Analytics and Interview

On 16 January 2015 late in the evening the website of the Ministry of Justice published a statement that the NGO Committee Against Torture had been added to the register of non-profit organizations designated as ‘foreign agents’.
Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch and Honorary Participant of International Youth Human Rights Movement: As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it. Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.
Earlier this year, the correspondent of Youth Human Rights Movement from Germany Jakob Stürmann interviewed Konstantin Baranov, member of the Coordination Council of the International Youth Human Rights Movement. They discussed so called “law against homosexual propaganda” and the overall situation of LGBT in Russia.  

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Oleg Sentsov, Olexander Kolchenko, Hennadiy Afanasiev and Oleksiy Chyrniy have been held in Russian jails for two years already under fabricated charges of ‘terrorism’. We consider it being necessary to express solidarity with those who are persecuted due to their pro-Ukrainian views, civic stand and desire for freedom in Russia-annexed Crimea.
Helsinki Committee of Armenia has published “Human Rights in Armenia 2014” Annual Report. The report reflects on the Right to Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association, Torture, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, Political Persecutions, Freedom of Conscience and Religion, The Rights of the Child, Protection of Labor Rights.
«We have a few questions for you,» a border guard told Sinaver Kadyrov, a Crimean Tatar activist, at the Armyansk checkpoint in northern Crimea on Jan. 23. Kadyrov was on his way to Kherson, in southern Ukraine, to fly to Turkey for medical treatment. It was the beginning of an ordeal that ended with a local court expelling him from Crimea, his home of almost 25 years.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority It is time to sit back and reflect.

Mark Twain


Youth Human Rights Movement

A Moral Voice for the Belarus Cause: The meaning of the Ales Bialiatski trial

The trial of Belarusian human rights defender and prominent civil society leader Ales Bialiatski is slated to begin on 2 November in Minsk. It has the potential to ignite the fight for freedom in Belarus, but only with more creative coordination and long-term planning by international civil society.

Belarusian human rights defender and FIDH Vice President Ales Bialiatski's August arrest on tax evasion charges and his subsequent two month detention represents the untold scandal de jure of the EU fringe and the reality of a continent torn between vibrant inclusive democracies at one end of the spectrum and on the other, authoritarian regimes presided over by macho oligarchs. Consequently, as events surrounding the impending 2 November trial of Belarus's most prominent civil society leader reach a head, a moment emerges in which Belarus could become a true cause.

Born in Russia, with an academic and artistic background in literature and writing, Bialiatski has been an active member of civil society supporting basic freedoms since the Perestroika era. In 1996, he founded the Belarusian NGO Viasna which has since then been the subject of multiple rounds of persecution resulting from a legal framework and political climate in which civil society is widely viewed as the agency of foreign powers. Prohibitive legal statutes include 193.1 allowing for criminal prosecution of unregistered NGOs, the criteria for registration of course determined by a regime that views dissenting voices as a threat to its survival. Additionally, recent amendments passed in a secretive process by the Belarusian House of Representatives on 3 October present equivalent catch 22's which broaden the basis for the criminal prosecution of those enjoying the right to freely gather or form organisations. The laws themselves, as does 193.1 tacitly make legality a measure of compliance and provide further leverage for the state to punish dissent.

Within this stifling context, Bialiatski and his organisation have received multiple awards for activism including the Homo Homini Award and the Per Anger Prize for individuals promoting democracy without personal gain. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation and a host of other organisations have called for his release. It is clear that running an NGO in Belarus and advocating for free and open society, due to prohibitive legislation, is a de facto criminal act in and of itself. As such, the trial for western observers presents a strange mirror to its own intended purposes. It is in fact complimentary of Bialiatski's efforts while suggesting a moment in which Bialiatski himself could become the regional moral authority of the Desmund Tutu or Aung San Suu Kyi mould who, thanks to the  creative advocacy of Polish partners, has already expressed solidarity with Bialiatski. This suggests a moment in which advocacy pertaining to Belarus could reach street level. But how do we bring this moment to everyday people? Despite the June 2011 resolution by the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Belarus, there is a lack of international accord among institutions, governments and civil society on how to address the issue of Belarus.  Making Ales Bialiatski a well-known figure and bringing events pertaining to Belarus to the rest of Europe requires that civil society along with friendly institutions and governments better coordinate their strategy both in the long and short terms in order to reach the general public.

A collective media strategy is needed that will bring the individual stories of human rights defenders under post-Soviet regimes, like Ales Bialiatski, to the fore. Rather than focus on documentation circulated throughout a community of experts, if tens of thousands pay for an evening with writer Christopher Hitchens, it makes sense that at least several thousand would come to an evening featuring human rights defenders from eastern Europe. Civil society consistently underrates the potential effect of small venues and education campaigns that reach beyond the community of experts. Equivalently, more en mass Avaaz-style informational campaigns are needed so that the number of protesters in front of Belarusian embassies throughout Europe swells from the tens to the hundreds. While it is certain that many, including embassy personnel will attend the trial, currently more media coordination and creative advocacy is needed to help turn Belarus into a well-known public cause.

The Bialiatski trial presents a perfect moment for regional and international NGOs to put their heads together, pool their resources and come-up with a new and useful strategy that prioritises the stories of individuals like Bialiatski which have the potential to generate street-level awareness.

By Will Lasky
Eurasia Coordinator, CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation