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Russia’s new laws could have serious negative impacts on human rights – UN official

Credit: OHCHR
Credit: OHCHR

Russia’s new laws could have serious negative impacts on human rights – UN official

A series of new legislative amendments in Russia could have a “seriously negative” impact on human rights in the country, a top United Nations official said today, and urged the Government to ensure that the new laws are in line with international standards.

“In just two months, we have seen a worrying shift in the legislative environment governing the enjoyment of the freedoms of assembly, association, speech and information in the Russian Federation,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a news release.

“At least four new legal provisions have been made that will have a detrimental effect on human rights in the country,” she added.

In June, restrictive amendments to the law on public rallies were signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the amendments impose hefty fines of up to one million roubles (approximately $31,000) on participants and organisers of ‘unauthorised’ gatherings. As well, administrative authorities now have more powers to refuse permits for mass gatherings.

“In effect, it is now more difficult and costly for those holding alternative views to engage in public protests,” Ms. Pillay said. “I urge the Government to ensure that its laws are in line with its international human rights commitments and national legal framework.”

Last Wednesday, the State Duma – the lower chamber of the Russian Parliament – adopted a bill limiting freedom of information on the Internet. The bill would enable Russian authorities to block websites with content that is extremist or harmful to children. However, there have been serious concerns that the law may also be used to curtail legitimate exercise of freedom of speech and information.

“Given the many concerns raised about this bill by the Presidential Council on Human Rights, civil society and human rights experts, a full independent public review of this law should be conducted,” the High Commissioner said.

In addition, on Friday the State Duma adopted a restrictive new law on non-commercial organizations, despite calls from various UN independent experts urging authorities not to adopt the amendment. The law requires all non-governmental organizations that receive foreign funding to register as ‘foreign agents,’ and submits them to close monitoring by the Government.

“When I visited the Russian Federation in February last year, I discussed with senior Government officials, including then-President Medvedev, the need to improve conditions for civil society in the country,” Ms. Pillay said. “It is very disappointing that laws are being passed that are restricting civil society space instead of ones designed to create an environment that would help civil society enhance human rights promotion and protection.”

The State Duma also voted on Friday to restore defamation provisions into the Criminal Code – thereby reversing legislation passed only seven months ago that had reduced defamation to an administrative offence.

“There is a lot of concern that making defamation a criminal offence will stifle all criticism of Government authorities and limit the ability of individuals to address issues of transparency, corruption and abuse of power,” Ms. Pillay said. “I urge the Government of the Russian Federation to avoid taking further steps backwards to a more restrictive era, and to make strenuous efforts to limit the detrimental effects of the laws and amendments already passed over the last few weeks.”