What's In Blue

Posted Sat 5 Mar 2022

Ukraine: Briefing on Humanitarian Developments*

On Monday (7 March), the Security Council is expected to hold a briefing on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. The meeting was requested by Albania and the US, with support from several members, including Ireland, Norway, and the UK.* Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell will brief. Ukraine is expected to participate under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure. Other regional states may also participate under rule 37 at Monday’s meeting. Following the open briefing, Council members will convene for closed consultations, at the request of France and Mexico.

The humanitarian situation in Ukraine has been deteriorating progressively since Russia launched its military offensive on 24 February. A 3 March OCHA humanitarian impact situation report said that “the most affected regions of the country are facing a full-blown humanitarian crisis”. The fighting has resulted in significant human costs, including a growing number of civilian casualties and damage to critical civilian infrastructure, such as water and sanitation infrastructure, schools and health facilities.

As at 4 March, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had documented 1,006 civilian casualties, including 331 deaths, while noting that true figures are likely to be considerably higher as many reported casualties have yet to be confirmed. Most casualties have been attributed to the use of explosive weapons with a wide-impact area, such as shelling from heavy artillery, the use of multiple rocket launch systems, and air attacks. A growing number of people have been left stranded in cities under siege as the fighting has impeded mass evacuations in certain areas. At least one million people have been internally displaced by the conflict and over one million more have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since the attacks began, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Monday’s briefing will be the second time in a week that the Security Council convenes to discuss the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. On 28 February, the Council held an open meeting on humanitarian developments in Ukraine at the request of France, with support from Albania, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the UK and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths and High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi briefed. At that meeting, Griffiths highlighted the urgent need to ensure the protection of humanitarian workers, while noting that some UN agencies and humanitarian partners had had to suspend operations due to insecurity. Grandi said that humanitarian organisations are expecting up to four million refugees in the coming days and weeks.

At the 28 February meeting, several Council members said that Russia’s military operation caused the current humanitarian crisis and called on Russia to refrain from using heavy explosive weapons in populated areas. Some members, including Kenya, cautioned against the use of unilateral economic sanctions, noting that those imposed on Russia are likely to have serious humanitarian consequences and could lead to further escalation of the conflict. Russia denied claims that its military operation has had any impact on civilian infrastructure or caused civilian deaths.

The Council also held a meeting on Ukraine yesterday (4 March), to discuss Thursday’s (3 March) incident at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in the city of Enerhodar. The meeting was requested by the UK, together with Albania, Ireland, France, Norway, and the US, following reports that Russian troops shelled and fired projectiles at the plant site on 3 March. Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi briefed. Grossi noted that a projectile hit a building adjacent to a block of reactors at the site but said that the reactors have not been compromised and the plant is currently safe.

At yesterday’s meeting, several Council members expressed concern over the worsening humanitarian situation in Ukraine. In addition, many Council members stressed that an unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe would have unfolded if the nuclear reactors had been damaged. Several Council members, including the UK and the US, called on Russia to immediately cease hostilities and withdraw its troops from Ukraine. Members also emphasised the need for the parties to continue holding dialogue to find a solution to the conflict, with some commending the diplomatic efforts to reach a ceasefire agreement.

The second round of negotiations between Ukrainian and Russian delegations in Belarus, which took place on 3 March, resulted in a preliminary agreement to establish temporary ceasefires in areas serving as humanitarian corridors for the evacuation of civilians and the delivery of humanitarian supplies. On 5 March, the Russian defence ministry issued a statement declaring a ceasefire and the creation of humanitarian corridors in the cities of Mariupol and Volnovakha. Just hours later, however, the ceasefire seemed to collapse as Mariupol authorities announced they had postponed mass evacuation plans because of continued bombardment by Russian troops, according to media reports.

At Monday’s briefing, the UNICEF representative is likely to describe the conflict’s deleterious effects on children, including the displacement of over 500,000 children to date. At a 4 March press briefing in Geneva, UNICEF Spokesperson James Elder warned that “humanitarian needs across the country are multiplying by the hour”. Elder also noted that damage to water system infrastructure has left hundreds of thousands of people without safe drinking water and stressed that the country is running low on critical medical supplies, as the conflict has cut off populations from access to healthcare and other essential services. The UNICEF representative may also urge member states to fund the Secretary-General’s Flash Appeal—an inter-agency contingency plan launched on 1 March to address the humanitarian needs of the conflict-affected population in Ukraine, which is estimated to reach 12 million people.

At Monday’s meeting, Council members are likely to highlight the urgent need to address the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. They may point to the General Assembly resolution titled “Aggression Against Ukraine”, which was adopted on 2 March with 141 votes in favour, five votes against and 35 abstentions. The resolution demands that all parties comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and allow safe and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance for those in need in Ukraine.

Council members may also reference the Human Rights Council resolution on “the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression”, adopted on 4 March with 32 votes in favour, two votes against and 13 abstentions. The resolution condemns the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law resulting from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. In this regard, it decides to urgently establish an independent international commission of inquiry to, among other things, investigate all alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law and to make recommendations on accountability measures with a view to ending impunity. Similar to the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM) established by the General Assembly in December 2016, the commission of inquiry on Ukraine is mandated to collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of human rights and humanitarian law violations to support possible future legal proceedings.

At the time of writing, Council members are negotiating a draft resolution proposed by France and Mexico on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine. The draft text apparently demands the cessation of hostilities, respect for international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians, and safe and unfettered humanitarian access in Ukraine. The draft resolution is not expected to be adopted in connection with Monday’s meeting and it is currently unclear when it might be tabled for a vote.


*A previous version of this story noted that the meeting was requested by France, together with Albania, Ireland, Mexico, Norway, the UK, and the US. The story was revised to reflect the correct members who requested the meeting.

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