Human rights impact assessment of the COVID-19 response in Russia

What are the impacts on human rights of the restrictive measures imposed by the Government of Russia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic? How have the Russian authorities complied with international human rights standards while implementing measures to combat the spread of Covid-19? These questions lie at the heart of the new report by International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) and Public Verdict Foundation. This study examines these measures through a human rights lens of international, regional human rights treaties of core and soft law (non-binding) standards. 

Read the report here.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Russian authorities implemented strict quarantine measures at an early stage, restricting the movements and freedoms of the citizens of the country. The first case of COVID-19 in Russia was officially registered on 2 March 2020, in the vicinity of Moscow. The virus began spreading across the country a few weeks later but Moscow has remained the epicentre of the outbreak in Russia. 

At the time of writing, there are 733,699 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia. So far, 11,439 deaths have been attributed to the virus.

In response to the pandemic, Russia implemented a “high alert” regime on 1 April 2020 by way of federal law, along with highly restrictive measures (both regionally and nationwide) to limit the freedom of movement and other fundamental freedoms of residents. The national borders were shut and certain regions in the country such as Chechnya closed internal borders. Within cities, movement by both vehicle and foot was also restricted. The quarantine was lifted in early June 2020. 

Through our monitoring of the situation in Russia, we have documented the following developments during the COVID-19 pandemic: 

  • During the “high alert” regime introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities have adopted a number of amendments to legislation, some of which have negatively affected the protection of fundamental freedoms in the country. There are also serious concerns as to the failure of the authorities to declare a full state of emergency or emergency situation. 
  • Freedom of expression: the introduction of the “fake news” laws adopted in March 2020 have been used as a way of silencing critical voices during the emergency health crisis. Such measures have been used to target activists, journalists, bloggers and politicians. 
  • Certain vulnerable groups – including the elderly, people with disabilities, migrant workers – have not had their health and welfare needs fully met as a result of discrimination or lack of adequate resource allocation. 
  • Deaths and suffering from COVID-19 among the prison population and medical professionals – resulting from the Government’s failure to take necessary steps to protect these vulnerable groups – is likely to violate the right to life and/or prohibition on inhuman treatment.
  • The mobile app “Social Monitoring” and the ‘Digital Pass’ systems used to track individuals’ whereabouts potentially violates users’ privacy rights. Such measures have been deeply controversial. 
  • Freedom of movement: the use of “observatories” to quarantine individuals on public health grounds raises concerns vis-à-vis allegations of ill treatment by police and/or security staff and poor ‘prison like’ conditions.
  • Fair trial: at the time of writing, there are no national guidelines and eligibility criteria in place for the use of remote hearings. Moreover, the use of remote justice (videoconferencing, Zoom, Skype) should be used sparingly and with due procedural safeguards in place. 
  • Incidents of domestic violence increased during the lockdown. Whilst the authorities have taken measures to protect the rights of women and girls at risk during the pandemic, more information should be provided about support services available to them.