The UN human rights chief on Tuesday said Russian authorities must thoroughly investigate who was responsible for the poisoning of opposition member Alexei Navalny.

Spokesman Rupert Colville read a statement of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at a press briefing.

“It is incumbent on the Russian authorities to fully investigate who was responsible for this crime – a very serious crime that was committed on Russian soil — and to ensure the protection of the human rights of its citizens, including Mr. Navalny,” said Colville.

Bachelet welcomed the news that Navalny had emerged from his coma in a Berlin hospital.

“In light of the assertion by German specialists that they have ‘unequivocal proof that Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, the High Commissioner is also urging the Government of the Russian Federation to carry out — or fully cooperate with — a thorough, transparent, independent, and impartial investigation,” said Colville.

He quoted Bachelet as saying that the number of cases of poisoning, or other forms of targeted assassination, of current or former Russian citizens — either within Russia itself or on foreign soil — over the past two decades “is profoundly disturbing”.

“The High Commissioner also says that ‘the failure in many cases to hold perpetrators accountable and provide justice and the truth for the victims or their families, is deeply regrettable and hard to explain or justify’.”

Bachelet noted that nerve agents and radioactive isotopes such as Novichok and Polonium-210 are sophisticated substances extremely hard to source.

“These are not materials you can buy in a pharmacy, farm shop, or hardware store,” said Colville.

As the high commissioner said, “this raises numerous questions: Why use substances like these? Who is using them? How did they acquire them?”

Bachelet said that prior to his reported poisoning, Navalny had been repeatedly harassed, arrested, and assaulted, either by the authorities or by unknown assailants.

Navalny is clearly someone who needed state protection, even if he was a political thorn in the government’s side, said the rights chief.

Colville further quoted Bachelet that ‘it is not good enough to simply deny he was poisoned, and deny the need for a thorough, independent, impartial and transparent investigation into this assassination attempt’.”

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