Statement by GoF of Accountability at high-level event on grave human rights violations in the context of the aggression against Ukraine

Statement by Mr Urmas Reinsalu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia At the High-Level Event on “Grave Human Rights Violations, War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity In The Context of the Aggression Against Ukraine”

UNHQ on 22 February 2023

Excellencies, Distinguished Guests,

I am pleased to deliver this statement on behalf of the ‘Group of Friends of Accountability following the aggression against Ukraine’, consisting of 49 Member States and the European Union.

In one horrendous year, Russia’s war of aggression has caused intolerable misery, more than ten thousand innocent deaths, and destruction in Ukraine. Reportedly, over 1.6 million Ukrainians have been forcibly taken to Russia. We have witnessed images and reports of indiscriminate killings of civilians, as well as unlawful attacks on civilian infrastructure, sexual and gender-based violence, and shocking reports of abductions of children. Such actions are unacceptable and constitute a violation of international law wherever they occur and must be met with the same strong response whenever they occur.

Today, we will have the opportunity to hear first-hand testimonies from survivors and experts. In the eyes of the public, the credibility of our institutions – including the UN – rests upon our collective response. To ensure that all perpetrators are held to full account for the egregious violations of international law still playing out before us. And to defend the rights of victims and survivors.

Reports of conflict related sexual violence in Ukraine, targeted most frequently at women and girls, are of particular concern. Conflict-related sexual violence, including rape used as a tactic of war, is a blatant violation and abuse of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and it can constitute a war crime and crimes against humanity. It must be met with effective accountability measures. In this regard, we welcome the cooperation between the Government of Ukraine and the Office of the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict and we commend the important work of civil society organizations.

We are also deeply concerned by reports of Russian forces having relocated at least 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps and facilities across Russia for forced adoption and military training. Such actions are in clear violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law and may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. We must continue to defend the human rights of every child, and we welcome today’s discussion on this particular issue.

Fighting impunity must be at the core of our international response. We commend all efforts to ensure accountability, in particular the opening of an investigation by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. Additionally, the establishment of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, the OSCE Moscow Mechanism, the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission, and the creation of an International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression are important contributions to the quest for justice.

The Group of Friends also highlights the important efforts of all other actors who contribute to accountability efforts for Ukraine, including national investigations and civil society actors collecting and preserving evidence.

While we wait for the ongoing legal processes – which will take time – we cannot ignore the independent reports and testimonies we have in front of us.

  • Ukrainian authorities have prosecuted and tried more than twenty people for war crimes
  • The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine has found reasonable grounds to conclude that an array of war crimes and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law have been committed in Ukraine
  • The experts of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism concluded that international humanitarian law and international human rights law has been extensively violated in the conflict in Ukraine. The mission also concluded that some of these violations were likely to amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • The OHCHR Monitoring Mission has documented violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, such as unlawful killings, including summary executions of civilians in more than 30 settlements in Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy region. The numbers from the latest report published yesterday are devastating highlighting that the human cost of the war in Ukraine has left at least 8,006 civilians dead and 13,287 injured over the past 12 months.

Today, we will hear first-hand testimonies that the international community cannot ignore. We need to continue to call out violations and condemn what is taking place.

We recall the Order on provisional measures by the International Court of Justice of 16 March 2022, that Russia shall immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine. The principal judicial organ of the United Nations has stated it clearly. We call on Russia to comply. To stop the war.

We, as the international community, must show that we will not tolerate any country trampling on the UN Charter.