Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, adopted in final reading a law providing immunity for crimes committed “in the interests of the Russian state.” The apparent objective behind the law, passed last Thursday, is to shield Russian military personnel, civilian officials, and their proxies from accountability for war crimes and grave human rights abuses committed in Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.
There was only one dissenting voice at the Duma’s final vote, who argued the immunity provision “fails the requirements of absolute clarity and unambiguity of criminal law and facilitates its wide and possibly arbitrary application.”
The new law also equates crimes ostensibly committed “against the interests” of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and Lugansk People’s Republic – both self-proclaimed entities in the Russia-occupied territories of Ukraine’s Donetska and Luhanska regions – with crimes “against the interests” the Russian Federation. The law equates the “citizens” in these regions with Russian citizens. Additionally, the law aims to absolve Russia from paying compensation to victims of unwarranted criminal prosecution in Russia-occupied Ukrainian territories in Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions prior to September 30, 2022.
When advocating for the adoption of the law, one of its co-sponsors, Irina Pankina from Russia’s ruling party, even flagged that “the issue [under consideration] is indeed complicated, going beyond law. This is entirely political.”
Much of Russia’s recent draconian legislation “goes beyond” international law. Legislation adopted in April 2022 bans assisting international efforts to secure accountability for crimes committed by Russian nationals, including in Ukraine. Russia’s Constitutional Court ruled on May 30 that the state is a “constitutional value” in itself, which citizens must protect, and that people thus do not have the right to express an anti-war position or doubt Russia’s war effort. Covid-19 restrictions conveniently remain in place in Russia to ban opposition events, including anti-war rallies, while massive state-sponsored or pro-government gatherings take place on a regular basis. The legislation on “undesirable” organizations allows the prosecutor general to arbitrarily decide that human rights or environmental protection threaten the country’s constitutional order.
The immunity law represents just the latest effort by Russian authorities to erode the rule of law and misuse criminal legislation to abet human rights violations and perpetuate impunity – with a specific focus on the territories beyond Russia’s internationally recognized borders.