Disturbing reports of Ukrainian civilians subjected to forced displacement, deportation and “filtration” camps must be independently investigated, senior United Nations officials told the Security Council today, as speakers stressed that international humanitarian law — guaranteeing protection for such individuals — still holds in times of war.
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, told the Council that “the war in Ukraine continues to rage”, with a total of 13,917 verified civilian casualties and large-scale displacement. Over 6.9 million people have been internally displaced and over 7 million refugees have been recorded across Europe. While these numbers “cannot convey the full scale of the tragedy”, she stressed that — in the face of the international community’s incapacity to stop this senseless war — “we must continue to record its horrific consequences as faithfully and accurately as possible”.
Emphasizing that persistent allegations of forced displacement, deportation and so-called “filtration camps” run by the Russian Federation and affiliated local forces are “extremely disturbing”, she called for such reports to be investigated with the cooperation of competent authorities. Further, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine must have unimpeded access to all individuals detained in relation to the ongoing war. Urging peace in Ukraine, she added that “all wars are tragic, but none more than wars of choice”.
Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and Head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in New York, reported that OHCHR has verified that Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups are subjecting civilians to so-called “filtration” — a system of security checks and personal data collection. During this process, persons are undergoing body searches — sometimes involving forced nudity — along with detailed interrogations about personal background, family ties, political views and allegiances; women and girls are at risk of sexual abuse.
In addition, OHCHR has further documented that men and women perceived as having ties to Ukrainian armed forces or State institutions — or as having pro-Ukrainian or anti-Russian views — were being subjected to arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment and forced disappearance, she said. She urged the Russian Federation to grant unimpeded, confidential access to OHCHR and other independent monitors to all places of detention under its control, as well as unhindered, timely humanitarian access to persons from conflict-affected areas.
Oleksandra Drik, Coordinator for International Cooperation at the Center for Civil Liberties, then recounted the stories of several individuals who have passed through the “filtration” process, where they were interrogated, beaten, tortured and psychologically pressured. These are not just rare cases, she stressed. The Russian Federation has established a zone of complete lawlessness in the occupied territory of Ukraine and, by holding a fake referendum in such territory and subsequently declaring its independence, the Russian Federation seeks to distance itself from the atrocities being committed there. She underscored that if the Russian Federation is not stopped, these atrocities will continue and it will invade whichever country it wants next.
In the ensuing debate, Council members expressed concern over the lack of negotiations to end the conflict and its ongoing effects on civilians. Many also called for United Nations and independent observers to have access to those held in filtration camps and detention centres, stressing that international law applies even in a state of war.
The representative of Albania said that today’s briefing shows that strong concerns over the past six months about the possible detention of Ukrainian civilians are no longer allegations. Rather, they are painstakingly verified facts. Noting that these filtration camps are rooted in Russian history, he stressed that if the Russian Federation has nothing to hide it should give United Nations bodies unrestricted access.
The United Kingdom’s representative also expressed concern over reports of the Russian Federation’s systematic detaining, processing and deporting Ukrainians, with “chilling echoes from European history”. Those forced deportations and displacement were being used to change the demographic makeup of parts of Ukraine. Stressing that the Russian Federation is not just trying to destroy Ukrainian democracy but also Ukrainian identity and culture, she said that “alleged de-Nazification is a cover for de-Ukrainianization”.
The representative of the Russian Federation pointed out that the term “filtration” does not have a clear definition in international humanitarian law. If speakers were identifying those Ukrainian citizens who wish to come to the Russian Federation, then this is a normal practice for any army, he reminded them. Further, the Russian Federation is the largest recipient of Ukrainian refugees, who are living freely and voluntarily in his country. Displaced persons go through registration when they arrive at the Russian border — just like in other countries that process Ukrainian refugees — he said, underscoring that this process was one of registration, not “filtration”.
Kenya’s representative, noting that the war in Ukraine has generated the fastest and largest mass displacement since the Second World War, called for an independent investigation into allegations that some forcibly displaced people are being subjected to filtration processes. Recalling the differential treatment Africans and people of African descent living in Ukraine received when they sought to escape the war as it began, he said that what transpired then still represents a call on all States to “uphold their duty to treat migrants, refugees and asylum seekers with the dignity they deserve”.
The representative of the United Arab Emirates, also focusing on the rights of the displaced, pointed out that, like all wars, this one disproportionately affects women and children. “If ever there were a clear-cut illustration of the need for a gender-responsive humanitarian approach, this is it,” she stressed. Noting that, as with all wars, the human cost only worsens, she underscored that what is needed now are ideas and the political will to make them a reality.
Speaking after Council members, the representative of Ukraine said that the Russian Federation has continued the forcible deportation of Ukrainian citizens to isolated and depressed regions. Most of those transferred to the Russian Federation have no travel documents, literally trapping those wishing to return home. Noting that children are returning to school in most countries, she said that the Russian Federation has regularly targeted educational facilities — damaging 2,177 and destroying 284 — while also continuing its “Russification” of education in the territories it has occupied since February. Further, children from occupied territories are being transferred to the Russian Federation for illegal adoption. She called for all Ukrainian children to be returned to their parents or legal guardians. “Until this happens, this crime needs the most powerful response by the international community,” she added.
Also speaking were representatives of the United States, China, India, Brazil, Ghana, Norway, Mexico, Ireland, Gabon, France, Italy, Poland, Slovakia and Latvia (also for Estonia and Lithuania).
The meeting began at 3:09 p.m. and ended at 5:44 p.m.