CSOs call Human Rights Council Members to strongly denounce Russia’s domestic human rights violations

 

CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANISATIONS CALL HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL MEMBERS TO STRONGLY DENOUNCE RUSSIA’S DOMESTIC HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS

To Member and Observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council

Re: UN Human Rights Council should strongly denounce widespread and on-going actions by Russia to attack independent civil society, severely limit civic space, and silence dissenting voices

10 February 2021

Your Excellency;

We, the undersigned human rights organisations, call on the United Nations Human Rights Council to respond robustly to the recent crackdown by the Russian authorities on independent civil society and dissenting voices in the country. Russian authorities are systematically using the tools of the state to arbitrarily deprive citizens of liberty and curtail the exercise of the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The alarming trends the international community has observed in Russia for more than a decade have been drastically increasing since the end of 2020 and require urgent international action.

At the beginning of 2021, Russia took a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. As a member of the international body charged with the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe, Russia’s active efforts to attack human rights domestically is particularly cynical. Members of the Council must use the 46th Session - Russia’s first session under its current membership - to strongly denounce these actions to use the tools of the state to attack independent civil society, severely limit civic space and silence dissenting voices.

Most recently, hundreds of thousands of Russian citizens have taken to the streets in protest of attacks on human rights and dissenting opinion, according to independent monitors. Protests erupted on 23 January following the arrest and detention of opposition leader Alexey Navalny. Information collected by the monitoring organisation OVD-Info reported more than 4,000 protesters arrested on that day alone. International and local media showed footage of riot police brutally attacking peaceful protesters, including the elderly, women, and children. A week later, on 31 January, people in Russia repeated their calls for human rights and political plurality with hundreds of thousands participating in actions across the vast country. Once again, the authorities responded with violence and arrested more than 7,500 according to OVD-Info. Finally, following the sentencing of Navalny on 2 February, Russians once again took to the streets in protest and faced excessive violence from riot police who detained a further 1,400 people. This brings the total number of arrests since late January to more than 12,000.

While international attention has been understandably focused on the arrest of opposition figure Alexey Navalny on 17 January 2021, this action must be considered in light of recent legislation which, according to local Russian human rights organisations, will lead to “a significant increase in total government control over Russian society and a growth in persecution of dissent”. It is imperative that the Council take immediate action at the 46th Council session to condemn these actions and call on the Russian state to adhere to its international human rights obligations.

In 2012, Russia approved a novel “Foreign Agents” Law. This law required any organisation receiving minimal amounts of funding from private or public foreign entities and engaging in “political activities” to register as a “foreign agent”. For registering organisations, the law established reporting requirements as well as the requirement to identify as foreign agents on any publications. The law defined political activity unusually broadly and vaguely which allowed authorities to label any human rights or advocacy activities as political. The following year, Russia’s then-ombudsman challenged the law in Russian Constitutional Court but the case was dismissed. Two years later, the Russian parliament amended the law to allow the Justice Ministry to register organisations as foreign agents without their consent. In late 2019, legislation on mass media was amended to target media, individual journalists and bloggers as foreign agents.

At the end of 2020, the Russian government introduced and passed four pieces of legislation capping their decade-long attack on civic space, independent civil society, and dissenting opinion. Among other things, these pieces of legislation:

  • Further expand the list of actors who can be designated “foreign agents” to include unregistered NGOs and individuals regardless of nationality and require founders, members, participants, and employees of such organisations to mark accordingly their affiliation on any materials they publish and any official communications with the authorities; and, requires the media to identify them as foreign agents in any information published about, or citing, so-called foreign agents (Federal Law No. 481-FZ)
  • Restrict ability to organize rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets, including new measures restricting how such activities are financed and links those restrictions to foreign agents designations (Federal Law No. 541-FZ)
  • Introduce a five year jail sentence for libel (libel was criminalized in 2012) (Federal Law No. 538-FC)
  • Criminalize acts of individuals who can be designated as individual foreign agents according to recent legislative amendments and introduce a five year jail sentence (Federal Law No. 525-FZ)

Unfortunately, Russian authorities’ work to systematically pre-emptively limit the ability of the Russian people to exercise their human rights has not stopped. Currently, the State Duma is considering a number of bills to continue these dangerous and alarming trends. Once approved, these pieces of legislation will:

  • Require so-called foreign agent NGOs to pre-notify the Ministry of Justice about planned activities and gives the Ministry of Justice the authority to ban any activities preemptively but does not specify the grounds by which the Ministry of Justice may take such action. In the case of non-compliance, the Ministry of Justice will have the authority to ask a court to liquidate the non-compliant organisation (https://sozd.duma.gov.ru/bill/1052523-7).
  • Expand government ability to regulate public awareness raising activities and sharply restricts the freedom of expression (https://sozd.duma.gov.ru/bill/1057895-7).
  • Introduce penalties for non-compliance with these other pieces of legislation and imposes these penalties on organisations and their officers, and individuals.

We urge the members of the Human Rights Council to take immediate action to protect and promote human rights and strongly condemn the actions of the Russian authorities. Attacks by Council member states on independent civil society, civic space, and dissenting voices must not go unaddressed. The Council must act.

 

Signed:

  1. Agora International Human Rights Group, Russia
  2. Almenda (member, Human Rights House Crimea), Ukraine
  3. Amnesty International
  4. Association of Ukrainian human rights monitors on Law Enforcement (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  5. B.a.B.e. Be active. Be emancipated (member, Human Rights House Zagreb), Croatia
  6. Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, Belarus
  7. Belarusian Association of Journalists (member, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House), Belarus
  8. Belarusian Helsinki Committee (member, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House), Belarus
  9. Belgrade Centre for Human Rights (member, Human Rights House Belgrade), Serbia
  10. Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, Bulgaria
  11. Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine
  12. Center for Participation and Development, Georgia
  13. Center for Peace Studies (member, Human Rights House Zagreb), Croatia
  14. Center of Civil Education «Almenda» (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  15. Centre d’Initiative du Caucase (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  16. Centre de la protection internationale, France
  17. Civic Assistance Committee, Russia
  18. Civic Initiatives (member, Human Rights House Belgrade), Serbia
  19. Civicus: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International
  20. Crimean Human Rights Group (member, Human Rights House Crimea), Ukraine
  21. Croatian Youth Network (member, Human Rights House Zagreb), Croatia
  22. CROSOL - Croatian Platform for International Citizen Solidarity (member, Human Rights House Zagreb), Croatia
  23. Crude Accountability, USA
  24. Dignity Public Association, Kazakhstan
  25. Documenta - Center for Dealing with the Past (member, Human Rights House Zagreb), Croatia
  26. DRA Berlin, Germany
  27. East-SOS Charitable foundation (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  28. Educational Human Rights House - Chernihiv, Ukraine
  29. Election Monitoring & Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS) (member, Human Rights House Azerbaijan), Azerbaijan
  30. Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims (GCRT) (member, Human Rights House Tbilisi), Georgia
  31. Health & Human Rights Info, Norway
  32. Helsinki Citizens' Assembly – Vanadzor, Armenia
  33. Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia (member, Human Rights House Belgrade), Serbia
  34. Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
  35. HRC Memorial, Russia
  36. Human Rights Center (HRIDC) (member, Human Rights House Tbilisi), Georgia
  37. Human Rights Center of Azerbaijan, The, Azerbaijan
  38. Human RIghts Center Viasna (member, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House), Belarus
  39. Human Rights Centre «ZMINA» (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv and Human Rights House Crimea), Ukraine
  40. Human Rights Club, Azerbaijan
  41. Human Rights House Crimea, Ukraine
  42. Human Rights House Foundation, International
  43. Human Rights House Tbilisi, Georgia
  44. Human Rights House Yerevan, Armenia
  45. Human Rights House Zagreb, Croatia
  46. Human Rights Monitoring Institute, Lithuania
  47. Human Rights Movement: Bir Duino-Kyrgyzstan Public Association, Kyrgyzstan
  48. Human Rights Vector (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  49. Humanistic Technologies Center «AHALAR» (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  50. IDP Women Association "Consent", Georgia
  51. Independent Psychiatric Association of Russia (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  52. International Partnership for Human Rights, International
  53. International Service for Human Rights, International
  54. Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and the Rule of Law, Kazakhstan
  55. KRF Public Alternative, Ukraine
  56. Legal Education Society (member, Human Rights House Azerbaijan), Azerbaijan
  57. Legal Initiative (member, Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House), Belarus
  58. Legal Policy Research Centre, Kazakhstan
  59. Media Institute (member, Human Rights House Tbilisi), Georgia
  60. Moscow Center for Prison Reform (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  61. Moscow Helsinki Group (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  62. Netherlands Helsinki Committee, Netherlands
  63. NGO MART (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  64. No Borders Project (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  65. Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Norway
  66. PEN International Armenian Center (member, Human Rights House Yerevan), Armenia
  67. Pink NGO (member, Human Rights House Yerevan), Armenia
  68. Policy Center (member, Human Rights House Belgrade), Serbia
  69. Promo LEX Association, Moldova
  70. Public Verdict Foundation, Russia
  71. Rafto Foundation, Norway
  72. Real World, Real People NGO (member, Human Rights House Yerevan), Armenia
  73. Regional Centre for Human Rights (member, Human Rights House Crimea), Ukraine
  74. Regional civic initiative - the right to life and civil dignity (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  75. Right of the Child (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  76. Rights Georgia (member, Human Rights House Tbilisi), Georgia
  77. Sapari (member, Human Rights House Tbilisi), Georgia
  78. Social Partnership Foundation (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  79. Socioscope NGO (member, Human Rights House Yerevan), Armenia
  80. Swedish OSCE-network, The, Sweden
  81. Swiss Helsinki Committee, Switzerland
  82. Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union (member, Educational Human Rights House Chernihiv), Ukraine
  83. Union of the Committees of Soldiers' Mothers of Russia (member, Russian Research Center for Human Rights), Russia
  84. Women's Resource Center NGO (member, Human Rights House Yerevan), Armenia
  85. YUCOM - Lawyers Committee for Human Rights (member, Human Rights House Belgrade), Serbia

 

Photo credit: UN Photo

 

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