Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
February 22, 2023
I want to thank Ukraine and the other co-sponsors for bringing us together for this sobering but vitally important side event.
One year ago, Russia launched its unprovoked, illegal, full-scale invasion of Ukraine. That same day, President Putin delivered an outlandish speech in an attempt to justify his war of aggression. Putin told the world he was invading Ukraine to protect Ukrainians from “bloody crimes.”
Of course, this was a total distortion of reality. It is his own forces that have carried out atrocities against the Ukrainian people. And we’ve just heard about the tragic circumstances of POWs and their families.
As we made clear this week, the U.S. believes Russian forces have committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. Crimes against humanity. This is not a determination we make lightly. But in this case, the evidence is overwhelming.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine – established by the Human Rights Council in March of last year – and the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine, have documented a wide range of atrocities and other abuses committed by Russian forces.
Summary executions. Arbitrary detentions. Torture, rape, and other forms of gender-based violence and sexual violence. And we know women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities, and other marginalized groups are most vulnerable to these attacks.
Last November, I traveled to Ukraine and met with victims of Russia’s war crimes. Women who had been tortured by Russian forces. Elderly people who had been kicked out of their homes. Children who wanted nothing more than to go back to school and see their friends. It was gut-wrenching.
As a mother and a grandmother, I am deeply disturbed by the horrors being perpetrated against Ukrainian children. Credible reports indicate Russian officials have orchestrated the transfer, relocation, re-education, adoption, or fostering of thousands of children. Some of these children have been orphaned during this war. And some were already living in institutions for serious health needs.
In many cases, parents sent children to what they thought were “summer camps” for their child’s safety but were then denied contact and reunification with their children. In other cases, parents refused to send their children to Russia’s “camps,” and Russia’s occupation authorities enrolled them anyway.
And let’s be clear: this is not some offshoot operation. We have evidence that President Putin and the Kremlin are actively engaged in this effort to deny and suppress Ukraine’s identity, their history, and their culture.
We must call on Russia to end this inhuman campaign; return children to their parents and guardians; provide registration lists of the children it has removed; and allow independent observers to access facilities within Russian-controlled or Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine and inside Russia itself.
The United States also condemns credible reports of abuses against persons with disabilities. Russia’s war of aggression has compounded the significant attitudinal, physical, and environmental barriers faced by persons with disabilities. It is that much harder for these Ukrainians to access services – including accessible shelters, safe evacuation options, and health services. And persons with disabilities face disproportionate risks of neglect and abandonment, including by their own families in some cases.
So, we must ensure that when the international community rebuilds from this terrible war, persons with disabilities are at the forefront of decision-making and policymaking at all levels.
Colleagues, I want to highlight the need to renew the mandate of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine at the upcoming HRC session in Geneva. Since last March, when Secretary Blinken first determined that Russian forces have carried out war crimes in Ukraine – and since the Commission found reasonable grounds to conclude the same – the evidence of atrocities and other abuses has continued to mount. The Commission must be able to continue its critical work, and I urge the HRC to renew the mandate. There must be accountability for Russia’s atrocities.
And mark my words: There will be accountability for Russia’s atrocities. But right now, what the Ukrainian people need most desperately is peace. As President Biden said during his visit to Kyiv this week, “President Putin chose this war. Every day the war continues is his choice.”
Our message to President Putin is this: End this war. End your campaign of brutality. End the suffering your forces have wrought on Ukraine and on the world.
But until that day comes, we must all stand with Ukraine. We must all stand behind the UN Charter. And we must all stand for accountability in the face of unconscionable human rights violations.
Thank you very much.