UN rights chief urges end to 'repression' of independent voices in Russia after Navalny's death

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. human rights chief called Monday for a quick end to the “repression of independent voices” in Russia and expressed concerns about the “persecution" of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died in prison last month.

Volker Türk, in a wide-ranging speech, also lamented dozens of conflicts around the world, widespread violations of human rights law that have impacted millions, and displacements caused by war, which could escalate in places like the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and Sudan.

“Rarely has humanity faced so many rapidly spiraling crises," he told the Human Rights Council.

Alluding to some countries among the dozens holding national elections this year, Türk denounced “increasing restrictions" on rights defenders, journalists and “perceived critics” in India. He urged U.S. authorities to ensure that voting is universal, alluding to discriminatory policies that restricted the right of Black Americans to vote.

In the run-up to Russia's presidential elections from March 15-17, Türk said Russian authorities “have further intensified their repression of dissenting voices” and noted how some candidates “have been prevented from running due to alleged administrative irregularities.”

He said Navalny's death in a Russian prison last month “adds to my serious concerns about his persecution” and noted how thousands of politicians, journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers and others have faced criminal or administrative charges for having “simply spoken their minds on social media.”

Türk called for a swift and comprehensive review of all cases where people in Russia were detained for exercising fundamental freedoms, and “an immediate end to the repression of independent voices and the legal professionals who represent them.”

"The future of the country depends on an open space,” he said. March’s vote in Russia is all but guaranteed to see President Vladimir Putin, 71, cement his place in power until at least 2030.

Amb. Lotte Knudsen of the European Union said the European bloc and some other countries were “outraged” by Navalny's death, and “the ultimate responsibility lies with President Putin and the Russian authorities.”

“Russia’s political leadership and authorities must be held to account," she said in a discussion following Türk's remarks. "Navalny’s courage, sacrifice and unwavering commitment to the cause of justice. Freedom and democracy will never be forgotten.”

No Russian envoy took the floor during the debate.

Türk spoke out against the perception of “racially motivated” police activity in some Western countries, and called on China to revise a criminal procedure law and the “vague offense of ‘picking quarrels and making trouble’” in one of its articles.

"I urge the release of human rights defenders, lawyers and others detained under such legislation,” he said.

Ken Roth, a visiting professor and lecturer at Princeton University and former longtime head of Human Rights Watch, sharply criticized Türk's comments, saying the U.N. rights chief “can’t get himself to condemn any aspect of the Chinese government’s repression, referring only to 'dialogue' and engagement with Beijing.”

In comments posted on Twitter, Roth called China “the gravest global threat to human rights” and said Türk’s “refusal to condemn China ... is dead wrong. He may be the wrong man for this job.”

China's top ambassador in Geneva, Chen Xu, said his country was open to dialogue on human rights, but would resist efforts to use them as a “pretext to interfere in internal affairs” and resist "baseless allegations against my country by any country.”