Delivered by Ms. Kristel Lõuk, Deputy Permanent Representative of Estonia
I have the honour to speak on behalf of Latvia, Lithuania and my own country, Estonia. We align ourselves with the statement delivered by the European Union.
We welcome the annual General Assembly debate on the responsibility to protect (R2P) and commend the decision by the General Assembly in 2021 according to which the R2P and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity were included in its annual agenda.
We thank the Secretary-General for his latest report on the responsibility to protect that provides insights into how to prioritize children and youth. We also thank the Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and the R2P and the Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect for their important work.
Children and youth continue to be targeted by and caught up in atrocity crimes. They have been killed and maimed, including in indiscriminate attacks on schools and hospitals, recruited into armed forces and armed groups and have been detained, tortured, abducted, and faced rape and other forms of sexual violence.
It needs firm action by every State to strengthen the efforts in fulfilling the obligations under international law that provide special protection to children and young people both in conflict and at peacetime.
At the same time, no state has the right to use R2P in bad faith as a pretext for invasion. Russia’s allegations of Ukraine committing genocide in Donbas region of Ukraine were false and Russia must comply with the 16 March order of the ICJ and immediately suspend the military operations in the territory of Ukraine.
The still continuing four month long Russian brutal aggression against Ukraine has been characterized by systematic violations of international law, amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide. It has also brought grave violations against children. This includes killing and maiming, attacks against schools and hospitals, sexual violence and denial of humanitarian access. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has caused profound and lasting damage to children and the youth, including persons with disabilities, and especially children who are victims of horrific human rights violations and abuses committed by the Russian Armed Forces against them in Russia‘s war of aggression.
The officially confirmed data shows that more than 300 Ukrainian children have been killed and nearly 600 injured in this war initiated by Russia. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of Ukraine’s children are displaced. The actual numbers are likely to be even higher and more terrifying. The fate of many Ukrainian children is unknown, including those hundreds of thousands of children being forcibly deported from Ukraine to Russia and who may now face illegal adoption in Russia. These brutal actions by Russia against Ukrainian nation and its future – the children – will affect many generations to come.
Our countries have welcomed those, including children and youth, fleeing the war in Ukraine and have offered them access to our education and health systems, as well as online learning opportunities and mental health support for children in Ukraine and those outside.
Every child and young person has a right to safety and a right to education. We remain actively engaged in protecting and promoting human rights, including the rights of persons with disabilities and the rights of the child in Ukraine.
As strong supporters of accountability, including the mandate of the International Criminal Court, the Baltic States stand fully behind the call to ensure that perpetrators of atrocities against children and youth are held to account, including by adopting and implementing legislation criminalising violations of rules of international law pertaining to the protection of children in armed conflict, adopting national accountability measures, and ensuring that all accountability mechanisms have the necessary expertise to investigate, document and prosecute and adjudicate crimes against children and the youth.
Finally, in order to enhance protection of all populations, we call on those States that have not yet done so to join key international instruments, including the human rights instruments and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.