Russian justice minister confronted by dissident in UN rights debate

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GENEVA, September 21, 2018 — Russian justice minister Alexander Konovalov was confronted in a UN debate today by one of his country’s most prominent dissidents. Pro-democracy activist, author and filmmaker Vladimir Kara-Murza, who was twice poisoned and nearly killed in Moscow, refuted the Kremlin’s assertions as he took the floor at the invitation of the Swiss-based human rights group UN Watch.
Konovalov presented his country’s record before a mandatory quadrennial review by the 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, saying that the Putin government “was committed to protect civil society actors,” as well as minorities and women. On Crimea, he denied Russia’s illegal annexation, saying “the people of Crimea had freely decided to join the Russian Federation.” (Full summary here.)
Kara-Murza rejected the justice minister’s claims, saying that in Russia unwelcome NGOs are designated as “foreign agents”; the right to free elections “has become a sham”; and that peaceful demonstrators “are detained and beaten up – not only with police batons, but also with Cossack whips.” Russia’s law enforcement system, he said, “has turned into an instrument of repression.”

“I am grateful to UN Watch for the opportunity to speak before the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of Russian civil society,” said Kara-Murza. 

“It is important that the Council hears the truth about what is happening in our country, not just the propaganda presentation prepared by the Kremlin’s envoys.”

Earlier this year, Kara-Murza was the 2018 recipient of the Courage Award presented by the Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, organized by UN Watch and more than 20 other human rights organizations from around the globe.


Vladimir Kara-Murza at the UN Human Rights Council
Delivered on behalf of United Nations Watch
21 September 2018
Translation from Russian original

Thank you, Mr. President. My name is Vladimir Kara-Murza, I am vice chairman of Open Russia, and I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Council on behalf of United Nations Watch.

In their presentation to the Working Group and in the remarks by the minister of justice the Russian authorities have painted an idyllic picture. They talk about the precedence of international law, strengthening the independence of the judiciary, support for non-governmental organizations, and even – I quote from the text – “implementing democratic reforms.”
To me as a Russian citizen this reads like science fiction.
The situation in our country is very different from the one you are being presented. Russian citizens are denied the basic rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The right to free elections has become a sham – and not only because of administrative pressure and fraud, although these also exist. In most cases, genuine opposition is not even allowed on the ballot. Unwelcome NGOs are designated as “foreign agents” and “undesirable organizations”.
The main media outlets are under strict government control. Peaceful demonstrators are detained and beaten up – not only with police batons, but also with Cossack whips.
The law enforcement system has turned into an instrument of repression. According to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, there are currently 192 political and religious prisoners in Russia.
But this is not the worst of it. Opponents of the government increasingly face the threat of physical violence. Attacks, injuries, poisonings – this is only a partial list. In February 2015 Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was shot dead 200 metres from the Kremlin. The organizers and masterminds of this crime have not been brought to justice.
The actions of the current regime violate both the Russian Constitution and the international agreements signed by our country. We hope that the UN Human Rights Council will not take the Kremlin’s propaganda statements at face value.

Source: UN Summary
Review of Russia’s human rights record, Universal Periodic Review, UN Human Rights Council, Sept. 21, 2018
ALEXANDR KONOVALOV, Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation, reasserted Russia’s belief in the Universal Periodic Review as a procedure which provided a unique opportunity for countries to exchange their experiences on human rights issues.  The Universal Periodic Review relied on a depoliticized and constructive dialogue to support national efforts to implement human rights.  The Russian Government had carefully studied all of the 317 received recommendations, and it was prepared to receive constructive criticism to improve its human rights sector.  Many of the proposals had already been implemented in practice or were currently being implemented.  The Russian Federation had agreed to work on the vast majority of the recommendations.  Those recommendations that it had rejected ran counter to Russian laws or were repetitive, including those that referred to the annexation of Crimea.  The people of Crimea had freely decided to join the Russian Federation.  The Government was prepared for a dialogue with special agencies to discuss human rights issues, in line with their mandates.  As for the recommendations on accession to certain international treaties, the Minister explained that there was no urgent need for their ratification because they duplicated the existing national legal provisions.  The Russian Federation continued to study possibilities to expand its legal obligations.  With respect to recommendations on Russia’s international cooperation, some recommendations were incorrect presentations of the situation in the country.
Turning to the recommendations on the legislative and institutional framework, the Minister stressed that the Government was constantly working to improve its human rights regulatory framework.  With respect to equality and freedom from discrimination, the authorities prohibited any form of discrimination whatever the grounds were or whichever social group was targeted.  The Russian Federation had accepted most of the recommendations on the promotion of tolerance.  It was a multinational and multicultural State which combatted racism, discrimination and aggressive nationalism, including neo-Nazism.  It was a social welfare country and social protection was given priority by the Government when it designed its socio-economic policies.  The Government was focused on increasing life expectancy, fighting poverty, and increasing the standard of living.  It pursued policies to protect vulnerable groups, especially women and children.  The Russian Federation had thus accepted all the recommendations pertaining to the protection of children, as well as all those recommendations on improving its judiciary and penitentiary system.  In the sphere of civil and political rights, the Russian Federation had accepted most recommendations.  That topic was of great interest to many countries, which did not pay attention to Russia’s legal practice in that respect.  The Russian Federation was committed to protect civil society actors and it worked with them to improve its legal framework.  The obligatory registration of civil society organizations that received funds from abroad aimed to ensure transparency and openness about their activities.  Finally, the Government focused on protecting the rights of ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples, and it worked to safeguard the rights of migrants.

UN Watch