A U.N. Human Rights Council debate on Ukraine Wednesday drifted into criticism of Russia’s large-scale military buildup along the Ukrainian border. U.S. and British representatives voiced support for Ukraine, while a Russian diplomat completely ignored the issue.
The debate in Geneva was called to discuss the human rights situation in Ukraine.
The U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, presented a carefully balanced report on civic space and fundamental freedoms in the country. She criticized the Ukrainian government for restricting the free expression of critical opinion in the media as well as attacks against opposition political parties.
She then pivoted to the self-proclaimed republics in eastern Ukraine, backed by the Russian government. She criticized the lack of freedom of expression and condemned the arbitrary detention of social media users for expressing their views online.
Her most vociferous criticisms were aimed at Russia and its illegal occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.
“We continued to document violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Journalists who expressed dissenting or critical views were subjected to surveillance, criminal prosecution, arrests, prohibition of entry into Crimea and deportation from Crimea,” she said.
Al-Nashif did not touch upon the buildup of about 100,000 Russian troops amassed at the Ukrainian border.
But that topic stimulated a heated debate among nations attending the council session.
Britain’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Simon Manley, said his country was monitoring the situation in Ukraine closely.
“Russia’s activity poses a threat to Ukraine’s and international security. We stand with our allies to defend the frontiers of freedom. We call on Russia to put an end to this distressing and destabilizing behavior, and to respect and protect the human rights of people living in illegally annexed Crimea and non-government controlled eastern Ukraine,” Manley expressed.
Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Yevheniia Filipenko, echoed these fears.
“If Russia does not de-escalate its current large-scale military build-up along the Ukrainian border, the impact of possible invasion will have disastrous consequences for security, humanitarian, and human rights situation in my country and well beyond,” Filipenko noted.
U.S. human rights officer Patrick Elliot gave assurances of Washington’s unwavering support of Ukraine’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity.
First Secretary of the Russian Permanent Mission in Geneva, Yaroslav Eremin, did not respond to any of these criticisms. Instead, he expressed concern about Ukraine’s closure of Russia’s language channels and the stigmatization of people working for Russian language media.
He urged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to stop including in its reports, matters related to Russian regions.
Belarus was the only country to ally itself with Russia.