The magnitude of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine cannot be denied, the UN political chief told the Security Council on Thursday, demanding a thorough investigation and accountability.
Law ‘crystal clear’
3.1 million people have now fled Ukraine.— UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) March 17, 2022
As more and more seek safety, our Assistant High Commissioner for Operations @RaoufMazou addressed the UN Security Council.
"We can and must do more to support and we must do it now." pic.twitter.com/x7pzkWRPZE
“Civilians are entitled to protection against the dangers arising from military operations,” insisted Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, as she briefed the Council on the latest events.
“International humanitarian law is crystal clear.”
She painted a picture of daily attacks battering Ukrainian cities, many reportedly indiscriminate.
Between 24 February and 15 March, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recorded 1,900 civilian casualties – with 726 people killed, including 52 children – mostly caused by explosive weapons in populated areas.
OHCHR staff in Donetsk are following developments around a 14 March incident in which 20 civilians were reportedly killed by a Soviet-era Tochka-U ballistic missile that may have contained cluster munitions.
Mariupol: Corpses on the streets
Meanwhile, many residents who have been unable to evacuate from the southeastern port city of Mariupol lack food, water, electricity, and medical care said Ms. DiCarlo, warning that “uncollected corpses lie on city streets.”
A strike on the Mariupol theatre yesterday, which reportedly served as a bomb shelter for displaced civilians, adds to the list of attacks against civilian structures.
The UN priority is to reach people trapped by the shelling, she said, including in eastern Ukraine.
The Senior UN official called for safe passage for civilians from, and humanitarian supplies into, encircled areas, and expressed gratitude to neighbouring States for their generosity in receiving refugees.
“There will be no winners to this senseless conflict,” she said.
‘Remarkable’ refugee resilience
Broadly agreeing, Raouf Mazou, the Assistant High Commissioner for Operations in the UN refugees’ office, UNHCR, said that in less than three weeks, the number of those fleeing Ukraine into neighbouring countries has risen from 520,000 to over 3.1 million.
He described the situation as the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War.
“We are humbled by the remarkable resilience of the refugees, many of whom have left their homes with nothing but a plastic bag, and by the extraordinary hospitality of the host authorities and host communities,” said Mr. Mazou.
Capacities ‘tested and stretched’
Meanwhile, with close to two million refugees from Ukraine, Poland has quickly become one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in the world.
Another 490,000 people have fled to Romania; 350,000 to Moldova; 280,000 to Hungary; and 228,000 to Slovakia, while others have moved to Russia or Belarus.
“With the current pace of refugee outflows, the capacities of the neighbouring countries are being tested and stretched,” he said, calling for more support.
Health impacts of war will last years
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO), said the devastating health consequences of the war will reverberate for years or decades to come.
Ukraine’s health services have been severely disrupted by the widespread destruction of water and sanitation infrastructure – and increasingly, health facilities.
Noting that WHO has verified 43 attacks on health care, with 12 people killed and 34 injured, he underscored that “attacks on health care are a violation of international humanitarian law – anytime, anywhere.”
Service disruptions pose extreme health risks
The WHO chief said that the disruption to services and supplies is posing an “extreme” risk to people with cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV and tuberculosis – among the leading causes of mortality in Ukraine.
At the same time, displacement, poor shelter and overcrowded living conditions are likely to increase the risk of measles, pneumonia and polio.
The war is also exacerbating the impact of COVID-19, with a decline in testing likely leading to “significant undetected transmission.”
Although the agency has established supply lines to many cities in Ukraine from its warehouse in Lviv, it faces challenges.
Medical supplies unable to reach those in need
“We have critical supplies ready for United Nations joint convoys to enter difficult areas, but so far we have not been successful,” Tedros said, pointing out that the convoy to Sumy, which included a WHO truck carrying medical supplies, was unable to enter.
He told the Ambassadors that loads ready for Mariupol remain in staging areas and cannot proceed.
“Access to these, and other areas, is now critical,” stressed the top WHO official, urging the Council to work for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution.
Poland’s UN Ambassador Krzysztof Maria Szczerski described Russia’s brutal actions as being “100 per cent a war of choice.”
Poland has seen first-hand the dramatic humanitarian consequences of the war and will continue to admit refugees in a spirit of solidarity, regardless of their nationality, race or religious creed.
Mr. Szczerski urged Russia to change its military modus operandi, calling for an immediate ceasefire and humanitarian access.