Minister Joly addresses United Nations Human Rights Council


February 28, 2022 - Geneva, Switzerland - Global Affairs Canada

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There is a terrible irony to our meeting at the Human Rights Council.

The creation of this council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was yet another milestone in our common efforts to advance human rights, gender equality, Indigenous rights, the rights of persons with disabilities and the LGBTI community and all those who seek affirmation and protection of the dignity of the person.

The long arc of this quest stretches back from the beginnings of human civilization and in recent history was marked by the great setbacks we faced in the terrible wars that have created hardship for so many.

The irony is that we meet at such a moment: when the capital of a sovereign state and member of this council, Ukraine, is under direct threat. Explosions are being felt as many seek refuge in underground subway stations. The images flashing across our collective screens of Ukraine are heartbreaking.

This war is killing innocent people, forcing Ukrainian people to flee their homes and their country. This invasion and war are the choice of the Russian Federation’s government and leadership and, in particular, the decision of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine—the largest threat to global peace in 7 decades—is a cold, calculated and carefully planned series of events of the Kremlin.

Over the past several months, we have said that Russia was positioning troops and equipment to invade Ukraine. Russia said that it was not, that there was nothing to worry about. Russia lied.

We said that Russian military buildups along the border were continuing to grow. Russia said exercises were complete and it was withdrawing troops. This was another lie.

Russia told us its military exercises in Belarus would end on the 20th of February. This week, Belarus served as a launch pad for Russian forces as they invaded Ukraine. Both Belarus and the Russian Federation lied.

Russia’s leadership is solely responsible for this crisis: it has chosen lies and thuggery in an attempt to undermine the rule of law and human rights.

Worse, it is trying to justify its war by spreading false rhetoric and attempting to manipulate the principles of human rights to support its illegal and illegitimate violence.

This is the false narrative that Russia is trying to spread, both here in this council and around the world. Allow me to convey directly to the representative of Russia: Human rights are universal and can’t be manipulated to justify war and crime.

Russian-speaking Ukrainians and Ukrainian-speaking peoples are, first and foremost, global citizens and entitled to the same fundamental right to live peacefully under international law. This is what this council stands for. This is what Canada stands for.

The Russian regime is challenging the international system of peace and law and the very charter that we have been building since the end of the Second World War. Russia has tried to make a mockery of our international system, to force a reversion to a “might-makes-right” world. We will not allow this to happen.

Let us recall some of the extraordinary things achieved. We have signed treaties, agreed on declarations, ratified covenants and built institutions. We have painstakingly constructed a multilateral system that is based on 2 key principles: that all states are equal and sovereign and that human rights and fundamental freedoms are universal and essential to human dignity.

The glue in all this is the premise that rules are essential because they prevent abuse of power and corruption.

This threat to the rules-based international order and, thus, the safety and human rights of all Ukrainians, and indeed all the peoples of the world, is no longer theoretical.

Russia’s unprovoked, illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine is a serious violation of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of a state. This prohibition is a fundamental rule of international law that all states must respect and that is the foundation of our way of living together on this planet. We demand that Russia cease its illegal and unlawful armed attack, and we condemn violations of the Geneva Conventions.

This invasion is endangering the lives of millions of innocent people. Russia’s actions seriously threaten the human rights of Ukrainians, including the right to life, liberty and the security of the person.

Canada stands by Ukraine and Ukrainians as they fight for their freedom and for the right to choose their own future.

We have also seen widespread reports of Russian citizens themselves gathering in the squares and streets across the country to denounce this illegal and illegitimate invasion. They have been met with violence and arbitrary arrests.

We call on Russia to respect the human rights not only of Ukrainians but of its own citizens, who by thousands have taken to the streets in protest against this unjust war.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine makes the work of protecting human rights even more urgent. The protection of civilian lives must be the highest priority for the international community.

We continue to call on Russia to cease its attack immediately. No more lives should be lost.

Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be respected. The democratic will of the Ukrainian people must be upheld. Their human rights must be truly protected.

Today, as millions of Ukrainian suffer the indignity of war, we too face our own responsibility: to speak up and to act; to demand, in the name of humanity, that Putin’s Russia end this madness.

The world is watching, and future generations will remember how we confronted this moment. Let it be said of us that we overcame narrow interests to speak in 1 voice against tyranny and aggression and in favour of peace and freedom.

Thank you.

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