The United Nations human rights office has received “credible reports” that Russian forces are using cluster munitions in Ukraine, including in populated areas which is prohibited under international humanitarian law, the U.N. political chief said Friday.
Undersecretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo told a U.N. Security Council meeting that residential areas and civilian infrastructure are being shelled in Mariupol, Kharkiv, Sumy and Chernihiv and “the utter devastation being visited on these cities is horrific.”
Most of the civilian casualties recorded by the U.N. human rights office — 564 killed and 982 injured as of Thursday — “have been caused by explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes,” she said.
“Indiscriminate attacks, including those using cluster munitions, which are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction, are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” DiCarlo said. “Directing attacks against civilian and civilian objects, as well as so-called area bombardment in towns and villages, are also prohibited under international law and may amount to war crimes.”
As of Thursday the U.N. World Health Organization has verified 26 attacks on health facilities, health workers and ambulances, including the bombing of the Mariupol maternity hospital, which caused 12 deaths and 34 injuries, DiCarlo said.
All alleged violations of international humanitarian law must be investigated and those found responsible must be held accountable, she said.
DiCarlo stressed that “the need for negotiations to stop the war in Ukraine could not be more urgent.”
Footage recorded on the outskirts of Kyiv by Radio Free Europe on Wednesday shows Ukrainian soldiers with rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers slung over their shoulders traversing snow-dusted fields and woods and expressing disdain toward the Russians.
One unidentified soldier called their adversaries “orcs,” a reference to the monstrous and malevolent foot soldiers in the “Lord of the Rings” series.
Another soldier said they planned to kill all their enemies over the bombing of Mariupol.
“We’ll multiply them by zero,” the unidentified soldier said.
Gunfire and explosions erupt during the 3-minute, 30-second clip. At one point in the woods, shots split the air near the group, and soldiers drop to their stomachs in an instant and return fire. The assailants are not visible in the clip, but the crack-crack-crack from the gunfire exchange carries on for 15 seconds in one part of the clip.
The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has opened an online portal to gather evidence of war crimes in Ukraine, as he renewed his call to combatants to abide by the laws of war.
President Biden on Friday stressed that the U.S. and NATO allies would not fight Russia in Ukraine, describing such a scenario as "World War III."
"We’re going to continue to stand together with our allies in Europe and send an unmistakable message. We will defend every single inch of NATO territory with the full might of the united and galvanized NATO," Biden said after announcing additional sanctions on Russia. "We will not fight a war against Russia in Ukraine. Direct conflict between NATO and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent."
The president's comments were his starkest warning yet as some experts and journalists have asked what type of Russian escalation might trigger a U.S. military response.
Some lawmakers have pushed for establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine, something White House officials have ruled out because it would involve U.S. and allied forces potentially shooting down Russian planes in Ukrainian airspace.
And multiple reporters have asked in recent days whether the use of chemical weapons by Russia would trigger a U.S. military response.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that he had "cooled down" about Ukraine's bid to join NATO amid Russia's war with the Eastern European country.
"Regarding NATO, I have cooled down regarding this question long ago after we understood that NATO is not prepared to accept Ukraine," Zelensky told ABC News in an exclusive interview that aired Monday night.
Zelensky added: "The alliance is afraid of controversial things and confrontation with Russia. I never wanted to be a country which is begging something on its knees. We are not going to be that country, and I don't want to be that president."
Ukraine's pursuit of NATO membership has been cited by Russian President Vladimir Putin as a justification for his decision to invade Ukraine.