• Lauren Salim

Urgent Human Rights Protections Needed in Ukraine

February 25, 2022

By Lauren Salim


Human rights defenders, protestors, and journalists are under attack in Ukraine, and the international community must take concrete measures to provide protections.


The United Nations estimates that over 100,000 people have fled their homes in Ukraine after Russia began its invasion by land, air and sea. Fighting commenced at airport bases and the nuclear power plant in Chernobyl.


In Russian President Vladimir Putin’s morning address, he threatened any country that intended to intervene with drastic consequences and hinted at the threat of nuclear weapon use.

As the military invasion proceeds, various news agencies are reminding the public and other governments about the lists created by Moscow detailing targets “to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.” This information was released in a Washington Post article after a letter Bathsheba Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., wrote to the U.N. human rights chief. Targets included Ukrainian, Russian and Belarusian human rights defenders, journalists, politicians, others that might support resistance to Russia’s invasion, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Crocker’s letter “indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned.”


These attacks can also extend to the online realm. After Russian cyberattacks targeted Ukraine’s critical infrastructure in January and early February, Access Now announced a call to action for the international community to investigate these attacks, hold perpetrators accountable and provide support to those in the Ukraine.


The call to action included the following recommendations:

  1. Provide direct support to journalists, civil society, and human rights defenders

  2. Establish and uphold clear, people-first cybersecurity standards

  3. Guard against attempts to escalate and exploit current tensions on social media and other tech platforms

Many analysts are also calling for caution as disinformation is running rampant on Russian controlled media, and on social media platforms.


Within Russia, the invasion has led to a rise in protests across the country “in a striking show of anger in a nation where spontaneous mass demonstrations are illegal and protesters can face fines and jail.” These protests have led to over 1,000 arrests so far, including human rights activist Marina Litvinovich after she urged Russians to protest.


A recent Twitter Spaces event held by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies interviewed several members of Ukrainian civil society and other human rights organizations on Russia’s invasion and what the west can do. Their comments emphasized the need for action.


Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties (Ukraine) said, “We don't need emotions. We need concrete actions.” Similarly, Halya Coynash, a member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group and PEN Ukraine, said, “Putin will not stop with Ukraine if nothing is done to stop him”.


With inaction in advance of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded more and stronger action from world leaders. Despite acknowledging the imminent risk of invasion, many western powers have stalled providing support. Now, some countries have begun imposing economic sanctions on Russia, and the U.S. sent anti-tank missiles and other military supplies, however it is unlikely to be enough.


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an affront to peace and an incredible threat to democracy, civilians, and human rights defenders in Eastern Europe. Ukraine’s allies will need to be far swifter in action than they have been to date to ensure better protection of the most vulnerable.