Russia: Human Rights Council must respond to crackdown on civil society

Joint statement ahead of the 46th Session of the Human Rights Council, condemning Russia (a new member of the body) for recent attacks against protestors (over 12,000 detained since late January).


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

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”[1]. 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:

Organisation Name

Location

1

Agora International Human Rights Group

Russia

2

Almenda (member, Human Rights House Crimea)

Ukraine

3

Amnesty International

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

 

[1]https://www.mhg.ru/sites/default/files/inline/files/urgent_appeal_to_the_coe_on_new_repressive_laws_in_russia_24_january_2021.pdf


 Civic space in Russia is rated as Repressed by the CIVICUS Monitor