New Russian Rights Council Plans to Fight Lawless Officials

MOSCOW, December 17 (RIA Novosti) – A group of prominent Russian rights advocates and experts unveiled a new independent human rights organization Monday, intended to lobby Western governments to introduce more sanctions against Russian officials implicated in rights abuses.

The Independent Human Rights Council, now comprising nine professionals from different fields, plans to scrutinize cases, report violations and appeal to Western states, as well as NGOs, to adopt measures similar to the Magnitsky Act. That legislation, recently approved in the United States, aims to punish Russian officials for alleged human rights violations by barring them from entry to the country and freezing their US assets.

“Our dream is that Russian officials breaching the law be punished by the Russian legal system, but that’s not happening for now,” veteran human rights advocate, and a member of the new council, Lyudmila Alexeyeva told reporters.

She said the human rights group will appeal to the US Congress and the European Parliament to introduce sanctions against more state officials.

Alexeyeva, 85, a former member of the Kremlin’s human rights council, suggested the new group may compile a list of those responsible for submitting a recent set of illiberal bills to Russia’s State Duma, including legislation on foreign-funded NGOs, slander, treason, protests, internet censorship and homosexuality.

The council also plans to analyze cases and investigations it suspects have been handled with violations by state officials.

“We will make lists of prosecutors, judges, investigators, etc., not only of high-profile cases, but those concerning ordinary people as well,” Zoya Svetova, a member of the council, said.

This year, the Kremlin’s human rights council, an advisory body to President Vladimir Putin, has suffered an exodus of members. While the council was known for its independent stance, its reports on human rights violations in high-profile cases have gone largely ignored by the Kremlin.

The new council has brought together both former members of the Kremlin council, including Alexeyeva and economist turned civic activist Irina Yasina, and those who continue to serve on it, like anti-corruption campaigner Kirill Kabanov and former Constitutional Court judge Tamara Morshchakova.

Svetova, an advocate for prisoners’ rights, said the independent council is ready to cooperate with other members of the presidential council and the opposition.

The new group is now working on a second report into the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a 37-year-old lawyer who died untreated in a prison hospital, in honor of whom the new US law was named. The report will include information from previously undisclosed documents relevant to his case, the activists said.

The new council members also plan to hold an independent inquiry into a controversial case against 17 protesters accused of causing mass riots and committing acts of violence against police during a demonstration on May 6 in Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square.

In order to stay fully independent, members of the recently founded rights group said they do not plan to apply for grants either in Russia or abroad and will rely on volunteers and private donations.

Such an approach could also help the council avoid problems under the recent law obliging foreign-funded NGOs involved in political activities in Russia to register with the Justice Ministry as “foreign agents.”

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