January 9, 2024

Co-Chairs Andriy Yermak and Baroness Helena Kennedy launch “Brings Kids Back UA” task force in Kyiv

Andriy Yermak, the Head of the Presidential Office of Ukraine, together with Baroness Helena Kennedy KC, Director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and member of the House of Lords, held the first official meeting of the “Brings Kids Back UA” Task Force today. Launched under the directives of the Ukrainian administration, the initiative aims to engage independent experts to develop human rights-based mechanisms for the return of thousands of Ukrainian children who were illegally deported to Russia since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

“Today marks the launch of a profoundly significant project for Ukraine. Since the current global security system has proven ineffective, there is a need to develop effective tools to ensure the safe return of children. The establishment of the Bring Kids Back UA task force, commencing its operations today, is dedicated to this cause. The proposed mechanisms and instruments by the task force have the potential not only to alleviate the distress in Ukraine but also to proactively prevent similar situations worldwide in the future” said Andriy Yermak, the Head of the Presidential Office.

The newly established Task Force, co-chaired by Yermak and Baroness Kennedy, will concentrate its efforts on two specific areas: exploring avenues for the establishment of effective human rights-based mechanisms for the voluntary return of the deported children to Ukraine and developing recommendations to enhance the international legal framework, particularly as it pertains to preventing similar violations of children's rights in armed conflicts, using Ukraine as a case study. The Task Force will map the protection available under international law to safeguard children's rights, identify the gaps that allowed for Ukrainian children to be deported, and propose recommendations regarding necessary changes to the system of international law to ensure that no further precedent is set.

During the meeting, Baroness Helena Kennedy stressed the importance of international collaboration in reuniting Ukrainian children with their loved ones. Baroness Kennedy stated: “We are coming up against an extremely complex and sensitive task to protect children’s rights. Our objectives can only be realized through the creation of a coalition that involves international and non-governmental organizations, experts, and national governments, all working together towards the best interest of Ukrainian children. It is crucial that the Task Force benefits from well-informed insights from a diverse group of independent experts, from the legal, humanitarian and geopolitical fields.”

The Head of the President's Office added, “The abduction of children, carried out by Russia, is a blatant violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. However, given Russia's refusal to cooperate, international law lacks the mechanisms required for the repatriation of these stolen children. Ukraine relies on the assistance of its allies, partners, and international organizations to intensify the pressure on Russia and ensure the safe return of each and every child to their homeland.”

The meeting was attended by NATO Secretary General's Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Irene Fellin, Vice-President at the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Dr. Daniela De Ridder, Member of the European Parliament Andrius Kubilius, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine and Charge d'Affaires Remi Duflot, Regents' Professor, Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law, and Faculty Co-Director of Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia School of Law, former Special Adviser to the ICC Prosecutor on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict Diane Marie Amann, Secretary General of the Global Campus of Human Rights, Professor of International Human Rights at the University of Vienna, former Independent Expert leading the United Nations Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Prof. Manfred Nowak, Executive Director at The Dallaire Institute for Children, Peace, and Security Shelly Whitman, Executive Director at the Collaborative on Global Children's Issues at Georgetown University Gillian Huebner, former Commissioner for Children's Rights of Poland Mikołaj Pawlak, Conflict & Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Adviser at Save the Children UK Narmina Strishenets.

The meeting was also attended by the Ambassador of Canada to Ukraine Natalka Cmoc and Chargé d'affaires of the Embassy of Poland to Ukraine Agnieszka Góralska, representing Canada and Poland in the capacity of the co-chairs of the Kyiv Group of Friends CAAC. 

From the Ukrainian side, the meeting was joined by Daria Herasymchuk, Advisor - Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights and Child Rehabilitation, Dmytro Lubinets, the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Ukrainian Parliament, and Vladyslav Vlasiuk, Advisor to the Head of the Presidential Office.

On 8 December 2023, Kyiv hosted the first meeting of the International Coalition for the Return of Ukrainian Children. This coalition will operate separately but in close coordination with the technical work of the “Brings Kids Back UA” Task Force.