Humanity at risk from nuclear threat over Ukraine: UN

Humanity at risk from nuclear threat over Ukraine: UN

A woman cries as she tries to board into a free train to Poland at a train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)
A woman cries as she tries to board into a free train to Poland at a train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)

The United Nations human rights chief on Thursday slammed Russia's invasion of Ukraine, warning millions there were seeing their rights trampled, while the rising nuclear threat put all humanity at risk.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet warned that Russia's full-scale invasion launched a week ago "is generating massive impact on the human rights of millions of people across Ukraine".

In her opening speech during an urgent council debate on rights violations in Ukraine, she pointed to numerous casualties in a conflict that has already forced more than one million people to flee the country.

Russian ambassador Gennady Gatilov leaves for a break during an urgent debate on the Ukraine conflict at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday. (Photo: AFP)

During the debate, countries will consider whether to approve the creation of a high-level investigation into abuses committed in the war.

Addressing the council by video link, Ukraine's deputy foreign minister Emine Dzhaparova urged countries to back the resolution. She said Russian troops were engaging "in acts that clearly amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity".

The International Criminal Court in the Hague has already begun investigating possible war crimes in Ukraine.

Bachelet did not use such terms.

However, she said her office had recorded 227 civilian deaths, including those of at least 15 children, while stressing that the real numbers "will be far higher".

- Cluster bombs? -

Most of the casualties, she said, "were caused by the use of heavy artillery, multi-launch rocket systems and air strikes in populated areas, with concerning reports of use of cluster munitions striking civilian targets."

"I call for the immediate cessation of such force."

Bachelet said that Russia's attack was not only putting people in Ukraine at risk and warned that it had "opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history".

"Elevated threat levels for nuclear weapons underline the gravity of the risks to all of humanity," she said.

Her comments came after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered his country's nuclear forces to be put on high alert.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had earlier accused Western politicians of fixating on nuclear war.

Moscow has the world's largest arsenal of nuclear weapons and a huge cache of ballistic missiles which form the backbone of the deterrence forces.

Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov earlier said Kyiv was the aggressor and that its Western backers were hypocritical and uninterested in ending the conflict.

"The peace and prosperity of Ukraine are not in your interests," he told the council.

The "puppet regime" of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "is of interest to you only as a means of pressure and as a trump card in your confrontation with Russia."

- Russia isolated -

Since the attack on Ukraine began, Russia has found itself besieged by sanctions and increasingly isolated on the international stage.

The UN General Assembly in New York on Wednesday issued a powerful rebuke and overwhelmingly backed a resolution demanding Russia "immediately" withdraw from Ukraine.

Russia lost the vote 141 to five, winning the support of only four nations -- Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. Its allies China and Cuba abstained.

Moscow also found scant support for its efforts to block Thursday's urgent rights council debate, with only four countries in addition to Russia voting against it.

Twenty-nine of the council's 47 members backed the debate, hinting that the resolution up for discussion will likely get majority approval, observers say.

The draft text calls for the creation of a so-called independent international commission of inquiry -- the highest-level probe that can be ordered by the council -- "to investigate all alleged violations and abuses" in the conflict, dating back to 2014, when the Kremlin annexed Crimea.

It calls for the appointment of three investigators to gather evidence "with a view to ensuring that those responsible are held accountable."

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