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UNWTO suspends Russia’s membership


MADRID, 29 April 2022: The World Tourism Organization’s General Assembly voted to suspend Russia’s membership in the UN specialised agency earlier this week despite Russia announcing its withdrawal ahead of the debate. 

During the first-ever emergency session of the UNWTO General Assembly, members debated the suspension of Russia from the organisation, as recommended by the UNWTO Executive Council at its emergency meeting last month.

However, during the proceedings, the Russian delegation declined to step up and defend its position at the assembly and instead announced its intention to withdraw from UNWTO before the debate could take place. Russian tourism was represented by the Federal Agency for Tourism which reports directly to the Russian Federation’s Cabinet.

The debate went ahead and more than the required two-thirds majority voted in favour of suspending Russia’s membership. The General Assembly decision is effective immediately, the UN agency said in a media statement. In the absence of the suspension vote, Russia would have gained a year’s grace period to formally leave the organisation.

Commenting on the suspension vote, UNWTO secretary-general Zurab Pololikashvili said: “UNWTO’s members have sent a clear message that tourism is a pillar of peace and international friendship… Members must uphold these values or face the consequences, with no exceptions. This emergency General Assembly shows that Russia’s actions are indefensible and contrary to the very principles of UNWTO and of international governance.”

Loss of rights and privileges

In total, 99 countries were represented in Madrid. According to Article Three of the Statutes, all members commit to developing tourism with a “view to contributing to economic development, international understanding, peace, prosperity, and universal prospect for, and observance of human rights”.

Effective immediately, the Russian Federation will not be able to exercise the rights or enjoy the privileges of UNWTO membership. It will not be able to receive services from the organisation, including technical assistance. Nor will the Russian Federation be able to participate in any UNWTO meetings or events or be permitted to put forward any candidates to serve on UNWTO’s statutory bodies.

The suspension will impact the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism’s participation in various UNWTO projects such as:

  • UNWTO Working Group on Silk Road Tourism Development;
  • UNWTO Working Group on the creation of an international code for the protection of tourists;
  • UNWTO Crisis Committee;
  • UNWTO Regional Commission for Europe.

The path to suspension

The first emergency session of the General Assembly was convened at the request of six members and at the instruction of the UNWTO Executive Council. The UNWTO Secretariat then provided a comprehensive report to the General Assembly for member states to decide on the Russian Federation’s suspension from membership, following the organisation’s statutes.

The UNWTO Statutes state that any member state may be suspended if two-thirds of their fellow members believe them to be persisting in a policy contrary to the organisation’s fundamental aim. A majority of two-thirds of full members present and voting at the General Assembly is required for a motion for suspension of membership to pass. Suspension is temporary and may be lifted, though only by the General Assembly and following the same procedure that led to its suspension. The next General Assembly is scheduled for late 2023.

In Asia, the Russian tourism agency continues to be involved in the APEC Tourism Working Group and participates in discussions under the banner of the Russian-ASEAN Tourism Consultations in Southeast Asia. It is also involved in tourism projects with various tourism ministries and government departments.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Agency for Tourism and the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Cooperation in tourism remains active through to 2024.

A two-year joint action programme in tourism between the Federal Agency for Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism of the Kingdom of Cambodia concluded in 2020.

There is a Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal Agency for Tourism and Indonesia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in the field of tourism.

North Korea
A Federal Agency for Tourism MOU related to tourism is active with the State Tourism Administration of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Cooperation until 2024

A joint action programme was active from 2018 to 2020 involving tourism cooperation between the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism and Thailand’s Ministry of Tourism and Sports of Thailand.

A three-year joint action programme between the Federal Agency for Tourism and the Japan Tourism Agency is active through 2023 regarding cooperation in tourism.

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