Russia is responsible for the poisoning and attempted killing of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny, two independent UN rights experts said on Monday, issuing an “open call” for an international investigation into the incident.
Special Rapporteurs Agnès Callamard and Irene Khan believe the politician was poisoned to send a “clear, sinister warning” to anyone wanting to criticize the Government.
"An international investigation into the sinister poisoning of #AlexeiNavalny must remain a priority" – @AgnesCallamard & @Irenekhan say there is urgent need to find truth about what happened to the Russian opposition leader and to ensure accountability 👉 https://t.co/nEwxp1wY2t pic.twitter.com/uj5puUd1QH— UN Special Procedures (@UN_SPExperts) March 1, 2021
Mr. Navalny fell violently ill on a domestic flight from Siberia to Moscow last August. He was later flown to Germany where toxicology reports determined he had been poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. On returning to Moscow last month, he was imprisoned for violating a sentence for alleged embezzlement.
“It is our conclusion that Russia is responsible for the attempted arbitrary killing of Mr. Navalny”, said Ms. Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, speaking during a press conference in Geneva.
Part of a larger trend
The independent experts were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and are not UN staff nor are they paid by the Orgnaization.
They conducted a four-month investigation into the Navalny case and wrote to the Russian authorities last December but never received a response. Their letter was made public on Monday, in line with Council provisions.
They said only Russia is known to have developed, stored and used Novichok. A novel version was used against Mr. Navalny, suggesting further development of the toxin. It was also “very unlikely” that non-State actors would have the capacity to develop or use the nerve agent, or that private buyers would have the expertise to properly handle it.
“It is also the findings of our work that the poisoning and attempted killing of Mr. Navalny, along with the lack of investigation and the denying narratives, are part of a larger trend, ongoing over several decades, of arbitrary killings and attempted killings, including through poisoning, by the Russian authorities of journalists, critics and dissidents and are therefore consistent with an overall pattern of modus operandi”, Ms. Callamard added.
Sowing fear in opponents
Mr. Navalny has long been a staunch critic of the Kremlin who repeatedly denounced corruption, said Ms. Khan, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
He had suffered two previous chemical attacks prior to the Novichok poisoning, as well as physical attacks, threats, harassment, surveillance and criminal sanctions.
“The motive of the poisoning, preceded by a long history of attacks, harassment and trumped up charges, was both to violate the human rights of an individual but also to knock out a political opponent”, she said.
“And we believe that there might be a broader purpose to the poisoning. Novichok was chosen precisely to cause fear. And we believe that the poisoning of Mr. Navalny might have been carried out deliberately to send a clear, sinister warning that this would be the fate of anyone else who might criticize and oppose the Government.”
US report on Kashoggi killing ‘important’
The independent experts also welcomed a United States report on the October 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi, which was issued on Friday.
The report found Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman complicit in the murder of Mr. Kashoggi, a US permanent resident, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.
The Biden administration said it will impose visa bans against some 76 Saudi individuals in response.
“The fact that the report named the quasi head of a State, Mohammed bin Salman, as being responsible for the operation that killed Mr. Jamal Kashoggi is an important demonstration as well on the part of the United States to be transparent”, said Ms. Callamard, who has long called for an investigation.
However, she was disappointed that the report contains “nothing new” factually, as it only provides an analysis of circumstantial evidence, and that the US authorities have not so far announced any action regarding liability and responsibility on the part of the Crown Prince.
“It is extremely, in my view, problematic if not dangerous to acknowledge someone’s capability and then to tell that someone ‘But we won’t do anything. Please proceed as if we had said nothing'”, she said, referring to President Joseph Biden’s campaign promise to protect press freedom.
Elaborating further, Ms. Khan reported that only 12 per cent of journalist killings are investigated and prosecuted.
“I am pleased that the report has been published but very disappointed, very disappointed indeed, that on the issue of accountability, the US has not seen fit to take stronger action at this stage,” she said.