According to a U.N.-backed expert, the state of human rights in Russia has deteriorated significantly since the start of the Ukraine war.

An expert appointed by the United Nations’ top human rights body stated in her initial report that the rights situation in Russia has worsened considerably since President Vladimir Putin initiated his conflict with Ukraine in February of the previous year.

Mariana Katzarova, the special rapporteur on Russia’s rights situation mandated by the Human Rights Council, chronicled the domestic crackdown that has largely targeted critics of Putin’s war as well as other opposition voices in Russia.

Her report, made public on Monday, is separate from another probe by U.N.-backed investigators that has accused Russia of war crimes in Ukraine.

The council has never before granted permission for a rights expert to investigate rights matters in any of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States.

The report cited figures last month from OVD-Info, which tracks human rights violations, indicating that more than 20,000 people were detained between February last year and June for participating in anti-war protests. More than 600 criminal lawsuits were initiated against “anti-war activity,” it said.

According to the report, more than 50% of the individuals detained for engaging in “peaceful anti-war activism” were women.

Katzarova mentioned that she had been informed about numerous rights abuses, which she considered to be credible. These violations encompassed acts of torture, accusations of rape and sexual violence, as well as instances of law enforcement officers threatening sexual abuse towards both genders. However, she noted that none of these cases had undergone an official investigation.

According to the report, the number of organizations and individuals listed as “foreign agents” in the Russian Justice Ministry’s registry reached 649 by the end of July. This marks a growth of over 25% in just six months. Additionally, over 100 organizations were categorized as “undesirable” by the end of July, potentially leading to their prohibition.

In April of last year, just a short time after Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, the United Nations General Assembly decided to temporarily remove Russia from its position in the 47-member Human Rights Council located in Geneva.

The mandate of Katzarova, who is Bulgarian, was created a year ago, and she started work in May. Authorities in Russia have refused to cooperate, and said submissions from her team would be “automatically disregarded,” the report said.

According to the report, there has been a continuous decrease in rights in Russia over the past twenty years. However, since its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the situation has worsened significantly, as observed by Katzarova.

The report was created based on discussions with more than 60 Russian and international organizations and individuals focused on human rights. Additionally, it included almost 100 written contributions from advocates for rights and individuals who have witnessed rights violations. The council responsible for human rights will review and discuss the report on Thursday.

Since the beginning of the war, the Kremlin has asserted that most Russians are in favor of its “special military operation” in Ukraine, while also affirming that those who hold a different opinion are entitled to do so.

However, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has emphasized that individuals who wish to criticize the government must do so while adhering to the current laws.

Putin himself has said that he is “not judging” those “who behaved not like patriots.” He also said last week that one “can disagree” with the Russian authorities “and live here, speak out about it — no one is prohibiting it.”

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