Potential legal avenues to prosecute Nalvany’s killers

Potential legal avenues to prosecute Nalvany's killers | INFBusiness.com

Alexei Nalany, here pictured in 2013 — before his poisoning with Novichok, followed by a 19-year sentence to an Arctic penal colony, where he died in unknown circumstances one year ago (Photo: Person Behind the Scenes)

One month on from the death of Alexei Navalny and we are still no closer to justice. Vladimir Putin’s political opponent died in an Arctic Circle penal colony after 37 months of unlawful detention on trumped up charges. Following weeks of stalling and a process shrouded in opacity, the immediate cause of death is still unclear, but let there be no doubt: the responsibility for his unlawful death falls squarely at the feet of the Russian authorities.

They subjected him to an attempted killing by poisoning him with Novichok. They detained him unlawfully. They sentenced him to 19 years of prison in an unfair trial. They subjected him to particularly harsh and degrading treatment, denying him access to adequate health care and proper food, imposing prolonged solitary confinement, and other forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and they even forcibly disappeared him for some days.

And yet all of that may not have been enough. The authorities’ refusal to hand over Navalny’s body to his family, and their refusal to provide evidence of the circumstances of his death have prompted his wife to allege that Navalny was poisoned once again.

Only an investigation by an independent, impartial expert body, carried out in a prompt, effective, thorough and transparent manner can deliver the truth about the circumstances leading to Navalny’s death.

Justice for Navalny cannot be left with the Russia authorities. Their repeated failure — or manifest refusal — to investigate past killings and attacks on opposition voices and the pattern of targeted killings of critics of Russia’s government, including when in exile, warn that an independent, impartial and prompt investigation cannot be expected from the current government.

Instead, the international community must step up its demands for an independent, impartial and effective investigation into, and prosecution of, the masterminds of this crime. Let’s face it: it has few instruments at its disposal to do so.

But there are options. They include a country initiating a dispute with Russia under the Convention against Torture, which could ultimately result in a binding order against Russia by the International Court of Justice. The UN special rapporteur on Russia could also launch an independent international investigation into Navalny’s killing, akin to the investigation I conducted on Jamal Khashoggi’s assassination or on Navalny’s Novichok poisoning in my role as special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could activate the Moscow mechanism to investigate Navalny’s killing. All states, in turn, could support universal jurisdiction efforts to hold accountable all those responsible for crimes under international law committed against Alexei Navalny.

Khashoggi precedent

Four years ago, when I investigated the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, I recommended the establishment of an international independent mechanism to undertake criminal investigations into targeted killings of journalists and human rights defenders. As Amnesty’s secretary general, I reiterate this call.

A standing international, independent investigative and accountability mechanism could be established, whose mandate will include, among others, to conduct investigations into unlawful deaths with a view to gathering information and evidence for potential use in criminal and other legal and administrative proceedings. It could identify possible avenues for the administration of justice at national, regional and international levels and other mechanisms which could contribute to ending impunity, including at political and diplomatic levels.

A mechanism with such a mandate is not a novelty. Over the last decade, the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly have established a range of accountability and investigative mechanisms in response to armed conflicts or situations of massive human rights violations.

Countries range from North Korea to Syria, including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Israel and most recently Ukraine and Iran. The largely piecemeal approach behind these mechanisms has prompted many experts to recommend the establishment of a single standing mechanism, an approach which will strengthen effectiveness and efficiency.

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The proposal though has been thus far focused on situations of massive violations, as opposed to investigation into single crimes targeting human rights defenders, journalists or political opponents.

The lack of accountability for such crimes is well-evidenced. The resulting systemic impunity poisons all societies. In an era characterised by the decline of civil and political rights protection, the shrinking of civic space, and transnational repression, a standing mechanism whose mandate will include a focus on human rights defenders, journalists and others targeted for their peaceful expression is vital.

The international community, for all its disagreement, managed to establish crisis-specific investigatory and accountability instruments. Similar political will must be found to address the unlawful deaths of journalists, political dissidents and human rights defenders through a standing instrument with the mandate to investigate independently such crimes. Addressing and responding to these crimes will not only serve justice but may also prevent further massive human rights violations.

Navalny’s unlawful death is a tragedy for Russia, for human rights defenders in Russia and now increasingly outside Russia. As Navalny himself said — “You are not allowed to give up.” We must follow the example set by his wife Yulia who announced she will be continuing his fight, following in the footsteps of far too many family members around the world forced onto the public stage, taken there by love, grief and in defiance of repression.

His death is emblematic of a global pattern — a steep increase in the number of states and non-state actors targeting journalists, human rights defenders, political activists and other critical voices. The time to act is now. We cannot sit by and await yet another unlawful killing of yet another opponent, in Russia and elsewhere.

Source: euobserver.com

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