Human Rights Council greenlights Kyiv region crimes probe

Yevheniia Filipenko, Ukraine's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council special session on Thusday 12 May, 2022. (UNTV)

UN Human Rights Council members on Thursday backed an investigation into alleged abuses committed by Russian troops in the Kyiv region, which could amount to war crimes.

A total of 33 members voted in favour of a Ukraine-led draft resolution, which calls on the recently launched commission of inquiry to investigate events in the areas around Kyiv, as well as Chernihiv, Kharkiv and Sumy that were temporarily held by Russian troops.

China and Eritrea voted against the proposal while 12 countries abstained.  Russia, which was suspended from the rights body in April, did not attend the extraordinary session.

The resolution also calls on UN human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet to update the council on the situation in Mariupol in June.

Russia inflicting ‘pure evil’. Speaking at the opening of the session, Ukraine condemned Russia’s actions as “pure evil” and “the most gruesome human rights violations on the European continent in decades”.

In a video address from Kyiv, Ukraine’s deputy foreign minister, Emine Dzheppar, deplored the “sheer horror” of Russia’s invasion, which has claimed thousands of lives and flattened cities, and forced millions of people to flee.

“Torture and enforced disappearances, sexual and gender based violence. The list of Russia's crimes is endless,” she said, holding up a picture that she claimed was drawn by an 11-year-old boy who was raped in front of his mother and was now unable to speak.

“Only with the world standing strong in solidarity with the Ukrainian people can defeat this pure evil.”

More than 1000 bodies of civilians in Kyiv region alone’. Bachelet said her team had collected evidence of thousands of killings of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers, many of which may amount to war crimes.

Speaking by video address at the beginning of the session, Bachelet said her offices’ monitoring mission had visited 14 towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv and Chernihiv which, until the end of March, were controlled by Russian forces.

Her team heard first-hand accounts of relatives, neighbours and friends being killed, injured, detained and missing. “This was the second OHCHR visit to these regions, and it pains me to imagine how many visits will be needed to document only a fraction of the egregious human rights violations that have occurred there,” she said.

More than 1,000 killings of civilians have been recorded in the Kyiv region alone., Bachelet added.

Probe into alleged violations already underway. The resolution comes after the 47-member council decided in March to launch an international commission of inquiry into human rights violations in Ukraine during Russia’s invasion.

Erik Møse, chair of the commission and a top Norwegian judge, said that his team had already held a number of meetings and has spoken with states, NGOs, and Ukrainian officials. He said that it would continue to seek contact with all parties to the conflict, but so far, Russia has yet to respond.

“The findings of the commission, reported to the Human Rights Council, will be based on the independent assessment of the commissioners and their analysis of the information and evidence that comes out of their investigations,” he said, speaking in person at the session.

Conspicuously absent. Russia’s seat at the session was empty, in an evident sign of protest against the meeting. “Instead of discussing the true causes that led to the crisis in this country and looking for ways to resolve them, the ‘collective West’ is organising another political rout to demonise Russia,” ambassador Gennady Gatilov, tweeted via the account of the Russian Mission to the UN in Geneva.

China also voiced its objection to the resolution, which it criticized as “unbalanced” and said would “only further escalate tensions” rather than contributing “to resolving the Ukraine issue in a peaceful manner”.

Addressing the council ahead of the vote Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations, Yevheniia Filipenko, said: “The irrefutable evidence of gross and systematic human rights violations as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in the course of Russian aggression against Ukraine are building up with every minute of this war.”

“It is our common duty to keep a close eye on the developments on the ground and take further steps to safeguard accountability for atrocities. This is the only way to ensure that such blatant dereliction of human rights values that we deeply cherish will never repeat itself anywhere else in the world.”