking today were Mexico, Kenya, Ireland, Norway, Albania, Ghana, Gabon, United Arab Emirates and Brazil.
The meeting began at 3:10 p.m. and ended at 4:55 p.m.