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UN expert calls for accountability and justice two years after Russia's invasion of Ukraine

22 February 2024

GENEVA (22 February 2024) – As we mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation, Mariana Katzarova, called for accountability and solidarity with all the victims of the war, including Russian activists. She issued the following statement:

“Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, on 24 February 2022. This act of aggression, now a grinding war entering its third year, has not only killed thousands and devastated the lives of millions in Ukraine, but has also intensified repression of civil and political rights within Russia itself.

The invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the stark link between aggression abroad and repression at home. The war unleashed against the neighbouring people of Ukraine has, at the same time, unleashed a war against Russians at home. There is no longer any safe space for civic action or political opposition within Russia.

The death of Alexei Navalny last week sent shock waves through everyone in Russia and around the world who is concerned about the brutal repression of government critics and anti-war activists in the Russian Federation. I cannot stop asking myself: ‘Who will be next?’

Following the news of Navalny’s death, I was joined by a group of other UN Special Rapporteurs in calling on the Russian Government for an independent investigation into the circumstances of Navalny’s death and the immediate release of all political prisoners in Russia. Instead, since last Friday, the Russian authorities have violently and arbitrarily detained hundreds of peaceful citizens for laying flowers in honour of Navalny in more than 39 cities across Russia.

Over the past two years, the Russian Government has significantly eroded human rights protections and silenced civil society, independent media, and any anti-war expression.

The infamous package of laws banning so-called ‘fake news’ about the war and ‘discrediting the army’ was adopted just a week after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Simultaneously, the list of ‘foreign agents’, ‘undesirable organisations’ and ‘extremists’ was extended. These laws led to thousands of administrative and criminal cases and arbitrary detentions of Russians who opposed the war on Ukraine.

Such measures, lacking any basis in international law, have led to ostentatious trials designed to instil fear and lengthy arbitrary imprisonments aimed at stifling dissent against the war.

Russian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners, including Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexey Gorinov, Ilya Yashin and many others, whose health and lives are in serious danger.

Despite the existence of a law allowing alternative civilian service for conscripts in the Russian army, the Russian Government has been denying men the right to conscientious objection to fighting in the war. Many have been mobilised by force or deception, or by exploiting their vulnerability due to poverty. Mobilisation has been particularly aggressive in Russia’s most remote and poor regions, disproportionately enlisting men from ethnic groups and Indigenous peoples.

The Russian Government has also committed crimes against Ukrainian civilians, including children, who have been abducted and deported to Russia. I have received reports of enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment of these Ukrainian civilians in the custody of Russian authorities.

As we mark the sombre anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is imperative that accountability is ensured. Every crime committed in Ukraine during the war must be investigated, and every victim must receive the justice they deserve by seeing the perpetrators held to account.

Today, I call on the international community to stand in solidarity with all the victims of the war against Ukraine, including the brave Russian human rights defenders, journalists and activists who continue to courageously oppose the war despite facing intimidation, persecution, lengthy imprisonment, and even death.”

The expert: Mariana Katzarova, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Special Rapporteurs and Working Groups 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. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organisation. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Russian Federation

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