UK to Mark Int’l Human Rights Day 2022 with OSCE Statement

Mr Chair, the UK welcomes this opportunity to reflect on International Human Rights Day – marking 74 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

At the Ministerial Council, the UK joined 43 other participating States in a joint statement on human rights and fundamental freedoms. It was a strong demonstration of our joint commitment to democracy based on the rule of law.

This year, we mark International Human Rights Day against the backdrop of President Putin’s barbaric war against Ukraine. Alongside many OSCE participating States, the UK continues to highlight the shameful findings of the Moscow Mechanism reports, which have documented “the magnitude and frequency of the indiscriminate attacks carried out against civilians and civilian objects [. . .] by the Russian armed forces”. The reports document grave human rights abuses and violations – torture, executions of civilians, unlawful detention, enforced disappearances, rape of women, rape of children, targeting of homes, schools, hospitals. We cannot condemn this strongly enough, and the UK wholly supports efforts to bring those responsible for these atrocities to account.

Mr Chair, we are in awe of the courage and resilience of the Ukrainian people and tireless work of inspiring Ukrainian human rights defenders who we met in Warsaw and in Łódź. We and the international community will not let Ukraine face these challenges alone.

Putin’s systematic and repressive war against the freedom of people in Russia is detailed in the third Moscow Mechanism report of this year; This demonstrates how Russia’s actions have had a detrimental effect on the very society Putin claims to be protecting. The space for civil society and independent media in Russia has significantly narrowed, with many human rights defenders forced to leave the country since the outbreak of war. Opposition activists such as Vladimir Kara-Murza have been charged with high treason for speaking against the war at public events. Most recently, opposition politician Ilya Yashin was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for spreading so-called “disinformation” about the war. Now, the Russian government’s expansion of the “Foreign Agent” Law on 1 December is another worrying development.

The UK also has grave concerns about the rights of LGBT+ persons in Russia following extensions of Russia’s so-called ‘anti-propaganda law’. We will continue to call out the Russian authorities for creating a climate of fear and intimidation, and restricting the freedom of expression of all Russians.

As we reflect on the state of human rights and fundamental freedoms across the OSCE region, we are unfortunately seeing backsliding in other participating States.

Over the past two years, the authorities in Belarus have continued their brutal and unprecedented crackdown on defenders of democracy in Belarus, including civil society and independent voices. The exercise of human rights, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, is severely repressed, and those attempting to act on those freedoms are systematically detained, abused, and subjected to other forms of intimidation and harassment. We condemn the campaign of repression orchestrated by the Lukashenko regime.

The number of political prisoners is now more than 1,400. This includes many ordinary Belarusians who protested in 2020. Sentenced in some cases to well over a decade simply for exercising their fundamental rights. People like Ales Bialiatski, founder of the Human Rights Organisation Viasna, who faces up to 12 years in prison for tax charges. Ales received the Nobel Peace Prize this weekend for his work on human rights, alongside the now-dissolved Russian organisation Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties from Kyiv.

We stand behind Ales and the other winning organisations, and support the international community’s efforts to shine a light on the plight of political prisoners in Belarus. We condemn the campaign of repression orchestrated by the Lukashenko regime.

The UK will continue to work alongside our international partners to actively call out human rights violations and abuses wherever they occur, working with human rights defenders, civil society and the media to uphold democracy based on the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

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