Russia: UN experts alarmed by escalation of crackdown on civil society

Geneva, 27 January, 2023.- UN experts* today expressed alarm over the escalating crackdown against civil society by Russian authorities after the decision by the Moscow city court this week to liquidate Moscow Helsinki Group, a prominent human rights organisation.

“The authorities must immediately halt all acts of repression, judicial harassment and intimidation against civil society organisations, human rights defenders and media outlets and respect their rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and of expression,” the experts said.

They saw the decision, based on the referral of the Ministry of Justice, to forcibly dissolve one of the oldest and most prominent human rights groups in the country as the latest example of clampdown on human rights organisations in Russia. In the recent past, several human rights organisations have been similarly liquidated, including the International Memorial and Human Rights Centre Memorial (known as the Memorial).

“The decision to dissolve Moscow Helsinki Group illustrates again that Russian authorities continue to disregard their obligations under international human rights law to respect the right to freedom of association. The allegations raised by authorities in these proceedings appear to be disproportionate and punish the organisation for its legitimate human rights work,” the experts said.

“Such acts of reprisal, harassment and intimidation foster a climate of fear, preventing civil society organisations, human rights defenders and media outlets from exercising their rights freely and safely.”

The UN experts noted that over the past decade, the erosion of the rule of law, human rights protection and democracy has continued at an alarming pace in Russia. Despite repeated calls from UN human rights experts and the international community to end restrictive measures, authorities have increased their crackdown on civic space, making it extremely difficult and dangerous for human rights defenders and civil society organisations to carry out their legitimate work.

“Russian authorities must end their campaign to silence dissenting voices,” the experts said.

They urged Russia to stop stigmatising civil society actors and human rights defenders as ‘foreign agents’ and end their harassment, criminalisation and imprisonment, the forced dissolution of human rights organisations, and severe restrictions on the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

“Their work is essential to ensure accountability for victims of human rights violations in Russia and promote rule of law and democracy in the country.”

The experts said they would continue to monitor the situation of civic space in the country and to advise the authorities on their human rights obligations.

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