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19 September 2018
A Panel Discussion on Russia and Human Rights in the United Nations
by Tselmegtsetseg Tsetsendelger, UNA-NCA Human Rights Committee

Following its examination of China and Human Rights in the United Nations, UNA-NCA turned its attention to the human rights record of a second permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, the Russian Federation. In May 2018 the United Nations Human Rights Council, through its Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, convened to discuss the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. In conjunction with this important review, the Human Rights Committee of UNA-NCA released a four part post entitled “Russia, the UN and Human Rights” to provide background on key components of the topic.

The discussion on September 13 at the Washington office of the American Jewish Committee built on the background paper and looked at the interactions among the Russian Federation, the United Nations and its human rights machinery. Specifically, the panelists discussed how the different parts of the UN human rights system work in addressing the situation in the Russian Federation, how the country uses its diplomatic tools to influence the UN human rights agenda, as well as the role of civil society actors and how they view the UN as a forum for addressing human rights.

Although the title of the conversation focused on the Russian Federation, the discussion went well beyond one country to reflect wide-ranging insights and experiences of our expert panelists.Felice Gaer of the Jacob Blaustein Institute shared general observations about how the UN human rights machinery operates, from the perspective of a non-governmental organization representative and academic analyst as well as that of a UN expert; she also provided a first-hand account of Russia’s recent engagement with the UN Committee against Torture, of which she is the Vice Chair.  Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution spoke mainly on the way that Russia, often together with China, seeks to use its diplomatic tools to undermine the UN’s effectiveness in addressing human rights issues. Sarah Mendelson of Carnegie-Mellon University described Russia’s approach to human rights in the UN as well as steps taken to counter that approach, based in part on her experience as a practitioner of UN human rights work when she was the U.S. Ambassador to the Economic and Social Council.  Natalya Arno of the Free Russia Foundation focused more specifically on limited steps as well as significant shortcomings in the way that different parts of the UN address Russia’s domestic human rights situation, speaking from the critical perspective of a civil society advocacy organization.

Please view the recording of the event for the full discussion and the question and answer session that followed. 

View Event Video Here