Russia's reported transfer of thousands of children from Ukraine is "probably the largest forced deportation in modern history," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday.
"The most chilling crime is that Russia steals Ukrainian children," Kuleba said in a video message on the opening day of the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where Russia's alleged war crimes in Ukraine are being addressed.
"This is a genocidal crime," he added.
According to a US-backed report published earlier in February, Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children in sites in Russian-held Crimea and Russia whose primary purpose appears to be political reeducation.
Yale University researchers had identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a "large-scale systematic network" operated by Moscow since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Germany pushes for return of Ukrainian children
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also denounced the reported systematic deportation of children in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
"What could be more despicable than taking children out of their homes, away from their friends, their loved ones," she said at the start of the session of the UN Human Rights Council.
In her speech, she recalled the fate of 15 children who were kidnapped at the beginning of the Russian invasion of Kherson. The youngest victim was only 9 years old.
"These 15 are among countless Ukrainian children allegedly kidnapped by Russia during its war of aggression against Ukraine," Baerbock said.
"We won't rest until all these kids are home," she said, "because children's rights are human rights and human rights are universal."
Investigating human rights violations in Ukraine
A year ago, the Human Rights Council decided to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights in Russia's invasion of Ukraine and international humanitarian law and secure evidence for court proceedings.
The commission's mandate was initially limited to one year. It is due to present a report on March 20.
Baerbock spoke out in favor of extending the mandate of the commission. The UN experts must also be empowered to investigate the cases of abducted children, she said.
The Human Rights Council in Geneva is the UN's central forum for human rights. The council consists of 47 elected member states and has various instruments at its disposal to advocate for the protection of human rights.
dh/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)