More than 100 diplomats from some 40 countries have walked out of a speech by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the United Nations in Geneva as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Tuesday’s boycott by envoys from the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan and others left only a few diplomats in the room.
Those remaining at the Human Rights Council meeting included Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, who is a former deputy to Lavrov.
Envoys from Syria, China, and Venezuela also stayed.
Ukrainian Ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko, who led the walkout, thanked those who took part in the stunt.
“Thank you very much for this wonderful show of support to Ukrainians who are fighting for their independence,” she told the crowd gathered around a large Ukrainian flag outside the chamber.
U.S. Ambassadors @USAmbGVA Crocker and @USAmbHRC Taylor were proud to join @UKRinUNOG and colleagues from around the globe in today’s dramatic walkout from the Human Rights Council to protest Lavrov’s appalling attempt to justify Russia’s brutal and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/Lovr0TtqiH
— U.S. Mission Geneva (@usmissiongeneva) March 1, 2022
Lavrov was addressing the Human Rights Council remotely, after cancelling his visit because of the closure of European airspace to Russian aircraft.
In his speech, the Russian foreign minister justified his country’s attack on Ukraine by accusing the Ukrainian side of human rights violations against its Russian minority.
He also accused the EU of engaging in a “Russophobic frenzy” by supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine during Moscow’s military campaign that began last Thursday.
Moscow describes the invasion as a “special military operation” aimed at dislodging “neo-Nazis” ruling Ukraine.
Diplomats who walked out on Lavrov’s speech said the Human Rights Council “must not be misused as a platform for disinformation”.
“Foreign Minister Lavrov’s grotesque claims must be exposed for what they are: a cynical distortion of the facts,” said German ambassador Katharina Stasch.
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly called Lavrov’s version “false” and “so that’s why we wanted to show a very strong stance together”.
French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont said “any invasion constitutes a violation of human rights” and “it is important that the Human Rights Council shows with this walkout that it is united with Ukraine and with the people of Ukraine”.
The walkout came less than an hour after diplomats all but emptied a nearby room at the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva when Lavrov’s video speech aired to the Conference on Disarmament, a body created in 1979 to try to stem the Cold War arms race.