The security crisis in Ukraine should not distract from the human rights crisis in Russia

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In Crimea, the UN has constantly sentenced human rights violations committed by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation. Meanwhile, in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine, forces backed by the Russian authorities are persecuting human rights defenders and extending the “existing climate of fear which limits the exercise of fundamental freedoms”. according to at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the Georgian territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, where local authorities are supported by Russia, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Remarks reports of continued human rights violations. The Belarusian authorities, who have close all human rights organizations in the country and have effectively criminalized human rights work, continue to enjoy diplomatic, military and political support from Russia.

Russian influence in the region stop democratic transitions and supports an anti-human rights and anti-civil society agenda through governments and non-state actors, including the Orthodox Church and radical far-right groups. Dozens countries have enacted legislation strikingly similar to Russia’s that attacks and criminalizes legitimate human rights work. Even within the European Union, we see authoritarian leaders pulling pages from the Russian anti-human rights playbook. In Bulgaria, Hungary and Polandauthorities actively seek to delegitimize independent media and human rights defenders.

While the world’s attention is rightly focused on the need to avert the outbreak of armed conflict in Eastern Europe, the international community must simultaneously address the security crisis and fight against the crisis human rights perpetrated by the Russian authorities.

Although distinct, the crises are intertwined and insufficient attention is paid to human rights. Russia must be placed on the agenda of international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms to formally examine the actions of the Russian authorities. States should press for country visits to Russia, occupied Crimea and other territories under Russian control to be carried out by United Nations special procedures mandate holders and Organization for security and cooperation in Europe, the EU and the Council of Europe.

At the same time, governments can and should offer concrete protection and support to human rights defenders who are victims of reprisals and their families. If and as the human rights crisis in Russia and Russian-controlled territories continues to worsen, the international community must consider additional measures to hold individuals responsible for these violations accountable. The human rights crisis in Russia is both a national and an international crisis and the international community must maintain its attention accordingly.


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