Speech by Wopke Hoeksta at the Ukraine conference in New York

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoeksta at the Ukraine conference in New York, 22 February 2023 – Side event 'Gross human rights violations due to the aggression against Ukraine'. Watch the video of the speech.

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I can't get it out of my head. The conversation I had with Sasha. A 12-year-old boy who’s seen more misery in his life than we'll probably see in ours.

He told me how his eye had been injured during a Russian missile attack. How he’d been captured by Russian forces, separated from his mother, and told he’d be adopted by Russians because he had no parents.

It was only thanks to the perseverance of his grandmother that he was able to escape the dark fate that has befallen thousands of Ukrainian children.

I have to say that it truly grieves me how these children are being ripped away from their families, their culture and their heritage. How Russia is trying to eradicate the Ukrainian identity by targeting the most vulnerable.

Ladies and gentlemen,

One year after Russia began its unwarranted, unprovoked and illegal war in Ukraine, the crimes are piling up:

Child abductions, sexual violence, torture.

The shelling of schools, hospitals and houses.

The destruction of entire neighborhoods.

This has to stop.

And yes, eventually we all want peace. But the only way to bring about peace is by not tolerating this aggression.

As we look ahead towards a future peace, we must also look back. To the flagrant violations of international law. Atrocities we cannot ignore.

That’s why the Netherlands is taking a leading role in ensuring justice for the people of Ukraine, in line with President Zelenskyy’s Peace Formula.

We are working to achieve full accountability for international crimes committed in Ukraine. Accountability that puts survivors’ needs front and centre. With a watertight judicial process that ensures that Russia doesn’t get away with such crimes.

And it’s to this end we’re supporting the quest for accountability. We’re doing so bilaterally with Ukraine, via international coordination and investigative mechanisms, and via the ICC. For this quest to succeed, we also need watertight evidence. That’s why the Netherlands is sending another two forensic investigation missions to Ukraine. I would like to invite all States Parties to the Rome Statute present here today to contribute to this effort. And basically: to do the same.

As I’ve said, nobody should get away with crimes like these. Therefore we strongly support the establishment of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression. This center, to be located in The Hague, will collect evidence that can be used to eventually try Russian leadership.

The Netherlands will host a register of damage claims arising from Russia’s aggression. And we will soon be launching a Dialogue Group, to facilitate the coordination of accountability initiatives, together with Ukraine, the EU and the ICC. Here too, I would like to invite all of you to join and support these accountability initiatives.

Dear friends, we must do all we can to prevent further injustice. By doing everything in our power to return children like Sasha to their country, their parents, their loved ones. This is why the Netherlands joined forces with Ukraine and Germany to make sure the world knows that Russia is systematically abducting Ukrainian children. And why we firmly support the new sanctions that the EU is planning. I urge everyone in this room today to join us in condemning these appalling crimes.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sasha’s grandmother travelled through Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Russia, then into Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine to get her grandson back. She succeeded because she refused to give up. The Ukrainian people are still standing because they refuse to give up.

We must help them with the same resolve. We must do so not only for the people of Ukraine, but for the future of all of us. Because the core values that bring us together here today… The core values of the United Nations… are at stake.

There can never be peace in a world where crime and brute force prevail over justice.

Thank you.