The 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council,

28 February – 1 April 2022

Urgent Debate on the "situation of human rights in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression"

3-4 March 2022 

By Sanzhar Aitkulov / GICJ

Executive summary

On 3-4 March 2022, the Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on the ongoing situation in Ukraine. The meeting was held in response to a formal request submitted by Ukraine on the 25th of February regarding Russia’s invasion of its borders and the subsequent human rights abuses perpetrated by the Russian military. Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR), opened the urgent debate by expressing her concern over the impact the Russian aggression will have on the human rights of those still in Ukraine. The High Commissioner discussed the growing number of civilian casualties and deaths as a result of the conflict but emphasised that the real figure is likely much higher. Moreover, it is believed that 1 million people are internally displaced while over 1 million have fled to safety in bordering countries. The delegates from France, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, and numerous other countries conveyed their support and solidarity towards Ukraine. The speaker from Russia defended the actions of his country and appropriated blame towards Western countries for escalating the severity of the conflict. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian delegate called for all measures to stop the military invasion and accused the Russian Federation of violating the Ukrainian people’s most fundamental human rights. Several human rights institutions and NGOs reaffirmed their support for Ukraine and expressed concern for civilians on the ground. The urgent debate resulted in the adoption of Resolution 49/1, with 32 votes in favour and 2 against. 13 countries abstained from the vote.


On the 24th of February, President Putin announced a “Special Operation” in the territory of Ukraine. Following his announcement, the Russian military launched a massive invasion of the North, West, and East of Ukraine.  Shortly thereafter, journalists reported explosions in the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Odesa and Kramatorsk. Due to the attacks on cities, inhabitants have been forced to hide in anti-missile bunkers and subways. Russia’s Ministry of Defence reported strikes specifically targeting Ukrainian military bases, however, strikes carried out on civilian buildings have been documented, representing a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Since the beginning of the conflict, 752 civilians have been killed due to shelling, including several children. Many have been forced to flee to the West of the country for safety. Romania, Moldova, and Poland offered to provide asylum to refugees. The Russian military operation has been widely condemned by the international community. On March 2nd, the UN General Assembly voted in favour of a Resolution, demanding Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” Taking into account all circumstances, Ukraine officially requested that the Human Rights Council take measures to ensure the safety of civilians. 

Panel discussions

Opening statements

Michelle Bachelet, The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCHR), stated that the Russian military attack opened a new and dangerous chapter in world history, and has had a massive impact on the human rights of millions of people throughout Ukraine. The High Commissioner discussed the large-scale damages caused by the Russian bombing. Cities such asCherkasov, Kharkiv, Herson, have been under intense military fire and have endured high numbers of casualties. There has also been substantial damage to a significant number of civilian objects, including hospitals, schools and kindergartens. Essential infrastructure has been heavily damaged – cutting off critical supplies and services, including electricity, water and access to healthcare. Ms Bachelet confirmed 752 civilian casualties, occurred  – 15 of whom were children. At least 525 have been injured, including 28 children. The High Commissioner expressed solidarity to all people who suffer unbearable fear, pain and deprivation because of the senseless destruction caused by the conflict

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures (CC), welcomed the decision of the Human Rights Council to hold the urgent debate. He emphasised that the furtherance of human rights depends on the respect of fundamental rules of international law. adding that the violence inflicted by Russia flagrantly violates international law and strikes at the very heart of the spirit and object of the Charter.    

Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations Office at Geneva, Gennady Gatilov accused  Ukraine of decimating the Russian-speaking part of the country and compared their governance to that of Nazi Germany. Mr Gatilov lambasted western countries and the OHCHR for its decision to denounce Russia’s actions and criticised the EU for importing military weapons to Ukraine. . Additionally, he blamed the U.S. and European countries for the mass killing of civilians during their operations in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. 

Emine Dzhaparova, First Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine,  disclosed that after sending the request for the urgent debate, she was forced to take cover in her basement due to sirens warning of a potential attack in her area. She highlighted to the Council that civilians in Kyiv have been forced to endure unsafe and volatile conditions since hostilities began. Ms Dzhaparova emphasised that the Council had gathered to discuss the existential threat to human rights as a principle, caused by the breach of international law. by the Russian Federation. . Furthermore, attention was focused on Russia’s membership of the Security Council and its overall failure to ensure Ukraine’s security. She thanked the Human Rights Council for providing an objective assessment of the situation and encouraged the  UN General Assembly, International Court of Justice, and International Criminal Court to contribute to the cessation of violence. 

National Human Rights Institutions and Non-Governmental Organisations 

Lyudmila Denisova, Ukrainian Parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights, claimed that the Russian army has targeted  Ukrainian civilians in their attacks and highlighted the growing number of casualties in the country since the conflict began. She further emphasised the need for the international community to continue sanctioning the  Russian Federation for its actions. Speakers from different NGOs around the globe denounced the military intervention and called for immediate measures to be put in place to stop the war. Some of them called for the removal of the Russian Federation from the Human Rights Council. 


The main issue on the agenda was the adoption of the Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights stemming from Russian aggression. The delegation of Ukraine presented the Resolution for the consideration of the Human Rights Council. The Ukrainian delegation emphasised that the aim of the Resolution is for the Council to exercise its primary mandate and to put an end to the Human Rights crisis in Ukraine caused by unjustified and unprovoked military aggression by the Russian Federation. The Russian delegation responded by criticising the international community, claiming that it did not have a clear understanding of the issue. The delegate argued that the Resolution was biased against Russia as it ignored Ukrainian-inflicted human rights violations that have been committed in the Donbas region since 2014. He said that Kyiv was purposely released from prison criminals and handed out weapons. The Belarusian delegate Andrei Taranda supported the statement of his Russian counterpart. He condemned accusations that Belarus is participating in the conflict. There are no Belarussian soldiers in Ukraine and Belarus provides the neutral territory for negotiations, concluded Mr Taranda. The delegates from, the Netherlands, France, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. voted to support the Resolution which condemns human rights violations committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and establishes a commission of inquiry to investigate said abuses. The Resolution was subsequently adopted with 32 votes in favour. 13 countries abstained from the vote while only Russia and Eritrea voted against it.  

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ)

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) condemns all violations of international law and international humanitarian law. GICJ supports all efforts by civil society to put an end to all violations of Human Rights. GICJ calls on Russia to cease its military aggression in Ukraine and move towards peaceful negotiations. We further urge the international community to take all possible measures to end the war, protect the people in Ukraine and prevent further human suffering. GICJ supports measures taken by the Human Rights Council, to hold Russia accountable for its actions in Ukraine,  including the adoption of Resolution 49/1  which condemns Russia’s violations of international humanitarian law and establishes an independent international commission of inquiry to investigate human rights abuses committed in the context of Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine.

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