Human Rights Council to hold session on Bucha and Mariupol crimes

Room XX during a Human Rights Council session in 2020. (Credit: UN Photo/Antoine Tardy)

The Human Rights Council will discuss the crimes committed in the Ukrainian cities of Bucha and Mariupol since the beginning of the Russian invasion.

After the urgent debate held in March, the Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Thursday to discuss crimes that have been committed in Ukraine. The Ukraine-led proposal was backed by 16 council members, including EU member states, South Korea, Gambia, the Marshall Islands and Mexico, while no African country gave its support. Forty other states, as council observers, also signed the text calling for a special session.

The letter, addressed to Human Rights Council president Federico Villegas on 9 May and signed by the Ukrainian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, states that “unfortunately, the situation in Ukraine has deteriorated significantly since the adoption by the UNHRC of resolution 49/1 of 4 March 2022 following the urgent debate resulting from the Russian aggression”.

Russia ‘isolated’

In a comment, the ambassador noted that this special session “sends a strong message to Putin and his clique of war criminals”. “You are isolated as never before, and the world is against you,” he said. To argue its request, Ukraine relied on recent statements by UN secretary general Antonio Guterres, high commissioner for human rights Michelle Bachelet and WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus highlighting the devastating consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

“We expect the commission of inquiry on Ukraine to launch a special investigation into the crimes committed in Bucha and other freed areas of the country,” said Filipenko. The special session will also be “an opportunity to mobilise the international community to address the horrific situation in Mariupol, forced population transfers, abuse of our children and other crimes committed by Russia”. The commission of inquiry has already visited Ukraine twice.

Read also: UN votes Russia out of the Human Rights Council over alleged gross violations in Ukraine

Czech Republic in the running

The special session will most likely take place in a tense atmosphere at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. For many observers, it is a matter of maintaining pressure on Russia over the serious human rights violations committed in Ukraine.

Russia was suspended from the Council by a two-thirds vote of the UN General Assembly in April. By Thursday, it could already be replaced by the Czech Republic. The latter seems to be the only one in the running to take over Russia's council seat. The vote of the General Assembly will be held on Tuesday. There were still some fears last week that the Czech Republic would not receive the 97 votes it needs in New York. If the bid is successful, it will mean one more “European” vote at the UN human rights body.

“We will not stop until we are sure that those who committed these crimes will be held accountable,” Filipenko concluded.

This article was first published in Le Temps and was adapted and translated to English by Geneva Solutions.