IBAHRI welcomes UN’s Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine into human rights abuses

Friday 1 April 2022

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s swift response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine with the setting up of a strong accountability mechanism, announced at the 49th Session of the UNHRC, is welcomed by the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI). The

Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine is ‘mandated to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law, and related crimes in the context of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine’. The IBAHRI also welcomes other resolutions passed at the recently concluded UNHRC49, held from 28 February – 1 April 2022, and reflects on the key discussions and outcomes of the Session, the side events held and the IBAHRI’s contribution to proceedings in the below summary.

Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine

The IBAHRI welcomes the Council’s swift response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, setting up a strong accountability mechanism. The UNHRC decided to urgently establish an independent international commission of inquiry mandated to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law in Ukraine;  collect, consolidate and analyse evidence of such violations and abuses, and to systematically record and preserve all information, documentation and evidence, including interviews, witness testimony and forensic material in order to maximize the possibility of its admissibility in any future legal proceedings in national, regional or international courts or tribunals that have, or may in the future have, jurisdiction.

The IBAHRI participated in the urgent debate on the human rights situation in Ukraine following the military invasion of Russia, and delivered an oral statement that can be also watched here calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry mandated to initiate prompt, independent and impartial investigation into any violations.  

The IBAHRI regrets that the UNHRC did not take steps to respond to the reported substantial and growing attacks on human rights on the territory of the Russian Federation, exacerbated since Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. The authorities have further clamped down on the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression and made legitimate human rights work increasingly difficult. Peaceful protest is effectively forbidden. IBAHRI co-drafted a joint oral statement with other legal partners condemning Russia’s violations of international law, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, as well as within Russia, with gross human rights violations of freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly rights, and cases of arbitrary detention and torture.

Adoption of key UN Human Rights Council resolutions:

  • Belarus: The Council agreed to extend the mandate of the OHCHR Examination on Belarus tasked with collecting and preserving evidence of gross human rights violations in Belarus. The IBAHRI been also vocal in denouncing human rights abuses in Belarus, delivering an oral statement for the renewal of the OHCHR mandate. and to take all feasible measures to ensure accountability for abuses and prevent the situation from deteriorating further.
  • Iran: IBAHRI welcomed the renewal of the Special Rapporteur on Iran. The IBAHRI regrets that the resolution fails to contain any substance on the situation of human rights in the country.
  • Myanmar: IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution on Myanmar maintaining enhanced monitoring and reporting on the ongoing crisis, and with robust calls for suspension of arms transfers to Myanmar as a necessary step towards preventing further violations and abuses of human rights. The IBAHRI delivered an oral statement on the human rights situation in Myanmar, condemning the death of many civilians, mass arbitrary detention; enforced disappearance; torture and ill-treatment, and ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims and urging the international community to support a Security Council referral to the International Criminal Court.
  • Human Rights Defenders: The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution on human rights defenders and stressed that recognising and protecting human rights defenders involves not only their general security protection but also recognition of the important work they do in conflict and post-conflict situations.
  • The IBAHRI welcomed the adoption of the resolution on disinformation that reaffirms the central role of the right to freedom of expression in countering disinformation and made several recommendations to stress how censorship efforts cannot be justified to counter disinformation. 
  • Prevention of Genocide Resolution:   The IBAHRI welcomed the resolution on Prevention of Genocide, sponsored by Armenia. The IBAHRI made several recommendations to strengthen the language, including to ensure that the resolution includes recommendations for States to introduce mechanisms to monitor and analyze early warning signs and risk factors of genocide.

The IBAHRI contributed to the UN Human Rights Council discussions with country-specific statements, including:

  • China: The IBAHRI noted the High Commissioner’s announcement to visit China. However, there remains concern at the lack of transparency over the agreed terms for unfettered access. The IBAHRI regrets that the High Commissioner’s Office failed to present to the Council the long-promised report on grave violations in Xinjiang, the Uyghur region, with no further indication on its protracted release. On this, the IBAHRI endorsed the joint statement made by over 100 NGOs requesting Ms Bachelet to release the report. NGOs underscored concerns about the lack of response and perceived silence from the High Commissioner on the situation. The IBAHRI also made a joint oral statement to interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur on torture expressing concerns about torture and ill-treatment of lawyers and human rights defenders.
  • Iran - The IBAHRI contributed to the interactive dialogue as well as to the general debate  with two statements on arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of lawyers and human rights defenders in Iran. The IBAHRI also organised a side-event, featuring the Special Rapporteur on the situation in Iran, Javaid Rehman,  on lack of accountability and access to justice for victims in Iran, aimed to address the ongoing human right violations in the country, in particular on fair trial rights guarantees, capital punishment, legal professions’ independence and restrictions to fundamental freedoms. 
  • Venezuela: The IBAHRI led and delivered a joint oral statement before the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Venezuela expressing concerns about continued human rights violations in the country, judicial independence, and attacks on many judges and lawyers that work under fear of reprisal, with  an emphasis on the case of Judge María Lourdes Afiuni.
  • Afghanistan:  A statement was made during the interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Afghanistan addressing concerns on the independence of lawyers in the country, particularly after the Taliban gained access to the Bar’s database containing the addresses and records of 2,500 lawyers.
  • Turkey: A joint oral statement on the abuse of anti-terrorism laws to arbitrarily detain human rights lawyers and defenders in Turkey, based on anti-terrorism law, and calling on Turkey to accept the Special Rapporteur’s request for a country visit, release all legal professionals and defenders who have been illegitimately detained, and ensure respect for the UN Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
  • Ethiopia: An oral statement delivered during the interactive dialogue on the High Commissioner on Tigray, Ethiopia, condemning atrocities that continue to be neglected such as sexual and gender-based violence and urging the use of international mechanisms to hold those responsible for indiscriminate killings of civilians to account.
  • Tajikistan: During the adoption of the report on the Universal Period Review on Tajikistan, IBAHRI and Lawyers for Lawyers were encouraged that Tajikistan accepted some of the recommendations made relating to the protection of lawyers and expressed concerns that the independence of legal professions remained areas of concern. The organisations called on Tajikistan to release of all detained lawyers.
  • Hungary: During the adoption of the report on the Universal Period Review on Hungary, Lawyers for Lawyers and the IBAHRI condemned Hungary for not accepting a number of recommendations relating to the independence of the judiciary because considered already implemented and urged Hungary to respect freedom of association of lawyers and judges so they can facilitate access to justice.
  • Occupied Palestinian Territories:  The IBAHRI prepared an oral statement, during the dialogue on the High Commissioner report and raised concerns about the increase of human rights abuses in the OPT and urged the High Commissioner, along with the international community, to facilitate the creation of a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into these abuses, ensuring accountability for the perpetrators.

The Human Rights Council addressed several thematic issues to which BAHRI has contributed, including:

  • Mainstreaming the protection of legal professions and enhance engagement of the judiciary with the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process: The IBAHRI delivered a statement emphasising the importance of judicial independence and stressing the central role that the UPR plays in effectively promoting the Rule of Law and called on States to use the UPR process as an opportunity to engage more strategically with the judiciary, prosecutors and lawyers.
  • Children in Armed Conflict: With an oral statement on the situation of children in armed conflict, drawing attention to the situation in Ukraine, Iraq and Afghanistan to highlight the difficulties faced by children in armed conflict.
  • Torture and Inhuman and Degrading Treatment: The IBAHRI welcomed the report of the special rapporteur on torture and endorse the 2021 Principles on Effective Interviewing for Investigations and Information Gathering as an effective framework for providing concrete and practical guidance to authorities.
  • Freedom of Religious Belief: The IBAHRI hosted two side events on Religious or Belief Minorities at Risk. One event focused on comprehensive responses to the situation of the minorities in Xinjiang, Afghanistan and Nigeria and necessary,  featured the UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Professor Fernand de Varennes. The second event looked at religious or belief minorities in Iraq and Myanmar, featuring the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Professor Ahmed Shaheed and the UK’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce.
  • Rule of Law:  The IBAHRI contributed to the third session of the Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law. The IBAHRI welcomed that the recommendation that the IBAHRI made during the UN Forum calling on the Human Rights Council to enhance engagement with the judiciary was fully endorsed in the outcome report. Specifically, IBAHRI called on the Human Rights Council and all human rights mechanisms to mainstream the protection of legal professions and support the enforcement of the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, and the Guidelines on the Role of Prosecutors.


Notes to the Editor

  1. Related material:
  2. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  3. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  4. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.

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