Accountability for war crimes and serious human rights violations in Ukraine
In the context of the ongoing full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, and following the presentation of the report of the Independent Internatonal Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine at HRC52, HRHF issued a statement paying tribute to Ukrainian civil society on the ground, and calling for the renewal of the mandate of the Commission as well as to ensure it is fully resourced.
In another statement focused on Crimea and the newly occupied territories of Ukraine, HRHF highlighted reports from its civil society partners in Ukraine that have witnessed that “the patterns of human rights violations that have occurred in Crimea over the last nine years are now being perpetrated in the newly occupied territories.” HRHF also raised the situation for more than 150 Crimean political prisoners with a particular focus on Iryna Danilovych.
The situation in Ukraine and civil society’s work toward accountability was also discussed at a side event organised by Human Rights House Foundation. Speaking at the side event, civil society speakers including members of Human Rights House Crimea took the floor to highlight the detention of Ukrainian civilians in occupied Crimea, as well as the situation for Children on the peninsula and in Eastern Ukraine that have lived under occupation for almost a decade.
The side event received wide sponsorship from over 40 state delegations and civil society organisations.
Next steps for the incoming UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Russia
On 4 April 2023, Human Rights House Foundation welcomed the appointment of Mariana Katzarova by the Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Russia. She is expected to report to the Council at its 54th session and to the General Assembly at its 78th session. The Rapporteur’s mandate will require immediate and on-going support from member States in order to be a bridge to Russian civil society. Hear more about what Russian civil society is calling for in the webinar below.
While Russia was not formally on the agenda of the Council at HRC52, HRHF hosted a pre-recorded side event with a focus on next steps for the incoming newly-mandated Special Rapporteur. The side event was co-organised by Amnesty International, Civicus, International Commission of Jurists, FIDH, International Service for Human Rights, and OMCT.
At its 51st session, the Human Rights Council responded to the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia as well as calls from Russian civil society and human rights defenders and established a Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Russia.
Since then, Russia has seen:
- “Escalating crackdown” on independent civil society
- Severe increase in number of peaceful protesters arrested since February 2022, now at nearly 20,000
- New legislation expanding the so-called foreign agents law.
- Liquidations of human rights organisations, including the Moscow Helsinki Group
- Intimidation campaigns against independent journalists
Urging the Council to take stronger action on Belarus
In a statement At HRC52, HRHF argued that the report of the OHCHR examination of Belarus, alongside recent events in the country, further reinforces the need for the Council to take stronger action, including for the following reasons:
- The report of the examination clearly identifies patterns of violations which likely amount to crimes against humanity, and such violations continue to occur;
- Belarus has recently withdrawn from the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, depriving victims of violations of one of the last remaining mechanisms to seek redress for serious violations;
- The sentencing of Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialatski to a decade in prison, along with his Viasna colleagues Valiantsin Stefanovich and Uladzimir Labkovich solely for their human rights work, is only the most visible of Belarus’s serious violations.
On 2 March 2023, members of Belaruain civil society joined the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus for the side event “Accountability for international crimes and serious human rights violations in Belarus”. The side event was organised by HRHF and the Permanent Mission of Lithuania to the UN in Geneva, and was co-sponsored by 20+ state delegations and CSOs.
Highlighting the issues that affect human rights defenders & civil society
In a statement on 15 March, HRHF delivered the words of Natallia Satsunkevich, Mariia Sulialina and Natia Tavberidze, human rights defenders from Belarus, Ukraine and Georiga, each describing the human rights issues that they work for. In the statement, HRHF highlighted that the 25th anniversary of the UN Declaration on human rights defenders presents a unique opportunity to celebrate the role and impact of human rights defenders within our societies.
Anti-terrorism and anti-extremism laws continue to have a chilling effect on civil society in Eastern Europe and beyond. The use of Anti-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation as a pretext to attack those involved in human rights work in Belarus, Russia, as well as by Russian occupying authorities in Crimea was highlighted by Human Rights House Foundation in a statement at the Council on 13 March 2023.
HRHF delivered a set of recommendations to Poland focused on media pluralism and harassment and threats faced by journalists in the country during Poland’s UPR adoption.