Czech Republic to champion media freedom as it replaces Russia on UN Human Rights Council

The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for the Czech Republic to replace Russia on the Human Rights Council, the United Nations’ leading human rights body. The Czech Republic’s term starts immediately with the council due to meet for a special session on Thursday to examine the deteriorating human rights situation in war-torn Ukraine.

Ever since the Fiala administration took office late in 2021, it has been striving to reembrace the values championed by the late Czech president Václav Havel. It has stressed the need to place human rights above economic interests and its support for Ukraine has been unswerving and generous. Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said he was very happy about the result of the election, which would enable the country to do even more in the field of human rights.

“This is a great opportunity for us and I think that it is symbolic that we are replacing Russia on the UN Human Rights Council; a country that has committed heinous crimes on the territory of Ukraine. Our place on the council will enable us to take our human rights policy priorities further.”

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský | Photo: Office of Czech Government

The Czech Republic was the only candidate for the seat vacated by Russia when the General Assembly voted to suspend the country over "gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights in Ukraine”. Czech officials will now have to hit the ground running. The council is to hold a special session on Ukraine this Thursday after Kyiv called for a review of the human rights situation there, including reports of mass casualties in Mariupol and other cities.

The UN Human Rights Council cannot make legally binding decisions, however its voice carries political weight and it can authorize investigations. The Czech Republic has declared its readiness to support adequate and timely responses to human rights violations and abuses wherever they occur and work to pursue accountability. Foreign Minister Lipavský stressed the need to support both country-specific and thematic issues, saying that the Czech Republic would table some of its own priorities.

“Our long-term activities in the UN council have focused strongly on media freedom. We are engaged in a range of activities to support the free press because I think we can see quite clearly from the situation in Russia and Belarus that journalists are often the first victims of persecution in authoritarian regimes.”

The United Nations' Human Rights council comprises 47 members who aim to promote and protect human rights around the world. They are elected to three-year terms, with a group of new members announced every year.

The Czech Republic was one of the council’s inaugural members when it was formed in 2006 and later served two three-year terms - from 2019-2021 and 2012-2014.