26 June 2021
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 Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement at the opening of the 47th session of the Human Rights Council urged Russia to uphold civil and political rights and expressed her dismay at recent measures adopted by the Russian authorities ‘that further undermine people’s right to express critical views, and their ability to take part in the parliamentary elections scheduled in September,’ including the court ruling that imprisoned Aleksei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is an ‘extremist organization.’ The Council of Europe also expressed its views on human rights in the Russian Federation, awarding its Museum Prize to Moscow’s Gulag History Museum, an institution dedicated to preserving the memory of the Gulag, at a ceremony in Strasbourg’s Palais Rohan, while its judicial arm, the European Court of Human Rights, handed down three judgments with regard to Russia. These rulings found numerous violations of Convention Articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture), 5 (liberty and security of person), 6 (fair trial), 8 (private and family life), 13 (effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). In particular, in the ruling Adzhigitova and Others v. Russia, the ECtHR ordered Russia to pay almost two million euros ($2.4 million) to relatives of 11 people who went missing in Chechnya in 2005 during a special operation by Russian forces. Meanwhile, in Russia, Andrei Pivovarov, former head of the Open Russia movement, remanded in custody for two months and declared by Memorial Human Rights Centre to be a political prisoner, was fined for violating the ‘foreign agent’ law; leading members of Pussy Riot were sentenced to 15 days in jail variously for ‘minor hooliganism’ and intending to perform an ‘unsanctioned protest’; and Bard College in the United States was declared an ‘undesirable’ organisation under Russian law, making it the 34th such organisation in the list maintained by the Ministry of Justice.
The fining of the jailed Andrei Pivovarov, the jailing of Pussy Riot members and the designation of Bard College as an ‘undesirable foreign organisation’ were indicative instances this week of the Russisan authorities’ restriction of the civic space and political abuse of the justice system. These general developments were also highlighted this week by the Council of Europe’s awarding of a prize to one Russian institution, Moscow’s Gulag History Museum, that does work to promote human rights as well as and by the latest judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, a court that for many Russian citizens represents the only hope of real justice. However, pertinently, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in her statement singled out for criticism Russia’s open abandonment of any commitment to free and fair elections. These moves by the Russian authorities to which she referred indicate a turn away from an even formal adherence to democratic values, that has characterised Russian electoral processes hitherto, and the development of a harsher form of authoritarianism that will inevitably bring with it a worsening of the situation for human rights in the country.