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UN experts take Russia to task over deported Ukrainian children and a ‘military agenda’ in schools

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GENEVA (AP) — 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.

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

Russian officials attended the committee’s Jan. 22-23 hearings, and the Russia’s mission in Geneva said Moscow would respond to the report.

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 did not 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 invade Ukraine in February 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.

The Russian delegation headed by Alexey Vovchenko, a deputy minister or 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.

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.”

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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