Ten years ago, on July 13, 2012, Russia’s parliament adopted its “foreign agent” law, using the pretext of foreign funding to demonize, harass, and silence the country’s robust civil society. Russia’s expanding legislative arsenal against civil society and independent media has dealt devastating blows to anyone perceived as a critic.
This assault alone could have justified the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council, the UN’s top human rights body. With the massive crackdown since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the case now is crystal clear.
That is the message today from 47 UN countries who jointly denounced Russia’s human rights record and called for greater UN scrutiny. Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, human rights in Russia have not just been eroded, they’ve been obliterated.
Since the war started, censorship laws forced Russia’s last independent media to close or face criminal sanctions simply for commenting on the war. Since their adoption, authorities have pursued criminal charges against dozens for peaceful exercise of free speech, such as replacing price tags with anti-war messages or posting opinions against the war on social media, to, as in Vladimir Kara-Murza’s case, a speech against the Kremlin’s repression. Thousands more have been fined or detained for joining anti-war rallies.
Authorities have moved to crush civil society. In March, an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s leading rights group, Memorial. In April, a court liquidated Sphere Foundation, the legal entity under which the Russian LGBT Network operates, and the Ministry of Justice canceled the registrations of 15 international groups, including Human Rights Watch.
A new battery of draft bills would, if adopted, expand the “foreign agent” scope, curb free assembly, broaden the definition of high treason, and allow blocking of online content. At the same time, in March, Russia withdrew from the Council of Europe and have since adopted legislation to prevent European Court of Human Rights’ judgements having legal effect in Russia, both moves that deprive Russians of an important avenue for 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 on Russia’s crackdown. They should now translate their resolve into the leadership needed to set up the rapporteur mandate called for by Russia’s human rights community.