Human Rights Council establishes an Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine

On 4 March 2022, The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in which it decided to establish an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate all alleged violations of human rights in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine. The Council also held a minute of silence for the victims of the aggression in Ukraine.

In the resolution, which was adopted after a vote of 32 in favour, 2 against and 13 abstentions, the Council condemned in the strongest possible terms the human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law resulting from the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and called upon the Russian Federation to immediately end its human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine. The Council called for the withdrawal of Russian troops and Russian-backed armed groups from the entire territory of Ukraine, within its internationally recognised borders, as well as its territorial waters. The Council also urged immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access.

Ukraine presented the resolution. Belarus spoke as a country concerned. The following States spoke in general comments:  Russian Federation, France on behalf of the European Union, Germany, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, Lithuania and United States. Speaking in explanations of the vote before or after the vote were China, Gambia, Cuba, Venezuela, Eritrea, Qatar, Libya, Malaysia, Nepal, Brazil and Indonesia.

In the debate preceding the adoption of the resolution, speakers said they stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and expressed deep concerns about the situation in Ukraine. They called for the set-up of an independent monitoring mechanism to investigate the violation of human rights as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. There was also a call for the Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia. The Council should send the message that there would be no impunity for the crimes of Russia.  Calls were made to suspend Russia’s Council membership.  

The urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression started on Thursday, 3 March.

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 forty-ninth regular session can be found here.

Action on Resolution

In resolution A/HRC/49/L.1, as orally amended, on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression, adopted with a vote of 32 in favour, 2 against and 13 abstentions, the Human Rights Council condemns in the strongest possible terms the human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law resulting from the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine; calls upon the Russian Federation to immediately end its human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine, and calls for the strict observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the protection of civilians and critical civilian infrastructure in Ukraine; calls for the swift and verifiable withdrawal of Russian Federation troops and Russian-backed armed groups from the entire territory of Ukraine, within its internationally recognised borders, as well as its territorial waters, in order to prevent further violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in the country, and stresses the urgent need for the immediate cessation of military hostilities against Ukraine; and urges immediate, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, including across conflict lines, to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches all those in need, particularly those in vulnerable situations, and to respect the independence and impartiality of humanitarian agencies and ensure the protection of humanitarian personnel and medical personnel exclusively engaged in medical duties;

The Council decided to urgently establish an independent international commission of inquiry, constituted by three human rights experts, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council for an initial duration of one year, complementing, consolidating, and building upon the work of the HRMMU, and in close coordination with the HRMMU and OHCHR, with the following mandate: to, among other things, investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes, in the context of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine, and to establish the facts, circumstances, and root causes of any such violations and abuses; to make recommendations, in particular on accountability measures, all with a view to ending impunity and ensuring accountability, including, as appropriate, individual criminal responsibility, and access to justice for victims; to provide the Human Rights Council, at its fifty-first session, with an oral update, to be followed by an interactive dialogue, and a comprehensive written report at its fifty-second session, to be followed by an interactive dialogue, and to submit a report to the General Assembly at its seventy-seventh session; requests the immediate operationalization of the mandate, and requests the Secretary-General to provide all the resources necessary to enable the commission of inquiry to carry out its mandate and the resources and expertise necessary to enable the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide such administrative, technical and logistical support as is required to implement the provisions of the present resolution. 

The results of the vote were as follows:

For (32): Argentina, Benin, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Senegal, Somalia, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

Against (2): Eritrea and Russian Federation.

Abstentions (13): Armenia, Boliva, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Gabon, India, Kazakhstan, Namibia, Pakistan, Sudan, Uzbekistan and Venezuela.

Debate

The urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression started on Thursday, 3 March and a summary can be found here.

Speakers said they stood in solidarity with the Ukrainian people and expressed deep concerns about the situation in Ukraine. They called on all humanitarian agencies to intervene.  Many speakers called for the set-up of an independent monitoring mechanism to investigate the violation of human rights as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.  There was also a call for the Council to establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia and to abolish the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures.  Calls were made on Member States to take the strongest measures possible and establish an armed embargo.  This was a war on the founding principles of the United Nations. Russia must immediately stop its hostilities; it must stop targeting civilians and bombing indiscriminately. These actions amounted to war crimes and the Council must use all its power to ensure accountability.  Vladimir Putin was a war criminal and must be held accountable for his crimes against humanity. Russia had chosen the path of destruction and anyone challenging the state narrative was facing prison. National human rights institutions must not be the target of reprisals and the rights of journalists must be respected.  Russia must respect the right of journalists to cover the military operations; journalists were never a legitimate target of war. 

There was an urgent need to prevent an escalation of a nuclear war.  The Council should send the message that there would not be any impunity for the crimes of Russia. Speakers said States looked to the Security Council for protection, yet it was blocked by the same country that was attacking Ukraine, so they were now looking to the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court for them to protect the most vulnerable.  Calls were made to suspend Russia’s Council membership. The decision of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation was welcomed. Every day of delay from the international community was lethal; dictators around the world were watching and the international community was sending them the signal that arbitrary use of force could go unpunished. Speakers recognised the right of people to fight for self-determination and were concerned that this unlawful use of force had created the impression that it was acceptable. The Council was urged to reiterate that any use of force, unless as a defence against an act of aggression, was not acceptable. Member States were obliged to apply higher standards of human rights. Concerns were expressed about the safety of migrants and calls were made to the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner to closely monitor the human rights situation of vulnerable groups that were exposed to increased risks.

 

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