What's In Blue

Posted Thu 5 May 2022

Ukraine: Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (6 May), Russia will organise an Arria-formula meeting titled “Systematic and mass grave violations of the international humanitarian law as well as other war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military personnel and militia and discovered in the course of ongoing special military operation of the Russian armed forces”. The expected briefers include Anne-Laure Bonnel, a French investigative journalist; Asya Zuan, a journalist at “NewsFront”; Sonja van den Ende, a Dutch investigative journalist; Giorgio Bianchi, an Italian photojournalist, documentary photographer and filmmaker; and Patrick Lancaster, an American investigative journalist. The meeting, which will take place in the ECOSOC chamber, is open to representatives of all UN member states and the media. The event will be broadcast on UN TV at 10 am EST.

According to the concept note prepared by Russia, the meeting aims to provide an opportunity to hear from independent journalists located in eastern Ukraine. Another stated objective of the meeting is to provide evidence of violations of international humanitarian law committed by Ukrainian authorities. One of the guiding questions in the concept note asks what are the reasons for the Western media’s biased coverage of violations committed by the Ukrainian forces.

Russia has long accused Ukrainian authorities of systemically subverting the interests of ethnic Russian minorities living in Ukraine. Since the start of the 2014 conflict in the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine, Russia has frequently accused Ukrainian troops and militias of violating international human rights law and international humanitarian law. It has also argued that Western countries and international mechanisms such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission are wilfully ignoring these violations. More recently, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Moscow has accused Ukrainian troops of committing war crimes, including against Russian prisoners of war.

Tomorrow’s meeting follows the 27 April Arria-formula meeting on “Ensuring accountability for atrocities committed in Ukraine” which was organised by Albania and France. At that meeting, several briefers described allegations of atrocities committed by Russian forces while in control of areas in northern Ukraine, including Bucha, Irpin and Motyzhyn. Russian troops have been accused of indiscriminately killing and torturing civilians, targeting civilian infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, committing sexual and gender-based violence, deporting civilians–including unaccompanied children—to Russia, and illegally detaining local government officials and journalists in various parts of Ukraine. Many Council members stressed the need for accountability for crimes committed in Ukraine and called on all parties to cooperate with the ICC and other national and international investigations into alleged war crimes. (For more details, see our 26 April What’s in Blue story.)

Russia categorically denies any allegations of atrocities committed by its troops in Ukraine. It has accused Ukraine and the West of fabricating evidence and spreading false narratives regarding the events in Bucha and other northern towns and villages. It has also questioned the validity and impartiality of the investigations into the alleged atrocities. On 4 May, Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the ICC investigation “has nothing to do with independent justice” and is merely “fulfilling political orders”. As such, the findings of the investigation, she added, “will be similarly biased and one-sided”.

On 4 May, at the 44th Session of the General Assembly’s Committee on Information, Russia said that it is the target of a vast anti-Russian disinformation campaign, in which the UN itself is complicit. UN structures and agencies as well as UN Secretariat officials, it argued, rely on “false data obtained from unreliable, often discredited sources or from biased NGOs” in their reports. At the session, several member states condemned Russia’s media censorship and weaponisation of disinformation to justify its invasion of Ukraine. The US said that Russia has “muzzled dissent at home, shuttered independent media outlets and blocked access to social media and independent information about the war in Ukraine”. Concerns regarding Russia’s disinformation prompted Twitter to introduce restrictive measures against Russian government accounts on 5 April. On 27 April, the EU announced a ban on Russian state-owned television networks operating in Europe.

In a 4 May joint statement, representatives and rapporteurs on the freedom of expression from various international organisations, including the UN, the African Commission of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the OSCE, expressed concern at the spread of disinformation regarding the Ukraine war in Russian state-owned media and on digital and social media platforms. The statement cited reports indicating that journalists and media workers in Ukraine “are being targeted, tortured, kidnapped, attacked and killed, or refused safe passage from the cities and regions under siege” and expressed concern about the safety of journalists, media workers and associated personnel in Ukraine, who are “at a very high risk”. It also expressed alarm about reports that Russia has targeted Ukraine’s media and internet infrastructure in an attempt to disrupt access to information. According to media reports, internet traffic in the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson had been rerouted on 1 May through the Russian state-owned telephone provider Rostelecom. Reports have also surfaced of Russia replacing Ukrainian media with its own in occupied territories in eastern and southern Ukraine.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members are expected to reiterate accusations of atrocities committed by Russian forces in Ukraine, noting that its alleged attacks on journalists and media personnel is a violation of international humanitarian law. These members are likely to deplore Russia’s media censorship and its weaponisation of disinformation, including through social media platforms. Russia, on the other hand, is likely to accuse Western countries of promoting double standards by deliberately ignoring violations committed by Ukrainian troops since 2014. Russia may also comment on what it views as a “Russophobic” narrative pervasive within the UN system.

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