UN political affairs chief warns of ‘utter devastation’ facing Ukraine cities by Russian forces

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In a fast-breaking meeting called by Russia to address its claims of United States support for military biological research in Ukraine, Ms. DiCarlo said Russian armed forces are pursuing laying siege to several cities in the south, east and north of the country, with a large concentration reportedly massed along several approaches to the capital, Kyiv.

#Ukraine‘s cities are being devastated. Civilians are dying. Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without discrimination are prohibited by international law. Stop the war now. https://t.co/LiTXXsnPrQ

— Rosemary A. DiCarlo (@DicarloRosemary) March 11, 2022

The situation is particularly alarming in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv, she said, where shelling of residential areas and civilian infrastructure has resulted in an increasing number of civilians killed and injured.

The utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific,” she stressed.

Civilians ‘inexcusably’ targeted

As of 11 March, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 1,546 civilian casualties – including 564 killed and 982 injured – since the start of the Russian invasion.

The real casualty figures are likely “considerably higher”.  Most have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery, multi-launch rocket systems and air strikes.

Further, she said OHCHR has received credible reports of Russian forces using cluster munitions in populated areas – indiscriminate attacks, which are prohibited under international humanitarian law.

As of 10 March, the World Health Organization (WHO) verified 26 attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances, causing 12 deaths and 34 injuries.  This includes the bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital on 9 March, which she condemned.

Ms. Di Carlo went on to describe the targeting of civilians, residential buildings, hospitals, schools and kindergartens as “inexcusable and intolerable”, emphasizing that all alleged violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated, and perpetrators held accountable.

Millions in dire need of aid

Ms. Di Carlo said humanitarian aid is being scaled up in areas where security permits and has reached more than 500,000 people.  The UN and partners have developed operational plans to meet humanitarian needs where they are most acute, she said, appealing to donors who pledged over $1.5 billion to the appeal last week, to release the funding quickly.

Rosemary Di Carlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs the Security Council meeting on Threats to International Peace and Security.

UN Photo/Manuel Elías

Rosemary Di Carlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, briefs the Security Council meeting on Threats to International Peace and Security.

Evacuations must continue

It is critical to achieve a ceasefire to allow for the safe passage of civilians from besieged areas, she told ambassadors.

On 9 March, more than 51,000 people were reportedly evacuated through five out of six agreed-upon safe passages.  These evacuations must continue.

The number of refugees fleeing the violence has reached 2.5 million – all of whom, including third country nationals, need access to safety and protection, in line with the principle of non-refoulement, and without discrimination.

‘Logic of dialogue’ must prevail

The need for negotiations to stop the war in Ukraine could not be more urgent”, she said, noting that three rounds of talks held thus far between Ukrainian and Russian delegations must be intensified – notably to secure humanitarian and ceasefire arrangements as a matter of priority.  “The logic of dialogue and diplomacy must prevail over the logic of war.”

Perhaps most alarming are the risks the violence poses to the global framework for peace and security, she said, adding that: “We must do everything we can to find a solution and put an end to this war; we must do it now.”

Russia biological weapons claim refuted

Today’s meeting comes on the heels of claims by Russian Ministry of Defence Spokesperson Major General Igor Konashenkov on 6 March, his country’s military had uncovered evidence of US-funded military biological programmes in Ukraine, including documents confirming the development of “biological weapons components”.

Addressing those concerns, High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Izumi Nakamitsu said the “United Nations is not aware of any biological weapons programmes”.

Nor is it in a position to confirm or deny” reports that public health facilities are in areas impacted by armed conflict, placing the safety of those facilities at risk.  She appealed to all parties in the conflict to ensure the safety of all such facilities in Ukraine. 

Explaining that the Russian Federation and Ukraine are both States parties to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention – which prohibits their development, production, acquisition, transfer, stockpiling and use – and that Moscow is a depositary Government, she said biological weapons have been outlawed since the Convention entered into force in 1975.

With 183 States parties to the treaty, biological weapons are “universally seen as being abhorrent and illegitimate,” she stressed.

Assessing compliance: A State responsibility

However, the Convention lacks a multilateral verification mechanism overseen by an independent organization, such as the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), meaning that the responsibility of assessing compliance rests with States parties.

The treaty does contain several measures for States to address concerns or suspicions about the activities of their peers, Ms. Nakamitsu said.  Under Article V, for example, States parties can consult and cooperate to resolve any problems which may arise.  An annual exchange of information has been established, based upon the submission of confidence-building measures.

The Russian Federation and Ukraine both participate annually in the confidence-building measures, and their annual reports are available to all States parties for the purposes of transparency and reassurance.

Complaints procedure

In addition, she said that under Article VI, a State Party which finds that its peer is in breach of its obligations can lodge a complaint with the Security Council.  An investigation based on the complaint can then be initiated, if agreed by the Council. 

Noting that Article VI has never been activated – and that these provisions have not been regularly used – they are nonetheless internationally agreed procedures available to defuse tensions.

“I would, therefore, encourage the Biological Chemical Weapons States parties to consider making use of the available procedures for consultation and cooperation to resolve these issues,” she said.  “Situations such as this demonstrate the need to strengthen the Biological Weapons Convention, to operationalize and institutionalize it.” 

Addressing other concerns, she warned that an accident involving the nuclear facilities in Ukraine could have severe consequences for public health and the environment and all steps must be taken to avoid it. 

The possibility of an accident caused by failure to a reactor’s power supply or the inability to provide regular maintenance is growing by the day,” she stressed.  The forces in effective control of nuclear power plants in Ukraine must ensure their safe and secure operation.

‘Extreme concern’ over nuclear plants

She expressed extreme concern that four of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) seven pillars for the safe and secure operation of facilities, are reportedly not being implemented at Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya – Europe’s largest reactor.

Communications must be fully restored, and operating staff must be allowed to properly carry out their duties and to do so free of undue pressure,” she asserted. 

The Council has held three briefings on the situation in Ukraine since the Russian Federation launched its military assault on 24 February, addressing humanitarian needs (28 February and 7 March) and the safety of nuclear sites (4 March).

More coverage to come on Friday’s meeting, later…

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