Are Human Rights a Thing of the Past for Ukrainians?

February 23, 2023

protesters holding signs that say, "Stop War, Help Ukraine" and "Love not War"

Image Credit: Amaury Laporte Protests Against War in Ukraine

By Emily Abramczyk ’24

The sounds of bombs dropping, the high pitched whizzing of the bullets near their heads, and the fear of who is going to die next awaits the terrorized Ukrainian civilians every day as Putin and his forces heartlessly violate human rights. Russia’s war with Ukraine is particularly unsettling given the extremity of the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide occurring.

The significance of this war is that Ukraine is fighting for democracy and human rights to be maintained and promoted throughout the world. A Ukrainian defeat could be detrimental for the entire world.

Russia is jeopardizing human rights through their actions of targeting civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure, and physically and psychologically abusing civilians. The international community needs to increase their actions to restore human rights and hold Russia accountable for their actions in order to ensure that future generations continue to live in a world where their human rights are protected and democracies flourish.

Targeting Civilians

Throughout the war, Russia has been targeting civilians. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the war. Russia is in violation of key articles present in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which is a document that outlines the rights belonging to all people. The intentional targeting of civilians also goes against The fourth protocol passed at the Geneva Convention of 1949, which prohibits targeting civilians and violates several articles of the UDHR. Everyone has a right to life, liberty, and security.

Reports from human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, illustrate that Russia has not been complying with the protection of civilians during war. Taras Kuzmak, a Ukrainian civilian, recounts “they [the Russian military] noticed us and immediately opened fire” when he and other men were driving to a civilian bomb shelter to deliver food and medication. They were not involved in the fighting and serving a humanitarian purpose but were still targeted. Russia has intentionally killed civilians with no military objectives behind the reason for these deaths.

Countries must pressure Russia to stop their human rights violations and hold the government accountable for their gross violations of human rights standards.

Destroying Civilian Infrastructure

Russia is illegally destroying civilian infrastructure including hospitals. Destroying civilian infrastructure leads to the violation of multiple rights in the UDHR, such as Article 26, the right to education, and Article 25, the right to adequate living, as well as affecting access to food, water, medication, and electricity, which greatly impacts Ukrainians’ right to life listed under Article 3.

Russia has also been frequently destroying hospitals and other medical aid resources. In an article from NBC News, Viktoria Pohrebna tells the tragic story of her pregnancy and birth complications caused by the war. Severe birth issues have been a direct result of Russian forces attacking medical facilities and supplies. This has restricted civilians’ right to health, which is guaranteed by Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Ukraine must receive reparations for the damage that Russia has caused. By holding Russia accountable for wrongfully destroying civilian infrastructure, the international community will display their commitment to human rights and their support for democracies.

Physical and Psychological Abuses

Ukrainian civilians have also been victims of physical and psychological abuses. This is a violation of Ukrainians’ right to physical and mental health guaranteed under Article 12 in the ICESCR.

Women have been particularly impacted by these abuses even though one of the core treaties of international human rights law is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which prevents acts of discrimination and oppression against women. Russia has been violating their commitment to CEDAW, which Russia ratified in 1981, through the physical abuses that Russian soldiers have inflicted on women, such as acts of rape and sexual violence. This is also a violation to UDHR Article 1, which states that all people are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Rape violates physical integrity rights and is an assault on their dignity and may cause lasting psychological issues. It has been reported that Russian soldiers are raping women and killing civilians in front of their family members and neighbors.

What Needs to Be Done

There is no justifiable reason for the violation of human rights. Governments around the world must hold Russia accountable for illegally targeting civilians, destroying civilian infrastructure, and causing physical and psychological trauma.

No one can do everything but everyone can do something. You can take action to defend human rights in Ukraine in the following ways:

  • Writing letters to and lobbying government officials in Congress,
  • Volunteering with human rights organizations, such as with the Human Rights Watch or with Refugees International,
  • Donating money to humanitarian causes, such as to the Red Cross Red Crescent’s Ukraine Emergency Appeal,
  • Raising public awareness through social media posts highlighting the human rights abuses in Ukraine and by using #standwithukraine to address the necessity of helping Ukraine,
  • Conducting civil, non-violent protests. For more information on your right to protest in the United States, visit this website.

The restriction of one human right leads to the restriction of multiple human rights. The denial of sovereignty to one country leads to the denial of sovereignty in other countries. The time is now for the world to act and display their commitment to human rights and democracy. For living in a world without human rights and the freedoms guaranteed by a democratic society is to live a life in chains of oppression that is devoid of the necessary enjoyments and opportunities to achieve one’s full potential and satisfaction with their life.

Emily Abramczyk ’24 is a Political Science and History major with a Philosophy minor at Albion College. She is also part of the Gerald R. Ford Institute for Leadership in Public Policy and Service and the Prentiss M. Brown Honors Program.

The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent those of Albion College.