An independent United Nations human rights expert has urged the Russian Government to take specific measures to guarantee the independence and impartiality of the justice system, while noting positive developments in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
Gabriela Knaul, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, cited the need to protect judges from any form of political influence in their decision-making.
“I have heard several reports of direct or indirect threats and improper interferences and pressures on the judiciary, which adversely affect its independence and impartiality,” she stated in a news release at the end of her 11-day visit to the country.
“I am concerned that the appointment of judges by the President of the Russian Federation may expose them to political and undue pressure,” she stressed.
Ms. Knaul noted that, in Russia, the mindset of judges themselves plays an important role in defining their individual independence. “It seems that some judges are still under the influence of the old Soviet system and keep strong ties with the executive and prosecutorial authorities.”
She also drew attention to the fact that lawyers are unlawfully targeted for discharging their professional functions in some regions of the country, through threats, intimidation, attacks, groundless prosecutions, and in the gravest cases murder.
“Impunity of such acts of persecution has had, in some regions of the country, a ‘chilling effect’ on other lawyers, negatively influencing the quality of their work, forcing them to renounce certain kinds of cases, and working in the fear that they or their families may be at risk because of their work,” she warned.
The expert called on Russian authorities to recognize and support the contribution of non-State actors in providing legal aid, and recommended that they adopt all appropriate measures to ensure that these providers are able to carry out their work effectively, freely, autonomously and independently, and without any intimidation, harassment or improper interference.
At the same time, she welcomed the various legislative, administrative, institutional and practical measures taken to improve the promotion and protection of human rights in Russia, and in particular the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice.
“After having substantially raised judges’ salaries, the Russian authorities have undertaken significant efforts, and spent important amounts of resources, to improve the working conditions of judges and modernize the administration of justice, including court premises and technical equipment,” she noted.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes. Ms. Knaul will present her report to the Geneva-based Council at its 26th session in 2014.