UN panel criticizes Russia’s efforts to rewrite school curriculum

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A panel of U.N.-backed experts that focuses on children’s human rights called Thursday on Russia to prevent efforts to rewrite school curricula and textbooks to reflect the government’s “political and military agenda,” including over the war in Ukraine.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child held two days of hearings in Geneva last month before presenting its findings on conditions in Russia. The examination was part of a regular review that all U.N. member countries receive.

Bragi Gudbrandsson, the committee’s vice chair, said that the panel highlighted the killings and injuries of hundreds of children through “indiscriminate attacks” by Russia in Ukraine by using explosive weapons. He cited measures to strip deported Ukrainian children of their nationality and give them Russian citizenship.

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The Ukrainian government and “other sources” indicated that about 20,000 Ukrainian children had been forcibly deported, though it was difficult to determine exact numbers, he said. “Russia denied this,” he added.

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“It is our conclusion that there are (is) evidence of forced transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia,” said Gudbrandsson, a former director-general of Iceland’s child protection agency.

Russian officials attended the committee’s Jan. 22-23 hearings. The Russian diplomatic mission in Geneva didn’t immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press seeking comment, but said that a response would come from Moscow.

The 18-member committee of independent experts last examined Russia’s record on children’s rights a decade ago. It also urged the Russian government to investigate war crime allegations against President Vladimir Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights.

In March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, his children’s rights commissioner, accusing them of abducting children from Ukraine.

The U.N. committee, in its concluding observations, said it was “deeply concerned” about the allegations of Lvova-Belova’s responsibility and urged Russian authorities to “investigate allegations of war crimes perpetrated” by her. It didn’t mention the allegations against Putin.

The Russian government has faced international condemnation over deportations of Ukrainian families, including children, to Russia following Putin’s order for Russian troops to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022. It also has come under recent scrutiny over the alleged interference by Putin’s ruling party in schools and policies that put a positive spin on Russia’s war effort.

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The Russian delegation headed by Alexey Vovchenko, a deputy minister of labor and social protection, denied during last month’s hearings that any Ukrainians were forcibly removed from their country. He said that 4.8 million residents of Ukraine — including 770,000 children — had been taken in by Russia.

The committee also denounced the alleged “widespread and systematic state propaganda in schools about the war in Ukraine,” including through the issuance of a new history textbook and a new training manual for teaching the government’s positions on the conflict.

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The U.N. panel called on authorities to “prevent any attempts to rewrite school curriculum and textbooks to reflect the political and military agenda of the government.”

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Ann Skelton, the committee chair, said that it put an emphasis on the “politicization and militarization of schools,” adding: “We consider it to be a very big risk for the future of these children … who are being indoctrinated basically.”

The committee also expressed concerns about sexual and other violence committed by Russian soldiers against children in Ukraine. The U.N. last year added Russia to a blacklist of countries that violate children’s rights in conflict, citing boys and girls who were killed during attacks on schools and hospitals in Ukraine.

Children’s rights in Bulgaria, Congo, Lithuania, Senegal and South Africa were also considered by the committee during its January hearings.

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