IBAHRI condemns attacks against whistleblowers, critics and nationals in Chechnya

Wednesday 3 June 2020

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns the ongoing mistreatment of whistleblowers, government critics and nationals in Chechnya during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Further, the IBAHRI is calling for the prompt reinstatement of medical staff dismissed for expressing their concerns about the lack of vital protective equipment.

Inflammatory remarks about Chechen citizens have been made by Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, and there has been increasing media censorship and police aggression against whistleblowers and critics. In a recent statement made to local press, Mr Kadyrov stated that citizens who violate quarantine restrictions must be ‘killed’ and coronavirus patients who infect others are ‘terrorists’ who must be ‘buried in pits’. An increase in restrictions on the press has also left many Chechens with little to no access to reliable information concerning the virus.

On Sunday 17 May, Mr Kadyrov ordered the dismissal of several medical staff – including the Gudermes Central District Hospital’s chief doctor – because they staged a public protest against the lack of personal protective equipment in the town of Gudermes. The staff involved retracted the statements they made during the protest via an appearance on a Chechen television network two days after the event, but were still fired.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and former Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009), the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, stated:‘Mr Kadyrov must not ignore the ongoing protest by medical professionals in Chechnya. The IBAHRI condemns the dismissal of hospital staff. The authorities must respect the fundamental rights of its citizens at all times, including during a state of emergency. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) recently confirmed that COVID-19 security measures are “no excuse for the excessive use of force” and condemned all “acts of violence within the context of COVID-19 emergency measures”. The OHCHR also stated that “governments must promote and protect access to and free flow of information”, including the right to freedom of information, during the crisis.’

The recent dismissal of staff reflects a growing trend in Chechnya. In March, the UN Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and waste, Baskut Tuncak, issued a warning that all ‘healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide’ must receive ‘adequate protective equipment’. Healthcare workers are at high risk from COVID-19 as they have direct contact with the infected. Despite this, Mr Kadyrov has dismissed concerns raised by medical staff as ‘madness’ and resorted to press censorship and police aggression to silence whistleblowers and government critics. With Mr Kadyrov publicly announcing that all ‘provocateurs must be fired’ earlier this month, the Chechen government also enacted a new provision of the national criminal code. This considers the ‘public dissemination of known false information on circumstances that represent a threat to the life and security of the public’ a criminal offence.

Notwithstanding any lawful derogations, Chechnya is fundamentally obliged to respect the right to life as enshrined in Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). The right of freedom of expression and access to information must also be upheld by Chechnya during the current pandemic, pursuant to Articles 18 and 19 of the ICCPR and the UDHR. As confirmed by the UN Human Rights Committee in Gauthier v Canada and Toktakunov v Kyrgyzstan, the right to ‘seek, receive and impart information’ in both the ICCPR and the UDHR creates a positive obligation for States to guarantee access to information. Further, in General Comments No 31 and No 34, the UN Human Rights Committee derived a general legal obligation on States to ensure access to information relating to the general rights under the ICCPR and established that all State governments must readily publish information which is of ‘public interest’ and make it publicly accessible via ‘freedom of information legislation’.

IBAHRI Co-Chair and immediate past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc, commented: ‘The right of access to information is of primary importance in any democratic society, particularly during a time of crisis. The current actions of the Chechen authorities towards its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic directly hinders their basic civil rights under international law. Chechnya must halt this suppression of individuals criticising its current handling of the pandemic, and reinstate the fundamental flow of information as a matter of urgency.’

ENDS

Notes to the Editor

  1. Click here to view related items on the IBAHRI’s work in Russia: www.ibanet.org/Human_Rights_Institute/Work_by_regions/Europe/Russia
  2. IBAHRI Co-Chair The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG was a Justice of the High Court of Australia (1996-2009) and has previously held international posts including as Chair of the United Nations Human Rights Council on North Korea (2013-2014).
  3. IBAHRI Co-Chair Anne Ramberg Dr jur hc is the Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association (2000-2019) and has held a number of assignments including as an ad hoc judge of the European Court of Justice.
  4. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), an autonomous and financially independent entity, works to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
  6. Follow the IBAHRI on Twitter here: twitter.com/IBAHRI

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