Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks at the high-level segment of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, Moscow, February 24, 2021
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This year, Russia is participating again in the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council as a full member. We regard our return to the main human rights body of the global Organization as confirmation of our country’s key role in all the areas of multilateral cooperation. We intend to make active use of our mandate in the Human Rights Council in order to strengthen its capacity and authority, as well as to advance a unifying agenda.
This is especially important in the context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 has substantially undermined the social and economic foundations of states and respective rights of citizens. The most fundamental human right, the right to life, has been threatened. The world economic downturn caused by the pandemic has led to a significant rise in unemployment and increased social insecurity. There is a widening development gap between certain nations and regions. There is also growing inequality within certain countries, including those of the so-called golden billion. These are the issues that we must focus on today and jointly search for ways of resolving them, while utilizing the potential of the UN Human Rights Council.
Unfortunately, despite the pandemic and the apparent need to consolidate our efforts, some of our Western counterparts refuse to reconsider their selfish ways and abandon their coercive approaches and unlawful methods of intimidation and pressure. The calls of the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to suspend unilateral sanctions on supplies of food, medicines and equipment needed to combat the virus, as well as on related financial transactions, have gone unheeded. Let me recall President Putin's initiative on opening green corridors (free of sanctions and other artificial barriers) in international trade. Western capitals persistently ignore the fact that unlawful restrictions have a devastating impact on human rights implementation. We see this not only as the politicization of humanitarian issues, but also as the desire to take advantage of the pandemic to punish “undesirable” governments.
Today, the global media is becoming a place for pursuing narrow and self-serving geopolitical goals. Fake and aggressive media campaigns undermine internal political stability in sovereign states, fuel unrest and violence. Of particular concern is the ease with which false advocates of democracy irresponsibly use youngsters and children for their political purposes. This is unacceptable.
Those who for decades have been preaching about freedom of speech and expression to the whole world are now demonstrating intolerance of alternative views. A number of countries deliberately seek to impose political censorship and limit access to information in violation of UN, OSCE and CoE commitments. The recent closure of television channels broadcasting in the Russian language in Ukraine and the Baltic countries, searches of journalists’ offices and homes, and their expulsion are glaring examples of this.
Of growing concern are non-transparent policies of social networking platforms which openly manipulate public opinion by banning or censoring user content at their own discretion. In this regard, it is of paramount importance to develop rules for regulating social networks at the national and international levels to prevent such abuses. States that have undertaken commitments to ensure freedom of access to information for all citizens must now prove that they are able to deliver on these commitments rather than hide behind corporate policies.
The pandemic has exacerbated old problems such as racism and xenophobia, as well as discrimination against national and religious minorities. Mass protests in the United States and Europe have exposed these countries’ continuing systemic inequalities, while highlighting the risks of condoning extremist ideologies.
We are increasingly concerned about discrimination against the Russian-speaking population in the Baltic countries and Ukraine, particularly with regard to linguistic and educational rights. We regret that the UN Human Rights Council and its special procedures remain silent about the blatant violations of human rights of millions of people. It is unacceptable when the protection of a state language is accompanied by repressions against national minorities.
Since September 2020, Ukraine, in accordance with its laws on education, state language and general secondary education, started forcing languages of national minorities out of public and educational spaces. And even in this case, the Russian language (the native language for 30 to 50 percent of the population of Ukraine according to various estimates) is faced with additional discrimination in comparison with other minority languages since the Ukrainian authorities have provided for a separate preferential regime for the languages of the European Union countries. As a result, opportunities for receiving secondary education in the Russian language in Ukraine have decreased by more than 80 percent. Moreover, on 16 January 2021, another provision of the Ukraine’s notorious Law on Ensuring Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language came into force. According to it, all service providers, regardless of their form of ownership, shall serve consumers and provide them with product information only in Ukrainian. The Ukrainian authorities have taken yet another step towards destroying multilingualism and multiculturalism in their country.
This year marks the 15th anniversary of establishment of the Human Rights Council. We are convinced that the Council requires neither a fundamental reform nor a status change. At the same time, however, it is clear that the Council’s performance is not perfect. We have serious complaints about the work of the Council's special procedures which were originally conceived as a mechanism to assist countries in fulfilling their human rights obligations. Their work must be brought in line with these criteria. I should point out that Russia takes its status as the Council member responsibly and is determined to continue to cooperate with the special procedures and is also willing to host them once the coronavirus situation improves.
We stand for a stronger principle of cooperation in the work of the Council and for an honest, mutually respectful, and equal dialogue on topical issues. We will continue to stand up for our principles and priorities, such as combating discrimination against linguistic and religious minorities, combating statelessness, ensuring the integrity of the judicial system, protecting vulnerable groups and their socio-economic rights. We look forward to an open and depoliticized discussion of any issues at the Geneva platform. We are committed to listening and taking into account other countries’ priorities and concerns.
We will do our utmost to ensure that human rights are seen as a factor that brings states closer together rather than alienates them, a factor that builds up the atmosphere of trust and mutual respect on the world stage.