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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Ukraine Briefing to the Security Council by ASG Ilze Brand Kehris

17 January 2023

Mr. President,

Distinguished members of the Council,

I wish to thank Council members for the opportunity to brief on the human rights dimension of today's open meeting. It is my pleasure of representing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, who regrets that he is unable to attend due to travel and related logistical challenges.

The armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the ensuing hostilities have brought the most severe forms of human rights and international humanitarian law violations into the everyday lives of people in Ukraine, putting at risk countless lives, causing massive displacement and destruction of civilian infrastructure.

To date, OHCHR has recorded more than 7,000 civilians killed and more than 11,000 injured since 24 February 2022. The actual figures are unfortunately considerably higher.

This Saturday, a missile struck a residential building in a densely populated area of Dnipro. We have verified that the attack, one of the deadliest to date, killed at least 45 civilians, including six children, and injured at least 79.

A one-year-old boy was killed with his father. A three-year-old girl, her 13-year-old sister and their mother were also killed. A young woman who was injured in the attack lost both her parents and a 9-year-old boy and his teenage sister were injured and lost both parents. With two dozen people still missing, including four children, the death toll is expected to rise.

The Russian Federation’s strikes targeting Ukrainian critical infrastructure since 10 October 2022 have now killed at least 103 civilians and injured at least 371, as verified by our Office. These have damaged or destroyed half of the energy infrastructure system of Ukraine, resulting in significant electricity and water shortages across the country. By restricting civilians’ access to water, electricity, essential communications, and heating, the enjoyment of the rights to health, to an adequate standard of living and the right to life is severely compromised.

Civilians in parts of Donetsk and Luhansk regions occupied by the Russian Federation have also suffered from intense shelling by Ukraine in densely populated areas in recent months. Since 24 February 2022, our Office has recorded 498 civilians killed, including 25 children and 1,675 injured, including 117 children. In December 2022 alone, we documented five cases of injuries among children, caused by multiple launch rocket systems and shelling in Donetsk.

We urge all parties to ensure full compliance with international humanitarian law principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, including by refraining from using explosive weapons in populated areas. I wish to add the principle under international humanitarian law of special protection accorded to children, as persons who are particularly vulnerable.

Among the array of human rights concerns and violations that OHCHR has documented since the start of this war, we are concerned about restrictions to freedom of religion and freedom of association across Ukraine, in both territory controlled by the Government and territory occupied by the Russian Federation.

While tensions between Orthodox communities in Ukraine existed for decades, they deteriorated following the Russian Federation’s armed attack against Ukraine and there have been some worrying recent developments.

In November and December, the Security Service of Ukraine conducted searches in premises and places of worship of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. At least three clergy are now facing criminal charges, including for treason and denial of the ‘armed aggression’ of the Russian Federation against Ukraine.

We urge the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that any such searches in premises and places of worship are in full compliance with international law, that fair trial rights are given to those facing criminal charges and that any criminal sanctions are compatible with the rights of freedom of opinion, expression and religion. We are concerned that two draft laws recently tabled in the Parliament - Draft law no. 8221 and Draft law no. 8262 - could undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief as enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

We recall that, under international human rights law, any limitations to the right to manifest one’s religion or belief must be prescribed by law, necessary and proportionate. We call on both parties to respect and ensure that the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly, association, and religion can be exercised without discrimination by all.

As the one-year anniversary of this conflict approaches, we appeal for respect for the sanctity of life, for human dignity, for respect for the principle of humanity.

To this end, international human rights and humanitarian law must be respected at all times by parties to the conflict and the principles of the United Nations Charter be upheld.

Thank you.