US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Russia for killing civilians in Ukraine, raising the idea that Russia should be kicked off the United Nations Human Rights Council during a speech before the council Tuesday morning.
Blinken told the UN Human Rights Council that Russian strikes “are hitting schools, hospitals and residential buildings.”
“They are destroying critical infrastructure, which provides millions of people across Ukraine with drinking water, gas to keep them from freezing to death, and electricity,” Blinken said. “Civilian buses, cars, and even ambulances have been shelled. Russia is doing this every day – across Ukraine.”
The remarks by the top US diplomat come after Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of war crimes for bombing the city of Kharkiv.
Over the past two days, Russian attacks have hit civilians, suggesting a shift towards a far more aggressive bombing campaign. Earlier Russian attacks were more focused on military targets.
On Tuesday, at least 10 people were killed and 35 injured in rocket strikes by Russian forces on the center of Kharkiv, according to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry adviser Anton Herashchenko. A large explosion destroyed a government building in central Kharkiv, according to videos of the incident posted by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ukrainian government officials.
The UN says that at least 102 civilians have been killed across the country and 304 injured, though those figures are likely to underestimate the true toll.
A senior US defense official said the Russian military is showing signs of being risk averse with its own troops, but they’re not with civilians, noting the Russian defense ministry was openly admitting it would target Ukrainian government infrastructure in Kyiv.
“We can’t say definitively that they are deliberately targeting civilian population areas or civilians. We can’t prove that,” the official said Tuesday. “But they certainly are not as risk averse when it comes to the impact they’re having on the civilian population as they seem to be with their own troops.”
The UN Human Rights Council is made of up 47 member states elected by the UN general assembly, and Russia is one of the countries on the council.
“One can reasonably ask whether a UN member state that tries to take over another UN member state – while committing horrific human rights abuses and causing massive humanitarian suffering – should be allowed to remain on this Council,” Blinken said.
Blinken also criticized countries such as China who have not clearly stated that Russia is the sole perpetrator of this crisis.
“Council members should stop using language implying that all sides bear equal responsibility for the unprovoked attack of one side,” he said. “This isn’t evenhanded – it’s wrong – and fails to place accountability where it belongs. The same goes for members who argue, falsely, that denouncing human rights abuses is ‘politicizing’ the situation. It is failing to speak up about human rights abuses that politicizes the situation.”
Blinken challenged the UNHRC to come together to try and prevent an even more deadly war.
“These are the human rights abuses this Council was created to stop. If we cannot come together now, when will we come together?” Blinken asked.
Zelensky also made an impassioned plea Tuesday for European leaders to “prove” their solidarity with his country.
“We are fighting for our life,” he said in a speech to the EU Parliament earlier on Tuesday.