March 19, 2015
within the capacity of special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council: Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; Independent Expert on the issue of human rights obligations related to the enjoyment of a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
UN Human Rights Council Special Procedures,within its mandate, investigate human rights violations violations. In case of revealing alleged human rights violations, they appeal to governments and bring to their attention investigated human rights violations. The purpose of these communications between Special Procedures and governments is to stop violations and prevent their reoccurance.
On March 7, 2015, mentioned above UN special procedures brought to Russia’s attention alleged enforced disappearance of a human rights and environmental defender Evgeny Vitishko.
Official communication describes the situation of the ‘Tkachev’s fence’ case as well as details of Vitishko’s persecution. We kindly remind you that Evgeny Vitishko ended up being harassed based on ridiculous grounds of committing a theft and swearing while at a bus stop right before Sochi Olympics. Evgeny was convoyed to a settlement penal colony at the height of the Games.
UN expressed concerns regarding “the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Evgeny Vitishko… [and that]… his detention since 21 February 2014 might amount to an enforced disappearance and that his situation could be linked to his work promoting and protecting human rights.”
It is worth mentioning that UN does not claim to supercede over investigations and judicial decisions that have taken place in Russia. Nonetheless, UN unequivocally brings into Russia’s attention human rights violations, which Russian government has an obligation to stop and prevent, according to its international obligations: obligations to prevent enforced disappearance, ensure a right of a peaceful assembly and a right to have access to a lawyer of someone’s choice.
In particular, special procedures mentioned alleged enforced disappearance of Evgeny Vitishko and denial to have have access to a lawyer of Evgeny’s choice (during the hearings on hooliganism on February 3, 2014). During the period since November of 2013 to February 2014, Russian authorities imprisoned Evgeny in a hurry based on absurd accusations in theft and swearing while in a public place, thus, misusing the law. At the same time, location of Evgeny was not available neither to his attorney nor to his family during the period of his convoying to the colony (February 18 to March 12 of 2014).
Special procedures requested Russia to send a response to these questions: “reasons for [Evgeny’s] transfer to pre-trial detention centre No.1 in the Krasnodar region; why, at the hearing dated 3 February 2014, the Court allegedly declined Mr. Vitishko’s request to notify his lawyer. Furthermore,…why neither Mr. Vitishko nor his lawyers were notified of the special hearing which took place on 17 February 2014; … what measures have been taken to ensure that human rights defenders, including civil society and human rights activists, can operate in a safe and enabling environment and can carry out their legitimate activities without fear of harassment, stigmatization or criminalization of any kind.”
In its response to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Russia did not respond to any of these questions stated above with the exception to the first one.
UN urged Russia to guarantee that the rights and freedoms of Mr. Evgeny Vitishko are respected and, in the event of investigations, to hold any person responsible of the alleged violations accountable; and to adopt effective measures to prevent the recurrence of these acts.
It is stated by UN special procedures in its communication that, according to reported information, EWNC “has led protests and repeatedly spoken out publicly on these issues. It is reported that its members have previously been subjected to threats and harassment due to their work.”
The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights continues monitoring the case of Evgeny Vitishko and will report on its status and communications with the Russian government three times a year to the UN Human Rights Council.