UPDATE from ARTICLE 19: Russia at the UPR: Repeal oppressive laws restricting the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association (11 April 2013)
(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 10 October 2012 - This analysis is submitted by ARTICLE 19: Global Campaign for Free Expression, an international human rights organisation that works to defend and promote freedom of expression and information. ARTICLE 19 was established in 1987 and has worked in the Russian Federation (RF) for over the last 10 years. Jointly with our Russian partners, we have published several reports on the RF, including The Cost of Reputation. Defamation Law and Practice in Russia (November 2007) and Covering Conflict: Reporting on Conflicts in the North Caucasus in the Russian Media (May 2008). Our latest report focused specifically on impunity for the killings of journalists, No justice for journalists in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia (September 2011). Currently, ARTICLE 19 is implementing a long-term project in the North Caucasus and other Russian regions focused on the protection of journalists.
Given the expertise and the scope of activities of ARTICLE 19, this submission focuses on the Russian Federation's compliance with its international human rights obligations in protecting the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom of information. The Russian Federation is a party to the ICCPR, and ARTICLE 19 submitted a shadow report to the Human Rights Committee during its 2009 review. In its concluding observations the Committee expressed its concern at the alarming incidence of threats, violent assaults and murders of journalists and human rights defenders, which has created a climate of fear and a chilling effect on the media, including for those working in the North Caucasus, and decried the lack of effective measures taken to protect the right to life and security of these persons. Similar concerns had been outlined by ARTICLE 19 in its shadow report. Recommendations by the Human Rights Committee included amending the Criminal Code to reflect the principle that public figures should tolerate a greater degree of criticism than ordinary citizens and de-criminalising defamation and subjecting it only to civil lawsuits, capping any damages award.
During the first cycle of the UPR, the RF endorsed the recommendations to, inter alia, conduct a thorough, prompt and impartial investigation on the assassinations of journalists and human rights defenders and bring the perpetrators to justice; promote the rights of human rights defenders to freedom of expression, association and assembly; and to review the extremism and NGO laws to ensure their compatibility with international human rights obligations and standards. It also accepted recommendations to create an environment through a legislative framework that promotes rather than restricts the right to freedom of assembly and that encourages citizens to express their diverse views, as well as to improve conditions for proper functioning of independent media, in particular national TV channels, in order to provide more space for expressing diverse views and opinions.
However, the Russian government has fallen short of meeting it obligations and fulfilling the agreed recommendations as set out during the first UPR cycle. Of particular concern is the ongoing impunity for murders, attacks and threats against journalists and human rights defenders and the increasingly hostile approach Russian authorities have shown in their relationships with civil society at large, introducing harsh penalties for those in breach of legislation governing demonstrations and NGO activities. The major issues ARTICLE 19 would like to raise in this submission are:
- the failure to protect the life and physical integrity of journalists;
- the failure to investigate cases of murders and assaults concerning journalists
- the state interference with the right to freedom of expression by the use of defamation
- misuse of legislation to suppress criticism against the Russian authorities;
- the misuse of incitement to religious hatred legislation against artists and journalists
The issues described constitute clear violations of the right to freedom of expression and access to information by the Russian government, ignoring its obligation to create an environment that encourages pluralism and political debate. Such an environment does not currently exist in Russia: whereas media, journalists, human rights defenders and opposition groups are silenced, the Russian public is deprived of its right to information and debate on matters of public importance. ARTICLE 19 encourages the Russian government to positively engage with the UPR, using this as an opportunity to improve its human rights credentials.