In recent years and particularly since the February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s leadership has engaged in a full-scale assault on the rights of its citizens. This week in Geneva, as the Kremlin increasingly takes on the trappings of Russia’s totalitarian past, the UN Human Rights Council can send a strong message to civil society in Russia that their calls for international scrutiny on human rights have been heard.
Days after the beginning of the war, Russian authorities moved to censor public dissent and independent information on the conflict. A series of laws effectively criminalized criticism and reporting of the war, forcing independent media to close down, leave the country or face harsh sanctions. Thousands of people now face administrative charges and hundreds are being prosecuted criminally for having spoken up, wearing the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag, or holding a blank poster signifying anti-war sentiment. New bills also criminalized “confidential cooperation” with foreign states and individuals, reminiscent of the Soviet-era ban on contacts with foreigners and public calls that can be deemed contrary to vaguely defined notions of national security and national interests. Several more repressive bills are already in legislative pipelines.
The battery of censorship laws since March are the culmination of a long decade of repression in Russia. Flawed laws on ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organizations’ have been used to obliterate civil society, and criminalize anyone associated with independent groups. With Russia leaving the Council of Europe last month, Russian citizens lost a key avenue for support and justice.
For months, Russian activists – many forced into exile – and international human rights groups have called for the UN to step in and establish the mandate of a Special Rapporteur dedicated to monitoring and reporting on Russia’s crackdown on its citizens.
This week, a group of 26 countries are putting such a motion forward at the Human Rights Council. It’s essential for members of the Council, including well-established democracies in Latin America and Africa, to stand in solidarity with Russian citizens who wish to claim their rights, by voting for this resolution.
Russia’s deeply repressive environment has made it easier for its leaders to act as though it will not be held accountable for the litany of war crimes and other abuses Russian forces have perpetrated in the brutal conflict in Ukraine. It’s time for all countries to stand up for the Russian people by supporting the establishment of a UN monitor to scrutinize, analyze, and expose the deepening domestic repression there.