The human rights situation within Russia has significantly deteriorated since the invasion of Ukraine last year, according to a UN-appointed expert on Thursday. The UN’s Special Rapporteur for Russia, Mariana Katzarova, sounded the alarm on what she says is a pattern of suppression of civil and political rights there. Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Katzarova voiced grave concerns over mass arbitrary arrests and the “persistent use of torture and ill-treatment.”
Citing almost 200 sources from both in and outside the country, the UN-appointed expert also highlighted the lack of judicial independence and right to a fair trial. “The large amount of information shared with me is indicative of the magnitude of the human rights challenges facing Russian society today,” she said. Ms. Katzarova said that mass arbitrary arrests, detentions and harassment were recorded for “anyone speaking out against Russia’s war on Ukraine or daring to criticize the government’s actions.” But the fraying of basic rights did not begin in February last year, rather, “the roots of this repression go back much further.”
“The incremental and calculated restrictions on human rights in Russia over the past two decades have culminated in the current state policy of criminalising any actual or perceived dissent.” Over 20,000 people were detained between February 2022 and June 2023 for participating in ‘largely peaceful’ anti-war protests. Additionally, Ms. Katzarova received reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention, including sexual violence and rape, by law enforcement officials targeting anti-war protesters. Russian authorities have also used propaganda and rhetoric to incite hatred and violence against Ukrainians, the report claims, with 600 criminal lawsuits were initiated against so-called “anti-war activity. Ms. Katzarova added that children in schools face threats and serious consequences for “even drawing an anti-war picture.”
The situation in Russia has signalled an “effective closure of the civic space, silencing of public dissent and independent media”, Ms. Katzarova emphasised, a thought echoed by many Member States during the Council session. For example, changes to the law on so-called foreign agents or ‘undesirable organisations’ means that independent voices such as human rights defenders and independent media outlets, are now being heavily restricted. “The often-violent enforcement of these laws has resulted in a systematic crackdown on civil society organizations,” Ms. Katzarova said, referencing the scrutiny, detention and sometimes persecution of the now “stigmatised”, independent groups – many who are forced into exile or prison.
Joined by many Member States, the UN expert urged Russia to undertake “comprehensive human rights reforms” to address the “damage of the past two decades.” The Russian Government has not accepted the mandate of the report and denied the independent expert access to the country. Russia’s were represented at the Human Rights council in Geneva during the report’s presentation but did not respond. Addressing the Geneva forum, Ms. Katzarova called on Russia to “reconsider its approach” towards her mandate – a sentiment echoed by many Member States present.
This is the first time in its history that the Council has authorised a rights expert to investigate human rights violations within the borders of one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. They are not UN staff and work on voluntary basis, without remuneration.
Source: The UN
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