UN Human Rights Council Begins First Session of 2022, But ‘Urgent Debate’ on Ukraine Has to Wait

By Patrick Goodenough | February 28, 2022 | 4:17am EST
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addresses the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2018. (Photo by Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The U.N. Human Rights Council opens its first session of 2022 on Monday, but Ukrainians will have to wait at least another three days before the U.N.’s top human rights body holds a debate on the war launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.

As the session began, the HRC held a vote on whether or not an “urgent debate” should be held later this week. Of the 47 member-states, 29 voted in favor, five (China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, and Venezuela) opposed the move, and 13 members abstained (voting details below).

Before the vote, Ukrainian Ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko urged HRC members to support her call for an “urgent debate,” saying it was the council’s “duty to demonstrate its credibility and relevance.”  Russia objected, and called for a vote.

 

Three-and-a-half years after the Trump administration walked away from the Geneva-based HRC in June 2018, the United States is occupying a seat for the Feb. 28-Apr. 1 session, at a time when – for the first time in the council’s 16-year history – fewer than one third of its 47 members will be “free” democracies.

Hours after Russian forces attacked her country last Thursday, Filipenko sent a letter to the HRC’s current president, Federico Villegas of Argentina, requesting an emergency debate on the crisis.

“I wish to request that the Urgent Debate be held as urgently as possible during the 49th session of the HRC,” Filipenko wrote, citing the “extremely grave deterioration in the human rights situation in Ukraine as a result of a range of Russian hostilities.”

The HRC bureau met the following day to discuss the request for an urgent debate, and said it would be put to the council “for its consideration.”

First, however, the HRC opens its session with a “high-level segment” for three-and-a-half days, during which “more than 130 dignitaries, including five heads of state,” are to give speeches.

Among them is Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country has been a member of the HRC from 2006-2012, from 2014-2016, and again since 2021.

According to the draft list of speakers, Lavrov is scheduled to speak in person on Tuesday morning, although early on Monday Russian state media reported that he will not be able to travel to Geneva, as the European Union has prohibited Russian aircraft from landing, taking off from, or overflying E.U. territory.

Five hours after Lavrov’s speaking slot, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to address the council, by video.

Ukraine is also a member of the council, and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also appears on the draft speakers’ list, scheduled to speak on Wednesday.

As currently set out, the agenda will not allow for an “urgent debate” on the Ukraine situation until Thursday afternoon at the earliest.

“People are dying,” commented Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based non-governmental organization, U.N. Watch.

“History will record that the U.N.’s top human rights body is reportedly going to wait 7 days to hold the urgent debate requested by Ukraine. Does the U.N. Human Rights Council understand the meaning of the word ‘urgent’ – or of the words ‘human rights’?”

 

A demonstration in support of the people of Ukraine, outside the U.N. in Geneva on Sunday. (Photo: UK Mission Geneva/Twitter)
A demonstration in support of the people of Ukraine, outside the U.N. in Geneva on Sunday. (Photo: UK Mission Geneva/Twitter)

 

With Blinken not taking part in the HRC session in person, the U.S. delegation is being headed by Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Sheba Crocker, while undersecretary of state for civilian security, democracy, and human rights Uzra Zeya is present for the high-level segment, along with the newly sworn-in ambassador to the HRC, Michèle Taylor.

The State Department said that Zeya, while in Geneva, “will reinforce the centrality of human rights in our foreign policy, the unwavering U.S. commitment to humanitarian support for those suffering from Russia’s brutal further invasion of Ukraine, and the importance of protecting civilians and holding those responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable.”

In all, 14 of the current 47 HRC members are ranked as “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House, which assesses countries each year based on political rights and civil liberties.

Most of the 14 – Cameroon, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, Kazakhstan, Libya, Qatar, Russia, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela – are being represented at the “high-level segment” by their foreign ministers.

Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, whose presidency is not recognized as legitimate by the U.S. and more than 50 other countries, is among the “five heads of state” appearing on the speakers’ list.

In Monday morning’s vote on whether or not to hold an “urgent debate” to discuss the Ukraine situation, the voting was as follows:

IN FAVOR (29):

Argentina, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Britain, Côte d’Ivoire, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, Paraguay, Poland, Qatar, South Korea, Ukraine, and the United States

OPPOSED (5):

China, Cuba, Eritrea, Russia, and Venezuela

ABSTAINED (13):

Armenia, Cameroon, Gabon, India, Kazakhstan, Mauritania, Namibia, Pakistan, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan

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