Conservative Party Report Evidences Widespread Human Rights Violations in Russia

October 24, 2018

Yesterday on 23 October 2018, Mikhail Khodorkovsky attended the presentation of the Conservative Party Human Rights Report for Russia. Mr Khodorkovsky was a key contributor of evidence to the report, himself being a previous victim of political persecution. The 53-page report details Human Rights violations across the board: from freedom of assembly to the right to a fair trail, Russian citizens are prevented from exercising their human rights on a daily basis.

The report noted how this gradual erosion of human rights has become more prominent over the last few years of the Putin regime. Although the report drew on individual cases as primary evidence, it did not stop short of highlighting that human rights violations are ubiquitous across Russia.

Worryingly, it appears that every aspect of Putin’s state upholds abhorrent views towards human rights. In practice this means that any interaction with the Russian state for vocal opponents of the regime will result in a human right violation. What form this takes depends strongly on the individual: Oleg Kozlovsky was subject to a mock execution and threatened with rape by state-sponsored security forces; and Mikhail Tsakunov was arrested on false charges despite video evidence directly contradicting the charges. The report drew on the cases of well-known individuals, such as Oleg Kozlovsky, Anna Politovskaya and Natalia Estemirova who were categorically denied the ability to exercise human rights.

However, human rights activists at the report presentation were keen to stress that the report should support organisations that protect less well-known individuals, whose right to exercise their human rights are equal to those of celebrities of wealthy individuals. Open Russia is one of these organisations that protects individuals who have no access to independent legal advice and representation.

The systematic denial of the ability to exercise human rights in Russia was summarised nicely by Mr Khodorkovsky who said during the presentation:

“Unfortunately there are no courts in Russia […] Indeed a non-independent court is not a court at all […] Unfortunately, in Russia there are no prosecution services […] That is to say, the prosecution services serve the Kremlin, not the law.”

This statement is further reinforced by what Mr Khodorkovsky said to the commission when evidence was still being gathered for the report:

“In the current situation I do not see any benefit from the interaction of British organisations and politicians with representatives of the Kremlin organised crime group.”

It is evident from all of the above that the state of human rights in Putin’s Russia is appalling. Therefore, it is paramount that we examine the key conclusions and recommendations of the report:

  • UK must push all human rights issues in bilateral talks with Russia on the premise that Russia is a signatory of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe; both organisations explicitly contain human right guarantees.
  • UK must change its visa policy for Russian human rights activists: currently, most human rights activists and journalists are denied visa. Therefore, the report suggests a temporary visa system for victims of human rights violations in Russia
  • Simultaneously, UK must push Russia to put an end to impunity for officials who commit human rights violations and call for transparency in high-profile cases, such as those like the murder of Boris Nemtsov.
  • The most effective approach to this, according to Open Russia vice chairman Vladimir Kara-Murza, is through public advocacy, where “Western leaders should raise specific cases and specific names, both in public and in their meetings with Russian officials.”
  • Press freedom and access to accurate, independent media must become a topic of discussion at bilateral meetings between UK and Russia.
  • The UK should also support existing independent media outlets, as well as organisations like Open Russia, which actively protect the human rights of Russian citizens.
  • Finally, the UK should advocate a Global Magnitsky Act, which limits the movement of those individuals and their capital who undermine human rights.

In addition to these recommendations, the findings of the report made a few other key conclusions:

  • The Caucus region and Chechen Republic are particularly disregarding of human rights.
  • The UK is taking little if any effective action against those who instigate human rights violations: indeed, the UK is actually an popular location for such individuals who invest in British real estate and utilise the British private education system with wealth often embezzled from the Russian state.
  • As such, the new Anti-Money Laundering Bill must target these individuals if it is to have any real consequences.

MP Fiona Bruce and Benedict Rogers also stressed that without public support it is unlikely that this report will have any effect on government policy. To show your support you can write to your local MP about the report. A template letter can be found here.

Alternatively, you may be able to support already existing organisations who are protecting human rights in Russia today. Open Russia is one of those organisations. We offer independent legal advice and representation to those persecuted by the Russian state. However, such support would not be possible with the generation contributions of our supporters around the world. To find out more about our human rights team or to contribute, please click here.

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