In 2013, the human rights situation in Russia deteriorated to new lows as sexual, racial, and national minorities as well as political protesters were affected. The EU failed to use its leverage.
The most prominent development in human rights in Russia in 2013 was the adoption in June of legislation that bans “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations to minors”. It was condemned by human rights organisations as highly discriminatory and prompted an outcry in the West and calls to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics. Meanwhile, on the ground in Russia – traditionally a conservative country when it comes to minority rights – it prompted a new wave of homophobia. Many same-sex couples are now afraid of losing custody of their children or their jobs and are considering emigration. Russian politicians and state-owned media used criticism by European leaders to portray the EU as a “decadent” place in which traditional values were in decline.
In 2013, for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union, compulsory psychiatric treatment was used as de facto punishment for political protest. In October, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that it had completed its probe into Mikhail Kosenko, who was arrested as a participant of political protests in 2012, and asked the Prosecutor-General’s Office to refer him to a mental health institution for compulsory treatment. The situation of racial minorities also deteriorated – the influx of Central Asian and Caucasian immigrants to big Russian cities has fanned an anti-immigrant mood that increasingly finds expression in nationalist riots. The human rights situation is probably the worst in the Northern Caucasus, but the EU’s presence there is close to non-existent – and even getting information is now complicated.
The EU’s annual human rights report, compiled by the member states’ embassies in Moscow in collaboration with the EEAS, was highly critical of all abuses. Sweden stood out as the most principled member state. Germany also criticised Russia but, given its relationship with Russia, could perhaps have done more. Italy avoided criticism in the hope of persuading Russia to be of help in solving the Syrian crisis.