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US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday told the UN’s human rights body that Russian “crimes” were mounting in Ukraine, with strikes claiming civilian lives and devastating homes and public buildings.
“Russian strikes are hitting schools, hospitals and residential buildings,” Mr Blinken said in a video message to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
“Reports of Russia's human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law mount by the hour.”
His comments were the latest in a chorus of international condemnation of Russia — coupled with biting economic sanctions — over its assault on Ukraine, which Moscow says is aimed at ousting a “Nazi” government from the capital Kiev.
Earlier, more than 100 diplomats from about 40 countries walked out of the UN chamber during a speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in protest over the escalating conflict.
Still, President Vladimir Putin is pressing ahead with his assault on Ukraine, where fierce fighting and a Russian bombardment have claimed dozens of lives and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
An urgent UN Human Rights Council debate on Ukraine is scheduled for Thursday, where a resolution brought by Kiev and its allies would establish an international probe into abuses committed during the advance of Russian forces.
Mr Blinken urged council members to “send a resolute and unified message that President Putin should unconditionally stop this”.
“We must reject Russia's attempts to falsely justify this attack as a defence of human rights — misappropriating terms that we reserve for the worst atrocities and disrespecting every victim of those crimes,” he added.
At UN headquarters in New York, the 193-nation General Assembly was holding a two-day debate on Ukraine, which was expected to lead to a vote on a draft resolution condemning the invasion on Wednesday morning.
Almost 100 UN members have co-sponsored the resolution. The draft document, a copy of which was obtained by The National, condemns Russia’s invasion and its decision to “increase the readiness of its nuclear forces” and calls on Moscow to pull its troops out of Ukraine.
The draft also “deplores the involvement of Belarus in this unlawful use of force against Ukraine and calls on it to abide by its international obligations".
International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan on Monday announced plans to launch an investigation into the Russian assault, saying there was a “reasonable basis” to believe war crimes were being committed.
UN agencies on Tuesday launched an appeal for $1.7 billion appeal to respond to the escalating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.
At a press conference in Geneva, UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said Russia’s assault on its smaller neighbour had “turned very ugly very fast” and urged donors to give generously.
“Families with small children are hunkered down in basements and subway stations or running for their lives to the terrifying sound of explosions and wailing sirens,” said Mr Griffiths.
“This is the darkest hour for the people of Ukraine. We need to ramp up our response now to protect the lives and dignity of ordinary Ukrainians. We must respond with compassion and solidarity.”
The UNHCR reported that as many as 150,000 people have fled Ukraine in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of refugees to about 677,000.