More than 100 diplomats from about 40 countries walked out of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech at the United Nations in Geneva to 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.
Among those remaining at the Human Rights Council meeting was Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Gennady Gatilov, who is a former deputy of Lavrov.
Envoys from Syria, China and Venezuela also stayed.
Ukrainian Ambassador Yevheniia Filipenko, who led the walkout, thanked those who participated in the stunt.
“Thank you very much for this wonderful show of support for Ukrainians fighting for their independence,” she told the crowd gathered around a large Ukrainian flag outside the hemicycle.
Lavrov was addressing the Human Rights Council from a distance, after cancelling his visit due to the closure of European airspace to Russian planes.
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 indulging in a “Russophobic frenzy” by supplying lethal weapons to Ukraine in Moscow’s military campaign that began last Thursday.
Moscow describes the invasion as a “special military operation” to dislodge the “neo-Nazis” in power in Ukraine.
Diplomats who left Lavrov’s speech said the Human Rights Council “should 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 “that’s why we wanted to show together a very strong position”.
French Ambassador Jérôme Bonnafont said that “any invasion is a violation of human rights” and “it is important that the Human Rights Council shows by this walkout that it is united with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people”.
The walkout came less than an hour after diplomats virtually cleared out a room next to the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva when Lavrov’s video address was played to the Conference on Disarmament, a body set up in 1979 to try to curb the Cold War arms race.