Ukraine

High Commissioner to Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Ukraine: Many of the Allegations of Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Ukraine May Amount to War Crimes

The Human Rights Council this morning began its thirty-fourth special session on the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression, hearing the High Commissioner for Human Rights say that her Office continued to verify allegations of violations of international human rights law and of international humanitarian law in Ukraine, many of which may amount to war crimes.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that the causes of civilian casualties that the Office had been recording in Ukraine had not significantly changed since the last time she addressed the Council. The vast majority continued to be caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, such as shelling from heavy artillery, including multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes. According to information, while such incidents could be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appeared attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. The only way to bring a stop to further violations was to end the hostilities.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Chair of the Special Procedures' Coordinating Committee, said that since 24 February, the Coordinating Committee had been receiving information about the disastrous consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Every day, this information added to a catalogue of grave violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. The consequences of this military attack on the protection and promotion of human rights in Ukraine would be profound and long-lasting and would cause immense suffering and irreparable harm lasting for generations. The Russian Federation should immediately end its invasion of Ukraine to avoid further bloodshed and loss of life.

Erik Møse, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, said the Commission was - as stated in its mandate - independent. It had no link to any particular country, party, or entity. The Commission would continue to seek contact with the parties to the conflict, with victims, civil society and other stakeholders. It would be necessary to build upon a broad range of sources that would have to be considered together. The Commission would evaluate the evidence carefully, giving particular weight to primary evidence and seeking corroboration whenever needed. The findings of the Commission, reported to the Human Rights Council, would be based on the independent assessment of the commissioners and their analysis of the information and evidence that came out of their investigations.

Russia was not present in the room to take the floor as a country concerned.

Ukraine, speaking as a country concerned, said it had been 10 weeks since the Human Rights Council discussed the humanitarian and human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. It had been 10 weeks of sheer horror and of deep suffering for every Ukrainian family. Thousands of people had lost their lives, more than 200 children among them. Russian bombing and shelling had become part of everyday life. Torture, enforced disappearances and sexual violence were among the least of the crimes committed by Russia. The Council had a moral responsibility to act.

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said it was imperative that all perpetrators of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law be held to account. Justice for victims was the foundation for future peace and reconciliation and for the prevention of further atrocities. For this, the collection and preservation of evidence was essential. Russia’s deceptions, lies and efforts at disinformation were condemned, as were the abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Russia must withdraw immediately, fully and unconditionally from Ukrainian territory. It was the responsibility of the international community, including the Council, to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes at every level were brought to justice.

Other speakers said that it was incumbent upon the Council to base its judgements on an impartial assessment of the situation. All parties must take steps to de-escalate the conflict and put human lives first. Measures must be taken to avoid politicisation and avoid exacerbating the debate. It was important for the Council to continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine, and draw attention to the plight of individuals affected, irrespective of geo-political considerations. In recent years the politicisation and confrontation in the Human Rights Council had been on the rise, which had impacted credibility and solidarity, and all parties should get back to and abide by the founding principles of the Council, uphold multilateralism, and work to support the cause of human rights.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council elected Muhammadou Kah, Permanent Representative of the Gambia, to act as a Vice-President of the Council for the African group of States for the period from 1 May 2022 to 31 December 2022.

Speaking this morning were the Marshall Islands on behalf of a group of countries, Estonia on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic Countries, France on behalf of the European Union, Luxembourg, Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, United Kingdom, India, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Lithuania, France, United States of America, Republic of Korea, Paraguay, Indonesia, Mexico, Japan, Pakistan, Poland, Montenegro, Finland, Netherlands, China, Nepal, Czech Republic, Eritrea, Austria, Romania, Canada, Colombia, International Development Law Organization, Australia, Peru, Ireland, Ecuador, Portugal, Latvia, New Zealand, Sovereign Order of Malta, Nicaragua, Switzerland, Albania, Moldova, Malta, Sweden, Belarus, North Macedonia, Italy, Denmark, Chile, Liechtenstein, Norway, Syria, Bulgaria, Uruguay, Turkey, Croatia, Iceland, Slovenia, Cyprus, Viet Nam, Spain, Greece, and Timor Leste.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s thirty-fourth special session can be found here.

The Council is scheduled to meet again this afternoon at 3 p.m. to conclude its discussion and to take action on a draft resolution before closing its thirty-fourth special session.

Keynote Statements(https://reliefweb.int/node/3846293)

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said her Office continued to verify allegations of violations of international human rights law and of international humanitarian law in Ukraine, many of which may amount to war crimes. The pattern of causes of civilian casualties that the Office had been recording in Ukraine had not significantly changed since the last time she addressed the Council. The vast majority continued to be caused by the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas, such as shelling from heavy artillery, including multiple launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes. According to information, while such incidents could be attributed to both parties to the conflict, most of these casualties appeared attributable to the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups.

Last week, the Monitoring Mission in Ukraine had visited 14 towns and villages in the Kyiv and Chernihiv regions which, until the end of March, were controlled by Russian armed forces, and heard first-hand accounts of relatives, neighbours and friends being killed, injured, detained and disappeared. To date, over 1,000 civilian bodies had been recovered in the Kyiv region alone. Some of these people were killed in hostilities, others appeared to have been summarily executed. Others still had died because of stress to their health caused by hostilities and the lack of medical aid.

The scale of unlawful killings, including indicia of summary executions in areas to the north of Kyiv, was shocking. While the Office had information about 300 such killings, the figures would continue to increase as new evidence became available. These killings of civilians often appeared to be intentional, carried out by snipers and soldiers. Unarmed local men were killed because Russian soldiers suspected them of supporting Ukrainian forces or otherwise being a potential threat, and some were tortured before being killed. The Office estimated that the civilian death toll in Mariupol lay in the thousands, while only with time would the true scale of atrocities, casualties and damage become clear. Active hostilities were now focused on the Azovstal industrial area, with residential areas of the city now largely occupied by the Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. This raised human rights concerns of a different nature than those arising in areas of active hostilities.

The Office was looking into allegations of sexual violence and had verified a dozen cases across the country. Ms. Bachelet said she was concerned by allegations of sexual violence that had emerged from areas in the Kyiv region that were formerly under the control of Russian armed forces. Women and girls were the most frequently cited victims; however, reports of men and boys being affected were starting to emerge.

The Mission also spoke to people who were searching for their relatives and friends, and had documented some cases of Russian armed forces having detained civilians, mostly young men, and then transferred them to Belarus and then Russia, where they were held in pre-trial detention centres. Overall, since 24 February, it had documented 204 cases of enforced disappearance, the overwhelming majority of them by Russian armed forces and affiliated armed groups. It had also documented 10 cases of possible enforced disappearances of people considered to be pro-Russian in Government controlled territory which appeared to have been committed by Ukrainian law enforcement officials.

The only way to bring a stop to further violations was to end the hostilities. That must remain the primary objective. However, while hostilities continued and for as long as they lasted, all parties must give clear instructions to their combatants to protect civilians and persons hors de combat, as well as to distinguish between civilian and military objects. Those in command of armed forces must make it clear to their members that anyone found to have been involved in such violations would be prosecuted and held accountable.

Ms. Bachelet urged both parties to the conflict to fully respect their obligations under international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including to investigate all allegations of violations, and above all to commit to protecting every civilian woman, man and child and those hors de combat.

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said since 24 February, the Coordination Committee had been receiving information about the disastrous consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Every day, this information added to a catalogue of grave violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. Special Procedure mandate holders remained collectively appalled by the aggression by the Russian Federation on the sovereign State of Ukraine that was harming its territorial integrity, and had condemned this aggression in no uncertain terms.

The consequences of this military attack on the protection and promotion of human rights in Ukraine would be profound and long-lasting and would cause immense suffering and irreparable harm lasting for generations. The Special Procedures were appalled by the disturbing reports of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law which may amount to war crimes. They also remained profoundly concerned about the safety and protection of everyone in Ukraine and the well-founded fear which now pervaded the daily life of every member of that society. All attacks allegedly targeting civilians were condemned and should stop immediately.

The secondary effects of the conflict and displacement on food production, which were forecast to affect the availability of food in Ukraine and also globally, were also a serious concern. With the Russian aggression, all were now facing the risk of imminent famine and starvation in more places around the word. Multiple forms of gender-based violence were being reported such as sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual violence, including conflict-related sexual violence. Women and girls on the move experienced particularly high insecurity and risk of violence, including trafficking in persons. The lives of all people of Ukraine were in danger, including ethnic, national, linguistic and religious minorities. There was serious concern about reports of people of African descent and racial and ethnic minorities being subjected to discriminatory treatment as they fled Ukraine.

Mandate holders were also profoundly concerned about the safety of journalists, media workers and associated personnel in Ukraine, who were carrying out their work under unprecedented conditions, and were now at a very high risk. They also noted that the war in Ukraine had further highlighted the risks of the proliferation of disinformation, misinformation, incitement to violence and hatred, and restrictions of lawful speech on digital and social media platforms.

The Russian Federation should immediately end its invasion of Ukraine to avoid further bloodshed and loss of life. The Coordination Committee strongly condemned these, and reminded all that intentional attacks against civilians and civilian objects amounted to war crimes. The Coordination Committee urged the parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law and international human rights law. All alleged violations must be thoroughly, independently, impartially and effectively investigated with a view to establishing full accountability of all those responsible. Full light should be shed on the suffering of the people in Ukraine and responsibilities identified, and the Coordination Committee supported all the efforts being made to investigate these allegations. The parties should establish a humanitarian ceasefire and there should be meaningful negotiations for peace.

ERIK MØSE, Chairperson of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine, said on 27 April 2022, the Commission had participated at the Security Council's Arria Formula Meeting about accountability for atrocities, to demonstrate in a visible way the Commission's availability to communicate with all stakeholders from the beginning. This week, the Commission had convened in Geneva and held meetings with a large number of Member States, non-governmental organizations based in Ukraine, and Geneva-based non-governmental organizations. It had also solicited the views of the Permanent Mission of Ukraine and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine. The Commission had sought contact with the Russian Federation and it remained ready to communicate with them. The Commission had exchanged views with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights on co-ordination and co-operation within the framework of the mandate given to the Commission by resolution 49/1.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine was - as stated in its mandate - independent. It did not link to any particular country, party, or entity. The Commission would continue to seek contact with the parties to the conflict, with victims, civil society and other stakeholders. It would be necessary to build upon a broad range of sources that would have to be considered together. The Commission would evaluate the evidence carefully, giving particular weight to primary evidence and seeking corroboration whenever needed. The findings of the Commission, reported to the Human Rights Council, would be based on the independent assessment of the commissioners and their analysis of the information and evidence that came out of their investigations.

While not a strictly judicial instance, one of the Commission's tasks was to identify, where possible, individuals and entities responsible for violations or abuses of human rights or of international humanitarian law, or other related crimes. The Commission intended to take a victim-centred approach to make recommendations about the full range of accountability measures.

Statement by Country Concerned

Russia was not in the room to take the floor as a country concerned.

Ukraine, speaking as a country concerned, said it had been 10 weeks since the Human Rights Council discussed the humanitarian and human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression. It had been 10 weeks of sheer horror and of deep suffering for every Ukrainian family. Thousands of people had lost their lives, more than 200 children among them. Russian bombing and shelling had become part of everyday life. Millions had left their homes, becoming either refugees or internally displaced persons. Cities had been razed to the ground or become unsuitable to live in. Torture, enforced disappearances and sexual violence were among the least of the crimes committed by Russia. Ukrainians had been forcibly relocated to Crimea and imprisoned by Russian forces. People were being killed for their refusal to collaborate with the Russian-appointed administrations in the occupied areas.

The Human Rights Council had a moral responsibility to act. In March it had adopted a resolution that passed with a strong majority. In March, all took an important step aimed at ensuring future accountability for criminals guilty of atrocities: now the time had come to take further steps in this direction. The areas that had been under Russian occupation had experienced the most gruesome human rights violations on the European continent in decades. Thousands of innocent civilians had been executed in the presence of their family members, women had been raped in front of their children, children had been raped in front of their parents. All these victims called to the Council to mandate a special investigation of the Commission of Inquiry into these crimes. All Member States should support the resolution that would be presented today.

The situation in Crimea was overshadowed by the new wave of military aggression. Ukrainians in Crimea had been conscripted into the Russian army and forced to fight against their Motherland. They had been deprived of their rights, not allowed to use their own language, and their religious institutions had been closed. It was difficult to imagine anything worse than what had happened in now-liberated areas, but the situation in Mariupol was even more disturbing. There should be no doubt that it must be at the top of the Council’s agenda: the city had been turned into dust but refused to surrender. Food security in Ukraine appeared to be another deliberate target of Russia, with the looting of tons of grain; the blockade of shipments from ports and the mining of shipping routes harmed global food security. Over 1.7 billion people could risk poverty and famine as a result of Russia’s full-fledged, unprovoked war against all, and the world needed to stand together in solidarity to defeat this pure evil.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, some speakers said 77 days had passed since Russia’s unprovoked, unjust and illegal invasion of Ukraine, in clear violation of international law, with indiscriminate shelling and bombing of populated areas, targeting civilian areas, including schools. There had been thousands of civilian casualties and reports of the use of torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary killings and detention, and sexual and gender-based violence, actions that could amount to war crimes and other crimes under international law. It was imperative that all perpetrators of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law be held to account.

Justice for victims was the foundation for future peace and reconciliation and for the prevention of further atrocities. For this, the collection and preservation of evidence was essential. Russia had ignored the calls of the international community, the Human Rights Council and other bodies to cease all aggression and remove its forces and equipment from the territory of Ukraine. Unfortunately, said some speakers, sanctions had not been enough to stop Russia and there were devastating global consequences, including for food and food security for millions. It was possible that war crimes and crimes against humanity were being perpetrated on a daily basis.

Russia’s deceptions, lies and efforts at disinformation were condemned, as were the abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The work of the Independent International Commission on Ukraine was supported. The human rights violations by Russia’s forces were engraved in the memory of all and justified the special session. The suffering of children, the targeting of civilian infrastructure, the torture, the disappearances, the rapes, showed the scale of this war, and the perpetrators must be brought to justice to answer for their acts. Russia must withdraw immediately, fully and unconditionally from Ukrainian territory.

Some speakers said there should be the immediate establishment of humanitarian corridors. A food and energy crisis was looming for the world, especially in least developed countries, as Ukrainian farmers could not work their land, and Russia blocked grain ships from the ports. It was the responsibility of the international community, including the Council, to ensure that the perpetrators of these crimes at every level were brought to justice. The international community could not look away from the terrible human rights violations carried out in this terrible war of aggression by the Russian Federation.

Russia had brutally violated the founding principles of the United Nations, and every day brought reports of more atrocities, with reports of mass transfers of civilians to Russia, and mass graves. This trail of destruction must be brought to an end. Because of the gravity of these acts and the witness accounts, the Human Rights Council must assume its responsibility and investigate all crimes and reports of crimes. All Member States should support the resolution that was being presented today: it was the responsibility of the Council and was a question of the effectiveness and the future of the multilateral system.

Faced with Putin’s utter disregard for human rights and human life, some speakers said that the international community must use every appropriate tool to ensure that Russia withdrew its troops and abided by the United Nations Charter. World-wide efforts to stand up for human rights, sovereignty and territorial integrity had become a profound international movement. The Commission of Inquiry would ensure that Russia would not get away with its continued attempts to hide atrocities committed. The human rights abuses and violations must not remain unpunished, and the efforts made to preserve evidence must be supported. States and international organizations had an obligation to ensure that food security, famine and hunger must not be the outcome of this situation of war and the suffering of the Ukrainian people.

The deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine was a harrowing case study of how violations against a nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity could only lead to the escalation of violence, destruction, and human rights violations. It was thus vital for all Member States to assert unwavering support towards the international legal obligation of all States to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other States. Any effort to undermine these principles, not only undermined the integrity of international law, but also tarnished States’ capacities to ensure the protection of human rights. The international community, therefore, had to move in unison to strengthen respect of these time-honoured principles, as well as provide aid without regard to race, colour, religion or ethnicity.

Other speakers said that it was incumbent upon the Council to base its judgements on an impartial assessment of the situation. All parties must take steps to de-escalate the conflict and put human lives first. Measures must be taken to avoid politicisation and exacerbating the debate. It was important for the Council to continue to monitor the situation in Ukraine, and draw attention to the plight of individuals affected, irrespective of geo-political considerations. All parties should jointly support the dialogue and negotiations between Russia and Ukraine to bring about peaceful outcomes, fundamentally guaranteeing the rights of the people of Russia and Ukraine, and the international community should support this, rather than laying down obstacles or adding fuel to the fire and escalating tensions.

In recent years the politicisation and confrontation in the Human Rights Council had been on the rise, which had impacted credibility and solidarity, and all parties should get back to and abide by the founding principles of the Council, uphold multilateralism, and work to support the cause of human rights. One speaker said that it was worth mentioning that the Council had never taken action in other similar situations. It was a matter of concern that the situation was being used as a bargaining chip in geo-political one-upmanship. Countries and institutions should refrain from a bloc mentality and should not support war, rather search for peaceful compromises. Imposing illegal unilateral coercive measures would only serve to escalate the situation and threaten Russia’s internal security, and the resolution ignored this, making it a failed recipe to address human rights issues in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2022/05/morning-high-commissioner-special-session-human-rights-council

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