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Mariupol ‘horrors’ will leave ‘indelible mark’: UN rights chief

The extent of death and destruction in Ukraine's port city of Mariupol suggests serious international law violations, the UN rights chief said Thursday, warning the horrors would mark future generations.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addresses the press on the opening day of the 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva on June 13, 2022. – UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet announced that she will not seek a second term, ending months of speculation about her intentions and amid growing criticism of her lax stance on rights abuses in China. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

The extent of death and destruction in Ukraine’s port city of Mariupol suggests serious international law violations, the UN rights chief said Thursday, warning the horrors would mark future generations.

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Michelle Bachelet painted a grim picture of one of the bloodiest chapters so far in Russia’s war in Ukraine.

“Between February and the end of April, Mariupol was likely the deadliest place in Ukraine,” she said, in an update on the situation in the strategic port city, now held by Moscow.

“The intensity and extent of hostilities, destruction and death and injury strongly suggest that serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross violations of international human rights law have occurred,” she said.

Russia declared victory in May in its months-long operation to capture Mariupol, after Ukraine ordered the last of its troops holed up in the city’s steelworks to lay down their arms.

The three months of battles sent hundreds of thousands of people running for their lives and caused untold suffering and death.

Bachelet said that her staff had verified 1,348 civilian deaths in the city, including 70 children.

“These deaths were caused by air strikes, tank and artillery shelling and small arms and light weapons during street fighting,” she said.

But she acknowledged that “the actual death toll of hostilities on civilians is likely thousands higher.”

The rights office assessed that up to 90 percent of residential buildings in Mariupol had been damaged or destroyed and an estimated 350,000 people were forced to leave the city.

Moscow’s offensive on Mariupol has drawn multiple accusations of war crimes, including over attacks on a maternity ward and a theatre, where hundreds of mainly women and children were sheltering.

Bachelet said the theatre attack “stands out among the very deadliest and most emblematic examples of the harm caused to civilians.”

While the shelling has now faded, Bachelet warned that residents left behind are “struggling daily with limited access to basic utilities and social services, such as medical care.”

The UN rights chief warned that “the horrors inflicted on the civilian population will leave their indelible mark, including on generations to come.”

“On the parents who had to bury their own children, on people who witnessed their friends commit suicide, on families ripped apart, on all those who had to leave a much-loved city with uncertain prospects of ever seeing it again.”

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