GENEVA (1 February 2021) – UN human rights experts today called on Russia to ensure historian and human rights defender Yuri Alexeevich Dmitriev has a fair trial amid concerns the proceedings against him are politically motivated after a court ordered he stop using his own lawyer and engage a state appointed counsel.
“We are seriously concerned that this is a violation of his right to a fair trial, in ongoing legal proceedings which appear to be aimed at silencing him and delegitimizing his work,” the experts said.
Mr. Dmitriev has dedicated his life to the search for truth about, and the commemoration of, victims of Stalin’s Great Purge of the 1930s, including identifying the locations of execution sites and mass graves, and naming the people buried in them. He has received international recognition and awards for his work.
“In contrast to Mr. Dmitriev’s tireless efforts to shine a light on this dark period, no official body has ever been mandated to establish, in an open and transparent manner, a full public record, and thus public memory, of the atrocities,” the experts said.
Many of the graves of the more than one million who disappeared have never been surveyed, preserved or protected.
“In response to Mr. Dmitriev’s relentless search for the truth, the Russian authorities have sought to silence him by attacking his personal integrity, and thus the legitimacy of his historical work,” said the experts. “By so doing, they are preventing millions of family members whose relatives were imprisoned or perished in the Gulags from finding answers on what happened to their loved ones.
“Not only are the Russian authorities failing to uphold the right to truth owed to the victims, their families and to the larger society, they are attempting to prevent legitimate research and to re-write the history books to play down the true extent of the crimes committed during the Great Purge.”
Mr. Dmitriev has been facing legal proceedings since 2016 which do not appear to be reasonably established and substantiated by the evidence, the experts said. He was initially acquitted in April 2018 on these charges before further charges were brought.
On 25 January 2021, the Supreme Court in Karelia upheld a decision of the Petrozavodsk City Court to provide a state appointed counsel, replacing the lawyer Mr. Dmitriev had chosen and who had been defending him throughout the proceedings.
“While the allegations against Mr. Dmitriev are extremely serious and should be thoroughly and independently investigated, such investigations must be undertaken in good faith and without bias, and in proceedings which fully meet fair trial standards throughout including the right to a counsel of one’s own choosing,” the experts said.
The experts have written to the Government to raise concerns including about the proceedings against Mr. Dmitriev and the lack of investigations into the disappearances and killings of the Great Purge period.
Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.