Baltic statement at the Committee on Information

Committee on Information, 45th Session

General Debate: The PR of Latvia, H.E. Ambassador Andrejs Pildegovičs

Statement on behalf of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

 April 25 2023, New York

Thank you, Mr. Chair!

I am speaking on behalf of the Baltic States – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Let me congratulate H.E. Mohammad Aamir Khan and the Permanent Representation of Pakistan on assuming the Chairmanship of the Committee on Information, as well as other Bureau members, and wish you the best of luck in these roles!

I would also like to thank the Mission of Ecuador for leading the work of the Committee on Information in the previous two sessions.

Excellencies, colleagues,

Let me welcome our dear neighbors and friends Estonia as our newest member of the Committee on Information.

The Baltic States align with the statement of the European Union, and, in addition, we would like to make the following points.

We would like to begin by thanking the Department of Global Communication and Under-Secretary General Ms. Fleming personally for strong and successful UN public communication efforts – be it providing high quality information in different formats, supporting the media around the world, conducting outreach activities or giving guidance on how to best address the problem of disinformation.

Despite all the difficult challenges, widespread uncertainty and rapidly changing information environment, the UN has managed to present itself of being at the center of global communication solutions.

Mr. Chair!

Good and effective communication of the UN improves the global information ecosystem, especially during the times of crises – be it COVID-19, climate change or losing faith in election systems.

Yet, the Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, enabled by Belarus is more than another crisis with global consequences. It is a fundamental challenge for upholding the international rules-based order. Russia is spreading massive disinformation, including at the UN, as information space is a tool of Russia’s warfare.

Russia’s disinformation and war propaganda, which it uses to try to justify its armed aggression and war crimes against Ukraine, has killed too many people in Ukraine.

For years, Russia has used information manipulation and historical revisionism to lay a groundwork and “brainwash” people, creating a false justification for the invasion in Ukraine.

During the invasion, Russian armed forces have been targeting and destroying the civilian infrastructure related also to information, such as TV towers and internet transmitters.

In the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine, Russia immediately turns on its propaganda machine and denies access to the Ukrainian media and independent information.

Russia continues to impose media censorship and crackdown on independent media, creating an informational vacuum for its war propaganda, hate speech, incitement for violence, including by using genocidal rhetoric and spreading dehumanising messages about Ukrainians. Russia’s policy demonstrates racist and xenophobic attitude towards Ukrainian identity, culture and language. Former President Medvedev recently tweeted that Ukraine as a country should disappear.

It is outrageous that the leading propagandist of the Russian regime Maria Zakharova, sanctioned by the European Union, represents the Russian Federation in this Committee.

Disinformation campaigns by Russia are being carried out in other regions, too. Russia is actively manipulating audiences in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East justifying its aggression against Ukraine and shifting the blame.  Actions by online platforms to disrupt such disinformation have been limited in terms of geography and language, while the existing gaps in their moderation policies allow malign actors like Russia to misuse their platforms to push their agenda forward through information manipulation and interference.

Information manipulation and disinformation campaigns, including by Russia-affiliated groups, notably the Wagner Group, are also targeting international missions, including the UN peacekeeping and the EU missions in Africa, in particular, the Central African Republic, Mali, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Mr. Chair!

Since the Russia’s full-scale war against Ukraine started, the information environment in Russia has gone from bad to worse. There is no free and independent media in Russia. Russia’s so-called courts are sentencing people to 25 years in prison for exercising their freedom of expression, as it was in the case of politician and journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza. We call on Russia’s authorities to immediately release Mr. Kara-Murza as well as Evan Gershkovich, Alexei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Alexei Gorinov and several hundred of other political prisoners in Russia.

Many independent journalists were forced to leave Russia because of the “foreign agents” legislation and “fake news” law, which criminalizes independent reporting about the war, with penalties up to 15 years in prison. It creates a risk of prosecution leading to imprisonment not only for journalists, but for anyone posting messages on the internet or potentially anyone discussing the war in public. This means you cannot call this war ‘a war’ in Russia, without facing the risk of prosecution.

Part of Russia’s independent media have left for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. We continue to provide practical support for the independent media from Russia so that they can continue their work in exile.

We strongly condemn the further tightening of censorship and complete suppression of independent media, attacks against journalists and media workers in Russia. Independent media has a crucial role in all societies. Journalists and media workers must be allowed to safely carry out their work, particularly in times of war.

Mr. Chair!

The UN should continue to contributing to ending the war, upholding the UN Charter and restoring Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to six UNGA resolutions.

We firmly believe that stronger UN’s efforts should be devoted to the following directions.

First, the whole UN system should use the proper terminology, stemming from the six UNGA resolutions related to the Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. It should be called either aggression or invasion or war against Ukraine. We welcome that the Secretary General uses the two terms – either war or invasion, also stating that Russia violates the UN Charter. It cannot be called crisis, conflict, situation or worst of all “special military operation”. We regret to note that the all three of the Secretary General reports submitted for the consideration of this year’s Committee on Information session refer to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine as “armed conflict in Ukraine” or “conflict situation”. We urge the leadership of the UN to issue guidance to all UN institutions on this matter.

Secondly, the UN should continue to use all its communication channels and means, not only in all 6 official languages, especially the Russian language, but also in other languages – to inform about the war against Ukraine. The UN communication in Russian should continue to be a trusted and reliable source of information, also for the most affected people by the war, including in Ukraine and Russia.

In this regard, we would like to draw your attention that in January this year the military prosecutor’s office of the Vladimir oblast in Russia had initiated the blocking of the UN webpage. This must have been aimed at denying Russia’s people of accurate, impartial and objective information the UN webpage is providing to people around the world. Though they gave up on this initiative in a couple of weeks, it was another outrageous attack on freedom of expression in Russia.

Thirdly, the UN needs to continue efforts to counter disinformation. We welcome the work of Global Communications Department on the code of conduct on public information integrity. In this regard, we appreciate your recently organized informal meeting with UN Member States. We look forward to further engaging in this important task. In this process, we must seek for a greater transparency and responsibility of online platforms in curbing information manipulation and interference and misuse of their platforms by malign actors.

We welcome that the Committee on Information in its last year’s annual resolution “reiterated its condemnation of all forms of propaganda” that encourage the “act of aggression”. This should be part of the forthcoming policy brief on the code of conduct. We strongly believe that the integrity of public information also means that the glorification of aggression and justification of violations of the UN charter are addressed as part of state behavior in the information domain.

In parallel, the Code of Conduct has to deal with the promotion of media and information literacy, complementing UN GA resolution on Global Media and Information Literacy Week adopted by consensus in March 2021. We should continue to implement this resolution.

For example, my country Latvia together with many UN Member States across all geographic regions and the UN Department of Global Communication has organized many side-events during the Media and Information literacy week – the last week of October. The latest was on “the Contribution of Media and Information Literacy to Democratic Resilience – Challenges and Best Practice” we organized in October 2022 together with the European Union, the Dominican Republic, Namibia, Indonesia and the United Kingdom.

Global Media and Information Literacy is a vital element of societal resilience, contributing also to achieving the UN sustainable development goals and Agenda 2030.

To conclude, let me assure you that the Baltic States will continue to actively engage in the work of the Committee on Information and beyond. Strengthening information space, safeguarding the freedom of expression and media freedom, addressing disinformation worldwide, as well as improving resilience of vulnerable groups, societies and states remain top priorities for the Baltic States.

I thank you!