- Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
- Political and Security Committee Ambassadors of EU Member States
- Permanent Representatives of EU Member States to the UN in Geneva
RE: Establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation at the UN Human Rights Council
We are writing to call on your government to stand with Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations by calling on the European Union to propose a resolution at the upcoming 50th session of the UN Human Rights Council on the establishment of a strong monitoring and reporting mandate on the deteriorating human rights situation in Russia, in the form of a Special Rapporteur.
Over the last several years, the Russian authorities have engaged in a systematic campaign of repression of human rights and restriction of civic space including by shutting down independent media, intimidating and harassing human rights defenders and activists, banning peaceful protest, and imposing impermissible restrictions on the operations of independent civil society organizations in the country, including those that seek justice and effective remedies for human rights violations.
Human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations particularly targeted by the Russian authorities include those campaigning for free and fair elections, women’s human rights, and the rights of religious, ethnic, sexual, and gender minorities, as well as those fighting against politically motivated persecution and against corruption and environmental degradation. During the last months, the intimidation, harassment, and attacks have attained an unprecedented level. Indeed, it has never been more difficult or dangerous for human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organisations to operate in the Russian Federation. Today, we stand in solidarity with a growing chorus of Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations calling for the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Russia.
We welcome the joint statement on the situation in the Russian Federation delivered by 51 United Nations Member States on 9 March 2022. However, since then, Russian authorities have moved to make it nearly impossible for Russian and international human rights non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations to operate in Russia, in violation of the Russian Federation’s human rights obligations. In March, an appeals court upheld the liquidation of Russia’s leading human rights group, Memorial. In April, the Ministry of Justice cancelled the registrations of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and offices of 13 other international non-governmental organizations and foundations.
Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations expressing critical views or engaging in work that does not align with government agendas face increasing intimidation, harassment, discrimination and stigmatization. Among the government’s key tools against these individuals and organizations is the expansion of the punitive, toxic “foreign agent” designation. A new bill tabled in April would again drastically extend the application of the “foreign agents” label. Criminal trials in two cases of involvement with “undesirable” organizations are ongoing.
Since the adoption of the March 2022 censorship legislation criminalizing the spreading of supposed “fake news” and independent media reporting on Russia’s armed conflict with Ukraine, authorities blocked access to dozens of independent media and opened scores of criminal cases against human rights defenders, grass roots activists, prominent independent bloggers, journalists and opposition politicians, including Vladimir Kara-Murza, and over 1250 administrative cases throughout Russia. Bogus criminal cases against anti-war protesters are also being opened on various other charges, including criminal hooliganism. Over 15,000 anti-war protesters have been detained. The authorities have instrumentalized counter-extremism and counter-terrorism legislation to fabricate criminal cases against the dissenters. Scores of people, including political opposition figure Alexei Navalny, remain behind bars on politically motivated grounds.
The Russian Federation’s growing repressive policies, combined with the country’s departure from the Council of Europe and its diplomatic isolation from those States which have been supportive of human rights and civil society in Russia, make it increasingly difficult for Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations to engage with the international community and there is no end in sight. Without robust and genuine international support, and monitoring mechanism, independent Russian civil society organizations will continue to be left isolated and dangerously exposed.
Given the escalating repression, restrictions on the operations of independent civil society organizations and suppression of civic space, a rigorous monitoring of the human rights situation in Russia is imperative. A dedicated Special Rapporteur mandate would independently collect information and analyse the human rights situation in Russia, allowing the Human Rights Council Members to be informed by in-depth and authoritative reports and to make recommendations on how to improve the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation in the country. A Special Rapporteur could also serve as a point of contact for Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations, within the UN human rights infrastructure at a time when such a role is critical. A Special Rapporteur would provide an important independent voice to speak up against deepening restrictions to human rights in Russia and on behalf of those facing intimidation, harassment, and threat of reprisal for their activism or their human rights work.
While it is important that existing thematic Special Procedures continue to address the situation of the Russian Federation within the scope of their respective mandates, it is critical that there be a single expert that can tie the various strands together and address the situation in a holistic manner and who can more fully engage with Russian authorities, as well as with human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations.
The situation has now clearly become more dangerous for Russian human rights defenders, activists, and civil society organizations, while most of international human rights organizations operating in Russia have been denied the capacity to operate in the country. We count on the European Union to show leadership and solidarity with Russian human rights defenders, activists, and independent civil society organizations by tabling a resolution establishing a Special Rapporteur mandate on the human rights situation in Russia.
- Amnesty International
- Human Rights House Foundation
- Human Rights Watch
- International Bar Association
- International Commission of Jurists
- International Federation for Human Rights
- International Service for Human Rights
- People in Need