Russia’s war of aggression took center stage at the opening of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s five-and-a-half-week session in Geneva.
As he kicked off this historically long and politically charged conference, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned what he called the carnage unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which he said, “has triggered the most massive violations of human rights we are living today.”
“It has unleashed widespread death, destruction, and displacements,” he told those gathered in Geneva. “Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have caused many casualties and terrible sufferings.”
Guterres presented a gloomy assessment of the state of human rights, noting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which sets out the rights to life, liberty, security and many other rights and freedoms, was “under assault from all sides.”
He warned the erosion of human rights around the world has stalled and, in some cases, reversed progress in human development. He added that extreme poverty and hunger are rising around the world for the first time in decades.
“A record one-hundred million people have been forced to flee by violence, conflict and human rights violations,” said Guterres. “Just yesterday, yet another horrific shipwreck in the Mediterranean claimed the lives of scores of people seeking a better future for themselves and their children.”
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said much of the progress made over decades was being reined back and even reversed.
“The oppression of the past can return,” he said, along with “the old authoritarianism, with its brutal limits on freedoms writ large, and the suffocating straitjacket of patriarchy.”
The high commissioner added: “The old destructive wars of aggression from a bygone era with worldwide consequences, as we have witnessed again in Europe with the senseless Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Rights challenges in Africa
This week, some 150 heads of state, foreign ministers, and other dignitaries will present their priorities and the challenges they’re facing.
Democratic Republic of the Congo President Felix Tshisekedi headed a list of 46 dignitaries scheduled to speak during Monday’s opening day meeting.
He told the council that the main challenge facing his country was the cycle of violence and looting of natural resources by terrorists and armed groups since 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocide.
He said some 150 groups, including the M-23 rebels, mainly operate in the provinces of Ituri, Maniema, North Kivu, and Tanganyika.
“It is no secret to anyone that they are supported, armed by some states of the region, such as Rwanda and by foreign financial sectors,” he said. “For 30 years, the Democratic Republic of Congo has been the theater of the most abominable human atrocities.”
Rwanda has denied accusations that it has supported the M23 group in eastern DRC. However, United Nations observers and human rights groups have said there is evidence of Rwandan backing for the M23.
Tshisekedi said he is in consultation with 53 armed groups within the context of the Nairobi Peace Process. He said the consultations, which aim to re-integrate the militias into national life, do not include the M23 rebels or the group known as CODECO, a cooperative of militants drawn mainly from the Lendu farming community, which has been accused perpetrating violence against civilians.
Over the course of the coming weeks, the 47-member Council will review the human rights situations in Afghanistan, China, Myanmar, Syria, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Nicaragua, Israel and the Palestinian territories, among others.
It also will address thematic issues, such as torture, violence against children, discrimination, and freedom of religion.
Moscow is set to be represented at the meetings for the first time since Russia suspended its council membership last year.
Some information is from Reuters and The Associated Press.