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“This mandate should deal with the war:” Right Livelihood Laureates discuss the appointment of a UN Special Rapporteur on Russia

News 07.02.2023

The United Nations Human Rights Council is set to appoint a newly-mandated UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation on April 4. The mandate will seek to monitor human rights abuses in Russia. We asked some of the Right Livelihood Laureates from Russia about their thoughts on this development and what the main priorities of this mandate should be.

Svetlana Gannushkina, 2016 Right Livelihood Laureate

First of all, this is a very right decision. Second, I think that of course, this mandate should deal with the war – with the human rights violations connected with the war. I think that everyone understands this. I think that there cannot be anything else.

There is a list of very strong candidates for this position. That’s why I have no doubts that they will select a person who understands well the general situation in Russia, what Russia is and what this society is. I think it’s clear that the establishment of this mandate is connected to the war, and it’s clear that everything around it should be seriously analysed.

Vladimir Slivyak, 2021 Right Livelihood Laureate

There are two sides of the decision to create this mandate. One side is that if anyone expects that this will in any way affect the Russian political regime or influence the Russian political regime, then this idea is wrong. I don’t think that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s regime in Moscow can be influenced by anyone, including the UN at the moment.

But it’s still very important. It’s important that the United Nations documents human rights violations and investigates human rights in Russia today, because what’s happening in Russia in terms of human rights is really ugly and really bad.

A lot of people go to jail for nothing. The independent court system doesn’t exist anymore. People are still trying to raise their opposition to the war, but once you do something like that in Russia today, you get punished. You either go to jail or get a big fine.

There are different types of human rights, and attention must be paid to all of them. Not only freedom of gathering and freedom of speech, but also the right to [a clean] environment, the situation with health protection.

The Russian political regime which, I think, is very much close to fascism right now, isn’t forever. I don’t know when it will fall, but I know that one day it will fall apart and there will be a new regime in Russia. I think it would be good if the United Nations collects and classifies all this information, so in the future, we have a good, well-organised database of violations that has been happening in Russia in this historical period of time.

Elena Zhemkova, Co-Founder and Executive Director of 2004 Right Livelihood Laureate Memorial

Of course, this is a landmark and unprecedented decision because, for the first time ever in UN history, a Special Rapporteur was established for a permanent member of the UN Security Council. This has never happened before. It’s very important, and it highlights how seriously the whole world treats the situation inside Russia. I think this is important.

Of course, the Rapporteur should pay attention to what’s happening with the refugees and people who, due to circumstances, ended up in the territory of Russia. That’s firstly. Secondly, I believe it’s important for the Special Rapporteur to look into the situation around the anti-war protests and rights protection in this case. Of course, what’s happening with the prisoners inside the camps and prisons is extremely important – and also the rights of prisoners.

In general, in this acute situation, all previous problematic points with the human rights situation became even more acute and difficult. That’s why everything that’s happening in the so-called closed institutions, in the army, camps and prisons, and psychiatric clinics should be under special attention for the Special Rapporteur. Of course, also all the issues related to the mobilisation. All the cases of people who due to their beliefs don’t want to take up arms but are still forced to. Unfortunately, there is a large spectrum of issues that need to be looked into.

The decision to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation was taken by the Human Rights Council in Autumn 2022. Back then, the Council strongly urged Russian authorities to comply with all of its obligations under international human rights law and decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur for a period of one year.

UN Special Rapporteurs are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. They are not paid. With the support of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Special Rapporteurs undertake country visits, and act on individual cases of reported violations and concerns of a broader nature by sending communications to States and others. They also contribute to the development of international human rights standards, and engage in advocacy, raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation.

Watch our interview with Zhemkova to learn about the latest human rights situation in Russia:

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