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We write in advance of the 73rd pre-session of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (“the Committee”). We hope this submission will inform the Committee’s preparation of its list of issues to seek further clarity on Russia’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This submission focuses on rights abuses in the context of Russia’s war on Ukraine, which has killed thousands of civilians and injured many thousands more, and destroyed civilian property and infrastructure. It also focuses on rights abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and education during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Rights Abuses in the Context of the War on Ukraine (articles 1, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 15)

  1. Since Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Russian forces have committed a litany of violations in Ukraine, including those which should be investigated as war crimes or crimes against humanity,[1] and the authorities started a new, all-out drive to eradicate public dissent in Russia. Indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing and shelling of civilian areas have killed and injured untold numbers of civilians and have destroyed homes and healthcare and educational facilities.

Forcible Transfers of Children

  1. Human Rights Watch has documented the forcible transfer and deportation of children and the war’s devastating impact on children in residential institutions.[2] As of March 2023 and based on Ukrainian government data, 100 institutions that had housed more than 32,000 children before 2022 were in regions under partial or total Russian occupation and which Russia stated, falsely, that it had annexed in September 2022.[3]
  2. Many children in residential institutions had to shelter for weeks from bombardments in basements without electricity or running water, including children with disabilities.[4] A group of children from an institution in Mariupol did not speak for four days after they were evacuated to Lviv, in March 2022, apparently due to trauma, one volunteer said. Staff at another institution coached older children to carry younger children to the basement when air-raid sirens sounded.
  3. Statements by Russian authorities, Ukrainian activists and lawyers, and news reports indicate that at least several thousand children from residential institutions have been forcibly transferred to other occupied territories or deported to Russia.[5]
  4. Russia’s parliament changed laws in May 2022 to enable authorities to facilitate giving Russian nationality to Ukrainian children,[6] enabling their guardianship and adoption by Russian families in Russia.[7] Russian officials have said that hundreds of Ukrainian children have been adopted.[8] International standards prohibit inter-country adoption during armed conflicts.
  5. On March 17, 2023, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for President Putin and Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, for the war crimes of unlawful transfer and deportation of children.[9]
  6. In May 2023, more details came to light through the findings of an investigation by an expert appointed under the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE). Although the new report acknowledges uncertainty regarding exact numbers, it concluded that forcibly deported Ukrainian children had been subjected to “numerous and overlapping violations”[10] of their rights: they were placed in an unfamiliar environment far removed from Ukrainian language, culture, customs, and religion, and many were exposed to military training and “to pro-Russian information campaigns often amounting to targeted reeducation.”[11]


  1. Following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin swiftly pushed through parliament draconian war censorship legislation, which effectively outlaw anti-war speech and protest by criminalizing spreading information about the conduct of Russian armed forces that deviates from official information, condemning the war or calling for withdrawal of troops. The maximum penalty is 15 years’ imprisonment. Later amendments expanded these provisions to penalize “discrediting” the actions of any Russian state agencies abroad and actions by non-state actors engaged in Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine.[12]
  2. In late February 2022, Russia’s education ministry provided schoolteachers with “information for a social studies session,”[13] outlining the approved line to teach students—that Russia invaded Ukraine because “our policy is freedom, freedom of choice for everyone to independently determine their own future and the future of their children.”[14] It further said that if children ask whether Russia is at war, teachers should answer no: the Russian leadership is “not going to impose anything on anyone by force” and is conducting a “special peacekeeping operation” to stop a “nightmare of genocide” against ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in the Donetska and Luhanska regions of Ukraine.[15] This violates the right to education, which “shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations.”[16]

Right to Food

  1. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has undermined availability and access to food in many countries that rely on Russia and Ukraine for a significant percentage of their wheat, fertilizer, or vegetable oils imports.[17] But even countries that import little from these two countries are indirectly impacted by higher prices for key agricultural commodities, as the ongoing war has disrupted global commodity markets and trade flows. In July, Russia withdrew from the Black Sea grain agreement, which enabled the export of Ukraine's grain amid the full-scale invasion.[18] The International Monetary Fund has raised concern that this was likely to put “upward pressure” on global food prices.[19]
  2. Russia and Ukraine are among the top five global exporters of barley, sunflowers, and maize, and account for about a third of the world’s wheat exports.[20] Nigeria receives a fourth of its wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.[21] Cameroon, Tanzania, Uganda, and Sudan source more than 40 percent of their wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.[22] The UN World Food Programme (WFP) buys half of the wheat it distributes around the world from Ukraine.[23] With the war, supplies are squeezed, and prices rise, including for fuel, increasing the cost for transporting food in and to the region.
  3. Human Rights Watch research on the food situation in Cameroon, Kenya, and Nigeria confirms that the rising food prices exacerbated by the war in Ukraine severely affect people’s livelihoods and food security in many African countries, especially where adequate social protection is lacking.
  4. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Russian government:
  • Since February 24, 2022, how many Ukrainian children have been brought to Russia without the full legal consent from their parents or guardians? Of these, how many have received Russian citizenship? How many have been adopted in Russia since then?
  1. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the Russian government to:
  • Publish the number and whereabouts of all children and staff transferred from Ukrainian institutions to Russia or Russian-occupied territories, and facilitate their contact with their families, Ukrainian child protection agencies, and international humanitarian agencies, as well as their return to Ukraine.
  • Repeal any legislation that limits the ability of Ukrainian families, guardians, or authorities to obtain the return of transferred Ukrainian children, including the legislation that allows for granting Russian citizenship to and adoption of Ukrainian children.
  • Ensure the aims of education, including by halting the spread of disinformation in schools.
  • Comply with its commitments under the Covenant to international cooperation and joint and separate action to achieve the full realization of the right to adequate food, which includes respecting and protecting the enjoyment of the right to food in other countries, such as food-importing countries negatively affected by the invasion of Ukraine.
  • Allow access and cooperate with the Human Rights Council-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Russia.

Rights Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (articles 2, 12, 13, and 15)

  1. In July 2023, Russian parliament adopted a new law that bans transgender people from accessing gender affirming health services—including elective surgeries—while allowing operations on intersex children to be carried out without their consent. The law also prohibits people from changing their name and gender marker on official documents.[24]
  2. The law infringes on the rights of both transgender people and intersex children. Consenting transgender adults who seek medical interventions to affirm their gender identity would be barred from those services while children born with variations in their sex characteristics—also known as intersex children—would continue to be subjected to medically unnecessary, nonconsensual surgeries to “normalize” their healthy bodies. These provisions are not only discriminatory but also violate the rights to physical integrity and privacy.
  3. In December 2022, the Duma extended the scope[25] of Russia’s harmful “gay propaganda” law of 2013, which forbids the public portrayal of “non-traditional sexual relations.”[26] Previously focused on children, the prohibited exposure now applies to any age group.
  4.  Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in Russia have long faced threats, bullying, abuse including within their own families, as well as discrimination. Human Rights Watch has found that the “gay propaganda” legislation increased social hostility and led to an uptick in violence. The law has also had a stifling effect on access to sexuality education and support services.[27]
  5.  The “gay propaganda” legislation has been used to shut down websites that provide valuable information and services to teens across Russia and to bar LGBT support groups from working with youth. Its passage coincided with increased, often-gruesome vigilante, homophobic violence against LGBT people in Russia—frequently carried out in the name of protecting children and “traditional values.” Individual mental health professionals have curtailed what they say and what support they give to their clients. This discriminatory legislation has also been extensively used by the government to stifle LGBT events and harass children for participating in cultural events.[28] It has also been used to curtail art seen to be teaching tolerance and LGBT-themed posts on social media.[29]
  6. By enshrining discrimination in national law, Russia’s “gay propaganda” legislation violates Russia’s international human rights obligations. International bodies—including the European Court of Human Rights and the UN Human Rights Committee—have strongly condemned it for this reason.
  7. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Russian government:
  • What steps is Russia taking to provide access to age-appropriate, comprehensive, and inclusive health-related education and information?
  • What steps is Russia taking to gather data about homophobic and transphobic crimes, make such data publicly available, and hold accountable those responsible for such crimes?
  1. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the Russian government to:
  • Repeal discriminatory laws against LGBT people, including the “gay propaganda” law (Federal Law No. 135-FZ).
  • Introduce legislation to protect the rights of all LGBT people, including children, such as legislation to explicitly proscribe discrimination against them in public services and to make sexual orientation and gender identity protected categories against discrimination in relevant provisions of Russia’s criminal and civil laws.
  • Include information about sexual orientation and gender identity in the national curriculum based on guidelines set forth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and issue a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity for all mental health providers.
  • Monitor the response of law enforcement officials to crimes against LGBT people, with the goal of continuously improving it.

Education during the Covid-19 Pandemic (article 13)

  1. From March 2020 to March 2022, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Russian schools transitioned to various forms of distance learning and were partially closed for 19 weeks.[30] Human Rights Watch found many barriers to effective online learning.[31] For example, the amount of time a child could spend with a device was often constrained, particularly in low-income households where parents and children share the same device. Another barrier was inadequate space at home for studying. Teachers’ ability to adapt to the sudden transition to distance teaching mirrored investments in teacher training and in digital literacy before the pandemic. For instance, a woman whose child was enrolled in a public school in Moscow said: “The faculty at our school were not prepared on the technological side. The platform used was fraught with glitches they did not seem capable of overcoming. Also, the teachers had received no methodological training and their lessons were ineffective and hard for the kids to digest.”[32] Two teachers expressed concern about the lack of support from their school administration in providing devices and/or training. For many schoolchildren, online learning also meant fewer hours of learning and fewer subjects.
  2. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask the Russian government:
  • How is the government addressing the learning inequities that resulted from disparate access to devices between children from low-income and higher-income households during the pandemic?
  1. Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee call on the government of Russia to:
  • Strategically allocate educational resources to marginalized and low-income groups and those shown to have been particularly affected in their education during the pandemic.
  • To the extent that online learning is used beyond Covid-19 school closures, develop or expand device affordability and availability initiatives for schools and families, with support targeted at the most marginalized children, and develop and provide digital literacy training for teachers.

[1] Human Rights Watch, “Russia-Ukraine War” (webpage), 2023, available at

[2] Human Rights Watch, “We Must Provide a Family, Not Rebuild Orphanages”: The Consequences of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine for Children in Ukrainian Residential Institutions (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2023),

[3] Human Rights Watch based this assessment on an interactive map published online in 2019 by the Ministry of Social Policy’s “Deinstitutionalization” website; in late 2022, the map was removed from the website, possibly due to security concerns related to the conflict, (accessed August 7, 2023). See also Yulia Gorbunova, “Fictitious Annexation Follows Voting at Gunpoint,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, September 30, 2022,

[4] Yulia Gorbunova, “Under Shelling in Kharkiv,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, March 7, 2022,

[5] See for example the Kremlin, “Meeting with Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova,” March 9, 2022, (accessed July 3, 2023); Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR.GAL/36/22/Corr.1, July 14, 2022, p. 95; and Sam Mednick, “Ukrainians hid orphaned children from Russian deportation,” Associated Press, December 5, 2022, (accessed July 3, 2023).

[6] “Путин подписал указ об упрощенном приеме в гражданство РФ детей-сирот из Донбасса и Украины,” Interfax, May 30, 2022, (accessed July 3, 2023). The Russian-government-affiliated news agency RIA-Novosti published the legal text on its Telegram channel on May 30, 2022,

[7] Anastasiia Shvets, Elizaveta Tilna, and Sarah El Deeb, “How Moscow grabs Ukrainian kids and makes them Russians,” AP, February 21, 2023, (accessed July 3, 2023).

[8] Ксения Набаткина, “«Они боятся громких звуков, переживают за свое будущее»: Уполномоченный по правам ребенка Мария Львова-Белова — о новых семьях для детей из зоны СВО и важности объятий в процессе воспитания,” Izvestia, December 19, 2022, (accessed July 3, 2023).

[9] International Criminal Court, “Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova,” March 17, 2023,,Ms%20Maria%20Alekseyevna%20Lvova%2DBelova (accessed July 3, 2023).

[10] OSCE, Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR.GAL/37/23/Rev.1/Corr.1*, May 4, 2023, (accessed July 3, 2023).

[11] Ibid., p. 76.

[12] See Federal Law N 31-FZ of March 4, 2022, “On amending the Code of Administrative Offences”; Federal Law N 32-FZ of March 4, 2022, “On amending the Criminal Code and articles 31 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code”; Federal Law N 57-FZ of March 18, 2023, “On amending articles 13.15 and 20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offences”; Federal Law N 58-FZ of March 18, 2023, “On amending the Criminal Code”; Federal Law N 62-FZ of March 25, 2022, “On amending articles 8.32 and 20.3-3 of the Code of Administrative Offences”; and Federal Law N 63-FZ of March 25, 2022, “On amending the Criminal Code and articles 150 and 151 of the Criminal Procedure Code.”

[13] «В школы Московской области разослали методичку для проведения уроков на тему происходящего в Украине », Медуза — LIVE, February 28, 2022, (accessed July 4, 2023).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid. See also Bill Van Esveld, “Russia Instructs Teachers to Spread Disinformation About Ukraine,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, March 4, 2022,

[16] ICESCR, art 13. Russian authorities have also penalized or threatened students who were critical of perceived rights abuses. See “Russia: Student Fined for Involving Children in Protest,” Human Rights Watch news release, March 27, 2019,

[17] “Ukraine/Russia: As War Continues, Africa Food Crisis Looms,” Human Rights Watch news release, April 28, 2022, See also Matt McConnell (Human Rights Watch), ”What Covid Teaches Us About the Cost-of-Living Crisis,” Newsweek, December 20, 2022,

[18] Patrick Wintour and Shaun Walker, “Russia says decision not to extend Black Sea grain deal is final,” July 17, 2023, (accessed July 21, 2023).

[19] Colby Smith, “IMF upgrades forecasts but warns global economy ‘not out of the woods’,” Financial Times, July 25, 2023, (accessed August 1, 2023).

[20] Joseph Glauber and David Laborde, “How will Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affect global food security?”, International Food Policy Research Institute, February 24, 2022, (accessed August 2, 2023).

[21] Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), “Wheat in Nigeria” (webpage) [n.d.], (accessed August 2, 2023).

[22] UN World Food Programme, “Implications of Ukraine Conflict on Food Access and Availability in the Eastern Africa Region,” March 4, 2022, (accessed August 7, 2023).

[23] Maytaal Angel, “WFP ramps up food aid to Ukraine amid reports of severe shortages,” Reuters, March 4, 2022, (accessed July 4, 2023).

[24] Kyle Knight, “Russia Moves to Ban Trans Health Care,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, June 2, 2023,

[25] “Russia: Expanded 'Gay Propaganda' Ban Progresses Toward Law,” Human Rights Watch news release, November 25, 2022,

[26] Federal Law of June 29, 2013, No. 135-FZ.

[27] Human Rights Watch, No Support: Russia’s “Gay Propaganda” Law Imperils LGBT Youth (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2018),

[28] “Russia: Anti-LGBT Law a Tool for Discrimination,” Human Rights Watch news release, June 29, 2014,; Анна Пушкарская, "Ничего себе мы погуляли". В Санкт-Петербурге 20 подростков задержали за радужный флаг,” BBC, March 21, 2021, (accessed August 4, 2023).

[29] “Russia: Expanded 'Gay Propaganda' Ban Progresses Toward Law,” Human Rights Watch news release.

[30] UNESCO, Covid-19 Education Response, “Country Dashboard: Russian Federation,” March 2022, (accessed July 6, 2023).

[31] Human Rights Watch, “Years Don’t Wait for Them”: Increased Inequalities in Children’s Right to Education Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic (New York: Human Rights Watch, 2021),

[32] Human Rights Watch interview with mother, Moscow, March 30, 2021.

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