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Youth Human Rights Movement

“Human Rights Defender – a profession at risk?” YHRM participated in the annual human rights conference of the European Union Delegation to Russia

Дата публикации: 

On March 23rd, 2010 in Moscow the EU Delegation to Russia held its annual human rights conference. The theme of this year was formulated as “Human Rights Defender – a profession at risk?”. The work of human rights defenders and their security in Russia and the world was at the focus of the discussion.

The event brought together about 150 representatives of Russian and foreign human rights organizations, governmental human rights institutions, various structures of the European Union, embassies of the EU member states, and journalists. The conference was attended by Lyudmila Alexeeva – chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group and chairperson of the YHRM Public Council, Andrey Yurov – YHRM Honorary President, Dmitri Makarov, Viktoria Gromova, Konstantin Baranov, Anna Dobrovolskaya – members of the YHRM team on defending human rights defenders.

According to the director of the “Front Line” international foundation for the protection of human rights defenders (Ireland), in 2009 there were 24 murders of human rights defenders in the world, 6 of which – in Russia.

"Being a human rights defender in Russia has become a dangerous profession", - noted Lyudmila Alexeeva. While in the Soviet times human rights defenders could face arrest, psychiatric hospitals, and expulsion from the country, today they are subjected to other, sometimes more severe forms of pressure. Thus, last year a lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova, human rights defenders from Chechnya Natalia Estemirova, Zarema Sadulayeva and her husband, Umar Dzhabrailov, were killed. Other human rights defenders were injured in the attacks on them – as, for example, Lev Ponomarev, leader of the All-Russian movement “For Human Rights”, or Vadim Karastelev from Novorossiysk, who supported the former major of police Alexei Dymovsky. So Lyudmila Alexeeva is convinced that Russian human rights defenders are in need of international protection. Among such measures of support from the side of the European countries, she named the granting of asylum and the issuance of urgent visas to those human rights defenders who are in danger.

YHRM representatives in their speeches also voiced up a number of specific proposals to improve the safety of human rights activity in Russia, which were addressed both to Russian authorities and international structures.

Thus, Andrey Yurov reminded that in order to support human rights defenders working in the regions, which are objectively more vulnerable, quite simple measures, such as visits of prominent European politicians and public figures to the region, can be sufficient. Their open and public meetings with defenders or visit to the office of a human rights organization can stop or prevent possible pressure on them.

Dmitri Makarov in his report at the plenary session highlighted the importance of developing and promoting systemic measures to protect human rights defenders in Russia – for example, creation of a “contact group” from representatives of human rights organizations and public authorities to respond promptly to cases of threats to the security of human rights defenders. The proposal to create such a group was first voiced up in the summer of 2009, immediately after the death of Natalia Estemirova and other tragic events, but it still did not receive proper support from the authorities.

Among other suggestions were: amendments to the Penal Code, equating crimes against human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists to crimes against politicians and civil servants; monitoring of the observance of the Presidential decrees on the support of human rights movement in the regions, as well as a more effective implementation of the EU Guidelines on human rights defenders by the European embassies in Russia.

The European Union declares support to the defense of human rights as one of its foreign policy priorities. However, in real political dialogue with Russia, economic and political interests of the European states still often prevail over the values declared, which inevitably affects the situation of human rights and civil society in the country.

In his speech the representative of the European Parliament Geoffrey Harris drew attention to this. He read a speech prepared by the chairman of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, Ms. Heidi Hautala, which stated that the European Parliament supports a consolidated position of the EU member states and emphasizes the need to base the “strategic partnership” between Russia and the EU not only on pragmatic considerations, but also on common values.

“The fact is that the real place of human rights in EU-Russia relations remains at a low level. Business as usual prevails when the top leaders meet and agree .The European Union member states also sadly disagree on the priorities. Through the Lisbon Treaty there is a historic momentum to bring unity to the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy”, - thinks Ms. Hautala, who is convinced that as a result human rights should be at the focus of the EU-Russia relations.

At the end of her speech, she also proposed to establish an independent EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

On the eve of the conference, on March 22nd, the EU Delegation has also organized a “round table” of human rights organizations in preparation for the official EU – Russia Consultations on Human Rights, which are held twice a year. And after the conference, its participants were offered an opportunity to take part in a seminar on the basics of security for human rights defenders, organized jointly with the “Front Line”.

Additional Information:
YHRM Team on defending human rights defenders


Report on persecution of human rights defenders in the Russian Federation in 2009, prepared by the YHRM team on defending human rights defenders (download):