Russia: No truth or reparations for victims of Soviet-era repressions report

Marc Garanger / Aurimages via AFP

Paris, Moscow, 20 December 2022. Over thirty years after the fall of the Soviet Union, victims of the Gulag are still stranded in remote parts of Russia to which they or their parents were deported, and the society is misled about the true nature and the extent of atrocities committed by the Soviet regime. The recently liquidated Memorial has quietly led the struggle to obtain reparations for victims of repressions and to uncover the truth about Soviet-era atrocities. Memorial’s joint publication with International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) details Memorial’s efforts to further transitional justice for the victims despite the formidable political and legal obstacles they face in today’s Russia.

In their new report published on 20 December 2022: "Overcoming the Past : An Overview of Memorial’s Transitional Justice Jurisprudence in Russia", the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Memorial offer a detailed account of litigation efforts undertaken by Memorial to help children of Gulag detainees to return to the homes of their exiled parents and to facilitate access to archives concerning Soviet-era repressions. The report expands on sections of FIDH’s comprehensive summary of abuses committed by the current regime related to historical issues contained in our 2021 report ‘Russia: Crimes Against History.’

Since that time, the Russian government has adopted several more memory laws that prohibit freedom of expression on historical issues and has ordered the shuting down of NGOs working on transitional justice issues, including International Memorial. The public sphere is now flooded with propaganda around historical memory of the Second World War to promote Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

"By whitewashing the repressive Soviet past and denying access to archives, Russia is not only denying justice to surviving victims, but it is also feeding its current propaganda machine" remarked Ilya Nuzov, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk at FIDH.

"The authorities have a specific objective of manipulating history to create a rhetorical equivalency between the current ‘denazification’ campaign in Ukraine to the Soviet Union’s liberating mission during the Second World War, facilitating propaganda of the ongoing aggression."

Ilya Nuzov, Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia Desk at FIDH

Despite the dangers associated with their work in light of the ‘Foreign Agents’ law and a slew of other measures aiming to crack down on any dissent, International Memorial’s historians and lawyers have continued to challenge the state to allow access to archives and provide reparations. Not only do these restrictions and half-measures amount to failures to enforce Russia’s own laws, including the Constitution, they amount to violations of freedom of expression, the right to an effective remedy, and the right to truth, enshrined in international human rights law.

"Our work demonstrates that even in the current political conditions in Russia it is imperative, and possible, to pursue efforts to vindicate the rights of victims of the repressive Soviet regime"

Grigory Vaypan, a lawyer of Memorial

"Whether its a recognition of a policy failure by the regime to provide reparations or access to files of a rehabilitated person, these are small but important steps towards transitional justice in Russia which were never undertaken by the authorities in good faith", commented Grigory Vaypan, a lawyer of Memorial who is one of the co-authors of the report.

The report, which comprises two parts, aims to raise awareness among the population at large and researchers about the grassroots transitional justice efforts undertaken by Russia’s NGOs despite the recurring repressions. In the first part, it describes how lawyers have sought reparations for so-called “children of the GULAG,” those born in remote parts of Russia where their persecuted parents were exiled by the Soviet state as enemies of the people. In Part II, it explains how International Memorial’s historians and lawyers are pushing the state for access to NKVD archives, and how the mechanisms employed by the state to sabotage the right to the truth is used to deny researchers and relatives the right to know all of the facts surrounding the abuses, including the names of perpetrators.

Read the report below (in english only):

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