Human Rights Council 49th Session | 01-03-2022

Speech delivered by Wopke Hoekstra, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands at the Human Rights Council

Your Excellencies,

For decades, we – the international community – have worked to strengthen the rules-based order. In the strong conviction that we don’t want to live in a world where might is right.

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is threatening not only the lives of many innocent Ukrainians, but also the international rules-based order. The most important structure we have to protect people.

And that makes this forty-ninth Council meeting of the utmost importance.

We know that the worst Human Rights violations happen during armed conflict.

We know that we must do everything we can to protect what we’ve built over the past 75 years.

And we know that here, in this Council, we have the power to turn our collective anger into a collective response.

To protect the lives and rights of innocent people.

And to protect the legal frameworks aimed at securing peace, justice and human rights.

The Netherlands strongly condemns Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. 

It’s a clear and gross violation of international law.

A breach of the United Nations Charter.

And it cannot and will not go unanswered

The Netherlands also strongly condemns the violence against innocent civilians.

In the horrendous bombardment of Kharkiv dozens of innocent lives were reportedly lost and many more injured.

Cluster ammunition was used against civilians in residential areas. Such indiscriminate attacks may constitute war crimes.

Those directly responsible for this act of war, must be held accountable.

By establishing the International Criminal Court we gave legal expression to the moral imperative that the most serious crimes must not go unpunished.

ICC Prosecutor Khan has already pointed out that the ICC may investigate any act of genocide,  any crime against humanity, and any war crime committed in Ukraine since 20 February 2014.

And yesterday evening he announced the opening of an investigation into the situation in Ukraine.

We call on the ICC prosecutor to pursue this as a matter of urgency.

As we’ve seen here in the Human Rights Council many times before − with Syria, Myanmar, Yemen and other countries − the road to justice begins with the truth.

Truth that can be found only through independent fact‑finding and evidence-gathering.

For this reason, the Netherlands fully supports the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

A commission that can ensure independent and impartial monitoring and reporting that can collect and analyse evidence, so that perpetrators can be identified and held accountable for their actions.

In order to support the collection of evidence, we will donate one million euro’s to support the creation of a civil society accountability mechanism.

This investigative mechanism would collect and analyse information and evidence of crimes committed in Ukraine to assist criminal proceedings in the future.

This allows us to prepare for the moment when criminal proceedings can start before a national or international court.

For the moment when justice will be served.

Stop this mad war.” That’s what courageous protesters are shouting at rallies throughout Russia.

Thousands of them have been arrested.

There is no excuse for war,” is what the courageous Russian diplomatic correspondent Elena Chernenko wrote in an open letter.

She has now been expelled from the diplomatic press pool.

No to war,” are the words used by the courageous Russian television host Ivan Urgant.

His show has not been aired since. 

With just a fraction of the courage of these people,

we – the members of the Human Rights Council – can help protect the human rights that are at risk or are being violated right now.

Those of Ukrainians who have the right to live in peace, freedom and safety.

Who have the right to democracy.

Who have the right to be informed through free and independent media and to stay connected.

The same rights everyone has.

Yet, the reality is that Ukrainian civilians are being killed right now, that democracy is under threat, and that Russian cyberattacks and disinformation have been going on for years.

Similarly, Russian protesters have the right to gather peacefully.

Russian news reporters have the right to report freely.

And Russian citizens have the right to know the facts and be informed.

Yet, the reality is that their rights, too, are being severely violated.

We cannot condone these violations.

Ladies and gentlemen, if we do not act and show courage now, we are undermining the significance of this Council and undermining the rules-based international legal order we shaped together.

Because the attack on Ukraine is also an attack on the United Nations Charter.

An attack from within, by a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and a member of this Council.

The UN was established out of a conviction that we need to solve problems together.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted out of a strong belief that we must protect the values we all share and stand for.

And today that is what we must do.

The Netherlands calls upon the members of this Council to stand united.

To ensure the road to justice starts here.

Membership of this Council is not a free ride, it comes with responsibilities, and one of them is to ensure that justice and accountability are not empty words.

They must lead to actions. We owe it to the victims. 

Therefore the Netherlands will also support the UN Human Rights Office with an additional one million euros, so that it can strengthen its field presence in Ukraine.

We call on the members of the human rights council to support all efforts to end this conflict and to achieve justice and accountability for crimes committed.