War of words over Ukraine at UN as nuclear fears grow

A Ukrainian soldier holds an anti-tank launcher at the front line, north-east of Kyiv, on March 3, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Diplomats in Geneva slammed Russia on Thursday (March 3) for its "unprovoked" and "unjustified" invasion of Ukraine, while the UN warned the rising nuclear threat put all of humanity at risk.

A day after the UN General Assembly in New York issued a powerful rebuke of Russia with a 141-5 vote to deplore its invasion and demand an immediate withdrawal, Moscow received a fresh lashing at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Representatives from a wide range of countries voiced alarm and condemnation during an urgent debate before the 47-member council about the rights implications of the full-scale Russian invasion that began a week ago.

The debate is due to conclude on Friday with a vote on Ukraine's call for a high-level investigation into violations committed in the conflict, which has killed hundreds of civilians and forced more than a million people to flee the country.

"Barbarians should... have no seat in the alliance of civilisations," Ukraine's deputy foreign minister Emine Dzhaparova told the council in a video message.

She said the only reason for war was "because a group of war criminals with access to the nuclear button concluded that our people are too weak to resist and to fight, and the world would not care."

'Unprecedented threat'

Dzhaparova urged countries to support Ukraine's draft resolution 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."

Not surprisingly, most countries rallied around Kyiv, holding Moscow fully responsible for the conflict, with many warning that Russia's "blatant violation of international law" could have repercussions far beyond Ukraine.

"We are here today because of Russia's premeditated and totally unprovoked attack," said US Ambassador Sheba Crocker, who like a number of speakers sported a blue and yellow ribbon in a show of solidarity with Ukraine.

"We are facing a profoundly consequential moment, for Ukraine and for the entire world," she told the council.

British Ambassador Simon Manley agreed, saying Thursday's meeting came at "a moment of unprecedented threat to the very principles upon which this organisation was forged... to save ourselves from the scourge of war and protect human rights around the globe.

"It is essential that we do not turn away."

Humanity at risk

Only a small group of countries, meanwhile, backed Moscow during Thursday's debate, including Venezuela, Syria and Belarus.

Russian Ambassador Gennady Gatilov meanwhile unleashed a range of charges against Kyiv including that it, "in the best traditions of Nazi Germany, began to virtually exterminate the Russian-speaking population in the country."

He said Kyiv's Western backers were hypocritical and only supported Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's "puppet regime... as a trump card in your confrontation with Russia."

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Beijing, through its ambassador Chen Xu, meanwhile stressed the importance of respecting the sovereignty of countries but also decried the "politicisation" of human rights and said it would oppose any commission of inquiry.

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet warned the council that the invasion had "opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history".

She voiced particular concern over the nuclear threat, after Russian President Vladimir Putin on Sunday ordered his country's nuclear forces to be put on high alert.

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

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.

Follow The Straits Times' live coverage on the Ukraine crisis here.

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