According to multiple media reports and statements from the Ukrainian and Russian governments, Russian forces and forces loyal to Russia launched attacks against Ukraine in the early hours of Thursday, 24 February 2022. HRHF partners immediately reported bombings and other indicators of a military invasion across Ukraine. Under international law, including the Geneva conventions, these actions constitute an act of aggression and the presence of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil falls within the meaning of occupation. We condemn the attack against, and occupation of, Ukraine by Russia. HRHF calls for the immediate cessation of hostilities, respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law, and the strongest possible support for human rights and human rights defenders (including journalists, lawyers, women human rights defenders, and those promoting the rights of other vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community), in Ukraine by the international community.
At present, Ukraine is home to many human rights defenders, both domestic as well as those forced to flee their own countries, such as Belarus. Ukraine is also home to many internally displaced persons, including those who have previously fled occupied Crimea and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. In times of conflict, human rights defenders and their families face particular risk by occupying forces for their past work as well as their efforts to report current human rights violations. Therefore, human rights defenders and their families require particular support and that support must be mobilised immediately in order to avoid further potential humanitarian and human rights crises.
In the 80 years since the end of World War II, the international community has built a system to try and prevent war but also to address human rights and humanitarian crises in the event of war. It is imperative that this system be mobilised immediately to protect and promote human rights and human rights defenders in Ukraine. In particular, we urgently call for the following:
- Provide immediate funding to human rights organisations and other organisations providing emergency protection support to human rights defenders and their families facing reprisal by Russian occupying forces (including journalists, lawyers, women human rights defenders, and those promoting the rights of other vulnerable groups, such as the LGBTQ+ community).
- Establish land, sea, and air safe passage routes out of Ukraine for any human rights defenders and their families choosing to leave the country, including open lines of communications with relevant ministries in countries bordering Ukraine and any other country likely to receive HRDs and their families in order to quickly facilitate safe passage.
- Stand prepared to immediately and publicly name specific human rights defenders in Ukraine facing threat by Russian authorities for their legitimate human rights work.
- Utilise the High Level Segment at the upcoming 49th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva to provide strong statements of support from heads of state and government which, among other things, call for strengthened protection of human rights defenders in Ukraine.
- Ensure that the resolution which Norway plans to introduce at the 49th session on human rights defenders in conflict and post-conflict situations clearly articulates the obligations of states in protecting and promoting the rights of human rights defenders during times of conflict. The Human Rights Council must show united support in its process of adopting the resolution.
At the end of 2021, we published a report detailing in stark relief the human rights crisis perpetrated by Russian authorities domestically and across the region. It is high time for the international community to formally recognise this crisis, the responsibility of the Russian authorities for creating and exacerbating it, and react accordingly. In this spirit, we also call on the international community to immediately:
- Establish a new and independent mechanism to investigate and report on Russian human rights violations to the Human Rights Council.
- Support existing civil society-led protection programmes for Russian human rights defenders, including the provision of visas for them and their families seeking to leave Russia temporarily or permanently, and resources for them to continue their work from abroad.