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UN Human Rights Council backs Ukraine Commission of Inquiry

Minute of silence in Human Rights Council
Ambassadors, diplomats and others attending the urgent Human Rights Council session stood for a minute of silence for Ukraine. Julia Crawford/

The UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva has passed a resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, calling for the “swift and verifiable” withdrawal of Russian troops and setting up a commission of inquiry on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine.

Out of the 47 current members of the Council, 32 voted in favour, with two against and 13 abstentions. Only Russia and Eritrea opposed the resolution introduced by Ukraine. Abstentions included China and Cuba.

Switzerland is not currently a member of the Council but also supports the resolution, its ambassador to the UN Jürg Lauber said on Thursday during the “urgent debate” on Ukraine. He said protecting civilians must be a priority.

Hundreds of civilians have died as a result of the Russian invasion launched a week ago, while some one million have fled their homes, mostly to neighbouring countries.

The resolution decides to “urgently establish an independent international commission of inquiry, constituted of three human rights experts” to investigate alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Ukraine and preserve evidence for “future legal proceedings”.

Judicial cooperation

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, announced earlier this week that he was opening an investigation into alleged crimes committed in Ukraine since the end of 2013. This followed an unusual request by 39 member countries, including Switzerland.

The Human Rights Council resolution says its commission of inquiry should also “cooperate with judicial and other entities as appropriate”. During the urgent debate in Geneva, several member countries welcomed the opening of the investigation at the ICC which can prosecute individuals for international crimes (war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide). Ukraine has also brought a case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s highest court, which rules on disputes between States.

Ukraine’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva Yevheniia Filipenko thanked the Council for the resolution, which she said “brought together UN members from around the world”. Speaking to the press after the vote, she said she hoped the commission of inquiry could be established as soon as possible, given the urgency. Russia denounced the “unilateral nature” of the resolution, saying it was a “waste of resources” which could be better spent to help civilians in Ukraine.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR