Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Without Naming Russia but Describing Problems There, PACE Calls for Defense of Human Rights Activists

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 29 – By a vote of 113 to 3, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe yesterday passed a resolution calling on member states to protect human rights activists, and although that document does not mention Russia by name, the discussion preceding its adoption shows that attacks on such activists there were a major reason PACE took this step.
Even that typically diplomatic approach was too much for two Russian delegates, however, who, while not denying there have been problems, suggested that some people who call themselves human rights activists are in fact something else and that the situation in Estonia, for example, is far worse than in Russia.
In its report on yesterday’s PACE session, Moscow’s “Kommersant” today described not only the “diplomatic” way in which the Europeans acted but also debate which showed that concerns about Russian behavior had led them to take action and the reactions of the Russians that suggested why it was necessary (
As “Kommersant” noted, “although in the text of the resolution there is not one reference to Russia, precisely the incidents with Russian human rights activists were the ones the PACE delegates offered as examples of the lamentable persecution of the human rights movement” in the Russian Federation.
But the paper continued, “this did not disturb the members of the Russian delegation [who included two United Russia representatives, Dmitry Vyatkin and Sergey Markov]: they assured their colleagues that ‘human rights will triumph’ and that they were ready to do everything so that this will happen as quickly as possible.”
In his presentation on the problem, Holger Hainbach, a member of the PACE commission on legal questions and human rights, noted that in many countries, including Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Russian North Caucasus, the powers that be call those who work to defend human rights “spies,” “enemies,” “traitors,” and “extremists.”
In such cases, he continued, these activists are often “subjected to strong forms of repression, including murder, kidnapping and arbitrary arrests.” Therefore, because many of these phenomena come from the governments involved, “they need our defense.”
Other speakers pointed to the recent beating of Lev Ponomaryev, the head of the Moscow Movement For Human Rights, the killing of Sergey Protazanov, the Khimki journalist, who was “had the courage to be interested in the activities of the municipal powers that be” in that suburb of the Russian capital.
But this was too much for the Russian delegates. While acknowledging that the report was “important and timely,” Vyatkin said he wanted to ask “an unwelcome question: Are all those who call themselves defenders of human rights actually that?” Many of them, he suggested, are involved in politics and in the “banal” task of earning money.
Such activities, the United Russian delegate said, “discredit the human rights movement,” although others could have responded that his charges against the members of that movement confirm precisely the kind of problems of official refusal to help them that other delegates at the meeting had been referring to.
And his colleague Markov took a parallel approach. He supported the report but argued that PACE should be focusing on the protection of human rights not in the countries the other speakers had named but rather in Estonia, where he suggested the situation was one that should be a matter of “extreme concern.”
“The special services of Estonia two years ago provoked protests and then cruelly put them down” in the case of the shifting of the statue to the Soviet warrior in downtown Tallinn. That action, Markov continued, suggests that “the goal of the Estonian special services was to destroy human rights activists who defended the rights of non-citizens and Russian speakers.”

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