MOSCOW / GENEVA (25 April 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, today urged the Russian Federation Government to address remaining concerns over the independence and impartiality of the justice system, while noting positive developments in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
“The Russian Federation should take specific measures to guarantee the independence of the judicial system, protecting judges from any form of political influence in their decision-making,” Ms. Knaul said at the end of her official visit* to the country. “I have heard several reports of direct or indirect threats and improper interferences and pressures on the judiciary, which adversely affect its independence and impartiality.”
“I am concerned that the appointment of judges by the President of the Russian Federation may expose them to political and undue pressure,” the independent human rights expert stressed.
The Special Rapporteur noted that in Russia the mind-set of judges themselves play an important role in defining their individual independence. “It seems that some judges are still under the influence of the old Soviet system and keep strong ties with the executive and prosecutorial authorities,” she said.
“Even though the Constitutional Court clearly stated in a decision that the non-execution of judicial sentences constitutes a violation of constitutional rights, the enforcement of some judicial decisions remains an issue in many instances,” Ms. Knaul underlined. “Services for the execution of judicial sentences seem to lack the discipline required for discharging their functions effectively.”
The independent expert drew attention to the fact that lawyers are unlawfully targeted for discharging their professional functions in some regions of the Federation, through threats, intimidation, attacks, groundless prosecutions, and in the gravest cases murder.
“Impunity of such acts of persecution has had, in some regions of the country, a ‘chilling effect’ on other lawyers, negatively influencing the quality of their work, forcing them to renounce certain kinds of cases, and working in the fear that they or their families may be at risk because of their work,” she warned.
The Special Rapporteur also called on the Russian authorities to recognise and support the contribution of non-State actors in providing legal aid, and recommended that they adopt all appropriate measures to ensure that non-State legal aid providers are able to carry out their work effectively, freely, autonomously and independently, and without any intimidation, harassment or improper interference.
“I am concerned to hear about the so-called NGO law on ‘foreign agents’ and the consequent searches and inspections that have started recently upon order of the Prosecutor General, seemingly without information on, or suspicions of, a violation having been committed,” Ms. Knaul said, while stressing that non-governmental organizations often provide some level of legal aid for persons who are not covered under the federal law. “The work they do is invaluable.”
The independent expert welcomed the various legislative, administrative, institutional and practical measures taken to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in the Russian Federation, and in particular the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice.
“After having substantially raised judges’ salaries, the Russian authorities have undertaken significant efforts, and spent important amounts of resources, to improve the working conditions of judges and modernize the administration of justice, including court premises and technical equipment,” she noted.
During her eleven-day visit to Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, Rostov-on-Don, Azov and Nizhny Novgorod, Ms. Knaul met senior Government officials, the Chair of the Constitutional Court the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Deputy Chair of the Supreme Court of Arbitration, judges and justices of the peace of different courts, the Deputy Prosecutor General, lawyers and members of bar associations, the Russian Federation Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as representatives from non-governmental organizations and UN agencies.
Based on the information collected during the visit, the Special Rapporteur will prepare a report to be presented to the 26th session of the Human Rights Council in 2014.
Gabriela Knaul took up her functions as UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers on 1 August 2009. In that capacity, she acts independently from any Government or organization. Ms. Knaul has a long-standing experience as a judge in Brazil and is an expert in criminal justice and the administration of judicial systems.
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(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13264&LangID=E
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Russian Federation: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/RUIndex.aspx
Check the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/indjudiciary.htm
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