Letter from the UN that forbids employees to call Russia’s aggression against Ukraine a “war” hits the Internet

The United Nations has banned its staff from using words “war” or “invasion” to describe the actions of Russia against Ukraine, the Irish Times reports. According to an internal email sent on March 7, the UN employees were instructed to call the war “conflict” or “military offensive” instead, as well as not to add the Ukrainian flag to personal or official social media accounts or websites.

This is an important reminder that we, as international civil servants, have a responsibility to be impartial. It is particularly important during a crisis such as tis one. There is a serious possibility of reputational risk that has been flagged by senior officials recently, the email said.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba express his strong dissatisfaction.

Previously today, in response to the Guardian’s request, the UN spokesperson has denied the ban: “It is simply not the case that staff have been instructed not to use words like ‘war’ and ‘invasion’ to describe the situation.”

He pointed to a tweet from UN Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo, where she used both supposedly banned words regarding Ukraine.

The spokesperson emphasized that all employees are “asked to frame any communications on Ukraine as well as other political matters in a manner that is consistent with the position of the Organisation and the statements of the Secretary-General.”

At the same time, he said he could not exclude that some manager of the UN could have sent such an email. No one from the UN employees contacted by the Guardian had not received an email banning the words.

Why is it important

The Soviet Union was a founding member of the United Nations when it was set up with the aim of preventing future wars in the wake of World War II, and the Russian Federation inherited its seat and permanent UN Security Council (UNSC) membership when the bloc dissolved in 1991. And the language policy, described in the letter, has fuelled concern that the organization is going too far to avoid offending Russia, a powerful member state that holds one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

Russian officials do not use the word “invasion”: the Kremlin’s preferred term to use is “special military operation.” Two days after Russia launched its offensive, media regulator Roskomnadzor ordered local news outlets to delete reporting that used the words “assault”, “invasion”, or “declaration of war”, or risk being fined or blocked. This was followed by a new law imposing prison terms of up to 15 years for anyone who spreads news deemed to be “fake.”