Ukraine: Magnitude of civilian casualties demands investigation and accountability, Security Council hears

© UNICEF/Oleksandr Ratushniak A woman holds her newborn baby in a makeshift ward at a perinatal centre in Kyiv, Ukraine.

United Nations, 17 March 2022

Law ‘crystal clear’

“Civilians are entitled to protection against the dangers arising from military operations,” insisted Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, as she briefed the Council on the latest events.

International humanitarian law is crystal clear.”

She painted a picture of daily attacks battering Ukrainian cities, many reportedly indiscriminate.

Between 24 February and 15 March, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 1,900 civilian casualties – with 726 people killed, including 52 children – mostly caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.

OHCHR staff in Donetsk are following developments around a 14 March incident in which 20 civilians were reportedly killed by a Soviet-era Tochka-U ballistic missile that may have contained cluster munitions.

Mariupol: Corpses on the streets

Meanwhile, many residents who have been unable to evacuate from the southeastern port city of Mariupol lack food, water, electricity, and medical care said Ms. DiCarlo, warning that “uncollected corpses lie on city streets.”

A strike on the Mariupol theatre yesterday, which reportedly served as a bomb shelter for displaced civilians, adds to the list of attacks against civilian structures.

The UN priority is to reach people trapped by the shelling, she said, including in eastern Ukraine.

The Senior UN official called for safe passage for civilians from, and humanitarian supplies into, encircled areas, and expressed gratitude to neighbouring States for their generosity in receiving refugees.

“There will be no winners to this senseless conflict,” she said.

‘Remarkable’ refugee resilience

Broadly agreeing, Raouf Mazou, the Assistant High Commissioner for Operations in the UN refugees’ office, UNHCR, said that in less than three weeks, the number of those fleeing Ukraine into neighbouring countries has risen from 520,000 to over 3.1 million.

He described the situation as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.

“We are humbled by the remarkable resilience of the refugees, many of whom have left their homes with nothing but a plastic bag, and by the extraordinary hospitality of the host authorities and host communities,” said Mr. Mazou.

Health impacts of war will last years

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the devastating health consequences of the war will reverberate for years or decades to come.

Ukraine’s health services have been severely disrupted by the widespread destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure – and increasingly, health facilities.

Noting that WHO has verified 43 attacks on health care, with 12 people killed and 34 injured, he underscored that “attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law – anytime, anywhere.”

Medical supplies unable to reach those in need

“We have critical supplies ready for United Nations joint convoys to enter difficult areas, but so far we have not been successful,” Tedros said, pointing out that the convoy to Sumy, which included a WHO truck carrying medical supplies, was unable to enter. 

He told the Ambassadors that loads ready for Mariupol remain in staging areas and cannot proceed.

“Access to these, and other areas, is now critical,” stressed the top WHO official, urging the Council to work for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution.

Neighboring Poland

Earlier today, Moscow rejected an order by the International Court of Justice, the UN’s highest court, to cease its attack.

Poland’s UN Ambassador Krzysztof Maria Szczerski described Russia’s brutal actions as being “100 per cent a war of choice.”

Poland has seen first-hand the dramatic humanitarian consequences of the war and will continue to admit refugees in a spirit of solidarity, regardless of their nationality, race or religious creed.

Mr. Szczerski urged Russia to change its military modus operandi, calling for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access.

Original article here.

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