3 July 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 there has been a great deal of international commentary on what is going on in Russia. A panel of UN experts in a statement from the end of the previous week on the case of Ravil Mingazov, a Muslim Tartar who spent 15 years without charge in Guantánamo Bay prison camp before being transferred to the United Arab Emirates, said Mingazov faced “risk of torture and arbitrary detention based on his religious beliefs” if returned to Russia. On 6 July 2021 the Venice Commission, in an opinion on the so-called ‘foreign agent’ laws, recommended that the Russian authorities ‘abandon the special regime of registration, reporting, and public disclosure requirements for associations, media outlets and individuals receiving “foreign support”, including the related administrative and criminal sanctions.’ On 7 July Amnesty International, along with Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains (FIDH, International Federation for Human Rights), Human Rights House Foundation and Human Rights Watch published an Open letter to the Permanent Missions to the UN in Geneva, saying that “In recent years and particularly in recent months, the Russian authorities have constructed a legal landscape that is inconsistent with international standards, including the ICCPR and the ECHR, to which Russia is a party, and have arbitrarily applied those laws to oppress and target independent voices, from political and civil society groups and figures, to media outlets, to large groups of peaceful protesters.” This week there were 13 judgments by the European Court of Human Rights concerning Russia, finding violations of Convention articles 2 (right to life), 3 (prohibition of torture), 6 (fair trial), 8 (private and family life), 13 (effective remedy) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). Human Rights Watch highlighted in particular the Court’s ruling in the case of A.M. and Others v. Russia that Russia’s refusal to allow a transgender woman to visit her children following separation from her spouse violated her rights to family life and freedom from discrimination.
Meanwhile four members of the Pussy Riot protest group were again sentenced to terms in jail, often after immediately having served an earlier sentence. The members concerned were Nika Nikulshina, sentenced to 15 days in jail for ‘disobeying police orders’ just two days after she had been released from jail on a similar charge; Anna Kuzminykh, sentenced to 10 days in jail for ‘disobeying police orders’ just days after completing a 15-day jail sentence on the same charge; Mariya Alekhina, jailed for 15 days for ‘disobeying police orders’; and Aleksandr Sofeev, jailed for 12 days for ‘petty hooliganism’. In Simferopol, Crimea, this week, on 6 July 2021, a court extended the pre-trial detention of Vladyslav Yesypenko, an RFE/RL freelance correspondent by six months. Yesypenko was detained by the FSB in March on suspicion of collecting information for Ukrainian intelligence and has been charged with ‘making firearms.’ He alleges he was tortured while in detention.
This week those listening will have heard a veritable chorus of international intergovernmental organisations (from the UN, the Venice Commission, the European Court of Human Rights) along with international civil society organisations (Amnesty International, Fédération Internationale pour les Droits Humains, Human Rights House Foundation and Human Rights Watch, pointing out the gross human rights violations that are persistent, systemic and in many cases endemic in Russia. Yet, as the latest rulings by the European Court of Human Rights and this week’s cases of Pussy Riot members and the journalist Vladislav Yesypenko confirm, Russia seems to have no intention of reforming either its legislation or law enforcement practice. Those who attend to the voices of international organisations must wonder where the Russian authorities’ rejection of international norms will lead. No less than the government of Russia, Western governments should also pay heed to the voices of international organisations raised this week. Policy towards an increasingly repressive and unpredictable member of the international community could have no better foundation than respect for human rights.