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Tuesday 10 May 2022

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Many ambassadors and diplomats walked out while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke in a prerecorded video message at the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 1.

The UN General Assembly has voted overwhelmingly for the Czech Republic to replace Russia on the Human Rights Council, the world organization’s leading human rights body.

The vote was 157 countries in favor and 23 abstentions.

The Czech Republic was the only candidate for the seat left vacant when the General Assembly voted to suspend Russia over "gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights" by invading Russian troops in Ukraine.

Seats on the 47-member Geneva-based council are divided among regional groups and a replacement for Russia had to come from an East European country.

Russia was suspended from the council last month by a vote in the General Assembly after which Russian Deputy Ambassador Gennady Kuzmin said Russia had withdrawn from the council before the vote.

The council is scheduled to hold a special session on May 12 at Kyiv's request to examine "the deteriorating human rights situation in Ukraine stemming from the Russian aggression."

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on May 10 said that Russia will not participate in the special session.

"Arguments and explanations on the true objectives of this special military operation and the real situation on the ground have been completely ignored," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in the statement.

Though Moscow was suspended from the rights body, it would have been allowed to participate due to its observer status.

Countries that supported Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council said it should not be able to sit in judgment on other nations' human rights records.

The council voted on March 4 to trigger a commission of inquiry -- the highest-possible level of investigation -- into alleged Russian violations during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

Yury Dmitriyev in court in December.

Noted historian Yury Dmitriyev, who is also the local head of the Memorial human rights group in Russia's northwestern region of Karelia, has arrived at a penal colony in Mordovia -- an area historically associated with some of Russia’s most brutal prisons, including Soviet-era labor camps for political prisoners.

Dmitriyev's lawyer, Viktor Anufriyev, told the Interfax news agency on May 10 that his client is currently in Correctional Colony No. 18 in the town of Potma in Mordovia, where he will serve his 15-year prison term.

The town, with a population of some 4,000 people, is in Mordovia's remote Zubovo-Polyansk district. Its name, Potma, is translated from the local Moksha language as "neglected corner."

The notorious system of correctional colonies in Mordovia, established during the 1930s as part of the Soviet Union's feared gulag system, is still known as one of the harshest prison systems in the former Soviet Union.

The high-profile case against Dmitriyev dates back to 2016, when the historian, who has spent decades researching extrajudicial executions carried out in Karelia under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was arrested over photographs of his foster daughter that investigators found on his computer.

The authorities said the images were pornographic, but Dmitriyev said they were made at the request of social workers concerned about the child’s physical development.

He was acquitted in April 2018, but the Karelia Supreme Court upheld an appeal by prosecutors and ordered a new trial. He was rearrested in June 2018 and then charged with a more serious crime of sexual assault against a minor.

In July 2020, Dmitriyev, 66, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years on a conviction for “violent acts of a sexual nature committed against a person under 14 years of age.” He has rejected the case, insisting that he is being targeted because of his research into the crimes of Stalin's regime.

Prosecutors, who had asked for 15 years in prison in the high-profile case, said the original sentence was "too lenient" and appealed. Dmitriyev's defense team, meanwhile, also appealed the case, insisting its client was innocent.

In September 2020, weeks before he was due to be released because of time served, the Supreme Court of Karelia accepted the prosecutors' appeal and added another 9 1/2 years onto Dmitriyev's sentence.

Dozens of Russian and international scholars, historians, writers, poets, and others have issued statements in support of the scholar, while the European Union has called for Dmitriyev to be released.

Dmitriyev’s research has been viewed with hostility by the government of President Vladimir Putin. Under Putin, Stalin has undergone a gradual rehabilitation, and the Russian government has emphasized his leadership of the Soviet Union while downplaying his crimes against the Soviet citizens.

Under Stalin, millions of people were executed, sent to labor camps, or starved to death in famines caused by forced collectivization. During World War II, entire ethnic groups were deported to remote areas as collective punishment for alleged collaboration with the Nazis.

With reporting by Interfax

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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