Switzerland joins protest at UN over Russian wanted for war crimes

Children from orphanages from Ukraine's Donetsk region at a camp in Zolotaya Kosa on the Sea of Azov in southwest Russia, on July 8, 2022. Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Ambassadors from Western countries, including Switzerland, boycotted an informal United Nations Security Council meeting on Ukraine, sending low-level diplomats instead. Diplomats from the United States and Britain walked out when Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, who is accused of war crimes, started to address the meeting by video link.

This content was published on April 6, 2023

The International Criminal Court (ICC) last month issued an arrest warrant for her and Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of illegally deporting children from Ukraine and the unlawful transfer of people to Russia from Ukraine since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022.

+ Explainer: International crimes and the Ukraine war

Russia, which holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month, had called the meeting to counter what it claims is disinformation about the Ukrainian children.

Maria Lvova-Belova told the UN meeting on Wednesday that the children were taken for their safety and Moscow is coordinating with international organisations to return them to their families.

US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters before the session that the US strongly opposed the briefing and joined the UK in blocking the UN from outside broadcast of the meeting.

+ UN Commission of Inquiry says Russia has committed a ‘wide range’ of war crimes

As soon as Lvova-Belova appeared on the video link screen and denounced a “campaign of discrediting” her country, the representatives of the US, the UK, Malta and Albania left the room, while the representatives of the other 11 members of the Security Council remained. Switzerland is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UN Security Council.

+ Will Russia’s leaders be brought to justice for Ukraine war crimes? 

Switzerland’s ambassador to the UN in New York stayed away from the meeting. A lower-level representative of Switzerland was present and accused Russia of having “convened a meeting to spread disinformation and twist facts”, Swiss public radio, SRF, reported.

In a joint statement issued ahead of the meeting, some 50 countries, including Switzerland, France, the US, Japan, Ukraine and Guatemala, accused Russia of “abusing its powers and privileges as a permanent member of the UN Security Council to spread disinformation about its widespread abductions and illegal forced deportations of thousands of Ukrainian children”.

The exact number of Ukrainian children taken to Russia has been difficult to determine. A statement posted Wednesday on Twitter by Ukraine's UN ambassador, Sergiy Kyslytsya, said more than 19,500 children had been seized from their families or orphanages and forcibly deported.

Moscow has not concealed a programme under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia but presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the war zone.

Russia’s ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the aim of Wednesday's meeting was “to unmask the blatant double-standards of the West."

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