Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a dramatic video appearance at the United Nations on Tuesday called on the body to remove Russia from the Security Council days after evidence circulated of executions and other atrocities committed by Russian troops in his country.
Zelensky said Russia should be removed from its place as a permanent member of the Security Council, where it holds veto power, arguing that it was time to reform the global peace-keeping body.
“We are dealing with a state that is turning the veto [in] the U.N. Security Council into the right to die,” Zelensky said in his remarks. “This undermines the whole architecture of global security and allows them to go unpunished.”
“The main thing is today, it’s time to transform the system, the United Nations,” he told the Security Council.
Photos of civilians apparently killed by Russian troops in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha — including at least one person whose hands were tied behind their back — suggested Russian troops had indiscriminately shot and killed civilians during their occupation of the town.
Satellite images indicated that bodies had been left in the streets for weeks, contradicting Russian suggestions that the photos were staged.
The Ukrainian president’s speech was accompanied by a graphic video showing harrowing images of some of the carnage discovered in Ukrainian cities that were under Russian occupation.
Among the images included what appeared to be the body of a man at the bottom of a well, the unclothed body of a child who was blindfolded and lying on top of other dead bodies, charred bodies piled on top of each other and trenches filled with bodies.
There is no provision or mechanism to remove a permanent member of the Security Council written into the U.N. charter. The five permanent members are Russia, the U.S., United Kingdom, France and China.
Each permanent member holds a veto power to reject measures brought up for a vote on the Security Council. These can include imposing sanctions or authorizing the use of force to maintain or restore international peace of security, although the council has yet to take up such measures related to Russia’s current war in Ukraine.
China, which has abstained from votes related to Moscow in the Security Council instead of using its veto, has largely offered support for Russia before and during the invasion and would be unlikely to support removing Russia from the Security Council.
Russia has used its veto power in the Security Council to reject statements of resolution condemning Moscow’s invasion that began on Feb. 24, although two votes in the General Assembly have garnered a majority of member states voting to condemn Russia as the aggressor.
If Russia is not removed from the council, Zelensky said the body should just be dissolved.
“If there is no alternative and no option, then the next option would be dissolve yourself altogether,” he said.
The Ukrainian president proposed a global conference to convene in Kyiv to discuss reforms to the United Nations.
“It is now clear that the goals set in San Francisco in 1945 for the creation of a global security international organization have not been achieved, and it is impossible to achieve them without reforms,” he said.
Zelensky detailed some of the most harrowing circumstances of the victims found on the outskirts of Kyiv after Russia’s retreat. He said that people were shot in the back of the head after being tortured, some shot on the streets and that civilians were crushed to death in their cars by tanks.
“They cut off limbs, slashed their throats, women were raped and killed in front of their children. Their tongues were pulled out only because the aggressor did not hear what they wanted to hear from them,” Zelensky said in his remarks. He also called for a “Nuremberg-like” trial against Russia — a term that refers to the international military tribunal held in the aftermath of World War II.
“The Russian military, and those who gave them orders must be brought to justice, immediately for war crimes in Ukraine,” he said.
The U.S., allies and other top international leaders have said that atrocities uncovered in Ukraine allegedly inflicted by Russian forces constitute as war crimes, and efforts to document the events are being shared with relevant bodies carrying out investigations.
Of these include an investigation by the International Criminal Court, the office of the Ukrainian Prosecutor General and investigations by other regional countries in eastern Europe.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said on Tuesday that he has also directed an independent investigation into the atrocities discovered in Bucha, adding that he was “deeply shocked” by personal testimony of rapes and sexual violence.
“I deeply regret the divisions that have prevented the Security Council from acting not only on Ukraine, but on other threats to peace and security around the world,” Gutterres said. “I urge the council to do everything in its power to end the war and to mitigate its impact both on the suffering people of Ukraine and on vulnerable people in developing countries around the world.”
Rosemary DiCarlo, Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, also updated the council on the latest casualties coming from Ukraine, saying that the top U.N. body monitoring human rights had confirmed 1,480 civilians killed, and 2,195 injured since Feb. 24, but that the “actual figures are considerably higher.”
The revelations of atrocities that have come from Bucha raise even more concern over the fate of civilians in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, which has been under an intensive siege by Russia for over a month and is viewed as an indispensable front for Moscow to connect by land with the Crimean peninsula, which it controls.
While Russian forces have pulled back their troops from Kyiv, Ukrainians, the U.S. and NATO have said that such a move is aimed at repositioning the military in Ukraine’s east to focus on areas where it has established more dominance, in particular the eastern Donbas region and in the south from the sea of Azov.
The U.S. and others have said indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas in Mariupol and the bombing of hospitals, schools, and shelters marked with the words “children” likely constitute war crimes for targeting civilians. Journalists have documented civilians killed under alleged Russian shelling as they attempt to escape the city under supposed humanitarian corridors.
Martin Griffiths, the U.N.’s Under Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said in a briefing to the Security Council that “Mariupol is the center of hell.”
“We restate here that civilians must be allowed to move to safer areas without the fear of attacks, at their own choice and at their own selection,” Griffiths said, adding that he had communicated to officials in Moscow to establish a pause in the fighting to provide humanitarian assistance.
“I came away from these meetings, believing that we have a very long road, a long road ahead of us, but it must be traveled,” he said.
Updated 1:37 p.m.