Russia, China, Cuba set to join U.N.’s top human rights body on January 1st

Russia, China and Cuba will join the UN’s top human rights body on January 1st, 2021.

UN Watch led the campaign to oppose their election in October to the UN Human Rights Council, but the EU and its member states, as well as other democracies like Canada, were silent.

Prior to the election, UN Watch, an independent Geneva-based human rights organization, documented the abuses of Russia, China and Cuba in a Joint NGO Report, which detailed the regimes’ egregious domestic human rights records as well as their equally negative voting records on UN resolutions concerning human rights.

UN Watch filed formal protests at the United Nations, published as official UN documents, opposing the election of ChinaCubaPakistanRussia, and Saudi Arabia.

On the eve of the election, UN Watch organized an online press conference featuring human rights dissidents who were persecuted for their activism by China, Russia, Cuba and Pakistan. They joined in calling on all UN member states to oppose those countries’ bids for election to the 47-nation council. However, due to cynical politics trumping human rights at the UN, each was elected.

Below are the reasons why these regimes do not deserve to be joining the UN’s highest human rights body, as well as a fact-check of their key campaign claims.

 

China’s Human Rights Record

China commits serious human rights violations, including: forced disappearances; political prisoners; harsh prison conditions; arbitrary interference with privacy; lack of independence of judiciary; attacks on journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners and their family members; interference with the rights to freedom of assembly and association; severe restrictions on religious freedom; coercive birth limitation policy; inability of citizens to choose their government; corruption; official repression of Tibetans and other ethnic and religious minorities; and, perhaps most urgently today, the imprisonment of more than 1 million Uighur Muslims in extrajudicial camps in Xinjiang, where China subjects detainees to abuses, torture and killings; arbitrary or unlawful killings;

Claims Versus Facts

China’s campaign pledge to the UNHRC[1] included the following claims:

  1. Claim: “The Chinese Government…has protected people’s rights to vote, to know, to participate, to express…”

Fact: The citizens of China do not choose their leadership in free and fair elections. Rather, the Communist party leadership selects the President.[2] China also violates the right to  freedom of expression. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, China is among the ten countries with the most censorship and has been one of the top jailers of journalists for more than twenty years.[3] China also increasingly jails human rights activists and even ordinary WeChat users for online activity.[4]

 

  1. Claim: “China has ensured independent and impartial exercise of the judicial and procuratorial power and improved the judicial accountability system.”

Fact: The U.S. State Department reports that the Chinese Communist Party dominates the judiciary, controls judicial appointments and “in certain cases directly dictated the court’s ruling.”[5] This has been affirmed by the UN’s Committee Against Torture, which in 2016 expressed concern about the lack of judicial independence in China.[6] In 2017, Zhou Qiang, President of the Supreme People’s Court attacked the very notion of judicial independence, calling it a “false western ideal.”[7] In 2019, President Xi himself published an article avowing that China would “never follow the path of Western ‘constitutionalism,’ ‘separation of powers,’ or ‘judicial independence.’’’[8]

 

  1. Claim: “China has actively participated in United Nations human rights affairs, earnestly fulfills its international human rights obligations, carried out extensive international human rights cooperation…”

Fact: China routinely blocks criticism by civil society at UN meetings. When President Xi addressed the UN in Geneva in January 2017, NGOs were barred from attending the speech. A few months later, UN security officials ejected Chinese-Uighur rights activist Dolkun Isa from a meeting at its NY headquarters.[9] In June 2018, then-High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Hussein expressed dismay at “China’s continuing efforts to prevent independent members of civil society from engaging with human rights mechanisms, including Treaty Body reviews, this Council’s UPR, and many mandate-holders.”[10] The UN Secretary-General’s reports on reprisals regularly include cases of Chinese activists subjected to harassment and intimidation for their efforts to engage with the United Nations.[11]

 

  1. Claim: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Chinese Government has been giving top-most priority to people’s lives and health…” and “China has acted with openness, transparency and responsibility, updating COVID-19 information in a most timely fashion.”

Fact: Chinese authorities covered up the initial outbreak, punished those who tried to sound the alarm and save lives — like the courageous Dr. Li Wenliang of Wuhan — and fought other countries’ efforts to stop the spread of the disease, by measures such as travel restrictions.[12] China’s delay in providing critical information to the World Health Organization to stem the spread of COVID-19 has now been widely reported.[13]

 

  1. Claim: “China will prioritize the development of ethnic minorities and ethnic minority areas, respecting and protecting the rights of ethnic minorities.”

Fact: The U.S. State Department reports that Chinese authorities have “arbitrarily detained more than one million Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other Muslims in extrajudicial internment camps designed to erase religious and ethnic identities.”[14] Likewise in Tibet, China uses criminal laws to justify ethnic and religious persecution.[15] For example, China imprisoned Tibetan language advocate, Tashi Wangchuk for “inciting separatism.”[16]

 

Details on China’s Abuses

China is an authoritarian one-party political system led by President Xi Jinping who is also the Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party. No Chinese national leader is freely elected.[17] In March 2018, President Xi amended the constitution to eliminate presidential term limits, enabling him to rule the country indefinitely.[18]

Under President Xi, China brutally silences criticism and dissent through a variety of tactics, including torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. The Chinese Human Rights Defenders NGO asserts that under President Xi, China has become “the most draconian and invasive since the 1980s.”[19] According to Human Rights Watch, “human rights activists are now enduring their worst persecution since peaceful protesters took to Tiananmen Square and streets across China in 1989.”[20]

China severely restricts basic civil liberties including freedom of expression and freedom of association. As a result of a recent crackdown, a number of prominent advocacy NGOs have been forced to shut down[21] and by January 2019, nearly 6,000 NGOs had been sanctioned.[22]

Human rights defenders are regularly subjected to arbitrary detention, imprisonment and enforced disappearance.[23] According to data published by the U.S. Congress, there were nearly 1600 political prisoners in China as of October 10, 2019.[24]

Moreover, China arbitrarily detains more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in government internment camps in Xinjiang where they are subjected to military-style discipline, political indoctrination, systematic torture and other degrading treatment.[25] Uighur women are also subjected to forced birth control, including sterilization and abortions.[26] The persecution is designed to erase their religious and ethnic identity.[27] China also persecutes other religious and ethnic minorities, including Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and Jehova’s witnesses.[28]

Due process violations are rampant in China, and include the excessive use of pretrial detention, lack of access to lawyers and forced confessions.[29] In addition, detention facilities in China are known for being overcrowded with poor sanitation and humiliating living conditions.[30] Torture and other forms of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment are common.[31]

China’s UN Voting Record

 Negative: China voted against resolutions in the General Assembly that spoke out for human rights victims in Iran, Syria, Cuba, Crimea and Myanmar. China backed human rights abusers through a resolution denying the right to sanction such regimes. At the Human Rights Council, China voted against a resolution in support of human rights victims in Belarus.

—–

Cuba’s Human Rights Record

Cuba commits serious human rights violations, including: abuse of political dissidents and prisoners; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; political prisoners; lack of independence of the judiciary; arbitrary interference with privacy; restrictions on freedom of the press and assembly; restrictions on religious freedom; elections not free and fair; corruption; trafficking in persons; severely restricted workers’ rights, including ban on labor unions; forced labor. 

Claims Versus Facts

 Cuba’s campaign pledge to the UNHRC[32] included the following claims:

  1. Claim: “Cuba remains committed to promoting consideration of the just historical demands of the peoples of the South and the rest of the world on such issues as…combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance…”

Facts: The U.S. State Department reports that Afro-Cubans suffer racial discrimination and have been subject to racial epithets and beatings by security agents in response to political activism. State agents threatened antiracist activist Norberto Mesa Carbonel after he published an open letter to the government on structural racism in Cuba.[33]

 

  1. Claim: “As part of its policy of cooperation with the human rights treaty bodies, Cuba systematically complies with requests for information from the special procedure mandate holders of the Human Rights Council.”

Facts: According to a UN special procedures database, Cuba has barred entry to the Council’s human rights experts on torture, free assembly, free expression, and arbitrary detention, rejecting their requests to visit the island and report on the situation of human rights.[34]

 

  1. Claim: Cuba commits to promoting democracy by highlighting “the exercise of power by the people” and “the participatory and democratic nature of the Cuban political system.”

Facts: Freedom House reports that Cuba is an authoritarian one-party system that  excludes the public from any genuine and autonomous political participation.[35] Cuba arbitrarily detained leading rights activist and anti-government opposition figure Jose Daniel Ferrer in October 2019 on false charges and subjected him to brutal torture in prison, from which he was just released after six months.[36]

 

  1. Claim: “Cuba will continue to promote its traditional initiatives on such vital issues as the right to food and the promotion of cultural rights as essential requirements for the enjoyment of all human rights.”

Facts: Cuba institutionalized censorship of independent art and culture by passing Decree 349 in December 2019, which established violations for art that was not regulated or recognized by official cultural institutions.[37] Because of Cuba’s failed policies, including centralized control, its citizens lack basic foods.[38]

 

  1. Claim: “Cuba seeks to…prevent the Council’s work from being tainted by the political manipulation that discredited and put paid to the Commission on Human Rights.”

Facts:  Cuba is more responsible than any other country in the world for the political manipulation of the UNHRC, sponsoring resolutions that seek to erode the meaning of individual human rights and to empower dictatorships. When Cuba came up for mandatory Council review in 2013, the regime committed a massive fraud on the Council by orchestrating 454 front groups to officially register 93 statements falsely praising Havana’s policies and practices.[39] In addition, Cuba systematically opposes UN resolutions that speak out for human rights victims in Iran, North Korea and Syria. Cuba has backed human rights abusers through a resolution denying the right to sanction such regimes.

 

Details on Cuba’s Abuses

Cuba is an authoritarian state, which until recently was led by Raúl Castro, who held the three most powerful governmental positions: president of the Council of State and Council of Ministers, Communist Party first secretary, and commander in chief of the security forces. Previously these positions all were held by Fidel Castro.[40] Fidel Castro’s reign was known for its harsh suppression of civil and political rights, backed up by the State security forces and the Cuban legal system, including a judiciary lacking in independence.[41]

After Raúl Castro succeeded his brother in 2006,[42] he continued the same abusive tactics, including surveillance, beatings, arbitrary detention, and public acts of repudiation (i.e., violence and intimidation against dissidents).[43]

Today, under President Miguel Diaz-Canal, Cuba continues to be a one-party communist state with the Communist Party being the only legal party recognized by the constitution.[44] The Communist Party controls all government offices and most civil institutions. Thus, there is no independent judiciary. In addition, Cuba does not have free or fair elections with all candidates being prescreened by the Communist Party, and any opposition eliminated through government harassment and intimidation.[45]

Individual Cubans are not free to express their political views without fear of government retribution.[46] The Organization of American States’ (OAS) Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the most authoritative regional mechanism, has stated “Cuba is the only country in the Hemisphere where it can be categorically said that there is no freedom of expression.”[47]

In this vein, the government of Cuba also severely restricts freedom of association. Political groups that are not officially recognized are prohibited by the constitution. Legal recognition is denied to opposition political parties and NGOs. Independent civil society organizations and their members are subjected to intimidation, raids, confiscations, physical assaults, arbitrary detentions and charges, and forced exile, as a matter of course.[48]

Cuba routinely uses arbitrary detention as a tool to silence government critics and human rights activists.[49] Furthermore, police are known to violate procedural laws and commit human rights abuses with impunity in connection with these arbitrary arrests. Detentions are often accompanied by violence, and police and security forces frequently employ physically abusive tactics, threats, and harassment during questioning. The government also mistreats political prisoners, holding them in isolation for extended periods, subjecting them to abuse in custody, and denying them access to home visits, prison classes, telephone calls, and family visits.[50]

 

Cuba’s UN Voting Record

 Negative: Cuba voted against resolutions in the General Assembly that spoke out for human rights victims in Iran, Syria, Crimea and Myanmar. Cuba backed human rights abusers through a resolution denying the right to sanction such regimes. At the Human Rights Council, Cuba voted against a resolution in support of human rights victims in Belarus.

 

[1] Letter dated 2 June 2020 from the Permanent Representative of China to the United Nations, UN Doc. A/75/90.

[2] Freedom in the World 2020: China, Freedom House (2020), https://freedomhouse.org/country/china/freedom-world/2020.

[3]10 Most Censored Countries, Committee to Protect Journalists (Sep. 2019), https://cpj.org/reports/2019/09/10-most-censored-eritrea-north-korea-turkmenistan-journalist/#5.

[4] China media bulletin, Freedom House (November 2019), https://freedomhouse.org/report/china-media-bulletin/2020/china-media-bulletin-2019-internet-freedom-trends-shutterstock.

[5] U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, H.R. and Lab., 2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: China (March 11, 2020), https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/china/; [hereinafter State Department Report on China].

[6] Comm. against Torture, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of China, UN Doc. CAT/C/CHN/CO/5, ¶ 22 (Feb. 3, 2016) [Hereinafter CAT Report China].

[7] China’s top judge denounces judicial independence, Financial Times (Jan. 17, 2017), https://www.ft.com/content/60dddd46-dc74-11e6-9d7c-be108f1c1dce.

[8] Charlotte Gao, Xi: China Must Never Adopt Constitutionalism, Separation of Powers, or Judicial Independence, The Diplomat (Feb. 19, 2019), https://thediplomat.com/2019/02/xi-china-must-never-adopt-constitutionalism-separation-of-powers-or-judicial-independence/.

[9] The Costs of International Advocacy, HRW (Sep. 5, 2017), https://www.hrw.org/report/2017/09/05/costs-international-advocacy/chinas-interference-united-nations-human-rights.

[10]Opening statement and global human rights update, OHCHR (June 18, 2018), https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23206&LangID=E.

[11] Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/39/41, ¶ 22 and Annexes I and II (Aug. 13, 2018); Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights, UN Doc. A/HRC/42/30, ¶¶ 45-46 (Sep. 9, 2019).

[12] Alice Su, A doctor was arrested for warning China about the coronavirus Then he dies of it, LA Times (Feb. 6, 2020), https://www.latimes.com/world-nation/story/2020-02-06/coronavirus-china-xi-li-wenliang; Barnini Chakraborty, Chinese doctor who first raised the alarm over COVID-19 vanishes, Fox (April 1, 2020), https://www.foxnews.com/world/chinese-doctor-critics-who-first-raised-the-alarm-over-covid-19-vanishes; UN Watch Exposes China’s Abuse, Demands W.H.O. Fire Chau Now, UN Watch (May 20, 2020), https://unwatch.org/un-watch-exposes-chinas-abuse-of-w-h-o-calls-to-fire-chau-now/.

[13] China delayed releasing coronavirus info, frustrating WHO, Associated Press (June 3, 2020), https://apnews.com/3c061794970661042b18d5aeaaed9fae; Isabel Togoh, Report: China Delayed Releasing Vital Coronavirus Information, Forbes (June 2, 2020), https://www.forbes.com/sites/isabeltogoh/2020/06/02/report-china-delayed-releasing-vital-coronavirus-information-despite-frustration-from-who/#60e351897a40.

[14] State Department Report on China, supra note 6.

[15] “Illegal Organizations” China’s Crackdown on Tibetan Social Groups, HRW (July 30, 2018), https://www.hrw.org/report/2018/07/30/illegal-organizations/chinas-crackdown-tibetan-social-groups.

[16] The Dark Side of the China Dream: Erasing Ethnic Identity, The Diplomat (Aug. 17, 2018), https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/the-dark-side-of-the-china-dream-erasing-ethnic-identity/.

[17] Freedom in the World 2020: China, supra note 3.

[18] Id.; World Report 2019: China Events of 2018, HRW (2019), https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/china-and-tibet, [Hereinafter, HRW Report: China].

[19] Defending Rights in a “No Rights Zone”: Annual Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in China 2018, Chinese Human Rights Defenders (Feb. 21, 2019), https://www.nchrd.org/2019/02/2018-hrd-report/. [Hereinafter, Defending Rights in a No Rights Zone].

[20] Human Rights Activism in Post-Tiananmen China: A Tale of Brutal Repression and Extraordinary Resilience, HRW (May 30, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/05/30/human-rights-activism-post-tiananmen-china.

[21] Freedom in the World 2020: China, supra note 3.

[22] Defending Rights in a No Rights Zone, supra note 20.

[23] HRW Report: China, supra note 19.

[24] Congressional-Executive Comm’n on China, China: List of Political Prisoners Detained or Imprisoned as of Oct. 10, 2019 (1,598 cases), https://www.cecc.gov/sites/chinacommission.house.gov/files/documents/CECC%20Pris%20List%2020191010.pdf.

[25] State Department Report on China, supra note 6; Up to one million detained in China’s Mass “re-education” drive, Amnesty International (Sep. 24, 2018), https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/09/china-up-to-one-million-detained/.

[26] China cuts Uighur births with IUDs, abortion, sterilization, Associated Press (June 29, 2020), https://apnews.com/269b3de1af34e17c1941a514f78d764c.

[27] Up to one million detained in China’s Mass “re-education” drive, supra note 26; https://thediplomat.com/2018/08/the-dark-side-of-the-china-dream-erasing-ethnic-identity/.

[28] Freedom in the World 2020: China, supra note 3; U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, H.R. and Lab., 2019 Country Reports on Religious Freedom: China (June 10, 2020), https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-report-on-international-religious-freedom/china/.

[29] Freedom in the World 2020: China, supra note 3; Congressional Report on China 2018, supra note 25 at 30.

[30] Id; Defending Rights in a No Rights Zone, supra note 20.

[31] Defending Rights in a No Rights Zone, supra note 20; Congressional Report on China 2018, supra note 25 at 107;  CAT Report China at ¶ 20, supra note 7.

[32] Note verbale dated 8 January 2020 from the Permanent Mission of Cuba, UN Doc. A/75/65.

[33] U.S. Dep’t of State, Bureau of Democracy, H.R. and Lab., Country Reports on Human Rights Practices Cuba (2019) [hereinafter State Department Report on Cuba], https://www.state.gov/reports/2019-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/cuba/.

[34] Special Procedures Country Visits, OHCHR (last visited May 25, 2020), https://spinternet.ohchr.org/ViewCountryvisits.aspx?visitType=pending&lang=en

[35] Freedom in World 2020: Cuba, Freedom House (2020), https://freedomhouse.org/country/cuba/freedom-world/2020.

[36] Frances Robles, Activist’s Case Hints at What Changes and What Stays the Same in Cuba, New York Times (Dec. 2, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/02/world/americas/cuban-activist-ferrer-diaz-canel.html?searchResultPosition=2.

[37] Cuba: New administration’s Decree 349 is a dystopian prospect for Cuba’s artists, Amnesty International (Aug. 24, 2018), https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/08/cuba-new-administrations-decree-349-is-a-dystopian-prospect-for-cubas-artists/.

[38] Cuba Rations Stable Foods and Soap in Face of Economic Crisis, New York Times (Mar. 11, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/11/world/americas/cuba-rationing-sanctions.html

[39] https://unwatch.org/fraud-cuba-uses-454-front-groups-subvert-todays-un-review-human-rights-record/

[40] Lily Rothman, How Fidel Castro Went From Revolutionary to Ruler, Time (Nov. 26, 2016), http://time.com/3666177/fidel-castro-cuba-history/; Cuba: Fidel Castro’s Record of Repression, Human Rights Watch (Nov. 26, 2016), https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/11/26/cuba-fidel-castros-record-repression.

[41] Id. See also Fidel Castro’s terrible legacy, The Washington Post (Nov. 26, 2016), https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/fidel-castros-terrible-legacy/2016/11/26/0659042c-b3de-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f3d1e872e45b; Glenn Garvin, Red ink: The high human cost of the Cuban revolution, Miami Herald (Dec. 1, 2016), http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article118282148.html.

[42] Daniel Trotta & Sarah Marsh, Cuba’s Fidel Castro made revolutionary mark on history, Reuters (Nov. 26, 2016), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cuba-castro-obituary/cubas-fidel-castro-made-revolutionary-mark-on-history-idUSKBN13L05O.

[43] Cuba: Fidel Castro’s Record of Repression, supra note 41.

[44] Freedom in World 2020: Cuba, supra note 36.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Annual Rep. of the Inter-Am. Comm’n H.R., at ¶ 127, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.130 Doc. 22 rev. 1. (Dec.

29, 2007), http://www.cidh.org/annualrep/2007eng/TOC.htm.

[48] State Department Report on Cuba, supra note 34; Freedom in World 2018: Cuba, supra note 36.

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

—–

Russia’s Human Rights Record

Russia commits serious human rights violations, including: repressive laws designed to suppress political opposition and dissent; government restrictions on media freedom; restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly; denial of citizens’ rights to choose their representatives in free and fair elections; occupation of Ukraine and related violations; prosecution of individuals supporting Ukraine government or criticizing Russian policies in the occupied Ukrainian territories; politically motivated denial of due process to anti-Putin defendants; discrimination against racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities; government prosecution of LGBTI persons; torture at detention facilities; overcrowded and substandard prison conditions; executive branch pressures on the judiciary; human trafficking; discrimination against people with disabilities; limited workers’ rights; harassment of civil society.

 

Claims Versus Facts

Russia’s campaign pledge to the UNHRC[1] includes the following claims:

  1. Claim: Russia commits to countering “attempts to use human rights protection as an instrument of political pressure and interference in the internal affairs of States, including with a view to their destabilizing and the replacement of legitimate governments.”

Facts: Russia itself systematically interferes in the internal affairs of other countries, waging global disinformation campaigns against Western democracies, including one deployed now during the Coronavirus pandemic.[2] Russia disseminates fake news and contradictory reports, in six different languages, while orchestrating thousands of social media accounts to spread fake conspiracy theories. Russia seeks to undermine the very ability to distinguish between truth and fiction, as an attack on the democratic system.[3]

 

  1. Claim: Russia seeks to “ensure protection of human rights and freedoms on the basis of the rules of international law and strict compliance by States with their international human rights obligations.”

Facts: Russia tramples international law by invading Ukraine, swallowing Crimea, and bombing civilians, hospitals and schools in Syria on a systematic basis, as the New York Times documented in great detail.[4] A report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria explicitly accused Russia of direct involvement in war crimes for the “indiscriminate” bombing of civilian areas that killed 43 people and injured at last 109.[5]

 

  1. Claim: Russia commits to involving “civil society institutions in addressing international issues.”

Facts: Freedom House reports that in 2019 the government deemed 74 domestic groups and 19 foreign NGOs as “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations, giving authorities a range of sanctions to stifle their activity.[6]

 

  1. Claim: Russia opposes “religious and ethnic intolerance.”

Facts: Last year in the city of Surgut, authorities subjected seven Jehovah’s Witnesses—a religious group banned by the government in 2017—to torture including electric shocks, suffocation, and beatings.[7]

 

  1. Claim: Russia says it pays “considerable attention” to “interaction with the UN Human Rights Council’s system of Special Procedures.”

Facts: Russia has denied entry to UN human rights experts on enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion, who were seeking to visit in order to issue reports.[8] However, Russia did give $50,000 to fund the work of a discredited UN expert who described Russia as a victim of human rights violations, in the form of sanctions imposed by Western democracies.[9]

 

Details on Russia’s Abuses

Russia commits aggression and human rights violations throughout the world, including in Syria—where it is accused of war crimes,[10] Crimea which it has illegally annexed[11] and Georgia—where it committed ethnic cleansing in 2008 and illegally occupies Abkhazia and South Ossetia.[12]

Due to the international isolation that followed the occupation of Crimea, the Russian government sought to consolidate public opinion with notions of patriotism and traditional values. This led to a crack-down on dissent which continues today.[13]

The government retains strict control over media outlets[14] and dissemination of information in other forms. It routinely targets journalists for arrest and prosecution. For example, in July 2020, Russia arrested veteran journalist Ivan Safronov on treason charges after he reported about sensitive topics like the sale of Russian fighter jets to Egypt.[15] Also in July, a Russian court convicted journalist Svetlana Prokopyeva on bogus terrorism charges over a 2019 radio broadcast about a suicide bombing.[16] Dozens of journalists peacefully protesting in solidarity were then subjected to fines and detention.[17]

Russia’s judiciary lacks independence from the executive branch. Career advancement is effectively tied to compliance with government preferences.[18] Corruption in Russia is rampant and, according to the Panama Papers, it reaches to the highest levels, including President Vladimir Putin and other senior figures.[19]

Russia has a long history of assassinating dissidents. On 20 August 2020, opposition leader Alex Navalny was put into a coma by military-grade Novichok poisoning in a presumably politically motivated attack. In August 2019, a Russian agent shot dead a 40-year-old Chechen with Georgian citizenship in Berlin.[20] In March 2018, Russian agents attempted to poison former Russian spy Sergei Skirpal in the UK.[21] In February 2015, opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead. Nemtsov was reportedly working on publishing a detailed report on the involvement of Russian soldiers in East Ukraine.[22]

LGBT persons are continuously and systematically persecuted by the authorities, and experience societal persecution. In June 2020, more than 30 people were arrested in Moscow for protesting in support of LGBT rights.[23] In February 2019, the Russian authorities threatened Chechnyan LGBT leader Igor Kochetkov after he announced that he had received credible reports of a new round of LGBT roundups by authorities in Chechnya.[24] In July 2019, LGBT activist Yelena Grigoryeva was stabbed to death in St. Petersburg after being listed on a website encouraging people to “hunt” LGBT activists.[25]

Russia’s UN Voting Record

 Negative: Russia voted against resolutions in the General Assembly that spoke out for human rights victims in Iran, Cuba, Myanmar and Syria. Russia backed human rights abusers through a resolution denying the right to sanction such regimes. At the Human Rights Council, Russia voted against resolutions in support of human rights victims in Belarus.

[1] Letter dated 13 March 2020 from the Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, UN Doc. A/75/71 (March 18, 2020).

[2] Robin Emmott, Russia deploying Coronavirus disinformation to sow panic in West, EU document says, Reuters (March 18, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-disinformation/russia-deploying-coronavirus-disinformation-to-sow-panic-in-west-eu-document-says-idUSKBN21518F.

[3] William J. Broad, Putin’s Long War Against American Science, New York Times (April 13, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/13/science/putin-russia-disinformation-health-coronavirus.html.

[4] Christian Triebert, Evan Hill, Malachy Browne, Whitney Hurst, Dmitriy Khavin and Masha Froliak, How Times Reporters Proved Russia Bombed Syrian Hospitals, New York Times (Oct. 13, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/13/reader-center/russia-syria-hospitals-investigation.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article.

[5] Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, UN Doc. A/HRC/43/57 (Jan. 28, 2020).

[6] Freedom in the World 2020: Russia, Freedom House (2020), https://freedomhouse.org/country/russia/freedom-world/2020.

[7] ‘Electric Shocks, Suffocation’: Jehovah’s Witnesses  Say Russian Police Tortured Church Members, Radio Free Europe (Feb. 20, 2019), https://www.rferl.org/a/jehovah-s-wintesses-say-russian-police-tortured-the-church-members/29780911.html.

[8] Special Procedures Country Visits, https://spinternet.ohchr.org/ViewCountryvisits.aspx?visitType=pending&lang=en (last visited Aug. 16, 2020).

[9] Russia gave $50,000 to UN expert who wrote report calling Russia a victim, UN Watch (Sep. 14, 2017), https://unwatch.org/russia-gave-50000-un-expert-wrote-report-calling-russia-victim/.

[10] Sara Kayyali, Russia Should Be Held Accountable for Any War Crimes in Syria, HRW (Dec. 3, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/12/03/russia-should-be-held-accountable-any-war-crimes-syria.

[11] Ongoing Violations of International Law and Defiance of OSCE Principles and Commitments by the Russian Federation in Ukraine, US Mission to the OSCE (April 2, 2020), https://osce.usmission.gov/on-russias-ongoing-aggression-against-ukraine-and-illegal-occupation-of-crimea-5/.

[12] Up In Flames, HRW (Jan. 23, 2009) https://www.hrw.org/report/2009/01/23/flames/humanitarian-law-violations-and-civilian-victims-conflict-over-south.

[13] Matthew Luxmoore, A Sweeping Clampdown In Russia Has Putin Critics Warning of New Repressions, Radio Free Europe (July 10, 2020), https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-sweeping-clampdown-putin-critics-warning-repressions/30719838.html.

[14] Freedom in the World 2020: Russia, supra note 82.

[15] Rachel Denber, Another Journalist Arrested in Russia, HRW (July 7, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/07/another-journalist-arrested-russia.

[16] Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russian Journalist Sentenced on Bogus Terrorism Charges, HRW (July 6, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/06/russian-journalist-sentenced-bogus-terrorism-charges.

[17] Russia: Dozens of Journalists Detained for Peaceful Protests, HRW (July 10, 2020), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/10/russia-dozens-journalists-detained-peaceful-protests.

[18] Freedom in the World 2020: Russia, supra note 82.

[19] Julian Hans, Panama Papers; The secrets of dirty money, Suddeitsche Zeitung (April 15, 2016), https://panamapapers.sueddeutsche.de/articles/57161f07a1bb8d3c3495bc36/; Luke Harding, How to hide a billion dollars, The Guardian (April 3, 2016), https://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/03/panama-papers-money-hidden-offshore.

[20] Georgian’s death in Berlin was a Russian-ordered assassination, prosecutors believe, Deutsche Welle (June 18, 2020), https://www.dw.com/en/georgians-death-in-berlin-was-a-russian-ordered-assassination-prosecutors-believe/a-53860911.

[21] Flora Carr, Ex-Spy Sergei Skirpal is Just the Latest Russian Dissident to Meet Tragedy on British Soil, Time (March 6, 2018), https://time.com/5187333/sergei-skripal-russian-assassinations-uk/.

[22] Sarah Rainsford, Boris Nemtsov killing: Grief, fear and anger one year onBBC (Feb. 27, 2016), http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-35675221.

[23] Police detains over 30 protesting LGBT activists in Moscow – monitoring group, Reuters (June 27, 2020), https://www.reuters.com/article/russia-lgbt-arrests/police-detains-over-30-protesting-lgbt-activists-in-moscow-monitoring-group-idUSL8N2E40DB.

[24] Russia: New Wave of Anti-LGBT persecution, HRW (Feb. 15, 2019), https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/02/15/russia-new-wave-anti-lgbt-persecution.

[25] Tim Fitzsimons, Russian LGBTQ activist killed after being listed on gay-hunting website, NBC (July 23, 2019), https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/russian-lgbtq-activist-killed-after-being-listed-saw-inspired-site-n1032841.

 

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