This article is co-authored by Andrea Venzon and Colombe Cahen-Salvador and was originally published in PassBlue. Click here to read the original piece.
Diplomacy can go only so far before it becomes complicity. In the United Nations Security Council, the line between the two has never been so thin. Fourteen members — Albania, Brazil, Britain, Ecuador, France, Gabon, Ghana, Japan, Malta, Mozambique, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, United States and, of course, China — risk being complicit with Russia’s propaganda to cover up and misinform the public about its war crimes in Ukraine.
On Day 406 of Russia’s full-scale war on Ukraine, in a rare show of boldness in the halls of the UN, Albania, Britain, Malta and the US walked out of an informal Council meeting on the “evacuation of Ukrainian children” to Russia, hosted by Russia itself. This is actually known as the unlawful deportation of children, a war crime allegation for which the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner.
Some diplomats finally decided to walk the talk and stage a boycott not to give Russia the appearance of legitimacy it sought in its harmful propaganda effort through this absurd meeting, on April 5, as Russia leads the Council’s rotating presidency this month.
But other lower-level UN diplomats stayed as Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of Russia led the meeting in a windowless conference room that buzzed with tension. Those that remained heard “expert testimony” from Lvova-Belova, defending her taking Ukrainian children from their homes or other places to camps in occupied Ukraine or to Russia itself. The countries that remained in the room during Lvova-Belova’s remarks, which were delivered live from Russia, did not all stay idle. Some had strong comebacks, such as Japan, which said, “Russia needed to evacuate its forces from Ukraine instead of evacuating children.” France, Switzerland and others issued condemnations too. A coalition of more than 50 countries also issued a statement condemning Russia’s conduct and setting the facts straight. But that’s not enough.
Misinformation spreads faster than real news: more precisely, six times faster. And while misinformation is always harmful, it is especially the case at the hands of the president of the most powerful body of the UN. As many countries have demanded, Russia must stop occupying parts of Ukraine and stop dismantling what’s left of the international order. Yet just a couple of days into its April presidency of the Security Council, Russia turned it into a tool to spread disinformation, to attempt to gain undeserved legitimacy and to shift the global agenda away from justice and toward inhumanity.
What happened on April 5, 2023, shows the limits of diplomacy. While leaving channels of communication open is important, enabling Russia to spread its dangerous agenda as president of the Council is not just irresponsible but amounts to complicity, in our view. By sitting at the same table as a country waging war and committing crimes against Ukraine, diplomats give Putin’s Russia a platform that it should not have while it continues its illegal invasion.
In April 2023, Russia should be alone in that room, isolated on the world stage. Or at best, with its lone ally in the Security Council, China. At a meeting last week of the UN Human Rights Council, China and Eritrea were the only countries to reject a resolution calling on Russia to “cease the unlawful forced transfer and deportation of civilians and other protected persons within Ukraine or to the Russian Federation.”
Ahead of the start of this shameful presidency of the Security Council, the global movement Atlas, which we lead, launched the “U.N. Boycott Russia” campaign to push at least seven members to boycott the Council meetings hosted by Russia. Getting seven countries to boycott the body — leaving their seats empty during meetings about the invasion of Ukraine and related issues — would mean that the presidency would be paralyzed, unable to get anything through, whether procedural or of substance. (It needs nine affirmative votes to decide on procedural matters; to adopt a resolution, it needs nine yes votes and no vetoes.)
Britain has shown its strong willingness to stand with Ukraine by announcing before the April 5 meeting with Lvova-Belova that it would boycott part of the session. The US, Albania and Malta joined by walking out but returning to read their speeches, as did the UK. They also all left briefly when another Russian, Eleonora Fedorenko, spoke. She is apparently a children’s rights adviser in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine and is sanctioned by Kyiv for illegally transporting children to Russia.
While this positive development of a walkout proves the potential of countries coming together and refusing to give into diplomatic protocol, it is not enough. More needs to follow, starting on Monday. On April 10, Russia will preside over one of its signature debates this month in the Council, titled “Threats to international peace and security: Risks stemming from violations of the agreements regulating the export of weapons and military equipment.” The nerve. The insanity. The shame of having a country waging war and committing countless war crimes leading a meeting on “threats” to global peace and security.
We call on Ecuador, France, Japan and Switzerland — who in the past supported the suspension of Russia from the Human Rights Council — to join a boycott. We hope the world will witness at least eight empty seats at the April 10 meeting, showing the isolation that Russia has drawn upon itself.
President Emmanuel Macron said while in Beijing recently that “anyone helping the aggressor would be an accomplice in breach of international law.” But those who don’t stop Russia’s harmful propaganda are not just bystanders but are actively enabling its lies.
No serious outlet gives space to blatant racists or Holocaust deniers, and even some social media platforms actively try to counter disinformation and remove hate speech. How can those standards not apply to the body in charge of global peace and security?! The times for laissez-faire and strongly worded statements in the aftermath of sham meetings are long gone: those believing in freedom for all countries from invasion must walk the talk in the corridors of the UN, especially when others are putting their lives in peril in the streets of Bakhmut and beyond in Ukraine.