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Russia's intention to hold presidential elections in occupied Ukrainian areas unacceptable, says USG DiCarlo




New York, 15 MARCH 2024


Mr. President,

The principle of respect for territorial integrity and the political independence of States is the cornerstone of our collective security.

Any annexation of a State’s territory by another State resulting from the threat or use of force is a violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.

Yet that is what the Russian Federation has attempted in Ukraine, causing, in the process, unspeakable suffering and destruction.

This bears repeating as tomorrow will mark 10 years since the unlawful attempt by the Russian Federation to annex the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol through a so-called “referendum”.

The position of the United Nations on the status of Crimea is guided by General Assembly resolution on the Territorial Integrity of Ukraine of 27 March 2014. 

This resolution states that Russia’s attempted illegal annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and City of Sevastopol, Ukraine, is invalid and unrecognized by the international community.

Also, it has also been more than a year since the Russian Federation’s equally unlawful effort to annex the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions of Ukraine in September 2022.

Just days later, on 12 October 2022, the General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted the resolution entitled “Territorial Integrity of Ukraine: defending the principles of the Charter of the United Nations”.

The resolution unequivocally condemns Russia’s organization of illegal referenda within Ukraine’s internationally recognized borders and its attempted annexation of these regions of Ukraine.

It also declared that these actions “have no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alteration of the status of these regions of Ukraine”.

In this context, Russia’s intention to conduct presidential elections from today 15 March until 17 March in areas of Ukraine under its control is unacceptable.  

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has documented that past so-called referenda and local elections have been conducted in a coercive environment.

Under international humanitarian law, the occupying power – in this case, the Russian Federation – is obligated to uphold the laws of Ukraine in the occupied territories.

Mr. President,

International humanitarian law also prohibits indiscriminate attacks, and attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure.

But since February 2022, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has verified 10,703 civilians, including 594 children killed. 20,146 more civilians, including 1,316 children, have been injured. The actual toll is very likely much higher.

Since our last briefing to this Council only a week ago, Russian strikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure have continued unabated.

On 12 March, five people were reportedly killed, and nearly 50 injured, including several children, in a Russian missile strike in Kryvyi Rih in the Dnipropetrovsk region of Ukraine.

In Odesa, Russian drone and missile strikes have continued.

This morning, 20 people were reportedly killed, and 73 injured, in a Russian missile strike in the city. Two of the killed were first responders who died after a second strike hit the location where they had rushed to help the victims.

Attacks have also continued to damage civilian infrastructure in Odesa, with 25 drones reportedly targeting the city in just one overnight attack on Monday.

Less visible is the traumatizing effect of living in constant fear of sudden violent death, injury or loss. The mental scars left by such dread on countless Ukrainians may take generations to heal.

The war in Ukraine has awakened another kind of fear, one that haunts us all. The International Atomic Energy Agency continues to report explosions and other indications of military activity near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant.

We again stress the imperative of ensuring the integrity, safety and security of all nuclear sites.

In this context, we reiterate that there is no excuse for irresponsible and inflammatory nuclear rhetoric that fans the risk of further escalation. 

Mr. President,

As highlighted last week by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the humanitarian situation in Ukraine remains dire amid the intensification of aerial assaults by Russian forces.

The most vulnerable, including internally displaced persons and those residing in frontline communities, are in urgent need of assistance.

Sustaining the donor support to the UN Humanitarian Response Plan is imperative to alleviate the suffering of those affected by the conflict.

Despite our persistent efforts, humanitarian access to the Russian-occupied territories remains restricted, raising grave concerns for the wellbeing of civilians residing in these areas.

Mr. President,

The UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has been on the ground for 10 years to monitor and report on human rights violations, including in occupied Crimea.

In Crimea, OHCHR has consistently reported on the unlawful imposition of Russian citizenship and laws, intimidation and pressure to participate in illegal electoral processes, suppression of freedom of expression and religion, and other human rights violations.

Similar patterns of violations are emerging in the occupied regions of Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia.

Since December 2023, our human rights colleagues have recorded a disturbing increase in reports of allegations of extrajudicial executions of prisoners of war by Russian forces.

As of today, OHCHR has verified three cases of execution of seven Ukrainian POWs, while an additional nine cases of alleged executions involving at least 25 Ukrainian POWs are still being verified.

OHCHR has also documented a pattern of arbitrary detentions and possible enforced disappearance of local officials, journalists, civil society activists and other civilians at the hands of Russian armed forces in occupied areas of Ukraine.

A new report by the Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, published today, provides additional information on the Commission’s previous findings that torture against civilians by Russian authorities in Ukraine and in the Russian Federation has been widespread and systematic.

Victims’ accounts disclose relentless, brutal treatment inflicting severe pain and suffering during prolonged detention, with blatant disregard for human dignity. This has led to long-lasting physical and mental trauma.

All perpetrators of such egregious violations must be held accountable. We will support efforts to this end by continuing to record these cases, and to implore the Russian Federation to facilitate access to all detainees.

Mr. President,

As this war is now in its third year, peace continues to elude us.

The rising toll of the war on the people of Ukraine is undeniable. Furthermore, as reiterated during the ongoing 68th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, conflicts worldwide, including in Ukraine, have an acute impact on the lives of women.

Women constitute the vast majority of the 6.2 million people forced to flee their homes during the war, which jeopardizes the strides made toward gender equality and exacerbates existing inequalities.

Despite immense obstacle, Ukrainian women have been at the forefront of humanitarian initiatives. Women-led civil society groups were among the earliest responders to the full-scale invasion. 

It is crucial to recognize the essential role Ukrainian women must assume in the long process to recovery and peaceful future of Ukraine.

The pursuit of peace must be our foremost priority, guided by the UN Charter, international law and General Assembly resolutions.

The Secretary-General’s remarks to this Council on 23 February aptly underscored the imperative of recommitting to these fundamental principles to achieve just, lasting and comprehensive peace.

Thank you.