The human rights situation in Russia has “deteriorated significantly” since President Vladimir Putin began his war against Ukraine in February last year, an expert commissioned by the UN’s top human rights body said on Monday in her first report on the country.
Mariana Katzarova, the Human Rights Council’s special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Russia, described the domestic crackdown, which was primarily aimed at critics of Putin’s war and other opposition voices in Russia.
Their report, released Monday, is related to another investigation by UN-backed investigators who have accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine.
Never before has the Council authorized a human rights expert to study human rights issues in any of the UN Security Council’s permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
The report cited figures from last month from OVD-Info, which tracks human rights abuses, indicating that more than 20,000 people were arrested for taking part in anti-war protests between February last year and June. More than 600 criminal cases have been initiated against “anti-war activities,” it said.
According to the report, more than half of all protesters arrested for “peaceful anti-war activism” were women.
Katzarova said she had received “credible reports” of a litany of rights abuses, including torture, allegations of rape and sexual violence, and threats of sexual abuse by police officers against men and women. None of these cases have been formally investigated, she said.
The Russian Justice Ministry’s register of “foreign agents” contained 649 organizations and individuals as of the end of July – an increase of more than 25% in six months, the report said. At the end of July, more than 100 organizations were classified as “undesirable” and could therefore be banned.
Last April, barely six weeks after Russia’s armed invasion of Ukraine, the UN General Assembly suspended Russia’s seat on the 47-member Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bulgarian Katzarova’s mandate was created a year ago and she began her work in May. Authorities in Russia refused to cooperate and said input from their team would be “automatically ignored,” the report said.
Rights in Russia have “continuously declined” over the past two decades, the report said, but Katzarova noted that the situation has “deteriorated significantly since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.”
The report is based on consultations with over 60 Russian and international human rights organizations and individuals, as well as nearly 100 written submissions, including from human rights activists and witnesses to human rights violations. The Human Rights Council is scheduled to discuss the matter on Thursday.
Since the start of the war, the Kremlin has claimed that the vast majority of Russians support its “special military operation” in Ukraine, but has also stressed that those who disagree are free to do so.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that those willing to criticize the government must do so in accordance with current laws.
Putin himself has said that he “does not condemn” those “who do not behave like patriots.” He also said last week that you can “disagree” with the Russian authorities and “live here and talk about it – no one forbids it.”