Ukrainian Human Rights Defenders Update UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor on their Responses to Invasion

Dublin, Thursday March 3, 2022: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Statement from UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor:

This morning I heard more firsthand accounts from Human Rights Defenders in Ukraine describing what the Russian invasion has meant to them, the dangers they face, how they are adapting their human rights work, and about their extraordinary courage.  

One Women Human Rights Defender told me today of the scramble over the last week to reorganise human rights work in response to the invasion. “We’ve basically been stunned and petrified, keeping tabs on our colleagues to make sure they’re still alive. But we’re regrouping now, adapting to do what we have to ” she said. “I used to be project manager at an NGO, now I’m doing media interviews round the clock for foreign media and we’re trying to co-ordinate with other Human Rights Defenders to document war crimes.”

Another told me told me how they are reorganising themselves to supply vulnerable people with medicine, and to get drugs to cancer patients. They are pleading for ways to enable the vulnerable to be evacuated to safety.

“The elderly living alone need help, and it’s hard for them to get their necessities. In some places food is now very scarce, the shops are empty and the chemists have run out of supplies. Human Rights Defenders who were working on advocacy issues before are now co-ordinating the buying and distribution of medicines.”

They told me how NGOs are repurposing their websites from giving human rights updates to giving practical advice for those living in the crisis.

Some Human Rights Defenders are having to handle personal responsibilities of evacuating and caring for their families while co-ordinating with colleagues to carry out human rights work, all the time under constant threat. “Anyone can be targeted at any point, whether they’re in a city or not,” said one.

A Woman Human Rights Defender in an eastern city close the fighting said “It’s impossible to leave…because they are shooting everywhere. Many roads are mined…two days ago one car tried to leave – a family was blown up by a mine… and they didn’t make it… So it’s more dangerous to leave now than to stay at home… And sitting at home is also difficult, listening to shelling and running around town looking for bread….Let’s hope it ends, although we understand [it’s] unlikely [to end] well, and unlikely quickly”.

We know that defenders working in conflict zones face particular levels of risk, and co-ordinated international support should be available to support the work of Human Rights Defenders in Ukraine, and help should be available for defenders who want to escape to another country.

UN Special Rapporteur Mary Lawlor is available for interview. Please contact Fiachra Bourke at fibourke@protonmail.com / +353833458928

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