Human Rights Situation in Russia: Repressive legislation and practices to silence civil society

Press release
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Letter addressed to Mr. Van Rompuy, Ms. Ashton and M. Barroso.

Since the inauguration of Mr. Vladimir Putin as President of the Russian Federation in May 2012, the country has known a wave of anti-human rights legislation which is unprecedented in the post-soviet era.

Friday 21 December will mark the examination in third reading at the Duma of Draft Federal Law n°186614-6, which reemphasizes the drive to stigmatise, politicise or even criminalise legitimate citizen activity by banning NGOs involved in “political activities” from receiving any financial support from US persons or organisations on the basis that it poses “a threat to the interests of the Russian Federation”.

This law adds to a number of repressive pieces of legislation which, adopted each after another in 2012, shape the contours of a country where citizens’ liberties are openly neglected and their defense is seen as a crime (see more details in the note below):

  • Law on demonstrations, adopted in June
  • Law on foreign funding for NGOs, adopted in July
  • Law on Internet filtering, adopted in July
  • Libel law, adopted in July
  • Treason Law, adopted in October
  • Law on “propaganda of homosexuality”, adopted in many regions in 2012 and currently under examination at the federal level
  • Law criminalizing NGOs receiving fincancial support from US persons or organisations, December 2012.

During the last EU-Russia Summit in June 2012 in St Petersburg, President Van Rompuy indicated that the Partnership for Modernisation which is since 2010 a central element of the EU-Russia relation should cover all aspects of modernisation, that is to say: the economy, society and the Rule of law. Today, in view of the latest legislative developments and the continuous harassment of the civil society and human rights defenders in Russia, this three-fold modernisation agenda advocated by the EU is put into question, especially for what concerns modernisation of the society and the Rule of Law.

There cannot be genuine modernisation when the rule of law is used to limit, fragment and persecute representatives of the civil society rather than for the protection and reinforcement of society. The current wave of repressive laws also clearly threatens the “remarkable” results since 2010, which according to the EU assessment at the last Summit, represented the “best dynamics for years” between the two strategic partners.

A few days after the EU-Russia June Summit, the EU indicated in the EU Strategic framework for Democracy and Human Rights its ambition to place human rights at the centre of its relation with strategic partners, like Russia. Russian recent insistence on discussing human rights within the EU should be taken as an invitation to step up discussions of human rights at the highest political level, in line with the EU Strategic Framework.

FIDH believes that the Union must be in a position to confirm at the 21 December EU-Russia Summit its inalterable commitment and its political will to advance human rights internally as much as outside its borders. FIDH encourages the EU to continue seeking responses from Russia concerning all major cases of impunity which greatly compromise the Rule of Law, as it did in last April though a letter by President Van Rompuy to President Medvedev. President Van Rompuy then shared the EU concerns about the Sergei Magnitsky case which had "come to symbolise the state of the rule of law and judiciary in the Russian Federation". Another prominent case like the one of Natalia Estemirova symbolises the dangerous trend towards institutionalised impunity in Russia and must therefore also be publicly evoked at the Summit.

FIDH also calls on the EU to raise during the discussions on the strengthening of counter-terrorism cooperation the issue of human rights violations taking place in the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). Since its creation in 2011, human rights defenders from SCO member states have documented numerous serious human rights violations resulting from inter-state cooperation and the national implementation of agreements under the SCO’s security and political framework. They notably include violations of basic rights such as the rights to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, freedom from torture and the duty of non-refoulment.

FIDH urges the EU to place human rights at the centre of the EU-Russia Summit and to firmly and publicly demand:

  • the repeal of the oppressive laws which violate international human rights standards and the Russian Constitution;
  • that investigations be conducted according to the requirements of fair proceedings in the multiple cases of harassment, unfair trials, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearance, and murder against representatives of the civil society, including the Natalia Estemirova8 and other cases of attacks against human rights defenders;
  • the guarantee of a free and safe environment to allow the opposition, civil society, journalists and human rights defenders to conduct their legitimate activities;
  • that Russia complies with obligations under international human rights law and international refugee law, and abide by the decisions of international human rights bodies, including for activities under the security and political cooperation framework of the SCO.

Yours sincerely,

Ms. Souhayr Belhassen
FIDH President

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