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War crime

UN demands access to Ukrainian children deported to Russia

The Kremlin is accused of deporting thousands of children from Ukraine to Russia.

LAST UPDATE | 4 Apr 2023

THE UNITED NATIONS Human Rights Council has demanded that Russia provide access to and information about Ukrainian children and other civilians forcibly transferred to territory under its control.

The top UN rights body passed a resolution demanding that Moscow “cease the unlawful forced transfer and deportation of civilians and other protected persons within Ukraine or to the Russian Federation.”

The text, which passed with 28 of the 47 council members voting in favour, 17 abstaining and only China and Eritrea opposed, highlighted in particular the transfer of “children, including those from institutional care, unaccompanied children and separated children”.

The Kremlin’s alleged deportation of thousands of children from war-ravaged Ukraine to Russia or areas occupied by Russia has been a hot-button topic throughout the nearly six-week session of the Geneva-based council.

Kyiv maintains that more than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia as of February this year.

Today’s resolution, which also prolonged for another year a high-level investigation into violations committed in the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine, demanded that Russia provide access to all those transferred.

It said Moscow should grant “staff of established international human rights and humanitarian mechanisms unhindered, immediate, sustained and safe access” to those transferred.

It called for “reliable and comprehensive information about the number and the whereabouts of these civilians, and ensure their dignified treatment and their safe return.”

The text also called for “unhindered, immediate and sustained access” to be granted to all prisoners of war and anyone “unlawfully detained”.

The high-level Commission of Inquiry established by the council a year ago to investigate abuses since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 concluded in its first report last month that the forced transfers of Ukrainian children amounted to a war crime.

The investigators, who with today’s vote have been given another year to push ahead with their probe, said they also were probing allegations those transfers could amount to genocide.

They highlighted numerous other Russian violations in Ukraine that they said amounted to war crimes, including killings, torture and rape, while warning systematic attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and a pattern of widespread and systematic torture could amount to crimes against humanity.

A day after the COI published its report, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

US military package

Meanwhile, the United States has unveiled details of $2.6 billion in new military aid for Ukraine, including ammunition for HIMARS precision rocket systems, artillery rounds and small arms.

“The United States will continue … to provide Ukraine with capabilities to meet its immediate battlefield needs and longer-term security assistance requirements,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

The package also includes munitions for Patriot and NASAMS air defence systems, as well as ammunition and anti-tank missiles used by Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles that Washington previously promised to Kyiv, among other items.

Most of the aid – $2.1 billion – comes in the form of Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funds, which pay for procurement of equipment from the defence industry.

The remaining $500 million is drawn from existing US stocks, meaning it will arrive on the battlefield sooner.

The United States has spearheaded the push for international support for Ukraine, quickly forging an international coalition to back Kyiv after Russia invaded in February 2022 and coordinating aid from dozens of countries.

Kyiv has pushed for some items that its international supporters have been reluctant to provide, including Patriot air defence systems and advanced heavy tanks – which were eventually promised – and others such as Western fighter aircraft, which have not been pledged so far.

© AFP 2023

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