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Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
House of Commons / Chambre des communes
Sous-comité des droits internationaux de la personne du Comité permanent des affaires étrangères et du développement international

For immediate release


Statement of the Subcommittee on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine

Ottawa, May 19, 2022 -

On 24 February 2022, the Russian Federation launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This is not a new war; it is the continuation of the 2014 attack on Crimea by Russian backed-troops – the victims of which we must not forget and for whom justice must be served for the war crimes and all other crimes perpetrated against them. The Russian Federation is violating Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty, breaking up the country piece by piece in an effort to illegally annex it. This crime of aggression is a violation of section 2(4) of the United Nations Charter. Thus, it is essential to acknowledge that Ukraine’s defence of its territorial integrity from the imperial ambitions of the Russian Federation is also a defence of the democratic values of the free world against an authoritarian state.

In response to this illegal invasion, on 21 March 2022 the Subcommittee on International Human Rights agreed to start monitoring and documenting the human rights situation in Ukraine. To date, the Subcommittee has held three meetings and heard from civil society organizations, academics, legal experts and Ukrainian parliamentarians.

The Subcommittee received compelling evidence that the Russian Federation is committing atrocity crimes in Ukraine amounting to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. These include the:

  • killing of civilians by execution and with the use of incendiary weapons, unguided bombs and cluster munitions in civilian populated areas;
  • abductions and disappearances, particularly of those brave enough to peacefully protest the Russian Federation’s occupying forces;
  • torture and other forms of ill-treatment;
  • sexual violence including rape;
  • forced deportations of women and children to the territory of the Russian Federation;
  • unlawful arrests of journalists and human rights defenders;
  • deliberate attacks on civilian objects like schools, an orphanage, hospitals, residential buildings and critical civilian infrastructure;
  • the deliberate targeting of cultural and heritage sites such as churches, art museums and historical monuments to erode the morale of Ukrainians; and
  • the looting and pillaging of houses, dwellings and stores.

On 27 April 2022 and on 28 April 2022 the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada respectively adopted unanimous motions recognizing the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine as an act of genocide. As such, the Subcommittee will remain focused on claims of genocide committed by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian people.

The Subcommittee heard a disturbing litany of actions by Russian Federation forces in Ukraine, where humans are used as shields, specially protected objects such as nuclear plants are targeted and Red Cross emblems as well as Ukrainian uniforms are used deceptively.

Witnesses also reported that the Russia Federation is deliberately impeding humanitarian aid to those unable to flee war ravaged areas by blocking desperately needed humanitarian corridors. Some Ukrainians have been sheltering for weeks without access to basic needs such as electricity, medicine, food and even water. Among these are disproportionate numbers of the most vulnerable, including women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.

It is clear that these atrocities are not the actions of rogue soldiers but rather are widespread and systematic. Not only are they being tolerated by commanding officers, but they also appear to be encouraged and actively covered up. As stated by Oleksandra Matviichuk, “Russia is simply using war crimes as a method of warfare.” When considered in light of the statements being made by Russian authorities that dismiss the distinctness of the Ukrainian state and identity, it becomes clear that the intent of this violence is the elimination of the Ukrainian people.

While the Subcommittee recognizes that violence is a part of war, the Government of Russia must – at a minimum – recognize that even wars have rules. This means upholding its obligations under international humanitarian law and taking measures to ensure civilians and those who are no longer taking part in the conflict are protected from the worst effects of war.

As the war progresses and evidence continues to mount that international law is being broken in myriad ways, President Putin and his government in Russia continue to deny responsibility for these crimes and to refrain from taking action to end the brutality. Russian Federation authorities must be held accountable for the international crimes being committed against the Ukrainian people.

The Government of Canada should continue its assistance to the International Criminal Court to ensure it has adequate resources required to investigate the crimes being committed by the Russian Federation in Ukraine and that those responsible are held accountable – this is the only way to end the cycle of impunity and to deter these international crimes from happening again in the future.

All parties involved in the conflict must comply with international law to protect the lives of civilians, in addition to all those not involved in the war, and to preserve the cultural heritage of Ukraine. We condemn the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine in the strongest terms.

Ukrainians are not giving up this fight – we must continue to support them in every way possible. For the Subcommittee, this means documenting and bringing attention to the Russian Federation’s heinous crimes in Ukraine. Over the course of this Parliament, the Subcommittee will stay informed on the human rights situation in Ukraine by periodically inviting witnesses to share their testimony. The Subcommittee will then table its findings in Parliament, making them a matter of public record.

The Subcommittee wants to thank the witnesses who have shared information, especially those who appeared directly from Ukraine. Your courage is inspirational. The Subcommittee stands with you and with the people of Ukraine.

For more information, please contact:
Erica Pereira, Clerk of the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development
Tel: 613-996-1540