Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine has taken a heavy toll and civilians continue to bear the brunt of the conflict. The conflict in Ukraine, now in its second year, has killed countless civilians and displaced them, including due to indiscriminate Russian attacks using explosive weapons. The devastation caused by Russia’s attacks is not new. Russia used explosive weapons in Syria, and has been a major provider of arms to Myanmar’s military junta. There has also been an increased presence of mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group, in the Central African Republic and Mali amongst others. It is hardly a secret that Russia is among the top three military spenders, alongside the US and China and from 2017-2021 was the world’s second-largest arms exporter. Russia’s multiple threats to use nuclear weapons issued in the context of the war against Ukraine only add to this grim record.
Ahead of the upcoming review of Russia’s human rights record on 13 November, in a United Nations (UN) process known as the Universal Periodic Review, WILPF submitted to the UN two reports, one of which is a joint submission with the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN).
What are the key issues?
- One of the reports scrutinises the increasing repression of activists, feminists, ethnic minorities, LGBTIQ+ persons and of conscientious objectors to military service within Russia. This year’s ban on legal gender recognition is just one of the many examples of this.
- Mass surveillance via new technologies is used as a state instrument to suppress dissent, including anti-war views.
- The report also sheds light on increased use of militaristic propaganda aimed at children and youth in schools and other educational settings. For example, issuing updated history books in high schools that justify the war against Ukraine in line with government propaganda.
- The report further underlines the exploitation of conscription in regions with lower living standards, and the use of economic coercion and threats in recruitment, with ethnic minority groups being disproportionately conscripted compared to others.
The past is linked to the present
In addition to concerns over Russia’s use of weapons in Ukraine, particularly explosive weapons, the report recalls Russia’s involvement in attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in Syria. Through providing significant military support to the Syrian regime, Russia has facilitated serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including war crimes.
Russia’s nuclear threats in the war against Ukraine starkly highlight the extreme dangers posed by nuclear weapons. The enduring consequences of Russia’s past nuclear testing, with effects that persist today, also warrant scrutiny. Thus, the joint report by WILPF and ICAN not only decries Russia’s recent nuclear threats, but also recalls its violations of international law linked to previous nuclear testing and its actions undermining global nuclear disarmament efforts. It calls for accountability and redress for victims of Soviet-era nuclear tests, underscoring the enduring environmental and health impacts, particularly on Indigenous Peoples’ lands in Kazakhstan and Siberia. The Russian parliament revoked its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) on 18 October 2023 which is concerning. The Russian government says it has no intention of carrying out a test, unless the United States does so first. However, Russia’s decision to withdraw from the CTBT, together with mounting evidence that China, Russia and the United States have all been upgrading their nuclear weapon test sites makes the resumption of full-scale nuclear tests by Russia more likely.
The attempt to dismantle the norm against nuclear testing is in no state’s interests, let alone the interest of people or the planet. As the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has said, “Russia weakening its commitment to the CTBT is senseless and irresponsible behaviour, and is part of a pattern of Russia using nuclear weapons to intimidate opponents of its invasion of Ukraine.” International treaties, including the CTBT and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, “are critical to making sure nuclear testing that has harmed people’s health and spread lasting radioactive contamination is not resumed
It must stop.
The Universal Periodic Review (commonly referred to as the “UPR”) is a process whereby approximately every five years, each Member State of the United Nations undergoes a review of its human rights record. Recommendations to the State under Review are made by other States during a session of the Working Group of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. The UPR Working Group will review Russia on 13 November 2023. The two above-mentioned WILPF reports, submitted in April 2023, aim to inform States that will make recommendations to Russia during the Working Group’s session in November.