The transcript of the video conference between Vladimir Putin and the members of the “Human Rights Council” of Russia (recently, new members of the council have included one of the most odious military propagandists Alexander Kots, Elena Shishkina from the movement ‘Free Donbas’, and other similar characters) inevitably makes one put these words in quotations marks.
None of the members of this performative council even mentioned Russian political prisoners.
None of them said a word about the insane 22-year-long sentence given to Ivan Safronov, whose guilt was in no way proven, while the data he allegedly “disclosed” is publicly available. Or the similar term that Vladimir Kara-Murza is facing over charges of “high treason”. About the thirteen years behind bars that Yury Dmitriev was sentenced to. About the seven-year-long prison sentence given to Alexey Gorinov for speaking out against the war during a legislature meeting. About many, many others.
No one recalled thousands of criminal and administrative cases on “fake news” and “discreditation” of the Russian army, initiated against those whose opinion does not align with the statements posted by the Ministry of Defence. It is prohibited to doubt their authenticity. Instead, a member of the council and pro-government propagandist Kirill Vyshinsky called for introducing criminal liability for “Russophobia”.
No one asked the president why law enforcement agents had stayed quiet after the publication of the infamous sledgehammer video.
No one mentioned neither the protests organised by wives of mobilised Russian men nor the complaints of the draftees themselves, the ones who have health problems and who were refused upon asking to have their medical problems documented.
There are persistent rumours that all these questions were banned by the head of the Human Rights Council Valery Fadeev, so as not to upset the president.
In previous years, according to what ex-members of the council have said, the president was sent the questions in advance so he could prepare.
But never before has a list of “prohibited questions” been compiled.
However, the previous head of the council was Mikhail Fedotov, not Valery Fadeev. Fadeev, the one who saw no violations being committed by policemen during the mass detentions at protests all over Russia in 2021. He did, however, eagerly talk about “crimes committed by the Kiev [Kyiv] regime” during the aforementioned meeting.
He also insisted that “international human rights institutions are politicised and biased and that actually they are not performing their functions”, that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being used by the West “to impose its values”, and that “new Western values that are in vogue have been brought to the point of absurdity; they are simply destructive.”
Still, he was just saying what Putin wanted to hear. Putin thanked Fadeev and most of the council members because “since the first day, they have held an abundantly clear civic position: explaining the true reasons and need for the SMO [‘special military operation’]” and continuing to expose “the crimes of the Nazi regime that has asserted itself in a neighbouring country”.
Immediately after these statements, the president started badmouthing the Western human rights organisations — using words that would not be surprising to read in the communist mouthpiece Pravda in the middle of the 1970s.
These organisations, Putin said, “were created not as a tool to protect human rights, but as an instrument of influencing the domestic policy of Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union”.
It turns out that, to appear neutral, “they spoke about human rights in their own countries from time to time, but it was an exception”.
Recently, according to Putin, the UN Human Rights Council, the Council of Europe, and other “so-called human rights organisations” began “to shamelessly demonstrate their cynical bias”. They demonstrated that they were “unable to perform their chartered tasks, and due to their obvious bias, Russia has had to cancel its membership in a number of them”.
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But there is no need to worry, the president assured his interlocutors, seeing as “our council, as an institution dealing with a broad range of public organisations in Russia and abroad, could become an efficient international platform for discussing human rights issues and the protection of these rights in the modern world”.
And finally, he spelled out his thesis that all the previous statements were leading to:
“We are seeing that human rights doctrines are being used to destroy the sovereignty of states and justify Western political, financial, economic, and ideological dominance.”
Not one member of the “council” dared to speak out to oppose this statement — basically a copy of Soviet-time sentiment on “the so-called human rights” being an invention of bourgeois.
No one reminded Putin about the Russian Constitution, which states that human rights are directly effective and define the meaning, contains, and use of laws.
No one asked him: what is even the point of the Human Rights Council if human rights are an unfriendly invention being used by the enemy to harm Russia?
The reason for these people’s behaviour is not very important, though, when they treat the president as if he were their master and they — his serfs.
What is important is that the final veil fell from the Russian government in front of our eyes. The authorities no longer consider necessary, even for propriety’s sake, to utter any general words about human rights and proclaim the necessity of respecting them.
Thirty-odd years ago, it was admitting the importance of respecting human rights that was one of the biggest differences between [modern Russia] and the Soviet era. Putting them in writing in the Constitution and laws. And simultaneously, embodying the rule of law principle, the law being above the government’s wishes, instead of the Soviet principle of “chief above law”.
Vowing to adhere to these principles, ratifying international conventions, becoming a member of international organisations, including the priority of international law in the Constitution — all of these processes continued in the 1990s and even the 2000s, but they began to drastically change in the 2010s.
Since then, the accusations from international organisations about human rights being violated in Russia have been replied to with more and more annoyed demands not to “interfere in our domestic affairs”.
We will note: despite the propaganda lies, human rights violations are not a domestic affair of any one country — but statements on human rights being violated in the USSR traditionally also enraged the Soviet authorities.
Simultaneously, the leadership of the Russian Orthodox Church also started to attack the definition of human rights. The head of the church, Patriarch Kirill, called human rights “nonsense” and lamented that “in the New Age, a person and their rights have become a universal criterion for truth, which led to the revolutionary banishment of God from society’s life.”
However, the catalyst for change was, undoubtedly, the Magnitsky Act, adopted in the US and named after Sergey Magnitsky who died in prison. This law introduced personal sanctions against individuals responsible for violating human rights and the rule of law in Russia.
The Kremlin was unable to accept that, thus, the Dima Yakovlev Law was quickly adopted, initiated by the leaders of all four State Duma (the lower house of Russia’s Parliament — translator’s note) factions. The law banned adoption of Russian orphans by citizens of the US and other countries “implicated in violation of Russian citizens’ rights” (the violation in question was primarily introducing sanctions against these citizens).
The next rupture happened in 2020, after the amendments to the Russian Constitution that allowed not to execute the decisions of international courts and international agreements ratified by Russia.
In practice, this was a violation of one of the untouchable foundations of the constitutional order: Article 15.4 of the Russian Constitution, stipulating that international agreements signed by the Russian Federation make up an integral part of its legal system.
However, the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation saw no violations in the amendments. And if before only political holy fools like the National Liberation Movement talked about annulling the priority of international law over domestic law, now it is part of state policy.
And here is the logical stopping point. Surprising to no one.
Human rights, freedom, and democracy are things that Putin has sincerely and deeply hated since his days working for the KGB. This hatred is shared by his circle of law enforcers, the ones in uniform and without one.
While it was still important to have a normal relationship with the West, they tried to mask this hatred. By saying that they adhered to these values — although in practice, they were constantly cast aside.
Now that the West has been officially announced as the enemy, there is no need to continue pretending: it’s time to take off the mask.
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