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Ukraine: Protecting life must be a priority - UN human rights experts

08 March 2022

GENEVA (8 March 2022) – UN human rights experts* today called on the Russian Federation to immediately end its invasion of Ukraine to avoid further bloodshed and loss of life.

The experts said intentional attacks against civilians and civilian objects could amount to war crimes, and those responsible should be held to account and prosecuted.

"We condemn all attacks allegedly targeting civilians and call for them to stop immediately," said the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council, which on Friday adopted a resolution encouraging Special Procedures mandate holders "to pay particular attention to the situation of human rights in Ukraine".

"Protecting lives and ensuring life-saving assistance to the civilian population in need, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, must be the paramount priorities for all," the experts said. "We welcome the agreement for establishing humanitarian corridors or temporary demilitarized zones intended to allow the safe transit of protected persons out and humanitarian aid into designated areas, which should be agreed by the parties, and call for them to be fully respected, but this will not suffice to prevent further bloodshed and loss of life."

Russian military operations in Ukraine have, thus far, resulted in the death or injury of hundreds of civilians of all ages, including women and children, and the displacement of a million refugees who have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries in addition to at least one million people who have been internally displaced since the Russian invasion. In this context, persons are more exposed to going missing and families can be separated. Customary international law provides that each party to the conflict must take all feasible measures to account for persons reported missing as a result of armed conflict and must provide their family members with any information it has on their fate. Many more risk dying as a result of the destruction of essential infrastructure, including health care facilities and institutions for older persons with disabilities.

"The attacks against nuclear sites and plants risk further endangering the lives of millions, in Ukraine and the wider region," the experts said.

"We are extremely concerned by the reported use by the Russian military forces of weapons, such as cluster bombs and ammunitions, having excessive and injurious effects on the population. Cluster bombs are extremely dangerous and difficult to clear and therefore also constitute a long-term obstacle in post-conflict recovery and reconstruction processes.

"We also condemn the alleged targeting and indiscriminate bombing by the Russian military forces of residential buildings and civilian objects and infrastructures, including schools, kindergartens, care institutions and hospitals, and call for the protection of all cultural heritage sites, such as the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial site in Kiev, which has reportedly been damaged."

The experts recalled that intentional attacks against civilians and civilian objects amount to war crimes. All alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law must be thoroughly, independently, impartially and effectively investigated with a view to establishing full accountability of all those responsible.

"We therefore welcome and fully support the latest initiative by the Human Rights Council for the setting up of an investigative and accountability mechanism, as well as the decision by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the situation in Ukraine," the experts said.


The experts: Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Michael Lynk , Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Clément Nyaletsossi Voule , Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Pedro Arrojo Agudo , Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation; Reem Alsalem , Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences; Melissa Upreti (Chair), Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick , Ivana Radačić , and Meskerem Geset Techane, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to development; Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples;Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity; Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Fabián Salvioli , Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence; Ms. Sorcha MacLeod (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Jelena Aparac, Mr. Ravindran Daniel, Mr. Chris Kwaja , Working Group on the use of mercenaries; Dr. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Mary Lawlor , Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Aua Baldé (Vice Chair), Ms. Gabriella Citroni, Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius and Mr. Tae-Ung Baik; Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health; Yao Agbetse, Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in the Central African Republic; Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia; Alice Cruz, Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members; the Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent Ms. Dominique Day , current Chair-Rapporteur; Ms Catherine S. Namakula , Vice-Chairperson, and Ms. Miriam Ekiudoko , Mr. Sushil Raj and Barbara G. Reynolds; Alexandra Xanthaki, Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights; Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Marcos A. Orellana, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Siobhán Mullally, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children; Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing

The Experts are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page - Russian Federation and Ukraine

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