Warsaw Human Dimension Conference: Follow Up on Invocations of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism

A man looks at buildings destroyed during Russian attacks on Borodyanka on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Warsaw Human Dimension Conference: Follow Up on Invocations of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism 

Warsaw, October 7 2022

As the Warsaw Human Dimension Conference concludes, the United States would like to raise the most recent Moscow Mechanism reports on Russia’s atrocities in Ukraine and human rights abuses in Russia itself, as well as continuing human rights concerns in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, and in Turkmenistan, and Belarus.

First in March and then June of this year, Ukraine, with the support of numerous participating States, invoked the Moscow Mechanism to examine evidence of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by Russia on Ukraine’s sovereign territory since February 24.  Both reports concluded that members of Russia’s forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law.  The second mission “discovered clear patterns of serious violations of IHL attributable mostly to Russian armed forces” and described human rights abuses such as “targeted killing of civilians, including journalists, human rights defenders, or local mayors; unlawful detentions, abductions and enforced disappearances of such persons; large-scale deportations of Ukrainian civilians to Russia; various forms of mistreatment, including torture, inflicted on detained civilians and prisoners of war; the failure to respect fair trial guarantees; and the imposition of the death penalty.”

According to the reports, heinous abuses, including torture and extrajudicial killings, were and are taking place in Russia-controlled territory.  Russia’s bombardments have caused unconscionable destruction, killing civilians and making it difficult for the government of Ukraine to meet the needs of its people.

It is disturbing to note that Russia has apparently undertaken no serious investigations into serious allegations of abuses.  Instead, we’re aware of at least one instance in which the Russian Federation government rewarded those who took part in killing Ukrainian civilians.  Denial and doubling down remain hallmarks of the Kremlin’s response to apparent war crimes by Russia’s forces. All those responsible for these heinous abuses must be held accountable.

The Moscow Mechanism report presented on September 22 concerning repression of human rights inside the Russian Federation summarizes long-standing violations and abuses of human rights, including through abuse of “extremism” laws against political opponents, increasing numbers of political prisoners, lack of freedom of peaceful assembly, censorship, and lack of access to independent media.  The report notes that the situation has worsened at all levels and continues to do so.  Moreover, the report stressed the link between Russia’s human rights violations and abuses at home and its international behavior, including its egregious violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.  We call on the Russian Federation to implement the report’s recommendations, including reforming repressive legislation and freeing political prisoners.

We also should not forget earlier invocations of the Moscow Mechanism as none of the situations have been resolved.

Since the Moscow Mechanism was invoked concerning Turkmenistan in 2002, the United States has repeatedly raised concerns about prisoners who have not been allowed to communicate with the outside world, including our former permanent representative colleague at the OSCE, Batyr Berdiev.  NGOs have documented numerous cases of individuals whose fates are still unknown.  The families of these individuals have no reliable information as to their whereabouts, their health, or even whether they are dead or alive.  They need – and deserve – to know the fate, health, and whereabouts of their loved ones.

At the Tirana Ministerial, Turkmenistan joined consensus on a decision strengthening OSCE commitments concerning the treatment of persons in detention and the prevention of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.  The decision also addressed enforced disappearances.  Turkmenistani authorities need to urgently provide information on, and unhindered access to, all prisoners and ensure that families have information on the whereabouts and well-being of their relatives, including their current places of detention and details of their custodial sentence.

Regarding the 2018 invocation of the Moscow Mechanism concerning serious human rights abuses in Russia’s Republic of Chechnya, particularly against LGBTQI+ persons, human rights defenders, members of the independent media, lawyers, and others, the United States has seen no real improvement in the situation in Chechnya.  Though no large-scale anti-gay purges have recently come to light, Chechen authorities continue to target for reprisal members of minority groups and dissidents, as well as targeting their family members in retaliation.  Abusers operate in a climate of impunity in Chechnya as well as at a national level, where Putin gives a free hand to Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov, who is sanctioned by the United States, and Russian authorities have actively cooperated with his schemes.

The Moscow Mechanism was invoked in 2020 in response to the fraudulent August 9, 2020, presidential election in Belarus and the apparent human rights violations prior to, during, and after the election.  The resulting report, which described the election as neither free nor fair and described horrific attacks on protesters, members of civil society, journalists, activists, political figures, and others, in some cases amounting to torture, was ignored by the Lukashenka regime. Repressions continue, and there are now over 1,300 political prisoners in the country, and the number continues to grow.  We will not stop calling for justice in Belarus, starting with the unconditional release of all political prisoners.