(CNSNews.com) – Russia on Wednesday rejected allegations that it has deported thousands of Ukrainian children from Ukrainian territory occupied by Russian forces during its invasion, characterizing their transfer as a humanitarian “evacuation” effort.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for President Vladimir Putin and his government’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of deporting children from occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia, a war crime under the Geneva Convention.
Within days of assuming the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council for April, Russia hosted an informal meeting in New York on Wednesday, and invited Lvova-Belova as one of the briefers.
Western diplomats left the chamber when Lvova-Belova addressed the meeting by video link, and called the participation of the ICC-indicted official “outrageous.”
Since the meeting was being held in an informal format, the U.S. and British missions blocked the use of the U.N.’s media portal to broadcast what they described as misinformation and propaganda. Russia’s U.N. mission independently posted video footage online.
A Yale University School of Public Health study published earlier this year found that Russia has transferred at least 6,000 Ukrainian children to more than 40 identified facilities in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea, for political reeducation and, in some case, adoption by Russians.
An in-depth Associated Press investigation last fall reported on the adoption campaign underway, including the involvement of Lvova-Belova.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the purpose of Wednesday’s meeting was “not only to unmask the blatant double standards of the collective West but also to dispel the widely-circulated myths by Western and Ukrainian media.”
He said children had been “evacuated” from the conflict zone, not “deported” as alleged.
By the logic of the ICC, he argued, instead of evacuating children from the warzone “we should have thrown them into the line of fire.”
In support of his claim of “double standards,” Nebenzia cited the evacuation of thousands of orphans from Saigon during the Vietnam War – the 1975 “Operation Babylift” – and the evacuation of children among Afghans flown out of Kabul airport during the chaotic end of the U.S. military mission in Afghanistan in August 2021.
U.S. delegate Ngoyi Ngoyi said in response Russia’s “attempt to justify its systematic efforts to separate Ukrainian children from their families and their country by attempting to draw false parallels to other situations is appalling.”
“What is the Russian Federation trying so desperately to conceal?” he asked. “If Russia is not trying to hide a systematic program to force Russian citizenship upon Ukraine’s children, then it should give humanitarian organizations full access. It’s as simple as that.”
(With Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield pointedly staying away from the meeting, the U.S. Mission sent Ngoyi, a political advisor.)
Lvova-Belova sought to defend the practice of giving Russian citizenship to the Ukrainian children, saying that doing so provides them with “all the social benefits and guarantees under Russian law.”
When they turn 18 they can decide whether or not to retain the Russian citizenship, she said.
Noting that Moscow has rejected the ICC indictments as “null and void,” Nebenzia said the Hague-based tribunal has “finally turned completely into an instrument subservient to Western countries.”
“By all indications the ICC has embarked on the path of self-destruction, and for us this body no longer exists”
Thomas-Greenfield told reporters that the U.S. had joined Britain in barring the use of U.N. media portal to give Lvova-Belova “an international podium to spread disinformation and to try to defend her horrible actions that are taking place in Ukraine.”
The British Mission said in an earlier statement that she “should not be afforded a U.N. platform to spread disinformation.”
“If Maria Lvova-Belova wants to give an account of her actions, she can do so in the Hague.”
An Independent International Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Ukraine, set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council a year ago, last month reported on a range of rights violations by Russian authorities in the war, and found that the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia in some cases amounted to war crimes.
The Commission examined cases involving the transfer of 164 children, aged between four and 18, and found that none were “justified by safety or medical reasons.”
“There seems to be no indication that it was impossible to allow the children to relocate to territory under Ukrainian Government control. It also does not appear that Russian authorities sought to establish contact with the children’s relatives or with Ukrainian authorities. While the transfers were supposed to be temporary, due to a variety of reasons, most became prolonged, and parents or legal guardians and children encountered an array of obstacles in establishing contact, achieving family reunification, and returning the children to Ukraine.”
After considering the report, the HRC voted to extend the mandate of the COI for another year. Although the resolution passed, 40 percent of council members did not support it. Only two of the HRC’s 47 members (China and Eritrea) voted “no,” but 17 others abstained.
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