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The state of human rights in Russia has significantly worsened.
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The state of human rights in Russia has significantly worsened.

Mariana Katzarova, the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Russia, raised concerns about a recurring trend of curbing civil and political freedoms in the country.

Speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Ms. Katzarova expressed serious worries about the widespread and unjustified detentions, as well as the continuous practice of torture and mistreatment.

Clear evidence

The UN-selected specialist emphasized the absence of fair and unbiased judicial proceedings and the right to a just trial, citing evidence from nearly 200 sources within and outside the nation.

She stated that the vast quantity of information I received shows the enormity of the human rights issues currently faced by Russian society.

According to Ms. Katzarova, numerous arrests, detentions, and mistreatment have been documented for individuals who speak out against Russia’s conflict with Ukraine or express criticism towards the government’s actions.

However, the erosion of fundamental rights did not start in February of the previous year. Instead, “the origins of this oppression can be traced back much earlier.”

‘Incremental and calculated’

Over the last twenty years, there have been gradual and deliberate limitations placed on human rights in Russia, which has resulted in the current government’s approach of criminalizing any form of dissent, whether real or perceived.

More than 20,000 individuals were arrested from February 2022 to June 2023 for their involvement in “mostly peaceful” demonstrations against the war.

Moreover, Ms. Katzarova was informed of instances of physical abuse and mistreatment while in custody, including acts of sexual violence and rape, carried out by authorities against those protesting against war.

According to the report, the Russian government has employed propaganda and inflammatory language to fuel animosity and aggression towards Ukrainians. As a result, approximately 600 legal cases have been filed against individuals engaged in what is deemed as “anti-war” actions.

Ms. Katzarova stated that students in schools are at risk of punishment and severe outcomes for simply creating an anti-war illustration.

Civil society 

During the Council session, Ms. Katzarova highlighted that the current state in Russia indicates a strong restriction of civil liberties, suppression of public opposition, and control over independent media. This sentiment was shared by several Member States.

For instance, modifications to the legislation regarding foreign agents or deemed “undesirable organizations” have resulted in significant limitations for independent voices, including human rights advocates and independent media sources.

According to Ms. Katzarova, the strict enforcement of these laws has led to a systematic suppression of civil society organizations. These independent groups are often subjected to intense scrutiny, detention, and even persecution, resulting in many of them being stigmatized and forced to flee or face imprisonment.

Russian push back

The UN specialist, along with several Member States, called on Russia to implement “thorough human rights reforms” in order to address the “consequences of the last twenty years.”

The Russian Government has refused to acknowledge the report’s authority and has denied the independent expert entry to their country. Russia was present at the Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva where the report was presented, but did not offer a response.

At the Geneva conference, Ms. Katzarova urged Russia to reassess its approach to her role, a sentiment that was shared by several Member States in attendance.

For the first time ever, the Council has granted authorization for a human rights expert to probe violations within the borders of a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Special Rapporteurs are members of the Special Procedures within the Human Rights Council. They are not employees of the United Nations and serve on a voluntary basis, without receiving payment.

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