9 October 2022
Simon is chair of Rights in Russia but writes these comments in a personal capacity and they may not necessarily represent the views of the organisation
This week, Memorial, that was liquidated earlier this year by the Russian authorities, received, along with the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties and Ales Bialiatski, the founder of Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna, the Nobel Peace Prize. Another notable international event was the welcome decision by the UN’s Human Rights Council to establish a special rapporteur on human rights in Russia. Meanwhile within Russia, treason charges were laid against opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza for opinions he expressed in speeches outside Russia, the offices of the Golos election monitor, as well as the homes of some of its experts, were searched on the grounds the organisation is an ‘undesirable foreign organisation’ (which it is not, and cannot be), criminal charges were laid against a man in Penza region for failing to obey a summons to a recruitment office (a charge later rescinded but subject to appeal), the apartment of the mother of the former head of Navalny’s headquarters in Kostroma region was searched, in Chechnya husbands were forced to beat their wives who attended rallies against mobilisation, and Reporters Without Borders in a report condemned Putin’s record over the past 22 years on repressing freedom of expression. In Ukraine Human Rights Watch continued to document apparent war crimes and in a report dismissed the so-called ‘referenda’ run by Russian occupiers in parts of Ukraine as ‘sham votes’ that are ‘of no legal value’ but nevertheless have ‘grave consequences for civilians.’
Human Rights within the Russian Federation
This week Memorial received the Nobel Peace Prize, jointly awarded to Memorial, the Ukrainian Centre for Civil Liberties and Ales Bialiatski, founder of Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna. OVD-Info noted that while the prize was awarded to Memorial for having ‘for many years promoted the right to criticise power and protect the fundamental rights of citizens’ and making ‘an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human right abuses and the abuse of power’ thereby demonstrating ‘the significance of civil society for peace and democracy,’ ‘the good news ends there.’ On the same day the Moscow offices of Memorial that had been transferred to a sister organisation were seized by the state. The awarding of the prize was widely welcomed, among others by Amesty International, Civil Rights Defenders, the European Human Rights Advocacy Center, FIDH, Human Rights House Foundation and Human Rights Watch.
The Nobel Committee is sending an important message to the world – that it must support human rights defenders that have shown an outstanding effort to document war crimes, human rights abuses and the abuse of power in their countries. This message is sent at a critical moment when ongoing Russian aggression has led to a human rights crisis of incredible proportions in Ukraine, and of the crackdown on any form of dissent in Russia and Belarus. This is also a message of solidarity. […] Amnesty International stands in solidarity with Ales Bialiatski, Memorial and the Center for Civil Liberties. All three are an inspiration and an example of courage and dedication for all those who carry out human rights work in Eastern Europe.Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
Our warmest congratulations on the Nobel Peace Prize to Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the Russian human rights organisation Memorial and the Ukrainian human rights organisation Center for Civil Liberties. A recognition of not only their important work but of all the brave people fighting for democracy, peace and human rights in the region.[…] For over 30 years, Memorial has been a cornerstone of Russian civil society. Memorial is the largest human rights and research centre focusing on political persecution committed during the Soviet era and in contemporary Russia. […] On 28 December 2021, after a trial going on since 25 November, the Supreme Court ruled to shut down Memorial.Civil Rights Defenders
EHRAC is delighted that its longest standing partner, Memorial, has been co-awarded the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize. […] International Memorial, and its sister organisation, Memorial Human Rights Centre (MHRC), were two of the most renowned civil society organisations in Russia. Founded over 30 years ago, International Memorial worked to expose Soviet era crimes against civilians. MHRC was one of the first human rights NGOs in Russia, and represented hundreds of victims of human rights violations both domestically and before the European Court of Human Rights.EHRAC
This prize is the prize of resistance. Resistance against totalitarianism, against all attempts to silence the voices of those who dare to stand up and denounce human rights violations. This award honours us and gives us an additional responsibility to continue to support our organisations and to continue the fight for a world where the dignity and human rights of all are respected.Alice Mogwe, President of FIDH
Today’s Nobel Peace Prize announcement stands as a testament to the central role that human rights defenders play in defending democracy and promoting peace. In awarding the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize to human rights defenders and organisations from Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine, the Nobel Committee has put a timely spotlight on a regional human rights crisis that the prize winners have addressed for many years in close cooperation with the broader human rights community.Human Rights House Foundation
OVD-Info reported that a third set of charges have been brought against the politician Vladimir Kara-Murza, currently held on remand, for treason on account of speeches at public events abroad in which he criticised the Russian authorities. Kara-Murza was previously charged with spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army on grounds of political hatred with carrying out the activities of an “undesirable organisation”.
The case against Kara-Murza is the first publicly known case of state treason in a form unrelated to the handing over of state secrets. […] The politician faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted under this article. Very likely it will be used more often against opposition politicians who have actively criticised the Russian authorities – as this way they can be put in prison for a long time.OVD-Info
Human Rights Watch also condemned the action of the Russian authorities in bringing a charge of high treason against Vladimir Kara-Murza, which the organisation called ‘a blatant attempt to quash any criticism of the Kremlin and deter contact with the international community.’
Vladimir Kara-Murza is a longstanding proponent of democratic values and has been a vocal opponent of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s war on Ukraine. It is painfully obvious that the Kremlin sees Kara-Murza as a direct and imminent threat. These charges against him and his prolonged detention are a travesty of justice. Russian authorities should immediately and unconditionally free Kara-Murza and drop all charges against him. Sadly, it is unrealistic to expect that fair trial standards will be observed in Kara-Murza’s case. By jailing leaders like him, Russian authorities are attempting to instill fear in the Russian people and eradicate any opportunity for civil society to mobilize and oppose the Kremlin and its war.Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch
The European Platform for Democratic Elections reported that police forces conducted house searches of the central office of the well-known Golos movement for free and fair elections and of the private flats of several election experts. The Association Golos was a founding member of EPDE until it was declared a ‘foreign agent’by the Russian Ministry of Justice in 2012. Following this, EPDE had been working with the unregistered movement Golos until EPDE was declared an ‘undesirable foreign organization’ by the Russian Ministry of Justice in 2018. Since then, EPDE’s cooperation with Golos has stopped.
EPDE strongly condemns this act of repression, intimidation, and unlawful interference into citizens’ constitutional right to free elections. […] EPDE is convinced that ongoing unconstitutional misuse of power by Russian governmental bodies will not be able to suppress citizens’ engagement for free elections in Europe.European Platform for Democratic Elections
At least one of the court orders for carrying out searches said that Golos was an ‘undesirable entity’ in Russia. The Golos Movement emphasizes that they are not an ‘undesirable entity’ in Russia and cannot even be recognized as such since the status applies only to foreign legal entities. The goal of the Golos movement is to have free and fair elections in Russia. Therefore, the movement is not an ‘agent of foreign influence’ but an agent of Russian citizens that defend their constitutionally guaranteed right to participate in the governance of the state.Golos
OVD-Info reported that Maksim Moiseev, a resident of Penza, was charged with a criminal offence for evading mobilisation by refusing to obey a summons to a military recruitment office. However, the prosecutor’s office later ruled the decision to bring a criminal case was unlawful. The investigative committee is appealing the decision.
OVD-Info reported that the apartment of the mother of Aleksander Zykov, former chief of Navalny’s headquarters, was the object of a search by the authorities in Kostroma region immediately after the announcement that Navalny’s headquarters would resume their work in Russia. Zykov himself is abroad and is facing two criminal charges of allegedly spreading ‘fake news’ about the Russian army.
OVD-Info reported that male residents of Chechnya were forced to beat their wives for participating in a rally against mobilisation.
Police officers forced Adam Muradov to beat his wife after she attended a protest rally in Grozny. Then their son was mobilised, and Muradov himself soon died of a heart attack. Afterwards it turned out that other female protestors were forcibly brought to Grozny city hall together with their husbands. There the police officers told them that either they themselves would beat the women with pipes containing concrete, or their husbands would have to do it.OVD-Info
Reporters Without Borders marked the 70th birthday of Vladimir Putin with a review of what it called the ‘press freedom predator’s persecution of journlists during his 22-year ‘reign’ that has included 37 journalists killed because of their work, 43 war crimes against media outlets, at least 19 journalists in prison, 183 media labelled ‘foreign agents,’ more than 50 laws restricting press freedom, more than 300 journalists fled the country and 1.2 million websites blocked.
Vladimir Putin is celebrating his 70th birthday but there is nothing to celebrate for the independent press, which is literally on the verge of extinction. When he became president at the dawn of the 21st century, Russia still had a pluralistic media landscape and a progressive media law. Twenty-two years later, it has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, who are forced to hide or flee to practice their profession, or to censor themselves to avoid being arrested for refusing to cooperate with authorities.Jeanne Cavelier, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk
Amnesty International, Human Rights House Foundation and Human Rights Watch were among those organisations that advocated, and then welcomed, the decision by the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) to establish an independent monitoring mechanism on the human rights situation in Russia.
The establishment of this important mechanism will be a long overdue lifeline to civil society in Russia, independent media and many others standing up to repression. We call on all states to support the swift establishment of this monitoring and reporting mandate, and to fully support victims of human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by the national authorities. We call on the Russian authorities to heed the clear message that the Human Rights Council sends with the establishment of this mechanism, and to fundamentally change course to cease its violations at home and abroad.Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General
Today’s action by the Council is an important step in addressing a deteriorating human rights situation in Russia. It is also a recognition that domestic human rights violations can create enabling environments which lead to crises beyond a country’s borders. Indeed, two decades of attacks on human rights defenders and independent media as well as bans on peaceful protest and arrests of dissenting and opposition voices allowed the Russian authorities to launch an unprovoked attack on Ukraine. But, today’s action must be seen only as a first step and we call on the Council to maintain a fixed view on Russia and to take all necessary steps to ensure that Russian civil society and human rights defenders remain connected to the international community.Human Rights House Foundation
This week in Geneva, as the Kremlin increasingly takes on the trappings of Russia’s totalitarian past, the UN Human Rights Council can send a strong message to civil society in Russia that their calls for international scrutiny on human rights have been heard. […] Russia’s deeply repressive environment has made it easier for its leaders to act as though it will not be held accountable for the litany of war crimes and other abuses Russian forces have perpetrated in the brutal conflict in Ukraine. It’s time for all countries to stand up for the Russian people by supporting the establishment of a UN monitor to scrutinize, analyze, and expose the deepening domestic repression there.Human Rights Watch
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine
Human Rights Watch said in a report that Russian-affiliated forces unlawfully detained and apparently killed at least three civilian men, then dumped their bodies in a forest, during Russia’s partial occupation of Ukraine’s Kharkiv region in one of the cases the organistion is investigating in the region.
These were most likely not the only civilian killings during the occupation, with some bodies buried in a burial site on the outskirts of Izium during the 6-month occupation showing possible signs of torture and executions. […] Human Rights Watch documented that Russian forces arbitrarily detained, tortured, and extrajudicially executed people in other regions they occupied.Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch also reported on Vladimir Putin’s action in signing a document claiming to annex four Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. The organisation noted that days before this, ‘Russia purported to hold “referendums” in these areas, with hastily staged “voting,” in some cases at gunpoint. Just like the so-called referendum in Crimea in 2014, they hold no legal value and don’t provide a basis for annexation or transfer of sovereignty.’
Russia remains an occupying power in these regions bound by the Fourth Geneva Convention, which continues to protect civilians in those areas. In particular, if Russian authorities conscript civilians from these areas, as they’ve been doing in occupied Crimea and occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions, they’ll be committing new war crimes. […] These sham votes have no legal value but have grave consequences for civilians. The United Nations and numerous governments have rightly condemned Russia’s actions, and it is vital they continue to make all efforts to secure civilians’ protection and ensure those responsible for war crimes are held to account.Human Rights Watch
This week saw the 16th anniversary of the 2006 murder of Anna Politkovskaya, the organisers of which have yet to be brought to justice, the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to, among others, Memorial, a civil society organisation that has been liquidated by the Russian authorities, a decision by the UNHRC to establish the post of special rapporteur on human rights in the Russian Federation and the 70th birthday of the Russian President Vladimir Putin. Reporters Against Borders marked this birthday by an excellent report tracing Putin’s suppression of freedom of expression and independent media over the 22 years of his increasingly arbitrary and authoritarian rule. Some of the week’s highlights – the new trumped-up but vicious charges against Vladimir Kara-Murza, the continued suppression of Golos, the independent election monitor, the on-going persecution of associates of the jailed politician and prisoner of conscience Aleksei Navalny, the arbitrariness that is accompanying the current mobilisation campaign and the unlawfulness that characterises the region of Chechnya – illustrate the dead-end that Putin’s Russia has become so far as the universal values of human rights and democratic accountablity are concerned. Meanwhile against the background of a failing, sanctions-hit economy, as Putin’s forces face defeat on the ground in Ukraine and continue to commit egregious apparent war crimes, it seems the Russian dictator may well have been backed into a corner. While it is not possible to know how events will develop, it is interesting to consider that many compare the manner in which Vladimir Putin exercises power as that of a mafia boss. For a mafia boss the crucial, essential thing is to be able to exercise arbitrary and ultimate force against opponents and subordinates with impunity. A mafia boss that fails in this endeavour will not be boss for very long, and it is surely not too far fetched to think that this parallel is one that exercises the ‘Russian President’ very much these days.