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Russians not collectively to blame for Ukraine war: Human rights expert

In a recent interview conducted with UN News, she emphasised the significance of her report and its purpose, holding to account one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

“It is unique that for the first time a large country, one of the ‘big five’ permanent members of the Security Council, was decided to be monitored by its colleagues on the Human Rights Council, having created the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights last year,” she said.

Civil society ‘completely destroyed’

The report describes in detail how the human rights situation in Russia began to deteriorate 20 years ago. It highlighted Russia’s persecution of anti-war demonstrators, torture of detained activists and opposition figures, and the targeting of lawyers who defend these groups. 

Russian journalist and prominent opposition activist Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is imprisoned in the Russian Federation.

“[The human rights situation] has gradually deteriorated over the past 20 years, starting with the two Chechen wars, and then, after the full-scale armed attack on Ukraine by the Russian Federation in February last year, the human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically,” said Ms. Katzarova.

“The main, truly regrettable and tragic conclusion is that civic space in the Russian Federation has been completely destroyed,” she told UN News.

Refusal to cooperate

Ms. Katzarova’s access to the country has been restricted by the Russian Government, although this has not stopped her from collecting information from almost 200 sources both inside and outside Russia, including human rights activists, political activists, opposition voices and journalists.

Ms. Katzarova expressed hope that Russian authorities will allow her to visit the country soon. She also expressed a desire to communicate not only with representatives of civil society, but also with Government officials and officials working in the justice system.

“I hope that the Russian authorities will change their minds and begin to communicate with me within the framework of my mandate, because I was appointed to assist the authorities, like any other United Nations special rapporteur. We are here to first of all help the Government protect the human rights of its people,” said Ms. Katzarova.

“I also contacted the Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Moskalkova. This mechanism exists separately from the government, and I invited her to provide information for my report, because she holds the position of human rights ombudsman, the Russian people can turn to her with their complaints. Unfortunately, she did not answer.”

Russians abroad

According to the expert, part of her job is to serve the Russian people, to give them the opportunity to be heard, amidst the current climate of general isolation. 

She recalled that many Russians left the country to avoid mobilisation or persecution for ideological and political reasons. The governments of the countries in which these Russians settled should provide them with support, she emphasised. 

“[Russians] find it difficult to travel and visit countries. I told representatives of other states, the European Union and Western governments that they must change this policy, because it actually isolates the Russian people, deprives Russian and Belarusian students of student rights, and, for that matter, it only isolates the people and serves as propaganda for the government.”

Fear of speaking out

The expert also emphasised that, given the numerous cases of persecution of media workers, human rights activists and lawyers, an atmosphere of fear has formed in the country.

Citizens are now afraid to express their opinions, in particular regarding the war. 

“When you live in such a society, especially if you are not from big cities, of course you are very afraid to express your true opinion. I do not believe that all Russian people support any war, and especially the war in Ukraine.

“Don’t forget that many Russians are actually related to many Ukrainians. There are mixed marriages. Many Ukrainians worked in Russia before the war,” Ms. Katzarova recalled. 

Special rapporteurs 

UN Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to review situations in individual countries or global thematic issues. They are not employees of the UN, do not represent any other organisation or government, work in a personal capacity and do not receive a salary from the UN for their work.

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