The situation for civilians in Ukraine remains dire.
As of 18 October, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has recorded 15,956 civilian casualties: 6,322 killed and 9,634 injured since 24 February 2022. At least 397 children have been killed in the war since 24 February. The actual figures are likely considerably higher.
In a recent and concerning development, the Russian Federation launched a series of attacks against cities and towns across the country.
On the morning of 10 October, Russian armed forces reportedly launched missiles and drones, killing at least 20 civilians and injuring over 100, including in Kyiv, Dnipro and Zaporizhzhia. Many civilian objects – including dozens of residential buildings and critical civilian infrastructure – were damaged.
In total, between 10 and 18 October, at least 38 Ukrainian civilians were reportedly killed and at least 117 injured by missile and drone attacks.
In addition to immediate loss of life, the United Nations is gravely concerned about the destruction of critical energy infrastructure, such as power plants. According to the Ukrainian government, 30 per cent of energy facilities have been hit since 10 October.
Combined with soaring gas and coal prices, the deprivation caused by these attacks threatens to expose millions of civilians to extreme hardship and even life-endangering conditions this winter.
To be clear: under international humanitarian law, attacks targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure are prohibited. So are attacks against military objectives that may be expected to cause harm to civilians that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
The United Nations continues to support all efforts towards accountability. It is essential that the OHCHR be given complete and unimpeded access to all areas of Ukraine to continue its crucial work.
For its part, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine submitted its report to the General Assembly this week.
The document states that there are reasonable grounds to conclude that war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed in Ukraine since 24 February 2022.
The Commission stated that Russian troops were responsible for the vast majority of the violations identified. The Commission also stated that Ukrainian armed forces have committed international humanitarian law violations in some cases, including two incidents that qualify as war crimes.
According to the Commission, relentless use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas has killed and injured scores of civilians and devastated entire neighborhoods.
Additionally, the Commission documented patterns of summary executions, unlawful confinement, torture, ill-treatment, rape and other sexual violence committed in areas occupied by Russian armed forces.
The impact of these violations on the people in Ukraine is immense - and so is the need for accountability. In this regard, the Commission called for a sound coordination of the multiple national and international accountability initiatives in Ukraine.
Accountability remains crucial as new allegations of atrocities have emerged in areas that have recently returned to Ukrainian Government control.
We must not let impunity prevail.
We welcome the announcement on Monday of another exchange of prisoners of war between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. 110 Russian captives were exchanged for 108 Ukrainians. This was the first exchange in which all freed Ukrainians were women – among them civilians, military personnel and national and border guards.
Building on the constructive spirit of the prisoner exchanges, I want to reiterate the Secretary-General’s appeal to the Russian Federation to grant full access to the International Committee of the Red Cross to all prisoners of war, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The global impact of the war in Ukraine is substantial and growing. The UN has detailed its impact on food security, energy and finance.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative has helped to bring down food prices and stabilize and subsequently lower global food prices and move grain from one of the world’s breadbaskets to those in need. As of 19 October, the total tonnage of grain and other foodstuffs exported through the initiative had reached almost 8 million metric tons.
To maintain food security worldwide, it is critical that the initiative be extended beyond November.
It is equally critical that there be unimpeded access to Russian food and fertilizers. The United Nations will spare no effort to achieve greater food security for all populations.
We are on a path of further escalation, which can only cause more suffering to the people of Ukraine, Russia, and the rest of the world. This trajectory must be reversed.
Any suggestion of the possible use of nuclear or other nonconventional weapons only serves to further heighten tensions and could lead to a dangerous spiral.
Any further damage to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant – whether intentional or by accident – could have catastrophic consequences. Any military activity against, from or near the site, must cease immediately.
The General Assembly has been clear. Last week, it stated that the referendums held in regions of Ukraine that are or have been under the temporary military control of the Russian Federation and the subsequent attempted illegal annexations of these regions have “no validity under international law and do not form the basis for any alteration of the status of these regions of Ukraine.”
This week, the Russian Federation announced the introduction of martial law in the regions of Ukraine under its temporary military control and that it has attempted to illegally annex. This decision, combined with the announced evacuation in Kherson amid intensified fighting on the ground, raises serious concerns.
The General Assembly also expressed strong support for the de-escalation of the current situation and a peaceful resolution of the conflict through political dialogue, negotiation, mediation and other peaceful means, with respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders and in accordance with the principles of the Charter.
Indeed, an end to the war founded on international law and the Charter is the surest way to ensure that the tremendous suffering of civilians in Ukraine will cease.