The exceptional level of attention to the war in Ukraine reflects the wide-spread global concern about its dangerous and far-reaching consequences.
This concern can only deepen, as the most recent developments in the war are ominous, pointing to more death, destruction and suffering.
Indeed, since the last Council meeting on Ukraine on 22 September, we have seen actions that threaten to further escalate the conflict.
As we meet, so-called “referenda” were just conducted by de facto authorities in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions. Ukrainians were asked whether they approved their regions joining the Russian Federation. Voting took place in polling centers. De-facto authorities accompanied by soldiers also went door-to-door with ballot boxes.
These exercises, which began on 23 September, have been held during active armed conflict, in areas under Russian control and outside Ukraine’s legal and constitutional framework. They cannot be called a genuine expression of the popular will.
Unilateral actions aimed to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the attempted acquisition by force by one State of another State’s territory, while claiming to represent the will of the people, cannot be regarded as legal under international law.
Let me reiterate here that the United Nations remains fully committed to the sovereignty, unity, independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders, in accordance with relevant UN resolutions.
I would like to recall that, as the occupying power, the Russian Federation is obliged under international humanitarian law to respect the laws of Ukraine in the administration of occupied territories.
The past few weeks have also seen heavy fighting in southern Ukraine in the direction of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, as well as escalating military operations in Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
In mid-September, the Ukrainian military undertook a successful counter-offensive to restore Ukrainian control over most of the Russian-held areas in Kharkiv region.
We have continued to see not only daily attacks on many Ukrainian cities, including in Donetsk and Luhansk, but also the targeting of civilian energy and water infrastructure, reportedly by Russian forces. Recent reports of drone attacks in and around Odesa are also deeply disturbing.
To date, OHCHR has recorded 14,844 civilian casualties, with 5,996 persons killed and 8,848 injured. This is 278 more civilians killed, and 649 more injured since I last briefed this Council on 7 September. These are verified individual incidents; actual figures are likely considerably higher.
We have also heard alarming rhetoric regarding the use of nuclear weapons. This is unacceptable.
Such rhetoric is inconsistent with the Joint Statement of the Leaders of the Five Nuclear-Weapons States on Preventing Nuclear War and Avoiding Arms Races, made on 3 January 2022.
Let me reiterate the Secretary-General’s appeal for all nuclear-armed states, including the Russian Federation, to recommit to the non-use and progressive elimination of nuclear weapons.
Amid these grim developments, the United Nations continues to work to alleviate the suffering caused by the war, to support accountability for violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and to prevent the deterioration of the already volatile situation around Ukraine’s nuclear sites.
UN and partner organizations need safe and unimpeded access to deliver life-saving assistance to all in need. In the areas of Kharkiv region back under Ukrainian control, they were able to organize several aid convoys.
However, in areas outside Government control in Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, Mykolaiv and Zaporizhzhia regions, access is the biggest challenge.
The Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine continues to report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
We are gravely concerned by allegations of violations committed in parts of north-eastern Ukraine, including after the recovery of over 400 bodies from improvised graves in Izium.
OHCHR is working with local authorities to investigate this and other allegations of human rights violations and abuses in areas in Kharkiv region that were until recently under Russian control.
There are other extremely disturbing reports. Following investigations in the areas of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, mandated by, the Human Rights Council has concluded that war crimes were committed in Ukraine.
Among other findings, the Commission was struck by the large number of executions and other violations carried out by Russian forces. In the four areas it covered, the Commission has processed two incidents of ill-treatment against Russian Federation soldiers by Ukrainian forces.
Rarely, if ever, has the international community collected so much evidence of human rights violations, war crimes and other atrocities as they were happening.
It is tragic that we have not been able to stop them. But it would be shameful if we were not able to ensure justice for the victims and their loved ones. Those responsible for the outrages being committed in Ukraine, wherever they sit, must be brought to account.
We remain deeply troubled by reports of continuing attacks, as recently as last week, in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant. The UN continues to support the efforts of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
We urge all concerned to provide maximum cooperation with the IAEA. It is imperative that all attacks on nuclear facilities end, and that the purely civilian nature of such plants be re-established.
By now, the global implications of this war on food and energy security, felt by millions of people, are well-known. During the general debate, many Member States decried this predicament.
The Black Sea Grain Initiative continues to gather pace, with more than 4.5 million metric tons of foodstuff shipped from Ukrainian ports, including to the Horn of Africa, Yemen and Afghanistan.
Efforts to remove remaining obstacles to the export of Russian food products and fertilizers also continue. These products are not under sanctions, and it is crucial to get them back to world markets.
Averting a global food crisis makes it vital to renew the Black Sea Grain deal when it expires at the end of November.
In his remarks to the General Assembly, the Secretary-General warned that the UN Charter and its ideals are in jeopardy, and that we have a duty to act.
I repeat his appeal to all Member States to help prevent further escalation, and to do all we can to end the war and ensure lasting peace - in accordance with the principles of the Charter and international law.