Today, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published a letter addressed to the Minister of Interior of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, regarding the action taken by law enforcement agencies to disperse the largely peaceful protests in Moscow on 27 July 2019, and recommended that the Russian authorities ensure that human rights are respected in the context of policing of assemblies.
The Commissioner expressed concerns about the large number of apprehensions during the rally of 27 July 2019, which in many cases were described as “unfounded” by eyewitnesses and human rights defenders. The Commissioner specifically raised the numerous reports of excessive use of force by law enforcement officers against protesters who were not offering resistance and journalists present during the assembly, which had reportedly resulted in injuries, some of them serious, to dozens of demonstrators. She further noted reports by human rights groups indicating that in many cases lawyers were prevented from accessing and extending legal assistance to persons detained in police stations following the rally, and that some of the detainees were not provided with basic necessities. In view of the foregoing concerns, the Commissioner requested information about any review proceedings initiated in relation to human rights violations committed by law enforcement officials during the protests in Moscow on 27 July 2019, including the number of officers identified and held accountable.
Highlighting the principle that law enforcement officials have a particular responsibility in their exercise of authority, and that their main task is to protect people in their jurisdiction in the exercise of their rights, the Commissioner recommended the adoption of concrete measures, in consultation with national human rights structures, to ensure that human rights are respected in the context of policing assemblies. This includes, among other things, the review of the methods and criteria applied by law enforcement officers to identify and apprehend individuals; adequate training of police officers involved in maintaining public order; and rendering possible the clear identification of law enforcement personnel so as to combat impunity.
To the Commissioner’s great regret, the action by law enforcement agencies during the protest of 3 August 2019 in the centre of Moscow – i.e., after her letter to the Interior Minister had been transmitted – was once again marred by nearly a thousand apprehensions of peaceful protesters, including - it would appear - of dozens of minors, as well as by numerous reports and video recordings indicative of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials. The Commissioner also learned that at least fourteen journalists were among those apprehended, as well as several human rights defenders who were monitoring the protests, including Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation, who also heads the Committee Against Torture (a well-known human rights NGO) and is a long-standing partner of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights. Moreover, many of those apprehended during the protests of 27 July and 3 August have been confronted with severe sanctions, including heavy financial fines and administrative detention, solely for their participation in peaceful - albeit unauthorised - protests.
The Commissioner urges the Russian authorities to ensure the full respect of the fundamental human right of freedom of peaceful assembly, which is central to the effective working of the democratic system, and will continue to pursue her dialogue with the Russian authorities on this and other topics.