UNWTO delays decision on Russia’s membership

MADRID, 11 March 2022: UNWTO is taking its time deciding whether to suspend the Russian Federation’s membership after some members called for a decision last week.

The UNWTO Executive Council deliberated the pros and cons at Tuesday’s extraordinary council meeting and decided to pass the buck to an extraordinary UNWTO General Assembly to rule on the Russian Federation’s membership suspension.

The council’s Tuesday meeting responded to petitions by Colombia, Guatemala, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia and Ukraine calling for the suspension of the Russian Federation from membership of UNWTO.

UNWTO’s membership includes 160 member states, six associate members and over 500 affiliate members representing the private sector, educational institutions, tourism associations and local tourism authorities. The 160 member states hold the core voting rights.

In a press statement on 9 March, the UNWTO promised the “first-ever Extraordinary UNWTO General Assembly will convene in the coming days.”

The request to oust Russia from UNWTO ranks is a first for the usually placid and anodyne tourism body following demands for action filed by several UNWTO members to the Executive Council.

“War is never a solution! Not now, and not ever. But it is evident that not everybody is committed to this ideal,” said UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili.

 He added: “For this reason, UNWTO  must be loud and clear: If you are a member, then you commit to our rules. And you must embrace our values. So, when members go against our goals, there must be consequences.”

He said aggression against Ukraine was inconsistent with the United Nations Charter and contravened the fundamental aim of the UNWTO as enshrined in Article 3 of its statutes, which states the “promotion and development of tourism with a view to contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity and universal respect for, and observance of, human rights”, as the fundamental principles of the organisation.

UNWTO said it stands fully behind the resolution of the UN General Assembly and the vote of the UN Human Rights Council. The sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders must be upheld, and the call of the United Nations for peaceful resolution of the conflict must be followed.

Last week, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favour of a resolution demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders”. The UNGA reaffirmed the paramount importance of the UN Charter in the promotion of law among nations. 

Also, last week, the UN Human Rights Council condemned the actions of the Russian Federation “in the strongest possible terms”. Its members voted in favour of establishing a special commission to investigate alleged human rights violations, including possible war crimes in Ukraine.

UNWTO closed its statement confirming the final decision to suspend Russia’s membership in the global tourism organisation was in the hands of the UNWTO General Assembly, not the Executive Council.

“In accordance with its statutes, the UNWTO General Assembly alone has the sovereign responsibility to decide on the suspension of membership of any member state, if it found that the member persists in a policy contrary to the fundamental aims of the organisation, as enshrined in Article 3 of its statutes.”