The United Nations human rights chief today urged Russian authorities to act without delay on reforms to key institutions relating to the rule of law and the fight against corruption and discrimination.
“I would stress that institutional reform is a matter of great urgency, and appeal to the President and all those in a position to increase the pace of change to do so,” High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told reporters in Moscow, four days after starting her first visit to Russia.
“Rule of law, including accountability and protection of rights for all citizens and non-citizens on Russian territory, is an essential prerequisite for true democracy, peace and development.”
Ms. Pillay said her discussions with President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this week, and with various top officials, have included some “very frank” analyses of the reforms that are being undertaken, are under consideration, or are still needed, to key institutions relating to the rule of law and the fight against corruption and discrimination. These include the police, judiciary, General Prosecutor’s office, penitentiary system and military.
“I appreciate that in my discussions with the President, and most of the ministries and state officials, there was no attempt to downplay the challenges facing the Government in its efforts to revamp a system in which human rights are still a long way from being consistently respected in accordance with international standards, and with Russia’s own laws and Constitution,” she stated.
“There is some recognition at the top that, across Russia today, there is a serious deficit in public trust in key institutions which should be upholding the rule of law, and instead are all too often disregarding it.
“There has undoubtedly been some progress, but also some serious setbacks – including murders, intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders and investigative journalists and independent media, and apparent serious miscarriages of justice,” she noted.
Ms. Pillay added that the extent and speed with which the new Law on Police, which will enter into force on 1 March, results in genuine change in the conduct of the police will be a “litmus test” for the potential for meaningful reform in other areas.
She stressed that accountability for those in power is essential if abuse of power is to be diminished and public trust established. “I urge the Government to take all the actions necessary to ensure that the institutions act to protect the people, rather than to protect the authorities, and to ensure that civil society and media are given the necessary space and encouragement to carry out their important monitoring role.”
She said the lack of accountability and respect for the rule of law has been particularly acute in relation to the North Caucasus, where despite some progress and stabilisation, there are continued reports of arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.
While condemning terrorist acts, such as the recent bombing that killed 36 people at Domodedovo Airport, she also stressed that it is essential to ensure that counter-terrorism measures are carried out in line with human rights principles.
“I fear that the often brutal and illegal methods used by federal and local security and law enforcement agencies in the North Caucasus in the past have aggravated the situation, by alienating many people,” she said.
“Impunity for serious crimes allegedly committed by the military and security has accentuated the cycle of anger and violence, and undermined the entire notion of rule of law.”
The High Commissioner also touched on issues related to the country’s legal system, the treatment of civil society, the situation of human rights defenders, and the treatment of women.
Ms. Pillay will also travel to St. Petersburg for further meetings before concluding her current visit.