Monday, September 8, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Georgian Crisis Highlights Need for Revising Human Rights Work, Moscow Activists Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 8 – Existing international human rights conventions and organizations could not have prevented the crisis in Georgia, an unfortunate situation that Moscow activists say should prompt the international community in general and European human rights activists in particular to reexamine their work, especially on the territory for the former Soviet Union.
In an appeal to the international community which was issued today but has so far attracted relatively little media attention, twelve leading human rights organizations in the Russian capital argue the human rights must be the foundation for any resolution of the conflict in Georgia (
The signatories, which include among others Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and SOVA, argue that “one of the main tasks of the entire European community” now must be to organize and then implement “the practical defense of human rights” in Georgia and in other post-Soviet states.
Such actions in the coming days, the appeal continues, are “especially important on the post-Soviet space where up to now the supremacy of law has been lacking and the basic norms of the European Convention on the Defense of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms are not being fulfilled.”
According to the appeal, “responsibility for what has happened lies” not only on those directly involved in the conflict whose specific guilt should be determined by an international investigation but on Europeans as well. “The inattention of Europe to the conflict which had already lasted for many years contributed to the tragic development of events,” the appeal says.
Not only have Europeans been inattentive to the “hot spots” in the post Soviet states, the appeal says, but existing “national and regional systems for the defense of human rights … could not have prevented the serious humanitarian and legal crisis in South Ossetia and adjoining regions,” a reality that should prompt rights workers to re-examine their approach.
The appeal calls for three steps to be taken immediately: international monitoring of the status of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), the provision of assistance to violence, and intervention by European organizations and states to ensure “security, humanitarian rights, and the “liquidation” of all the negative results of the conflict.
In support of those goals, the appeal continues, there must be “the most rapid issuance of legal assessments of what has taken place and the most rapid review of inter-governmental and individual complaints to international and European judicial bodies,” including the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the European Union, and the United Nations.
And in the longer term, it concludes, it is going to be “necessary to support and strengthen the mechanisms” among governments, international bodies, non-governmental organizations and “other structures which are interested in guaranteeing an international legal order.”
It is unlikely that any of the parties immediately involved in the conflict will follow all or perhaps in some cases any of the advice contained in this appeal, but it is important for three reasons. First, this document is yet another indication that despite the growing repression in the Russian Federation, some brave people are prepared to speak out.
Second, this appeal is the sharpest indictment yet of the failure of the European Union, which has promoted itself as a defender of human rights as core European values, to do what is needed to promote those values in the post-Soviet countries, a territory that as the authors of the appeal note has not been all that welcoming to those values.
And third – and this is likely to be the most important consequence of this appeal – its suggestion that international human rights groups need to reexamine not only their level of activity but the way in which they define their tasks could spark the kind of revival in human rights action that might make a difference in a future crisis if not tragically in Georgia now.

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