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UN Human Rights Committee report on Russia: Transcript

This story broke last week but I’m only getting to it now as I wanted to find a full transcript of the text, which I haven’t had the time to do until now. The full transcript is here. There is far too much to suitably quote or comment on here, but the following excerpts should give you a taste.

13. Notwithstanding the position of the State party that no crimes were committed by the Russian military forces or other military groups against the civilian population on the territory of South Ossetia (para. 264, CCPR/C/RUS/Q/6/Add.1), and that the State party does not take responsibility for possible crimes by armed groups (para. 266, Ibid.), the Committee remains concerned about the allegations of large-scale, indiscriminate abuses and killings of civilians in South Ossetia during the military operations by Russian forces in August 2008. The Committee recalls that the territory of South Ossetia was under the de facto control of an organised military operation of the State party, which therefore bears responsibility for the actions of such armed groups. The Committee notes with concern that, to date, the Russian authorities have not carried out any independent and exhaustive appraisal of serious violations of human rights by members of Russian forces and armed groups in South Ossetia and that the victims have received no reparations. (arts. 6, 7, 9, 13 and 14)

The State party should conduct a thorough and independent investigation into all allegations of involvement of members of Russian forces and other armed groups under their control in violations of human rights in South Ossetia. The State party should ensure that victims of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are provided with an effective remedy, including the right to compensation and reparations.

16. The Committee expresses its concern at the alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders in the State party, which has created a climate of fear and a chilling effect on the media, including for those working in the North Caucasus, and regrets the lack of effective measures taken by the State party to protect the right to life and security of these persons. (arts. 6, 7, and 19)

The State party is urged to:

(a) take immediate action to provide effective protection to journalists and human rights defenders whose lives and security are under threat due to their professional activities;

(b) ensure the effective investigation, and, when appropriate, prosecution strengthen its efforts to ensure thorough, independent and impartial investigations conduct full and impartial investigations into threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders and, when appropriate, institute proceedings against perpetrators;

(c) provide the Committee with detailed information on developments in all cases of criminal prosecutions relating to threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders in the State party covering the period between 2003 and 2009.

21. The Committee is concerned about the lack of independence of judges in the State party. In particular, the Committee is concerned about the appointment mechanism for judges that exposes them to political pressure and about the lack of an independent disciplinary mechanism, particularly in cases of corruption. The Committee is also concerned about the relatively low rate of acquittal for criminal cases. (arts. 2 and 14)

The State party should amend the relevant domestic legal provisions in order to ensure full independence of the judiciary from the executive branch of government and consider establishing, in addition to the collegiate corpus of judges, an independent body responsible for matters relating to the appointment and promotion of judges as well as their compliance with disciplinary regulations.

22. The Committee expresses concern about the potential impact of the proposed draft law on Lawyers’ Activity and the Bar on the independence of the legal profession and the right to a fair trial as stipulated in article 14 of the Covenant. In particular, it notes with concern that the bill proposes to enable the State Registration Agency to remove a lawyer’s licence to practise through a court action without prior approval of the Chambers of Lawyers under certain circumstances, and to obtain access to the legal files of lawyers under investigations and demand information on any case in which they are involved (art. 14).

The State party should review the compatibility of the proposed draft law on Lawyers’ Activity and the Bar with its obligations under article 14 of the Covenant as well as article 22 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers and refrain from taking any measures that constitute harassment or persecution of lawyers and unnecessarily interfere with their defence of clients.

24. The Committee is concerned that media professionals continue to be subjected to politically motivated trials and convictions, and in particular, that the practical application of the Mass Media Act as well as the arbitrary use of defamation laws has served to discourage critical media reporting on matters of valid public interest, adversely affecting the freedom of expression in the State party. (arts. 9, 14, and 19)

The State party should ensure that journalists can perform their profession without fear of being subjected to prosecution and libel suits for criticizing government policy or government officials. In doing so, the State party should:

a) amend its Criminal Code to reflect the principle that public figures should tolerate a greater degree of criticism than ordinary citizens;

b) de-criminalise defamation and subject it only to civil lawsuits, capping any damages awarded;

c) provide redress to journalists and human rights activists subjected to imprisonment in contravention of articles 9 and 19 of the Covenant; and

d) bring in line relevant provisions of the Mass Media Act with article 19 of the Covenant by ensuring a proper balance between the protection of a person’s reputation and freedom of expression.