Statement by Dr Kevin Casas-Zamora, Secretary-General of International IDEA during the 11th Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly
We all know that since the start of its war of aggression against Ukraine, the Russian Federation has systematically targeted civilian sites like hospitals, schools, shelters and residential areas. In the last days, several independent sources have confirmed evidence of unspeakable atrocities committed by the Russian Federation in the areas of Ukrainian territory under its control. These atrocities include acts of rape, torture, murder, summary execution and deliberate use of cruelty against civilian victims. What has been discovered in Bucha may be hardly the worst of what has happened and is still happening in areas that remain under Russia’s control. Such actions are gross violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses for which perpetrators should be held accountable. Moreover, the horrific nature of these crimes fully justifies the request of suspension of the rights of membership in the Human Rights Council of the Russian Federation.
What is at stake in Ukraine is the basic principles that make possible peaceful coexistence in the world. That includes the full range of Human Rights that nearly every country in this chamber has committed itself to protect, as well as the principles of democracy, which are the best guarantee of global peace, and which International IDEA upholds as universal aspirations. Let’s say this very clearly. In the unwavering refusal by the government and the people of Ukraine to succumb to the aggression waged by the Russian Federation we are seeing their determination to preserve their sovereignty and self-determination, but also their decision to defend their democracy against the onslaught of an authoritarian system that offers them no more than a return to a dark past.
This is the struggle that is playing out before all of us. It is not a battle to protect Western values, but basic principles of civilization that mark a pinnacle of the human adventure. We shall never fail to notice that the voices that say that Human Rights and liberal democracy are no more than Western concepts are always those of highly repressive governments, like the authoritarian regime that in Russia does not even allow its citizens to use the term 'war' to describe what it has unleashed in Ukraine. We never hear dissidents, or prisoners of conscience, or harassed journalists, who are as part of the same culture as the government that persecutes them, resorting to the same brand of cheap relativism.
The truth is that the values that people are getting shelled on for in Ukrainian cities today are like those that move the people in Myanmar to resist military rule. They are also the values that impel millions of citizens across Africa and Latin America to stand in line for hours to cast their votes. And these are ultimately the same principles that sustain democratic systems everywhere. They are the beliefs that human beings are endowed with a sacred right to elect authorities in free and fair elections, to speak up and dissent, to share information with others and organize in civic groups free from coercion, among many others. Those values are universal because they protect the dignity of human beings and their ability to choose the life they deem valuable better than any other political arrangement.
That is why it is important to defend Human Rights and democracy at this critical hour. Ukraine is fighting for all of us a battle for human dignity and for the values that underpin the United Nations, embodied in its Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The war of aggression waged by Russia against Ukraine will certainly not stop as a result of the suspension of Russia’s membership of the Human Right Council. But the continued presence of the Russian Federation in the Human Rights Council despite what has happened may ultimately deliver a fatal blow to the already weakened credibility of this body.
Let it be known that International IDEA supports the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council, but that it also supports a thorough revision of the criteria for states to be represented there. Allowing Russia and other authoritarian governments to use the Council to whitewash their dismal performance on Human Rights is a betrayal of the principles of the United Nations and of the memory of the victims of Bucha. Many of these victims will have no other grave but our memory. Let’s make sure none of us forgets.
Dyakuyu. Thank you.
A video for this Statement, read by Amanda Sourek, is available on YouTube.