The invasion of Ukraine by Russia on 24 February 2022 constitutes an act of aggression and is a direct violation of the UN Charter. HRHF is immediately concerned with reports that have circulated in the international media of potential lists of individuals in Ukraine who might be targeted by Russia for extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary execution in the event of an invasion. At the same time, Russia is shutting down any form of peaceful protest domestically and, as of 24 February 2022, more than 1,700 people have been arrested for peaceful protest.

Urgent and emergency attention by the international community is critical.

Unfortunately, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia is the latest in an increasingly repressive campaign against human rights and human rights defenders across the broader region. Indeed, Russia is responsible for egregious human right violations in territories over which it exercises effective control, including Crimea and the Donbas in Ukraine as well as the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In Crimea, the United Nations has condemned human rights violations committed by the occupying authorities of the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbas, forces backed by Russia have persecuted human rights defenders and expanded the “existing climate of fear limiting the exercise of fundamental freedoms”, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where local authorities are supported by Russia, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted reports of ongoing human rights violations. Across these territories in Ukraine and Georgia, attacks on fundamental freedoms, including peaceful assembly, by Russia and Russia-backed authorities are endemic.

Domestically, Russia’s systematic attacks on human rights and human rights defenders have contributed to their ability to launch yesterday’s unilateral attack on Ukraine. For decades, Russia has sought to stifle dissenting and opposition voices, criminalise peaceful protest, shutdown independent media and journalists, and create a legal framework which allows it to arbitrarily prosecute individuals and organisations for doing legitimate human rights work while using existing legislation to combat extremism and terrorism to do so, as well. The Russian public is prevented from free and independent reporting on the actions of the Russian state. Russia actively targets any media outlets or journalists which fail to exclusively present the Russian government’s narrative. Russian human rights defenders face tremendous threat of reprisal for engaging with international human rights bodies and mechanisms. Online voices in Russia which are critical of the Russian authorities are attacked through smear campaigns and other tactics. Russia is actively working to undermine an enabling environment for human rights defenders and organisations and their work, one of its key obligations under international human rights law.

At the same time, Russia has actively sought to undermine international human rights bodies, mechanisms, norms, and standards. Russia challenges the universality of human rights, the bedrock of international human rights law, and works with and through non-state actors to promote narratives around “traditional values” at home and beyond its borders. Russia systematically introduces language to weaken international human rights standards and norms. Additionally, Russia has failed to fully engage with UN Special Procedures and has actively striven to thwart independent investigation of human rights violations around the world. Russia’s continued membership on the UN Human Rights Council is an affront to human rights and human rights defenders.

For these reasons, we implore the international community to use all of the tools at its disposal to erect a framework to monitor and report on Russian human rights violations and prevent further attempts by the Russian authorities to undermine international human rights bodies, mechanisms, norms, and standards. 

We call on the international community to:

  1. Convene an urgent debate during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council to consider the human rights situation in Ukraine.
  2. Mandate, during the Human Rights Council session, an independent, investigative mechanism to address the human rights crisis in Ukraine, advance accountability and deter further violations and abuses.
  3. Also, during the Human Rights Council session, increase support and resources for the work of the OHCHR in Ukraine.
  4. Also, during the Human Rights Council session, establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia.
  5. Suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council.