Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
Three-and-a-half years ago, Russia seized and occupied Crimea. Russia then staged an illegitimate referendum in which residents of Crimea were compelled to vote while heavily armed foreign forces occupied their land. Echoing the joint statement delivered by Sweden at last month’s information session concerning Crimea, the United States joins members of this Board in restating our unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its sovereignty over its entire territory. We once again condemn Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, and call on Russia to return control of the peninsula to Ukraine.
We recall UN General Assembly resolution 68/262, which calls upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize any alteration of the status of Crimea on the basis of the invalid referendum held in Crimea in March 2014.
The United States sees a clear role for UNESCO to address directly Russia’s occupation and attempted annexation of Crimea, particularly as Russian occupation authorities engage in a widespread campaign to suppress freedom of expression and subject journalists to political prosecutions and denials of due process.
We call on the Russian Federation to create and maintain a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference, as called for in United Nations General Assembly resolution 71/205 of 19 December 2016.
The need for this call is abundantly clear from the decision of a court in Russian-occupied Crimea against Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist Mykola Semena. His conviction on sham charges of “separatist activity” was based solely on the fact that Mr. Semena had criticized Russia’s occupation and purported annexation of Crimea in his writing. We call on the Russian occupation authorities to vacate Mr. Semena’s conviction, allow him to resume his journalistic activity, and cease their campaign to stifle dissent in Crimea.
The Russian Federation’s occupation of Crimea and its efforts to subvert Ukrainian culture impinge on religious freedom as well. We are deeply troubled by the continued reports of beatings, harassment and kidnappings against people by Russian occupation authorities or the forces they arm, train, and lead, simply because of their profession of faith.
In response to these abuses, UNESCO needs to urgently advance direct monitoring activities on the Crimean peninsula in its areas of competence.
The United States expresses our strong support for Ukraine.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.