Posts Tagged ‘human rights’
On December 20, 2010, a thousands-strong crowd was protesting against fraudulent Presidential elections in Belarus. After some 100 people tried to storm a government building, Lukashenko’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beated, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started that allowed to prosecute the rally leaders. USA and EU swiftly condemned Lukashenko and implemented sanctions against his regime.
On May 6, 2012, thousands were protesting in Moscow against fraudulent Presidential elections in Russia. After several hundred tried to break through a police line, Putin’s riot police attacked the crowd, many were badly beaten, hundreds arrested. Criminal investigation started and two opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov questioned. In the following days, hundreds more were arrested. Meanwhile, American and European ambassadors took part in Putin’s inauguration. President Obama called Putin, congratulated him on the Victory Day, discussed military and economic cooperation, but didn’t mention human rights.
Kommersant publishes a new interview with Putin, where the dictator comments on opposition rallies:
Look, all our opponents support a Rechtsstaat. What is a Rechtsstaat? It is obedience to the existing law. What does the existing law say about [Dissenters’] Marches? You need to get a permission from the authorities. Got it? Go and protest. Otherwise you don’t have this right. If you go out without having the right, get beaned with a baton. That’s it!
Putin manages to lie three times in this short passage:
1. Rechtsstaat (“правовое государство”) is not just about obedience to every law. It is also about laws being fair, about everybody being equal before the law, about having independent judiciary system etc. Do we have anything of this? No. The government adopts any laws they want, including non-constitutional, they apply them discriminatively (e.g., United Russia has on many occasions organized rallies in violation of the law but nobody dared to “bean” them for that), and they control the courts, so that the protesters can’t defend their rights there. So what kind of “obedience” can Putin demand from the opposition? I’m not even asking if Putin heard about the term “civil disobedience” and that it is often used to effectively advance rule of law.
2. Even in Putin’s law, there is no such thing as a “permission” to hold protests. The Law on Gatherings, Meetings, Demonstrations, Marches and Pickets, according to which all rallies are to be held, you only need to file a notice to local authorities that you are going to hold an action. Strategy 31 (which Putin most probably is referring to) makes it every time, complying with the law absolutely. And still, every time they get “beaned” by Putin’s riot police. So who is violating the law?
3. The last, smaller but remarkable lie: Putin also “forgot” that his own law forbids to use batons and other “special means” to disperse peaceful rallies, and the new Law on Police will forbid to “bean” people, i.e. beat them on the head. The law rightfully calls it “cruel treatment” and it doesn’t take a degree in law (which Putin kind of has) to understand why it is so. But if you yourself are a cruel person, this kind of treatment is just right: “That’s it!”
These days I am participating in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum in Helsinki. By coincidence (well, at least the organizers say it is a coincidence), Dmitry Medvedev and the Finnish President Tarja Halonen are also meeting not far from here. The participants of the Forum used this opportunity to adopt an address to the two:
Dear President Halonen,
Dear President Medvedev,
While you are meeting today in Finland, we, representatives of Russian and Finnish civil societies, are also gathering here to discuss how non-governmental actors can contribute to cooperation between our two nations and to building a common European space based on the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights. We would like to draw your attention to the following concerns, which are in the center of our discussions today.
Like you, dear Presidents, we also want to see Russia a modern and prosperous country. However, we believe that without ensuring fundamental freedoms, building strong democratic institutions and an independent judiciary any technological modernization efforts will fail. It goes without saying that free and fair elections and independence of the media are essential to this process.
We want to share with you some of our immediate concerns, which require resolute actions that go beyond declarations.
In particular, we are convinced that the draft law granting new powers to the FSB contradicts not only the Russian Constitution but also recognized international norms. Therefore, it should not be signed by the President of the Russian Federation.
We are extremely concerned about continued persecution of human rights defenders, political activists, trade unionists and journalists in Russia. Instead of fighting terrorism and organized crime, thousands of law enforcement officials harass civic and political activists, often under the pretext of fighting extremism. This practice must be stopped. Murders of human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers must be effectively investigated, and perpetrators brought to justice. Impunity simply must come to an end.
Lack of fair trial and due process fundamentally undermine access to justice in Russia. This includes torture in pretrial detention centers, politically motivated trials in cases of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev and others; persecution of Alexey Sokolov and Oleg Orlov for their human rights work and Valentin Urusov for his trade union activism, as well as the lack of effective investigation of murders of Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Sergey Magnitsky. In the case of Magnitsky it is even more blatant because the names of those responsible for his death are well known. This list is by far not exhaustive.
Freedom of assembly continues to be denied to the Russian public. Across Europe we are united in support of Russian activists who convene peaceful gatherings in the framework of ”Strategy 31.” In a week from now, we will again express our solidarity with Russian people in Helsinki, Prague, Brussels, Berlin and other cities across the continent. We call on you, President Medvedev, to guarantee the freedom of assembly on 31 July and in the future.
We hope, President Halonen and President Medvedev, that these concerns close to our hearts will form an important part of your dialogue and that future Russian-Finnish modernization cooperation will include concrete projects in such areas as building independent judiciary, strengthening the rule of law and developing robust democratic institutions.
Two leading human rights organizations, Moscow Helsinki Group and For Human Rights Movement, are going be evicted from their offices by Moscow authorities, Prima News agency reports. Moscow government has decided not to prolong rent of their premises, which they occupy since 1996 and 1997 respectively. The government has already applied to the court for eviction of the NGOs.
Moscow Helsinki Group is the oldest existing human rights organization in Russia, which was founded in late 1970s. Its head Lyudmila Alexeeva, one of the most prominent human rights activists, was just recently awarded the Andrei Sakharov Prize. For Human Rights Movement (Za Prava Cheloveka) is another old and respected human rights NGO headed by Lev Ponomaryov. He says that the reason behind the eviction is either political or economical. Both organizations are outspoken critics of the Kremlin and participate in democratic protests.
PS: As another democratic movement’s activist Vsevolod Chernozub reports on his Twitter, another NGO that defends soldiers’ rights, Mother’s Right is also going to be evicted. I don’t know any more details yet.
Michael McFaul, Barack Obama’s advisor on Russia and Eurasia, has commented today on my post about a “reset” in US-Russia human rights issues. The note was based on Kommersant’s report that “the USA are not going to teach Russia democracy any more and cause irritation in Moscow; they are going to focus on practical work with NGOs instead.”
McFaul comments (it’s in my Facebook, so not everyone can see):
Kommersant grossly misquoted me. See Interfax transcript if you want to see what I really said. And anyone who knows anything about my thinking would be suspicious of such an assessment of my views. My next book , out in a few weeks, is called “Advancing Democracy Abroad: Why We Should and How We Can.”
I am in New York, just a few hours ago I received the Human Rights Award 2008 from Human Rights First. Dissident Liudmila Alexeeva, human rights activist and senator Ted Kennedy and former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Mary Robinson (present at the ceremony) were among previous awardees. In fact, it was a complete surprise for me to win it. I’ve always thought that it takes a hero to get it but I don’t feel like a hero and I’ve never have. However, I know that there are many heroic young men and women in Russia who struggle for democracy together with me. I really see this award as recognition of their work.
Here is a fragment from my acceptance remarks:
When Oborona was born three years ago, almost nobody in Russia had the bravery to stand up against the re-emerging authoritarianism and tyranny in the country. And no politician would speak the truth about who created this system—Vladimir Putin. It was the youth that broke this conspiracy of silence and said, “Enough is enough”. Many old political leaders considered us dangerous freaks and predicted our defeat. Some of those politicians are forgotten now, but others eventually joined us. The movement that was born three years ago lives on and its activity, its very existence proves that every nation deserves justice, democracy, and freedom.
It is an honor for me to receive this award on behalf the hundreds of anonymous true heroes who risk their well-being, their freedom and sometimes their lives without expecting any awards for this.
I hope to post photos from the ceremony later today or tomorrow.
Before coming to New York, I spent several days in Washington D.C. I’ve had plenty of meetings with various NGOs like Freedom House, American Enterprise Institute, National Endowment for Democracy etc. I also met the officials of State Department and of Helsinki Commission and a number of journalists. The interest to events in Russia seems to be growing as Russian stocks fall and the popularity of Putinism is to follow.
I have just returned home from Helsinki where I had participated in the Finnish-Russian Civic Forum. It was a great opportunity to meet new colleagues and discuss problems of Russian democracy. I met Robert Amsterdam, who is well-known as a Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s attorney and an owner of the brilliant Web site, dedicated to Russia. Yesterday they published my new column with criticism of international human rights organizations. Unfrotunately, much of this criticism is also true of Russian human rights NGOs.
Wish We Had Your Problems!
June 10, 2008
There seems to be a tradition that whenever a foreign human rights organization publishes a report on Russia, Kremlin-backed politicians call it groundless and based on double standards. So, unsurprisingly, the Amnesty International World Report 2008 got cool welcome. For example, a member of Putin’s Civil Chamber, Anatoly Kucherena, immediately condemned the “wholesale criticism” and “ideological implications” of the report. However, if the “official” human rights activist had taken the time to read the report or, even better, to attend its presentation in Moscow, he wouldn’t be so upset.
Amnesty International presented their report in Moscow on May 28 along with their memorandum to Dmitry Medvedev. The press conference began with a statement that there was a positive change in the situation with human rights in Russia in recent years. This is something completely opposite to my observations that the country is drowning slowly into dictatorship, with new barbaric laws and new political prisoners appearing every month. Even the situation in Belarus under the infamous Alexander Lukashenko – “Europe’s last dictator” – sometimes seems more optimistic than in Putin’s Russia.
Two thirds of the press conference was dedicated to human rights abuses… in the USA and the European Union. From tortures in Guantanamo to school segregation for the Roma people in Slovakia—it seems that everywhere in the West you will face violence, injustice and suffering. At the same time, there was hardly any mention, for example, of the dozens of National Bolsheviks serving their terms in Russian prisons for nonviolent protest, or of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and his colleagues being put in jail for not toeing the Putin’s line.
The conclusion that Amnesty’s speaker made out of this was paradoxical but it fit the picture well: European and American politicians don’t have the moral right to demand that other countries respect human rights as long as there are serious problems in the West itself. Otherwise, they are clearly conducting a policy of “double standards”.
Don’t get me wrong, I really hope that tortures in Guantanamo are stopped and schools in Slovakia desegregated. Pointing at such problems is very important as it lets the West remain a beacon of human rights in the world. But who can explain to me the point of telling all this to journalists in Russia? In Russia, where freedom of expression is technically abolished; where elections are forged; where police beats, arrests or even shoots at peaceful demonstrators; where dozens of opposition activists, businesspeople and scientists are in prison for political reasons; where dozens of others disappear without a trace every year in Chechnya and Ingushetia; where hundreds of soldiers commit suicide unable to bear dedovschina [violent hazing of recruits]? In Russian, one would say: wish we had your problems!
Of course, Amnesty International intended to appear objective and independent of the Western governments. They hoped that if they criticized Washington and Brussels, the Russian authorities wouldn’t accuse them of being “American agents of influence”. They believed that praising the Kremlin’s policy would make them more trustworthy in Medvedev’s eyes. Maybe this would be the case with some other government, but not with this one. Comments like that of Mr Kucherena were the only reaction from the Russian political establishment. I doubt that Amnesty will even get any response from the Presidential Administration, not to mention any real improvement of the human rights situation.
However, some people in Russia will surely make use of this press conference. It doesn’t take an expert to tell how the Kremlin’s propaganda will love such statements about the West’s “moral rights” and “double standards”. By the way, the day after that presentation, Vladimir Putin said in Paris: “All this talk about human rights is often used as an instrument of pressure on Russia, with the aim of achieving some goals that have nothing to do with human rights in Russia… Problems with human rights you have in any country”. Is he quoting Amnesty International or vice versa? Unintentionally, the Western human rights activists gave the Russian authorities an excuse for mass human rights abuses and weakened the not-so-strong attempts of the West to influence the Kremlin’s domestic policy.
P.S.: To be honest, Amnesty’s report does mention a lot of real and serious problems with human rights in Russia. Unexpectedly to me, they even recognized me as a prisoner of conscience for having served a 13-day term in jail for attempting to participate in a Dissenters’ March. However, this was done too late—a week after my release. Amnesty’s officer apologized and explained to me that they have too little staff in Russia and too much work.