The United Nations has allegedly issued a moratorium to staff on using the words “war” or “invasion” in references to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
First reported by the Irish Times, which cited a communications department email to from the organization to its employees, the United Nations warned against the use of the loaded terms and also informed employees not to use the Ukrainian flag on their personal communications or social media accounts.
Since the onset of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine, numerous people on social media, including celebrities and politicians have adopted the Ukrainian flag as part of their Twitter bios and email signatures to align themselves with the country currently under siege.
“Some specific examples of language to use/not use at the moment,” the Irish Times revealed in the email leaked to the publication. “[Use] ‘conflict’ or ‘military offensive’ and NOT ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ when referring to the situation in Ukraine.”
The alleged memo notes that the use of the Ukrainian flag in Twitter bios and emails or websites posed a “reputational risk” for those opting to signal their virtue.
“Do NOT add the Ukrainian flag to personal or official social media accounts or websites,” the email read.
“This is an important reminder that we, as international civil servants, have a responsibility to be impartial,” the alleged memo continued. “There is a serious possibility of reputational risk that has been flagged by senior officials recently.”
Presumably, the pushback against support for Ukraine comes from surfacing allegations of war crimes committed by both sides of the conflict. The United Nations previously released reports on the restrictions of fundamental freedoms in eastern Ukraine by both pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces.
In 2016, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) produced a report detailing human rights violations by Ukrainian government forces.
A similar report was produced in December 2021 detailing alleged restrictions on fundamental freedoms of those living in Russian-controlled areas by separatist forces. The apparent move to ban loaded terms comes despite strong United Nations support for Ukraine following the invasion, and closely resembles language used by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who continues to refer to the conflict as a peacekeeping mission.
The apparent language policy is raising concerns that the organization may simply be trying not to offend Russia, which remains a powerful member state that holds one of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council and continues to influence the direction of the organization, despite being marginalized by the West.
In response to the Irish Times report, UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric insisted that the memo was not an official policy, calling it a “mistaken impression,” and pointed to a tweet by a UN official who used the phrase “Russia’s invasion.”
“All I can tell you is that no email went out to staff from NY to staff with these instructions. I don’t dispute the validity of that email but it can not be considered official policy to staff,” he said.