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

Geneva, March 08,  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.

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