One year ago today, on 24 February 2022, Russia dramatically escalated the conflict in Ukraine, initiating a particularly brutal war of aggression. Since then, Ukraine has courageously resisted with the full support of many partners, including the European Union and its member states.
As stated by Mr. Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & Vice-President of the Commission, in his opinion column in Le Temps (February 22nd, 2023), "supporting Ukraine and working for peace go hand in hand".
On the night of February 23-24, the Russian army launched a violent armed offensive against Ukraine, especially towards Kyiv, violating its territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence. Its political and military leadership is thus committing an obvious crime of aggression. The international community quickly and massively condemned this invasion by the resolution ES/11-1 of the United Nations General Assembly of March 2, 2022. A vast majority of countries also expressed their condemnation of violations of international humanitarian law as well as violations and abuses of human rights by the resolution ES/11-2 of the United Nations General Assembly of March 24, 2022. Similarly the UN Human Rights Council at its 49th Session also adopted Resolution 49/1 of 4th March 2022, condemning in the strongest possible terms the human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law resulting from the aggression against Ukraine. In its decision of March 16, 2022, the International Court of Justice also ordered Russia to "immediately suspend [its] military operations".
Since then, Russia has multiplied its violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The list of these atrocities is meticulously documented by the independent international commission of inquiry (CoI) and by the human rights monitoring mission (UNHRMM) in Ukraine. The EU member states and sixteen other states referred the situation to the International Criminal Court in March last year. There will be no impunity.
Very quickly, the atrocious reality of the Bucha and other massacres became clear. The CoI has found an array of war crimes, including summary executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary detentions and forced deportations. There are strong indications, based on corroborating sources, that these abuses also involve children, particularly in the case of abductions to Russian territory and forced naturalisation. The CoI also reminds us that the massive war crimes committed in Bucha are taking place in many other localities, with use of rape of victims ranging in age from 4 to 82 years.
Since the beginning of the conflict, countless bombings by the Russian armed forces have deliberately targeted civilian populations and infrastructure. Thousands of Ukrainian civilians have lost their lives in Dnipro, Kramatorsk, Kremenchuk, Mariupol and many other cities and villages in the country. Ukrainian hospitals, schools, residential buildings and critical infrastructure are systematically targeted by the Russian army, with the sole aim of starving and freezing the population and, ultimately, to break the astounding spirit of resistance of the Ukrainian people. Moreover, we remain gravely concerned about the continued attacks of the Russian armed forces around Ukrainian nuclear sites and the illegal seizure of the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP). The situation at the ZNPP is increasingly “dangerous, precarious and challenging”, as described by the IAEA Director General. Each of the IAEA seven indispensable pillars for nuclear safety and security has been compromised at the ZNPP following Russia’s military invasion.
One third of the Ukrainian population is now displaced. According to UNHCR and IOM, there are more than 8 million refugees across Europe and more than 7 million internally displaced persons. Many others are unable or unwilling to leave the combat zones. The humanitarian needs are immense and can only be partially addressed by the emergency aid programs of the UN agencies whose responsiveness and action on the ground must be commended.
Russia is also guilty of the occupation and attempted illegal annexation by force of whole swathes of Ukrainian territory, which is an indisputable violation of the principles of the United Nations Charter. Attempts to legitimize this annexation by holding mock referenda are not fooling anyone. Any annexation of the territory of one state by another as a result of the threat or use of force is and will always be contrary to international law.
These multiple violations of human rights and humanitarian law are the work of a single State, Russia. As a permanent member of the Security Council, it has a particular responsibility to guarantee respect for the United Nations Charter and the collective security architecture that stems from it. This war of aggression waged against Ukraine has consequences that go far beyond the military conflict itself.
The Russian invasion is a serious attempt to undermine our collective security mechanisms and the multilateral system as a whole. In addition to this, the war against Ukraine is permanently undermining the food and energy security of many countries, and is fueling a global financial instability that is impoverishing the world population. Russia bears full responsibility for this economic and humanitarian turmoil, which was perfectly avoidable. And it took the mobilization of the international community and the entire United Nations system to reduce the deleterious economic effects of this Russian aggression on the most vulnerable countries.
In the face of these repeated and blatant violations of international law, the member states of the European Union unambiguously reaffirm their condemnation of the crimes committed by the Russian leadership, with the regrettable involvement of Belarus, and reiterate their unwavering support for Ukraine. We will continue to provide the Government and people of Ukraine with all the humanitarian, political, economic, legal and military support they need to exercise their right to self-defense and to preserve their territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence and freedom.
We, the Permanent Representatives of all the Member States of the European Union, also reassert our full support for the investigation mechanisms set up by the United Nations and call on all the members of the Human Rights Council to renew the mandate of the independent international commission of inquiry during the 52nd session of the Council which opens in a few days.
Documenting the crimes committed by the Russian leadership in a methodical, independent and objective manner is the first step towards eventually holding the perpetrators accountable for their actions and ensuring justice for the victims. We therefore welcome the forthcoming establishment of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression at The Hague.
With the 10-point peace plan proposed by President Zelensky in November 2022, Ukraine has charted a course toward a just and lasting peace. We support Ukraine and will never resign ourselves to a world in which force prevails over law.
This text is signed by the 27 permanent representatives of the European Union member states and the head of the European Union delegation to the UN in Geneva:
Ms. Anna JARDFELT (Sweden), Ms. Lotte KNUDSEN (EU Delegation), Mr. Václav BÁLEK (Czech Republic), Mr. Paul BEKKERS (Netherlands), Mr. Marc BICHLER (Luxembourg), Mr. Jérôme BONNAFONT (France), Mr. Zbigniew CZECH (Poland), Ms. Aurora DÍAZ-RATO REVUELTA (Spain), Mr. Vincenzo GRASSI (Italy), Mr. Christopher GRIMA (Malta), Mr. Bahtijors HASANS (Latvia), Ms. Kirsti KAUPPI (Finland), Mr. Rui MACIEIRA (Portugal), Mr. Gordan MARKOTIĆ (Croatia), Mr. Dušan MATULAY (Slovakia), Ms. Olympia NEOCLEOUS (Cyprus), Mr. Alexandros PAPAIOANNOU (Greece), Mr. Marc PECSTEEN de BUYTSWERVE (Belgium), Ms. Anita PIPAN (Slovenia), Mr. Erik Brøgger RASMUSSEN (Denmark), Mr. Răzvan-Victor RUSU (Romania), Ms. Katrin SAARSALU-LAYACHI (Estonia), Ms. Désirée SCHWEITZER (Austria), Mr. Darius STANIULIS (Lithuania), Ms. Katharina STASCH (Germany), Mr. Yuri STERK (Bulgaria), Ms. Margit SZŰCS (Hungary), Mr. Noel WHITE (Ireland).