U.N. body tells Russia to act against human rights abuses

GENEVA (Reuters) - United Nations rights experts on Thursday called on Russia to repeal laws limiting free speech and targeting homosexuals and to act firmly to prevent torture by police, racist crimes and a wide range of other human rights abuses.

The 18-member Human Rights Committee also told Moscow it should move to prevent violation of a key U.N. pact to which it is signatory by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine, by authorities in the Chechen republic, and in Crimea.

The calls came in a report that indirectly drew a picture of a country rife with persecution of dissenters and of groups that do not conform to Kremlin policies while giving no recourse to an independent judicial system.

“What worries us most (in Russia) is the reduced space for civil liberties as the result of an onslaught of legislation,” Committee member Yuval Shany, an Israeli professor of international law, told a news conference.

The Committee’s 12-page document largely referred to “reports” of abuses and violence, including by what it called “ultra-nationalist, racist and neo-Nazi” extremists, and of torture of crime suspects in jails.

It explicitly called for authorities to investigate allegations that former Chechen policeman Zaur Dadayev, one of the suspects detained in the February murder of Putin critic Boris Nemtsov, was tortured in custody.

Moscow should take steps immediately to give “effective protection to lawyers, journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians whose lives, safety and security are under threat,” the independent experts said.

The Committee, which monitors countries’ performance under the 1976 International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, issued the document after examining Russia’s record last month.

During a discussion then, Russian officials denied the truth of many of the reports cited by the body’s members, largely lawyers and academics. But Moscow has not responded formally.

The U.N. report said laws signed by President Vladimir Putin, including on limiting Internet activity and restricting links between Russian non-governmental organizations and foreign groups, “appear” to violate the U.N. convention.

The Committee said it was concerned by reports of hate speech and violence against gays and called on Moscow to “clearly and explicitly state that it does not tolerate any form of social stigmatization of homosexuals”.

It also noted “under-representation of women in decision- making positions” in political life and urged Russia to fight “patriarchal attitudes” on the role of women and men in the family and society at large.

Editing by Louise Ireland and Toby Chopra