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Ukraine: Senior UN officials decry growing risks of dangerous breaches

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People outside a residential building destoryed by shelling in Marinka, Ukraine. (file)

Following Russia’s decision to recognize the independence of certain areas of Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday added her voice to the UN’s growing chorus of alarm.

I am deeply concerned that any significant escalation in military action creates a heightened risk of serious human rights violations as well as violations of international humanitarian law”, said Michele Bachelet.

She underscored that at this critical juncture, “the priority, above all”, must be to prevent a further escalation, and to avert civilian casualties, displacement and destruction of civilian infrastructure.

I call on all sides to cease hostilities and to pave the way for dialogue instead of setting the stage for further violence”, the High Commissioner said, assuring that her office continues to monitor the situation closely “from our offices on both sides of the contact line in the east of the country.”

Only one path forward

Russia’s recognition violates the Minsk Agreements – the fragile peace process regulating the conflict in eastern Ukraine – and increases fears that Russia is posed for a full-scale invasion.

Before the General Assembly meets on Ukraine tomorrow, the body’s president, Abdulla Shahid, issued a statement calling on the parties to “intensify negotiations and deescalate the current trajectory through dialogue”.

He reminded that a full commitment to the UN Charter, its purposes and its principles is “the only path to ensure lasting peace.”

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‘A stark reminder’

The UN humanitarian coordination body, OCHA, told journalists in Geneva that in recent days there had been reported increases in hostilities in areas controlled by the de facto authorities. 

OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke called it “a stark reminder” of the reality that children, women and men of Eastern Ukraine have faced for the past eight years.

We call on everybody and all parties to protect civilians and protect civilian infrastructure in this very volatile situation.” 

Responding to journalists, he said that the UN office has had a humanitarian response plan predating recent events, which focuses on pre-existing humanitarian needs, including a convoy that had delivered humanitarian supplies to non-Government-controlled areas last Friday.

However, he lamented that funding remains short, and urged the donor community to provide additional resources.

‘Volatile, unpredictable’ 

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said that it was monitoring the “highly…unpredictable” situation and stood ready to help in case any new humanitarian needs arose. 

It was important to remember also that there is a pre-existing displacement crisis caused by earlier conflict in Eastern Ukraine, UNHCR spokesperson Shabia Mantoo said, a reference to the 1.5 million people who’ve been forced to leave their homes since the onset of conflict in 2014. 

According to the UN’s 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Ukraine, some 144,000 internally displaced persons live in government-controlled areas of Donetsk, Luhansk and other areas.  

The most vulnerable include older people, who represent 32 per cent of the people targeted for assistance in 2022, and the children of vulnerable families, who make up 14 per cent.  

The response efforts also aim to meet the critical needs of 225,000 persons with disabilities. 

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