On 13 December 2007, Front Line together with the Anti-discrimination Centre “Memorial” held the seminar “Challenges to legitimacy – Strategies for Strengthening the Space for Human Rights Defenders in Russia”. This event brought together 35 participants: human rights defenders from different parts of Russia, representatives from international human rights NGOs and IGOs, including UN, EU and OSCE – ODIHR. The seminar came out with concrete recommendations for both Russian civil society and the international community.
Posted 14/12/2007 The aim of the one-day seminar was to share experiences and analyse the patterns of repression faced by human rights defenders in Russia and identify the key areas where national and international actions can be most effective. The discussion incorporated presentations from Russian human rights defenders and IGOs, as well as smaller group discussions.
Concerns were raised regarding the deteriorating context in which human rights defenders are operating in Russia in relation to NGO legislation, anti-extremism law, with particular emphasis on the situation in the Caucasus region, refugees from former USSR countries, as well as the threats and attacks perpetrated throughout Russia by extremist groups.
Representatives from Russian human rights organisations expressed the need to strengthen existing networks, both nationally and internationally, including increased involvement with, and use of, the UN and EU mechanisms to support and protect human rights defenders.
Specific recommendations were put forward for:
– the establishment of a network of human rights lawyers to support those human rights defenders who face legal action due to their legitimate human rights activities;
– an effective protection programme for witnesses and experts engaged in judicial proceedings;
– the establishment of a monitoring mechanism by human rights organisations to identify best practices in relation to the support and protection of human rights defenders in the Russian Federation;
– coordination with the newly appointed Human Rights Advisor in the UN office in Moscow.
– financial and practical support for human rights defenders, particularly in North Caucasus
– information sharing on legal and secure methods of documentation and dissemination of reports on human rights violations;
– improved public support and recognition of the human rights movement;
– increased participation of human rights defenders in the implementation of the EU guidelines on human rights defenders and existing support mechanisms in the Russian Federation.
Consensus was reached that the provisions of laws in themselves do not pose specific problems for human rights defenders, but that their implementation has led to increased threats and intrusion into the activities of human rights organisations.
In order for civil society to survive and prosper, there is a need for improved protection mechanisms to guarantee a space for human rights defenders who are vocal on violations being carried out by the State and non-State actors in the Russian Federation.