Ambassador Michèle Taylor Statement at Press Availability
Palais des Nations
March 31, 2023
Thank you all for being here today to talk about this really important topic.
Russia’s brutal and unprovoked further invasion of Ukraine is a human rights tragedy.
I arrived in Geneva just over a year ago, coinciding exactly with the Kremlin’s assault on Kyiv and all of Ukraine, to lead the United States back onto the Human Rights Council.
The depravities of Bucha, Izyum, and Mariupol had yet to unfold.
It is important that we all recognize the past year has seen violations and abuses in many parts of the world that are appalling in their scale and severity. We’ve witnessed unspeakable acts of violence and persecution in Iran, in North Korea, the PRC’s Xinjiang region, South Sudan, Burma, Haiti, and Afghanistan among, sadly, many others. It is crucial for the UN Human Rights Council to remain seized with all of these situations, as well as the important thematic challenges that we address in the Council, and continue its efforts to address such abuses and injustices.
But I’m here today following the presentation of the High Commissioner to talk about Ukraine.
Last year during the March session, the Human Rights Council did its duty. Members condemned the invasion as a violation of the UN Charter, decried widespread attacks on civilians, and called on the international community to assist refugees and the internally displaced.
The Council voted resoundingly to establish the Independent International Commission of Inquiry to investigate violations and abuses of human rights, violations of international humanitarian law and related crimes, to gather and document evidence, to identify those responsible, to recommend accountability measures and, of course, to report to the Council as it has done. The U.S. being back on the Council played a critical role and I’m grateful that I was able to arrive in time to assist in that important effort.
Russia’s brutality continues of course to today. The world is watching and speaking out, and demanding accountability for those that are responsible. Human rights defenders like Ukrainian Nobel Peace Prize laureate Oleksandra Matviichuk, have led the way bravely documenting atrocities and supporting victims.
We just listened to the High Commissioner’s report based on the tireless work of the Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine. It was a meticulous and heartbreaking description of the dire human rights situation caused by Russia’s aggression. Thousands of civilian casualties, massive suffering arising from Russia’s attacks on energy infrastructure — the effects of that, of course, are being felt around the world — and the damage and destruction of medical facilities and schools across the country. The Mission identified human rights violations by Russia and Ukraine, and we applaud them for reporting and documenting all that they found.
Of course, the response today in the room could not have been more different. Ukraine thanked the High Commissioner for his recommendations and promise to follow up on them with a view to uphold his international obligations, while Russia continued its disinformation campaign and deflected all responsibility.
The High Commissioner has been very clear and we must be clear — there is no equivalency.
The U.S. Secretary of State determined on February 18th that members of Russia’s forces and other Russian officials have committed crimes against humanity in Ukraine. They have committed execution-style killings, torture, rape, and forcible deportations of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children. Children have been forcibly separated from their families.
As Secretary Blinken told the UN Security Council, “Bucha is not normal. Mariupol is not normal. Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings to rubble is not normal. Stealing Ukrainian children from their families and giving them to people in Russia is not normal.” We should never act like these things are.
Two weeks ago, the Commission of Inquiry concluded that Russia’s authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in both Ukraine and Russia, and that many of these amount to war crimes, including willful killings, attacks on civilians, torture, rape, and forcible transfers and deportation of children. They found that actions of Russia’s armed forces and authorities may amount to crimes against humanity and called for further investigations.
I truly fear that we have only scratched the surface when it comes to Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine. While the Commission of Inquiry and the High Commissioner enjoy the strong cooperation of Ukraine in their investigations, Russia refuses to provide access to areas that it occupies. Ukrainian and international investigators and human rights monitors must continue to assess the damage, talk to victims, and uncover the graves. This is the only way to ensure accountability for those responsible and justice for all of the victims and their families.
To move forward, it is now critical that the HRC renew the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry and make certain that it has the needed resources to carry out its critical work.