Ukraine high on agenda of United Nations Human Rights Council


The United Nations Human Rights Council yesterday started its annual session in a sombre atmosphere after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, invaded by the Russian forces on the 24th of February. More than ever, the international community and the members of the Human Rights Council are called to address serious human rights violations and to uphold the international rule of law, starting from Ukraine.

Photo credit : John Samuel

On its side, the European Union is in Geneva with a clear mandate to keep defending and promoting universal principles and rights that belong to all human beings, without any distinction. While all eyes are on the war in Ukraine, we cannot forget other situations where basic human rights are violated.

“We stand by the women and men of Ukraine whose courage and determination is an inspiration to us all. We echo the UN Secretary General's appeal to Russia to stop its aggression and the High Commissioner’s words of grave concern over civilian casualties and the human rights implications of Russia’s actions”, said the  High Representative Josep Borrell  in his speech on behalf of the European Union to condemn the aggression to Ukraine and asks the Council to act. Not only on Ukraine, but on all those areas where human rights are systematically violated. “The EU will not accept any efforts to undermine fundamental freedoms or existing international human rights obligations”, he said.

The EU will lead again on a resolution on Belarus to support a robust accountability mechanism to examine violations committed since the fraudulent elections. The regime still holds more than 1000 political prisoners who have been arbitrarily detained and arrested for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. We remain seriously concerned about the vast lack of accountability, as perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses in Belarus remain unpunished.

We led the call for a Special Session of the Human Rights Council on Myanmar in the aftermath of the military. Yet the military openly ignores the results of democratic elections, and uses violence against its own citizens. This year again the EU will table a resolution condemning the military coup of 1 February 2021 and related human rights violations and will call for the restoration of democracy and the rule of law.

The EU remains concerned by the continuing indications of serious violations of human rights in the DPRK, which may have even further aggravated under the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Perpetrators of such human rights violations must be held accountable. Therefore, the EU will table a resolution that urges the regime to immediately end such violations and work towards improving respect for political and civil rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights, and engage without delay with the UN Human Rights System.

Following the overthrow of the government by the Taliban and widespread human rights violation against women, minorities, human rights defenders and journalists, we responded with an EU resolution on Afghanistan that created a new Special Rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in the country. This is one of our benchmarks for possible engagement with the caretaker government.  The EU is looking forward to engaging in a discussion on the comprehensive written report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan.

When witnessing last year’s gross human rights violations in northern Ethiopia, the EU worked with the members of the Council to establish an international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia. A humanitarian emergency is still happening before our eyes, with allegations of massive human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, yet to be accounted for.

Economic, social and cultural rights are essential to human dignity.

The EU will once again table a resolution on Freedom of Religion or Belief, promoting the freedom of conscience, thought, religion or belief. The right to FoRB is a priority for the EU and is at the core of the EU human rights policy.

As in previous years, the EU, together with GRULAC, will table a resolution on the Rights of the Child to be adopted at HRC49 session. The resolution will this year elaborate on the rights of the child and family reunification. The text will have a particular focus on children on the move. It will highlight the vulnerability and risks faced by refugee and migrant children, especially unaccompanied and separated children.

In 2021, over 70 countries joined the EU-led Joint Statement raising international awareness and understanding of the profound interdependence between human rights, a healthy environment and combating climate change. We then joined forces with the Small Islands Developing States, the most affected by the rise in sea levels, to create a new Special Rapporteur on climate change and human rights. Together with the High Commissioner and the Marshall Islands we will host a side event on this at the upcoming Council’s session. The last Human Rights Council also took the landmark decision to recognise, for the first time, that having a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right.

We must keep the bar high – our common future depends on it. “Global security only exists if it is based on human dignity and respect for universal human rights”, underlined the HRVP Borrell.