Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler applauded the Canadian government’s decision to follow the lead of the United States and the European Union by introducing targeted sanctions against Russian officials connected to the annexation of Crimea and that country’s political and military interference in Ukraine.
On March 15, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland announced that 129 individuals, companies and organizations, some of them closely associated with Russian President Vladimir Putin, would be the subject of sanctions, including freezing their Canadian assets and prohibiting them from obtaining Canadian visas.
The most important thing, according to Cotler, is that the erosion of human rights and democracy under Putin is being publicized.
“Naming and shaming these human rights abusers is a crucial expression of solidarity with their victims and of ending the culture of impunity that underpins such criminality,” stated Cotler, who founded and chairs the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (RWCHR).
“Sanctioning specific human rights violators is indispensable to mobilizing a critical mass of global advocacy to address and redress their human rights violations.”
Specifically, the sanctions refer to Russian expansion in Crimea since 2014, interference by the Russian government in elections in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and the Russian military’s seizure of Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait in November.
Cotler serves as international legal counsel to Alexei Pichugin, whom he describes as the longest-serving political prisoner during Putin’s regime. The RWCHR is also part of the Coalition to Free the Kremlin’s Political Prisoners, a consortium of non-governmental organizations that are championing the cases of 234 people who are widely believed to have been imprisoned due to their opposition to the government.
“Severe human rights violations, including the suppression of freedom of expression and association, arbitrary arrest, torture, detentions and disappearances have become commonplace since Russian’s occupation of Crimea,” said Cotler.