By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA (Reuters) -More than 100 diplomats from some 40 Western countries and allies including Japan walked out of a speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the top U.N. human rights forum on Tuesday in protest over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The boycott by envoys from the European Union, the United States, Britain and others left only a few diplomats in the room including Russia’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, who is a former deputy to Lavrov. Envoys from Syria, China and Venezuela were among delegations that stayed.
Lavrov was addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council remotely, after cancelling his visit due to what the Russian mission said on Monday were EU states blocking his flight path.
Neutral Switzerland also imposed financial sanctions on Lavrov on Monday, a measure of the international revulsion over an invasion Russia describes as a “special military operation” aimed at dislodging “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine.
In his speech, Lavrov accused the EU of engaging in a “Russophobic frenzy” by supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine during Moscow’s military campaign that began last Thursday.
A Russian armoured column bore down on Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Tuesday and invasion forces fired rocket barrages into the centre of Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, on the sixth day of Russia’s assault on its neighbour.
‘SHOW OF SUPPORT’
Among the diplomats who walked out, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly and Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod joined Ukraine’s ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko behind a large Ukrainian blue and yellow flag.
“It is a remarkable show of support for Ukrainians who are fighting for their independence,” Filipenko told reporters.
Filipenko said there had been “massive destruction to civilian infrastructure” in Kharkiv, adding: “The maternity wards are being attacked, civilian residential buildings are being bombed.”
Russia denies targeting any civilian sites.
Canada’s Joly said: “Minister Lavrov was giving his version, which is false, about what is happening in Ukraine and so that’s why we wanted to show a very strong stance together.”
Later on Tuesday Canada will petition the International Criminal Court over what Joly said were Russia’s “crimes against humanity and war crimes”. [L8N2V44MO]
She was referring to the Hague-based court where the office of the ICC prosecutor on Monday said it would seek court approval to open an investigation into alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
The U.S. envoy to the Human Rights Council, Michele Taylor, said in a statement: “This Russian war of aggression will have profound implications for human rights in Ukraine and Russia, and the leaders of Russia will be held accountable.”
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Emma Farge and Gareth Jones)