Ten years ago, on July 13, 2012, Russia’s parliament passed its “foreign agents” law, using the pretext of foreign funding to demonize, harass and silence the country’s robustness. civil society. Russia’s growing legislative arsenal against civil society and independent media has dealt devastating blows to anyone seen as a critic.
This assault alone might have warranted the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN’s supreme human rights body. With the massive crackdown since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the case is now crystal clear.
That’s the message today from 47 UN countries who have jointly denounced Russia’s human rights record and called for closer scrutiny by the UN. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, human rights in Russia have not only been eroded, they have been obliterated.
Since the start of the war, censorship laws have forced Russia’s last independent media to shut down or face criminal penalties simply for commenting on the war. Since their adoption, the authorities have brought criminal charges against dozens of individuals for the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, such as replacing price tags with anti-war messages or posting anti-war opinions on social networks, for, as in the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza, a speech against the repression of the Kremlin. Thousands more have been fined or detained for joining anti-war rallies.
The authorities have decided to crush civil society. In March, an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s leading rights group, Memorial. In April, a court liquidated the Sphere Foundation, the legal entity under which Russia’s LGBT network operates, and the Justice Ministry canceled the registrations of 15 international groups, including Human Rights Watch.
A new battery of bills would, if passed, expand the scope of “foreign agent”, restrict freedom of assembly, broaden the definition of high treason and allow the blocking of online content. At the same time, in March, Russia withdrew from the Council of Europe and has since passed legislation aimed at preventing judgments of the European Court of Human Rights from having legal effect in Russia, two measures that deprive the Russians an important path to justice.
International rights groups and Russian rights defenders have called for the creation of a dedicated special rapporteur to monitor and report on Russia’s attacks on rights. The 47 nations have rightly called for greater international attention to Russian repression. They should now translate their determination into the leadership needed to implement the rapporteur mandate demanded by the Russian human rights community.