Guterres highlights limited success achieved in evacuating civilians in Mariupol

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The United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Antonio Guterres has highlighted the limited success achieved by the organisation supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in evacuating civilians from the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol in eastern Ukraine.

Guterres was addressing a meeting of the Security Council after his visit in late April to Eastern Europe.

This included stops in Moscow and Kyiv.

Two evacuation operations have since been completed with the UN Chief confirming that a third was now under way.

Guterres told the council he visited the region with a clear understanding of the realities on the ground and that a national ceasefire would not be possible amid a full-scale ongoing attack in Ukraine’s east.

He said he focussed instead on the dire plight of civilians, particularly at Mariupol’s Azovstal plant.

“Together, the UN and the ICRC are leading a humanitarian operation of great complexity – both politically, and in terms of security. It began on April 29 and has required enormous coordination and advocacy with the Russian Federation and Ukrainian authorities. So far, two safe passage convoys have been successfully completed. In the first, concluded on May 3rd, 101 civilians were evacuated from the Azovstal plant along with 59 more from a neighbouring area. In the second operation, completed last night, more than 320 civilians were evacuated from the city of Mariupol and surrounding areas. A third operation is under way but it is our policy not to speak about the details of any of them before they are completed to avoid undermining possible success,” says Guterres.

He expressed hope that what he called “silent diplomacy” and continued co-ordination with Moscow and Kyiv would lead to more humanitarian pauses to allow civilians safe passage from the fighting and for aid to reach those in critical need as he also addressed the wider implications of the war.

“My meetings with both leaders also focused on the crucial issue of global food security. And, indeed, the worldwide implications of this war were in full view in my subsequent travels to West Africa. In Senegal, Niger and Nigeria, I heard direct testimony from leaders and civil society on how the war is unleashing a food security crisis. We need quick and decisive action to ensure a steady flow of food and energy in open markets, by lifting export restrictions, allocating surpluses and reserves to those who need them, and addressing food price increases to calm market volatility. But let me be clear: a meaningful solution to global food insecurity requires reintegrating Ukraine’s agricultural production and the food and fertiliser production of Russia and Belarus into world markets, despite the war,” Guterres explains.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told Council her office had recorded at least 6700 casualties since Russia’s armed attack started and pointed to most casualties being caused by explosive weapons in populated areas including shelling from heavy artillery, multiple rocket systems and air strikes.

“My office is also documenting the devastating consequences of the conflict on other human rights. In areas around Kyiv, from late February for about five weeks, Russian forces targeted male civilians, who they considered suspicious. Men were detained, beaten, summarily executed and, in some cases, taken to Belarus and Russia, unbeknownst to their families and held in pre-trial detention facilities. My staff met with families who are searching for their missing male relatives, desperate to know where they are, if they are alive, and how they can get them back,” says Bachelet.

She called for all armed forces to fully respect their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law while urging accountability through support of the Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry in addition to national and international justice mechanisms like the investigation of International Criminal Court.

Video: Russia-Ukraine – UN evacuates civilians from Mariupol in Ukraine