Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Human rights defenders of minorities having a hard time in the UN finds UNPO

July 19, 2019

On 17 July 2019 the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) is launched a report, Compromised Space: Bullying and Blocking at the UN Human Rights Mechanisms, with its partners at the University of Oxford and Tibet Justice Centre which details how China, Russia, Iran and other repressive regimes are manipulating the United Nations Human Rights System to block and attack those seeking to hold them accountable for gross human rights violations perpetrated against minorities, indigenous communities and other unrepresented peoples…

The report is based on three years of study conducted by the UNPO and its partners at the University of Oxford and the Tibet Justice Center, supported by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council. It is based largely on interviews and testimonies from 77 human rights defenders working on behalf of minorities, indigenous communities and other people living in nation states whose political systems do not create governance structures representative of all. It identifies a systemic attack on the United Nations human rights system by these governments, led largely by China, Russia and Iran, designed to shield them from accountability for human rights violations and crimes against humanity. This includes efforts to deny civil society groups participatory status at the UN (so called “ECOSOC status”), to bully and block them when they are able to access the UN, to crowd out the UN space with “GONGOs” – government-sponsored organisations posing as NGOs – and to harass, intimidate and take reprisals against activists and their families, whether at home or abroad.

Among the indicative findings of the report are the facts that:

China has regularly detained or imprisoned activists from its Southern Mongolian, Uyghur and Tibetan communities who have sought to travel to the UN, with such success that, for example, no Tibetan from Tibet who is acting independently of the Chinese government has ever managed to leave Chinese- occupied Tibet to testify at the UN in Geneva or New York, and then return safely;

Russia, in order to shield itself from accountability for its crimes in Russian-occupied Crimea, has asked for rules of participation in forums, such as the UN Minority Forum, to be changed to restrict NGO participation to groups acceptable to Russia, and its Crimea occupation authorities have attacked Crimean Tatar activists and destroyed or confiscated their passports in order to prevent their travel;

Iran regularly engages in practices designed to intimidate activists from their minority communities, even while they are operating within the United Nations buildings, and have taken out reprisals against the family members of these activists still living within the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The story of Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress and Vice President of the UNPO, is indicative of all of these actions. Mr. Isa and his organization have regularly been denied ECOSOC status at the United Nations, his access to the UN buildings and events have been restricted due to Chinese demands, he and his supporters have been followed and harassed in the UN building, his mother was held in China’s anti-Muslim concentration camps as a result of his work and for many years his ability to travel freely around the world was frustrated by Chinese efforts to involve European and other states in his persecution by falsely labelling him a “terrorist”.

Reacting to the launch of the report, UNPO’s General Secretary, Ralph Bunche, stated that “the report presents the disturbing finding that the United Nations Human Rights system, which is the only outlet for many peoples living under repressive regimes to seek accountability for crimes committed against them, is being systemically undermined by perpetrator regimes. Unfortunately, democratic states are not doing nearly enough to push back against this phenomenon and in some instances are even adopting the conduct that we see from the repressive states. The withdrawal of the USA from the UN’s Human Rights Council has certainly not helped matters, but other states are simply not doing enough to counter this problem and protect human rights defenders.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL REPORT HERE

https://unpo.org/article/21583

NGOs remember 10th Anniversary of Natalia Estemirova’s murder

July 15, 2019

On the 10th anniversary of the murder of Natalia Estemirova, Chechnya’s most prominent human rights defender, nine international and two Russian human rights groups, jointly with FIDH and its member organization, Human Rights Centre “Memorial,” call on the Russian authorities to finally fulfil their obligation to conduct a thorough, impartial and effective investigation into her killing, bring the perpetrators to justice in fair trials before ordinary civilian courts, and end impunity for human rights violations in Chechnya.

Two welcome paroles in Russia and Zimbabwe but justice is still to be done

June 11, 2019

Having reported earlier on the Oyub Titiev case in Russia [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/03/19/human-rights-defender-in-chechnya-oyub-titiev-sentenced-to-4-years/] and that of the seven human rights defenders arrested in Zimbabwe [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/four-zimbabwe-human-rights-defenders-detained-at-at-the-mugabe-airport-on-their-return-from-foreign-trip/], I am now happy to report some progress:

Responding to news that Shali City Court in Chechnya has granted parole to the imprisoned human rights defender Oyub Titiev after almost one-and-a-half years behind bars, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia said: “We have been calling for Oyub Titiev’s immediate and unconditional release since his detention. The real agenda behind his criminal prosecution on trumped up charges was to stop a human rights defender from doing his lawful human rights work….In spite of overwhelming evidence that the case against him had been fabricated, the authorities in Chechnya crudely abused the justice system to convict an innocent man. Today the court decided to at least partially amend the gross injustice by releasing Oyub in ten days time.” But if justice is to prevail, Oyub Titiev’s conviction should be quashed, and he must be given access to an effective remedy, including compensation, for his unlawful imprisonment.  “This decision comes just days after prominent Russian investigative journalist Ivan Golunov was detained and charged with supplying drugs amid allegations that he was framed, held incommunicado and beaten in custody. He is currently under house arrest and we call on his allegations against the authorities to be immediately investigated.”

High court Judge Justice Army Tsanga ordered for the release of the two activists seized at the Robert Mugabe International Airport upon arrival from Maldives. The state is alleging that the accused are members of the civil society organizations who connived with their accomplices went to Maldives where they underwent a training workshop by a Serbian non-governmental organisation called Center for Applied Non-Violent Action Strategies (Canvas) with intend to subvert a constitutionally elected government.

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https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/russia-titievs-parole-a-welcome-step-but-not-justice/

Breaking: Five Zim ‘Terrorists’ Out On Bail

Human Rights Foundation announces its first 10 Freedom Fellows

May 22, 2019

Yesterday I referred to the new look of the Human Rights Foundation [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/human-rights-foundation-uses-2019-oslo-freedom-forum-for-rebranding/], here is a substantive new proframme. On 21 May 2019 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced the creation of the Freedom Fellowship, a program that awards 10 human rights defenders, social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders from authoritarian countries around the world with the unique opportunity to increase the impact of their work. HRF is partnering with the Center for Applied Nonviolent Tactics and Strategies (CANVAS), founded by Srdja Popovic. The fellows will work with HRF staff and a team of specialists to improve leadership, movement building, fundraising, marketing, and digital security.
The first ‘class’ comprises:

  • Rania Aziz , Sudanese activist organizing professional and youth groups in the country against the dictatorship of Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. She is part of the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed group of unions currently leading protests in the country.
  • Fred Bauma. Congolese human rights activist also known as “Congo’s Gandhi”. He is the leader of the pro-democracy youth group LUCHA, which advocates for nonviolent, community-level change and governmental reform in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[ see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/11/30/amnesty-internationals-annual-write-for-rights-campaign-focuses-on-freedom-of-expression/]
  • Vanessa Berhe, Eritrean free-speech and democracy activist. She is the founder of One Day Seyoum, a human rights organization that campaigns for the release of jailed Eritrean journalist Seyoum Tsehaye, and raises awareness around a continued crackdown on democratic ideals in Eritrea.
  • Andrei Bystrov, lawyer, historian and democratic activist from Moscow. He is a co-founder of the December 5 Party, a pro-democracy political party that was born out of the 2011 anti-Putin protests.
  • Netiwit Chotiphatphaisal is a student activist, publisher, and author who advocates for education reform in Thailand. He founded Education for Liberation of Siam, a student group that challenges the Thai military junta’s unjust actions in the country’s education system.
  • Rodrigo Diamanti, Venezuelan human rights activist and nonviolence expert. He founded the international NGO, Un Mundo Sin Mordaza, which has coordinated creative protests against Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship in more than 52 countries.
  • Edipcia Dubón, Nicaraguan pro-democracy and women’s rights advocate. She is the coordinator of Dialogue of Women for Democracy, a think tank that promotes open discussions about the challenges faced by women in Nicaragua.
  • Asma Khalifa, Libyan activist and researcher who has worked on human rights, women’s rights, and youth empowerment since 2011. She is the co-founder of Tamazight Women’s Movement, an organization working on gender equality and research on the indigenous women of Libya and North Africa.
  • Farida Nabourema, Togolese writer and democracy activist who began her career in activism when she was 13 years old. She co-founded the Faure Must Go movement, a hallmark of the Togolese struggle against Faure Gnassingbé’s oppressive rule.
  • Johnson Yeung, Hong Kong human rights advocate who works on freedom of assembly and expression, protection to HRDs, and capacity building to right-based CSOs. He is the chair of the board of the Hong Kong Civil Hub, which produces regular briefings on Hong Kong shrinking civic space, and builds solidarity around international rule of law and human rights communities.


In partnership with CANVAS, HRF launched the Freedom Fellowship in 2018 with a pilot opportunity for Jhanisse Vaca Daza, a civil society activist from Bolivia. During her Freedom Fellowship experience, Vaca Daza co-founded the Bolivian movement: Ríos de Pie (Standing Rivers), which has quickly gained a national following, becoming one of the leading nonviolent resistance movements in response to Evo Morales’ authoritarian regime. Vaca Daza will provide her insights from the past year as the manager for the Fellowship. “This is a truly diverse class of fellows, and they are going to learn as much from each other as from their mentors,” said Vaca Daza. “Anyone running a non-profit or civil society organization or start-up needs help and guidance with personal leadership, movement building, marketing and media strategy, fundraising, and digital security. My own experience was transformative, and I’m looking forward to bringing world-class expertise in each of these areas to 10 new Fellows.”

The Fellows will meet one another as a group for the first time at this year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, which will be held from 27-29 May in Norway. There will be special programming curated to begin their Freedom Fellowship experience starting May 25. If you would like more information about the program, please contact: jhanisse@hrf.org.

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Aachen Peace Prize to Ukrainian journalist Kotsaba severely contested

May 19, 2019

Ruslan Kotsaba Photo Mykola Vasylechko, RIA Novosti

This piece express grave doubt on the decision to award the 2019 Aachen Peace Prize to Ukrainian journalist and  blogger Ruslan Kotsaba because of a shocking anti-Semitic video posted by Kotsaba in 2011. People interested should judge for themselves, so here the full article:

The video certainly contains deeply offensive hate speech, yet it is by no means the only reason why the choice of Kotsaba seems bafflingly inappropriate. The award might possibly have seemed a little more understandable had it been given back in 2015, shortly after Kotsaba was arrested on ‘state treason’ charges.  His claim to a peace prize would still have been doubted by those familiar with his highly misleading reports on the war in Donbas, however his unwarranted prosecution and 14 months’ imprisonment  were over a video opposing mobilization.

It seems he was first nominated in 2015, but was not chosen.  In 2019, however, the Aachen Peace Prize general assembly decided that Kotsaba was an appropriate laureate for a prize given to a person or group “who campaigns for peace and a civic resolution of conflict”.

According to Lea Heuser, a member of the Peace Prize Executive Committee, Kotsaba was nominated by one of its members “who is familiar with the situation in Ukraine”.  This was almost certainly Andrej Hunko, a Bundestag deputy from the Linke Party, known for his ‘humanitarian mission’ to the self-proclaimed  ‘Donetsk people’s republic’ and very one-sided statements about the conflict in Donbas. Hunko also campaigns actively for closer German relations with Russia and for recognition of Crimea as ‘Russian’.

Heuser explained that Kotsaba was first nominated on the basis of his claim to have become a pacifist after what he saw at the front (in Donbas).  She asserts that “he does not take one side in the conflict and advocates for concessions and dialogue”. It is also claimed on the peace prize’s website that Kotsaba “unlike most of his colleagues tried to objectively cover events in the east of Ukraine which he has called “a civic war and fratricidal”.

This has been the standard line taken by Hunko and other politicians, from various European far-right or left-wing parties, when visiting the so-called Donbas ‘republics’ or Russian-occupied Crimea.   Such visits are invariably used by their official hosts and by Russia as propaganda.  This is unsurprising since their guests can be relied upon to only criticize the Ukrainian Armed Forces and Kyiv.

While Kotsaba’s position is more complex, it would be very hard to describe his presentation of events in Donbas, Odesa, Crimea or in Ukraine in general as objective.

In some cases, he pushes toxic lies which are known to have prompted young men to go and fight in Donbas.  He invariably follows Russia’s lead in claiming that the people who died in the Trade Union building fire in Odesa on 2 May 2014 were deliberately burned to death by “Ukrainian radicals”.  Russia has repeatedly demonstrated that it is aware of the substantial research refuting such claims carried out by the 2 May Group, a respected bipartisan initiative formed by journalists, scientists and civic activists, and presented here in RussianEnglish and in German, as well as by the Council of Europe’s International Advisory Panel.  It is impossible to believe that Kotsaba is not aware that he is presenting a story that has been debunked.

Kotsaba’s coverage of the war in Donbas is equally one-sided.  He is certainly entitled to his own opinion on the conflict, however his claim that he is objectively presenting two sides of the story is simply untrue.

One of the most contentious areas is, of course, Kotsaba’s repeated assertion (for example, here)  that the conflict in Donbas is a civil war, and denial of Russia’s and Russians’ active role. Speaking on the Russian state-controlled Rossiya 24 channel on 27 June 2014,  Kotsaba claimed that he had not seen any Chechen fighters and assumes there are none. He does stress that he personally did not see any and this cannot be either proven nor refuted.  The problem is that, by the time he was saying this, there was ample video footage and witness accounts making it quite clear that there were a suspiciously large number of Chechens and other Russian citizens fighting in this alleged ‘civil war’.  Kotsaba has also chosen to ignore the fact that the war essentially began after heavily armed and trained fighters seized control of Sloviansk on 12 April 2014 under the leadership of (officially) former Russian military intelligence officer Igor Girkin.  He later admitted that his men had provoked the conflict in Donbas.  “The first shots, albeit in the air, were from the rebels, carried out by our unit”.  Girkin and the leader of ‘DPR’ were only hurriedly replaced by Ukrainians after the downing of Malaysian airliner MH17 by a Russian BUK missile on 17 July 2014.

Kotsaba’s claim to Rossiya 24 that he had been invited by a local Luhansk television channel which was trying to follow journalist standards, sounds admirable but deviates seriously from the truth.  The first thing that happened when militants seized control of an area was that all Ukrainian channels were replaced by Russian, or pro-Russian channels.   Later in the interview, Kotsaba was asked why other Ukrainian journalists were not in these areas.  He claimed that this was that they still needed to develop to reach world standards and “tell the truth”.   Although some of the many journalists seized, tortured and / or imprisoned by the militants (Yehor Vorobyov; Dmytro Potekhin; Serhiy Sakadynskyv;  Nastya Stanko; Maria Varfolomeyeva and many others) post-dated this interview, there were already multiple accounts of other abductions, such as that of Viacheslav Bondarenko and Maxim Osovsky.  Two journalists Stanislav Aseyev and Oleh Halaziuk remained imprisoned now in ‘DPR’ precisely because they wrote the truth about life in the supposed ‘republic’.  Kotsaba is silent about them, as he is about other people held hostage.

Unlike Kotsaba, there are very many journalists and activists who have repeatedly given the lie to Kotsaba’s claim that the conflict in Donbas is a civil war.  These are only a few of the many indications of Russia’s major involvement that Kotsaba never addresses.

In August 2014, Wojciech Bojanowski from the Polish TVN 24 posted huge amounts of footage in Russia’s Rostov oblast, close to the militants-controlled part of the border with Ukraine. It clearly shows Russian armed personnel carriers, artillery and anti-aircraft weapons turning onto a road leading to the border.  Artyleria, wozy opancerzone i broń przeciwlotnicza. Ruchy Rosjan przed kamerą TVN24  (four separate clips)

Bojanowski acknowledges that there are no photos of the actual crossing, however there is a steady flow of vehicles to the border and shots taken by the militants where you can see, for example, a BTR-80a transporter which the Ukrainian military do not have.  The next day, Aug 19 Bojanowski reported further movement towards the border, with many trucks this time carrying tanks.  On Aug 22, NATO reported  that the Russian military had moved artillery units manned by Russian personnel inside Ukrainian territory and had been using them to fire at Ukrainian forces.

In 2018, the OSCE’s Monitoring Mission in Ukraine reported multiple examples of Russian military equipment being transported into Ukraine by night on dirt roads away from any border crossing (details here and in the links provided).

It was just days after the TV24 footage in August 2014 that the Russian newspaper Vedomosti asked: “Is Russia fighting in Ukraine, and if so, on what grounds?  If not, then who is lying in the freshly-dug graves, and who is giving testimony to the Ukrainian Security Service?”

More information about those first Russian military deaths here.  It is believed that an entire Russian paratrooper regiment from Pskov was probably killed in late August.

While Moscow has always denied this, young Russian soldiers have preferred to be imprisoned for having gone absent without leave rather than agree to fight in Donbas.

The amount of evidence confirming Russia’s decisive military role in the war is overwhelming.  Dr Igor Sutyagin, in a briefing paper for the Royal United Services Institute [RUSI] on Russian forces in Ukraine writes that the “first phase of large-scale incursions by regular Russian troops commenced on 11 August 2014 and has involved a substantial array of forces (see Table 1)”.  He put the figure for direct Russian military personnel as up to “10 thousand at the peak of direct Russian involvement in the middle of December 2014.”  All of this is on another country’s territory without any declaration of war.

Considerable evidence of shelling from Russia is mentioned by Sutyagin, and has since been set out in a report by the International Partnership for Human Rights, and also by Bellingcat in a report entitled ‘Putin’s undeclared war’.

Kotsaba does not mention or try to challenge any of the above-mentioned facts.  His narrative about civil war and the need for ‘dialogue’ is, accordingly, based on manipulation and deceit.

German peace prize to Ukrainian journalist Kotsaba is discredited by the Russian lies he parrots, not just his anti-Semitism

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StopFake

Breaking news: 2019 Front Line Defenders Award to 5 LGBTI Human Rights Defenders

May 17, 2019

RUXIT: a real possibility and bad for human rights defenders

May 9, 2019

An article in www.politico.eu describes in ominous terms the looming rift with Europe that could have far-reaching consequences: “Ruxit.” That’s what Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, has called Russia’s potential withdrawal from the human rights organization after 23 years as a member, amid a dispute over Crimea. 

The prospect of Ruxit — which could happen within the coming months — has Russian human rights defenders worried. Leaving the Council of Europe, Russian opposition figures warn, would be catastrophic for human rights in their homeland and provide a boost to Kremlin hard-liners.

In 2018, Russians submitted the largest number of petitions to the Strasbourg-based court out of any of the Council of Europe’s 47 members. Around 20 percent of the ECHR’s 56,000 pending cases were filed by Russian citizens. In the past two years, Moscow has reluctantly paid out €23.3 million to claimants, including opposition protesters, prisoners, and LGBTQ activists.

The European Court of Human Rights is the only legal body capable of restoring justice for those people who are illegally imprisoned and tortured, as well as ruling on compensation for the relatives of people killed either during investigations or while in prison,” said Maria Alyokhina, a Pussy Riot activist and co-founder of Zona Prava, an organization that works to protect prisoners’ rights in Russia.

….Although Russia, a signatory to the 1949 European Convention on Human Rights, has failed to implement around two-thirds of the court’s judgements — including many on the torture or ill-treatment of prisoners — human rights activists say the ECHR’s positive impact on Russian laws and judicial practice should not be underestimated. Even with all the severe problems with human rights in our country, the situation would be a lot worse if Russia hadn’t been a member of the Council of Europe,” reads an open letter signed in November by dozens of Russian human rights defenders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images

….The dispute that could lead to Russia’s exit from the Council of Europe has been simmering since 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea triggered a suspension of its voting rights in the organization’s parliamentary assembly (PACE).  Russia hit back by refusing to participate in PACE sessions. As a result, more than half of the ECHR’s judges, who serve a single nine-year term, have been elected without Russia’s participation in the voting process. From June 2017 onward, Moscow also started freezing its membership payments, which amount to €33 million a year — equal to around 7 percent of the Council of Europe’s annual budget.

Under the Council’s regulations, countries that have failed to make payments for two years are automatically suspended from the 47-member organization and can later be expelled.  Russia has said it will jump, rather than wait to be pushed, and could announce its departure next month if the organization does not alter its rules in Moscow’s favor at its meeting of ministers in Helsinki on May 17.

Why should we be in an organization that we can’t work in and that doesn’t meet our interests?” Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament and head of the country’s PACE delegation, told POLITICO. Jagland, who stands down this year after serving two terms as secretary-general, has said he wants to avoid a Russian exit. France and Germany, as well as other members of the Council, have also said they would prefer Russia to remain. But time may be running out.

…In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation giving Moscow the right to reject ECHR rulings if the country’s Constitutional Court decides that they contradict Russian law. So far, however, that law has only been enforced twice. And despite continuing tensions with the West, 58 percent of Russians are in favour of their country’s membership of the Council of Europe and the ECHR, according to a recent survey carried out by the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow. Only 19 percent were opposed, while the rest of the respondents did not express an opinion.

Russia’s exit from the human rights organization would mark the second time a member state has left it since it was formed in 1949. Greece’s military junta withdrew in 1969 under the threat of expulsion, but the country was readmitted five years later after the junta’s fall.

..Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst whose vote-monitoring efforts helped spark massive protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012, said that the dispute is symbolic of Russia’s shift away from Europe as part of the Kremlin’s revival of “Soviet values.”  But he added that economic and trade links with Europe, a key consumer of Russian energy exports, would make it hard for Moscow to cut ties entirely, and suggested that the Kremlin’s rhetoric is intended purely for domestic consumption. The Council of Europe is a convenient enemy,” Oreshkin said. “Leaving it would give Putin a burst of support among ultra-patriotic voters, but this would be a short-term propaganda victory that wouldn’t last long.”  He added: “It’s easy to slam the door, but a lot harder to open it again.

For other posts on Russia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/russia/

https://www.politico.eu/article/ruxit-russian-human-rights/

NGOs urge Putin not to sign Russia’s “Sovereign Internet Bill”

April 28, 2019

Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019
Participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow protest against tightening state control over the internet in Russia, 10 March 2019  Igor Russak/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

On 24 April 2019 nine major human rights, media and Internet freedom NGOs, called on Russian President Vladmir Putin, not to sign the so-called “Sovereign Internet Bill” as it will lead to further limitations of already restricted Internet and media freedoms in the country.

The bill (No. 608767-7) amends the laws “On Communications” and “On Information, Information Technologies and Information Protection” and states its aim as enabling the Russian Internet to operate independently from the World Wide Web in the event of an emergency or foreign threat. On 16 April 2019, the Russian State Duma approved the bill in the third reading amid widespread domestic criticism, protests and online campaigning around the country, and on 22 April, the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, approved it. If signed by President Vladimir Putin, the bill would enter into force on 1 November 2019.

The bill creates a system that gives the authorities the capacity to block access to parts of the Internet in Russia, potentially ranging from cutting access to particular Internet Service Providers (ISPs) through to cutting all access to the Internet throughout Russia.

The bill gives control over Internet network routing to the state regulator for Telecommunications, Information Technologies and Mass Communications, Roskomnadzor. It provides that the ISPs should connect with other ISPs, or “peer,” at Internet exchange points (IXes) approved by the authorities, and that these IXes should not allow unapproved ISPs to peer. The bill would also create a centralised system of devices capable of blocking Internet traffic. The bill requires ISPs to install the devices, which the government would provide free of charge, in their networks.

Under this system, Roskomnadzor would monitor threats to Russia’s Internet access and transmit instructions to ISPs through the special devices about countering these threats. Cross-border Internet traffic would be kept under close state control. The draft does not specify what the range of instructions would be, but they could potentially include partially or fully blocking traffic both between Russia and the rest of the World Wide Web, and within Russia. Nor does the draft explain how the new equipment will work, or what specifically it will do. It is clear, however, that blocking would result from direct interaction between the government and the ISP and that it will be extrajudicial and nontransparent. The public would not know what has been blocked and why.

The bill states that the new measures will be activated in the event of a ‘security threat’. The draft does not define security threats, and instead gives the government full discretion to decide what would constitute a security threat and what range of measures would be activated using the new system to address a threat.

The bill also states that Russian ISPs remain obligated to filter and block content in accordance with existing Russian law.

Further, the bill creates a national domain name system (DNS) – a system that acts as the address-book for the Internet by allowing anyone to look up the address of the server(s) hosting the URL of a website they are looking for. The bill would require Internet providers to start using the national DNS from 1 January 2021. Forcing ISPs to use the national system will give Russian authorities the ability to manipulate the results provided to the ISP outside the ISP’s knowledge and control. Authorities will be able to answer any user’s request for a website address with either a fake address or no address at all. This not only allows them to conduct fine-grained censorship but will also let the national DNS to redirect users to government-controlled servers in response to any DNS requests instead of to a website’s authentic servers.

These proposals are very broad, overly vague, and vest in the government unlimited and opaque discretion to define threats. They carry serious risks to the security and safety of commercial and private users and undermine the rights to freedom of expression, access to information and media freedom.

The bill contravenes standards on freedom of expression and privacy protected by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to which Russia is a party. Both treaties allow states to limit freedoms to protect national security but impose clear criteria for such limitations to be valid. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, commenting on the ICCPR, has reiterated that these limits should be “provided by law, which is clear and accessible to everyone,” and be predictable and transparent.

Human Rights Watch, ARTICLE 19 and other undersigned organisations are extremely concerned that the changes introduced in the bill threaten human rights and freedoms in Russia. Open, secure and reliable connectivity is essential for human rights online, including the rights to freedom of expression, information, assembly, privacy and media freedom. The bill could pose a threat to the Internet’s rights-enabling features if access to the World Wide Web is wholly or partially cut off, or if arbitrary blocking and filtering of content is carried out. It would facilitate state surveillance and curb anonymity online. It also risks severely isolating people in Russia from the rest of the world, limiting access to information and constraining attempts at collective action and public protest. The Bill’s negative impact on the freedom of expression will also affect the rights of journalists and media to work freely.

The adoption of the bill should be seen in the context of other Russian legislation that severely undermines protection of freedom of expression and privacy online and fails to meet international human rights standards. These include:

. The 2016 ‘Yarovaya Law,’ which requires all communications providers and Internet operators to store metadata about their users’ communications activities, to disclose decryption keys at the security services’ request, and to use only encryption methods approved by the Russian government. It was adopted to allegedly counter ‘extremism’ but in practice, it creates a backdoor for Russia’s security agents to access Internet users’ data, traffic, and communications.

. In 2017, Federal Law 327-FZ made amendments to the ‘Lugovoi Law’ (Federal Law FZ-398, 2013) that gave the General Prosecutor or his/her deputies a right to block access to any online resource of a foreign or international NGOs designated ‘undesirable’; and, to ‘information providing methods to access’ the resources enumerated in the ‘Lugovoi Law’, i.e. including hyper-links to old announcements on public rallies not approved by local authorities.

. The recent March 2019 bills mandate blocking and penalizing websites that publish what authorities deem to be “fake news” and “insult” to authorities, state symbols, and what the legislation vaguely describes as Russian “society.”

The President of the Russian Federation should reject the bill. The Russian Government should also review other Internet related legislation, abolish the above listed laws and bring its legal framework to full compliance with international freedom of expression standards.

ARTICLE 19

Civil Rights Defenders

Committee to Protect Journalists

Human Rights Watch

International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

International Media Support

International Partnership for Human Rights

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

PEN International

Reporters without Borders

https://www.ifex.org/russia/2019/04/24/sovereign-internet-bill/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/04/24/joint-statement-russias-sovereign-internet-bill

Human Rights Council: Reprisals instead of responses is the answer by many States

March 21, 2019

Room XX of the Human Rights Council

In two statements delivered to the 40th Session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR and Amnesty International reacted to the latest Joint Communications Report of the UN Special Procedures – independent human rights experts, appointed to monitor and report on human rights violations and to advise and assist in promoting and protecting rights. The report cites nine cases of reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the UN, and reveals that 95 states have not responded to letters from the UN experts concerning human rights violations.

There are two, related issues at stake here: (1) non-response to letters from the UN, and even worse (2) reprisals against human rights defenders who cooperate with the UN.

When I started my blog in 2010 (and one of the motivations) a main concern was the lack of response and enforcement [see https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2011/03/20/taking-on-non-response-this-bloggers-lone-response/ and : https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140603192912-22083774–crime-should-not-pay-in-the-area-of-international-human-rights ].

As Helen Nolan of ISHR explains, 35 States have recently failed to respond to two or more of these letters. 13 of these nations are members of the Council. ‘Repeat offenders are a particular concern,’ says Nolan. India has failed to reply to a staggering 8 communications, Mexico 6, Italy 5, and Bangladesh and Nepal 4 each.’ Nolan emphasises that a failure to reply is a failure to cooperate, and welcomes the fact that the recently published report of the Annual Meeting of Special Procedures focuses on non-cooperation, including ‘more subtle forms’, such as selective cooperation with particular mandates. ‘To encourage cooperation, the Council must make non-cooperation more costly,’ says Nolan. ‘We urge the President of the Council to work closely with the Coordinating Committee of the Special Procedures to find ways to do this,‘ adds Nolan.

ISHR and Amnesty International’s second statement noted that under GA Resolution 60/251, Council members must ‘fully cooperate with the Council.’ Yet, the report cites nine cases of reprisals involving these members:

  • China sought to revoke the Society for Threatened Peoples’ ECOSOC status after vexatiously alleging that a person accredited by them, Dolkun Isa, participated in incitement and funding of separatism and terrorism, in retaliation for cooperation with the UN;
  • Egypt carried out forced evictions, and violations of the rights to physical integrity, liberty and security against individuals who cooperated with the Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing during her recent visit;
  • Iraq carried out unlawful arrest, enforced disappearance and torture against Imad Al Tamimi and intimidated and threatened Israa Al Dujaili for cooperating with the UN;
  • Libya arrested an individual in retaliation for taking steps to clarify the fate and whereabouts of his father, including with UN mechanisms;
  • The Philippines labeled defenders “terrorists” in reprisal for their engagement with the UN;
  • Russia surveilled, intimidated and harassed Yana Tannagasheva and her husband, for speaking out about impacts of coal mining on indigenous people in Siberia and in possible reprisal for their communication with UN mechanisms;
  • Turkmenistan carried out reprisals against a defender and her husband for her cooperation with the UN; and
  • In Yemen, forces loyal to President Hadi and the Saudi-led coalition detained human rights defenders Radhya Al-Mutawakel and Abdulrasheed Al-Faqih for cooperating with the UN.

‘We call on the President of the Council to request updates on the cases from Iraq, Libya, Russia, Turkmenistan and Yemen, as there has been no response from the States concerned,’ said Nolan. For an older post on reprisals, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/03/13/zero-tolerance-for-states-that-take-reprisals-against-hrds-lets-up-the-ante/

Full text of the first statement (on failure to reply) available here.

Full text of the second statement (on cases of reprisals) available here.

You can also watch the videos of the statements via the link below:

Human rights defender in Chechnya, Oyub Titiev, sentenced to 4 years

March 19, 2019

News headlines today: Mar. 18, 2019

Oyub Titiev, the director of the local branch of Memorial, one of Russia’s most respected human rights organizations, was convicted of marijuana possession, a charge his lawyers said was manufactured in order to punish Titiev for his work investigating and exposing human rights abuses in Chechnya, including extrajudicial killings. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/]

The guilty verdict against Titiev was expected by his colleagues and human right organizations, which have slammed the case as a show trial, filled with inconsistencies and fabricated evidence. “The guilty verdict against Oyub Titiev is gross injustice to him, a disgrace to Russian criminal justice system, and a further sign that Ramzan Kadyrov, the governor of Chechnya, will be emboldened to silence reporting on human rights abuses,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Natalia Estemirova, Titiev’s predecessor as director of Memorial’s Chechnya office, was kidnapped in Grozny and shot dead outside the city in 2009. In 2016, masked men attacked a group of journalists trying to enter Chechnya on a tour organized by the Committee to Prevent Torture, beating the reporters and setting their bus on fire. The same month, the head of the organization, Ilya Kalyapin was attacked in Grozny.

Memorial has long been a target of strongman Kadyrov, and repeatedly suffered attacks, and. Around the time of Titiev’s arrest, the organization’s office in a neighboring region was burnt down by masked men. One of Titiev’s colleague in Dagestan was beaten outside his home last March.