Russia closes local offices of human rights watchdog organizations

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


Russia took another giant leap into oppression on Friday with the forced closure of 15 different human rights organizations that had foreign ties.

Russia’s Justice Ministry released a statement alleging that these organizations had engaged in “violations” of Russian law. The organizations have rejected this portrayal, stating that the allegations are just an excuse to remove the organizations from the country in retribution for calling out human rights abuses.

Impacted organizations include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and others. Three of the organizations had headquarters in the U.S. while nine were based in Germany. Additionally, Britain, Poland, and Switzerland all had one organization caught up in the sweep.

The Justice Ministry released a statement that the human rights groups “were excluded due to the discovery of violations of the current legislation of the Russian Federation.” The ministry, however, did not detail any specific crimes for any of the organizations.

“Amnesty’s closing down in Russia is only the latest in a long list of organizations that have been punished for defending human rights and speaking the truth to the Russian authorities,” the group’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard responded.

Amnesty’s Russian version of its website has been inaccessible since March 11 from within the country. The group has vowed to remain active in promoting human rights within Russia despite the setback. Their voice is crucial for reaching civilians within the country especially after the country criminalized independent war reporting and war protests in March.

Callamard added, “In a country where scores of activists and dissidents have been imprisoned, killed, or exiled…you must be doing something right if the Kremlin tries to shut you up.”

The horrors of this new wave of repression of independent thought and speech began two days earlier on April 5 when the Russian Supreme Court ordered the closure of the oldest human rights group within the country, Memorial International, under the pretext of their “foreign agents” law.

Originating in 1987, Memorial was instrumental in documenting the Soviet Union’s mass crimes. The group’s persistence in this task is linked to the nation’s shift towards democracy.

The lead prosecutor against Memorial has said the organization has created “a false image of the USSR as a terrorist state.” Critics have said these accusations are merely a pretext to eliminate a strong and active human rights voice.

One HRW official harshly condemned the action as an “outrageous assault on the jugular” of democracy and “heralding a new era of repression.”

Russia’s violations of democracy in combination with their military’s atrocities in Ukraine have left more than these nonprofits irate.

On Thursday, the United Nations General Assembly voted 93 to 24 to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council because of their “gross and systematic violations of human rights,” according to the draft resolution.

HRW believes that its media coverage of the invasion and vocal condemnation of the war is what made the organization a target of Russia’s justice ministry. The outspoken condemnation of the rights violations by these organizations contradicts Russia’s narrative, which states that their military has not intentionally targeted civilians or infrastructure like hospitals, while portraying Western nations and NATO as the aggressors.

Russia suspended HRW, along with 14 other human rights organizations, the day after NATO revoked its rights to the council. HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth responded, “This new iron curtain will not stop our ongoing efforts to defend the rights of all Russians and to protect civilians in Ukraine.”

He added that having to close their Russian office only strengthened their “determination to call out Russia’s turn toward authoritarianism.” Roth promised that HRW would continue working towards the day that the Russian government “respects the rights of its people.”