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UN criticizes Moscow’s rights record amid Ukraine war, some nations show support

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Moscow faced stinging criticism at the UN on Monday over a deteriorating rights situation inside Russia as it pushes ahead with its war in Ukraine, but far from all countries chimed in.

During a regular review of Russia’s rights record at the United Nations in Geneva, Western countries again slammed its full-scale invasion of Ukraine and decried its crackdown on civil society and jailing of journalists and political opponents at home.

But few other countries even mentioned Ukraine, urging only small improvements to its domestic situation, while a number congratulated Russia for progress on rights issues.

“We condemn the Russian government’s brutal war of aggression against Ukraine and its almost complete domestic crackdown on dissent,” US ambassador Michele Taylor told the gathering.

“Impunity for the Kremlin’s human rights violations and abuses at home has directly enabled its aggression and atrocities abroad,” she added.

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Britain’s ambassador Simon Manley urged Russia to “cease the forcible transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children,” release jailed political opponents and repeal legislation enabling its “vicious crackdown” on dissent.

‘Not safe’

The top UN expert on the human rights situation inside Russia, Mariana Katzarova, recently warned of a significant deterioration since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

She pointed to soaring numbers of people prosecuted on “politically motivated charges,” and decried how allegations of espionage and treason were increasingly being used to silence journalists.

A group of independent Russian journalists who travelled to Geneva for the review voiced hope that the event would help keep an international spotlight on Moscow’s abuses.

“I can’t go back,” said Regina Gimalova, a journalist with Verstka Media who lives in exile.

“A lot of my colleagues are prosecuted in Russia. For me it is not safe.”

But during Monday’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) -- which all 193 UN countries must undergo every four years -- Russia’s delegation rejected the criticism, reiterating that Moscow did not recognise Katzarova’s mandate and insisting the war raging in Ukraine was irrelevant to its domestic rights situation.

Russian Deputy Justice Minister Andrey Loginov, who headed the delegation, called on countries to “not use human rights issues as a pretext for interference in the domestic affairs of other states”.

He maintained that Russia had strived to improve its rights situation, but said it had faced numerous obstacles, including “unprecedented sanctions pressure” and restrictions on participation in international meetings.

Moscow received the usual support from countries like Cuba, Venezuela, Eritrea and North Korea, as well as China, who hailed its commitment “to improving the living standards of its citizens”.

But it also received praise from the likes of Lebanon, who commended Moscow’s “call for ceasefire and protecting civilians in Gaza”.

Ukraine’s ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko meanwhile insisted that it was vital that Russia “be held accountable” for its numerous “war crimes and crimes against humanity”.

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