UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL ROSEMARY A. DICARLO’S
REMARKS TO THE SECURITY COUNCIL ON
New York, 9 OCTOBER 2023
On Thursday, 5 October, the small village of Hroza in the Kupiansk district of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region suffered one of the deadliest attacks on civilians since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of last year.
At least 52 people were reportedly killed when a missile hit a shop and café. Several others were injured. The attack wiped out a sixth of Hroza’s population. No family in this small community was left untouched.
Among the victims were mourners gathered at a memorial service for a local man killed during Russia’s occupation of the area.
UN human rights experts on the ground have been able to collect the names of 35 people who were killed – 19 women, 15 men, and an 8-year-old boy. The accounts they received indicated that the location where the attack occurred was of civilian character.
I reiterate the Secretary-General’s strong condemnation of this heinous attack.
Shockingly, less than 24 hours later, civilians in the Kharkiv region were hit again. This time, missiles struck buildings in the centre of the city of Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second largest city - reportedly killing a 10-year-old boy and his 67-year-old grandmother.
Thirty people were reportedly wounded, including an 11-month-old infant. These attacks took place in an area surrounded by restaurants, apartment buildings and other civilian infrastructure.
The recent attacks in Kharkiv add to an already unbearable toll of civilian casualties resulting from Russia’s invasion – a war launched in violation of the UN Charter and international law.
As of 5 October, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified that 9,806 civilians, including 560 children, have been killed as a result of the war.
The number of civilians OHCHR has verified as injured stands at 17,962, including 1,196 children. The actual figures are very likely considerably higher and, tragically, will continue to rise if current patterns continue.
Indeed, in recent weeks, civilians and civilian infrastructure across Ukraine have remained under nearly constant fire. Residents of Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipro, Lviv, Sumy, Donetsk, Odesa, Kyiv and other regions continued to face unrelenting and often indiscriminate attacks.
On Friday, a Russian drone attack damaged a grain silo in the Izmail district of the Odesa region. This was the latest in a series of strikes on Ukrainian grain infrastructure.
Combined with Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea Initiative, such attacks not only destroy the livelihoods of Ukrainian farmers, but also risk impacting the lives of millions of food insecure people around the world.
We are also concerned about the renewed attacks against Ukrainian energy infrastructure in recent weeks. The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator will provide more details about the UN response to the affected population.
The immediate impact of such attacks is clear. Just as clear is the fact that international humanitarian law obligates parties to armed conflict to protect non-combatants.
It unambiguously prohibits attacks targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure. We will not tire of condemning such attacks. And we will not waver in calling for accountability for anyone responsible for harming civilians during hostilities.
OHCHR’s latest report on the situation in Ukraine paints a grim picture of serious human rights violations across the country, most of them attributed to the Russian armed forces.
These include acts of conflict-related sexual violence reportedly committed by members of the Russian armed forces and Russian penitentiary services.
The report, covering the period between 1 February and 31 July 2023, indicates that those cases are consistent with previously documented patterns of sexual violence by Russian forces and services.
OHCHR reports that arbitrary detention and incommunicado detention of civilians continued in Russian-occupied territory. It documented that 996 civilians were subjected to arbitrary detention since February 2022.
Eighty of them died in detention or were found dead with signs of violence on their bodies, and 468 remain in arbitrary or incommunicado detention.
OHCHR also documented cases of arbitrary detention by Ukrainian forces, mainly of law enforcement authorities, that took place during the reporting period.
OHCHR interviewed 26 Russian PoWs (all men). Twelve of them said they were subjected to torture or ill-treatment during interrogation at unofficial places of internment and evacuation before they were brought to official internment locations.
OHCHR is also concerned over recent legislation in the Russian Federation that would effectively grant amnesty to Russian servicepersons for an overly broad range of crimes, potentially including gross violations of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Under international law, the Russian Federation has an obligation to investigate and prosecute potential war crimes and gross human rights violations committed by its forces in Ukraine.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, in its latest update, also found continued systematic and widespread use of torture and reiterated its deep concern at the scale and gravity of violations that have been committed in Ukraine by Russian armed forces.
The Commission emphasized the need for accountability.
From the beginning of this senseless war, we have warned about the grave risks it poses to Ukraine, the region and the world.
In recent weeks, the impact of the war has expanded in the Black Sea, with reports of the wide-spread use of sea mines that could threaten civilian navigation.
A military incident in the Black Sea, whether intentional or by accident, could further destabilize the region.
We, therefore, reiterate our call for restraint in order to avoid any action that could worsen the already volatile situation.
In his remarks to the Security Council last month, the Secretary-General not only recounted the suffering that the war has inflicted on the people of Ukraine, but also once again sounded the alarm about how the invasion is aggravating geopolitical tensions and divisions and threatening regional stability.
As predictable, and predicted, this conflict is doing visible, serious damage to global peace and security.
Before 24 February 2022, the world was already facing an extremely challenging “conflict landscape”, to use a clinical euphemism.
But since then, the risks have grown exponentially, and the cost is measured in lives and destruction. In Ukraine most of all, but also beyond.
Is the damage irreversible? We have no choice but to continue to try to stop the slide towards more devastation and suffering.
During this year’s General Assembly, we heard a clear recommitment, across the UN membership, to the principles of the Charter, including respect for the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all Member States.
A just solution to the war lies in adhering to that basic obligation, with deeds, not just with words.
We know the dangers of abandoning our founding principles and disregarding the norms that bind us. It is not too late to restore the integrity of our Charter and international law. We fail to do so at the world’s peril.