Vienna, April 21 – Four leading Finnish non-governmental organizations have called on visiting President Dmitry Medvedev to live up to his promises to protect human rights and civic freedoms and to end the violence against journalists and ethnic minorities in the Russian Federation that are creating a gulf between Moscow and Europe.
The appeal, signed by the leaders of the Kiila Social Union, the Finno-Russian Civic Forum, the Finnish Section of Amnesty International, and the Finnish PEN Center, says that its members “had hoped for the development in Russia of a society which shares European values like human rights and civic freedoms” (www.finrosforum.fi/?p=2529).
But given recent developments in various sectors of Russian life, it continues, the signatories “are deeply concerned by the state of the observation of human rights in Russia,” all the more so because Medvedev, as in his interview with “Novaya gazeta,” offered himself as a defender of these rights.
“Are you seriously prepared for a change in the law on non-governmental organizations,” the appeal’s authors ask. Are you genuinely attached to the rule of law and the defense of human rights? And with regard to these questions, the Finnish NGOs challenge the Russian president, “will we see actions and not just words?”
“Over the past 15 years,” the appeal notes, “more than 150 journalists have been killed. And attacks against them and other supporters of civil society “must be stopped, and the guilty brought to justice,” regardless of whether the victims have attracted the attention of the international community or involve less well-known people.
The appeal also expresses the concerns of these groups about the status of national minorities in the Russian Federation. “The multi-cultural tradition is the wealth of Russia,” it says, adding that “we hope for the decisive interference of the government leadership of Russian in the area of racist crimes.”
It continues with an expression of concern about the status of Finno-Ugric peoples in particular, noting that “the open oppression” of one of these groups “has been continuing in the Mari El Republic since 2001,” when then-president Vladimir Putin installed his own man and called for the imposition of a power vertical there.
And the appeal calls for a full investigation of “the military crimes and violation of human rights which took place during the Chechen wars,” for the support of the Chechen people in reestablishing not only the economy of their republic but also democracy and human rights.” Justice requires, it says, “the scrupulous identification of those who violated” these rights.
But perhaps the most provocative part of the appeal is the following. “We are concerned,” the Finnish NGOs say, “that among the deputies of the State Duma of the Russian Federation are people who have been charged with murder and are wanted on international warrants” but against whom Moscow has failed to take action.
The Finnish appeal calls on Moscow to obey the decisions of the European Human Rights Court, to ratify the protocol on that court, and to help build “effective horizontal cooperation” not just government to government but people to people as part of the European Union’s action plan for Russia.
So far during his two day visit to Helsinki, Medvedev has not commented on this declaration, and most Moscow media have ignored it. But at least two Russian websites have posted it, allowing Russians some access to this Finnish expression of concern about their problems (www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=49EC51027C27E and www.gazeta.ru/news/lenta/2009/04/20/n_1353915.shtml).