The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, urged [text] Russia on Thursday to address concerns surrounding impartiality in the judicial system, while noting the positive strides taken recently. Knaul visited Russia as part of an investigation surrounding a report on judicial independence [UN News Centre report] in Russia to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2014 in Geneva. Among her concerns were the judicial mindset of judges still under the influence of the Soviet era judicial system, which created close ties between the judges and prosecutors. Also, lawyers often face threats and attacks when they attempt to enforce decisions. This, Knaul argues, causes a "chilling effect" on the legal system. Finally, Russia's NGO 'foreign agents' law is cause for concern. The law limits the "invaluable" role non-government organizations are able to play in the legal aid context. Knaul also noted that Russia has recently made great efforts to improve the working conditions of the justices. The use of more modern technology and upgrades to facilities have aided the administration of justice.
Human rights and similar concerns in Russia have been in the spotlight recently. The imprisonment of members of Pussy Riot [RASPI backgrounder; JURIST news archive] sparked an international outcry against the Russian political and judicial system. Earlier this month, a member of the feminist rock group was denied parole [JURIST report]. Also this month, rights groups criticized [JURIST report] Russia's restrictions of free speech rights. On the positive side, days before, a Russian court granted [JURIST report] citizens the right to challenge parliamentary election results. Russia's lower house also approved [JURIST report] a law criminalizing actions against religious groups. However, last month, Russia enforced its NGO 'foreign agents' law was enforced [JURIST report] by Russian authorities for the first time.