Staunton, August 7 – Nine of Russia’s leading human rights activists have formed the Human Rights Council of Russia to improve coordination among their groups and to cooperate with opposition political parties in response to what they describe as “the decisive offensive of the powers that be against the rights of man and citizen.”
The eight -- Lyudmila Alekseyeva, Valery Borshchev, Yuri Vdovin, Svetlana Gannushkina, Boris Zolotukhin, Sergey Kovalev, Lev Ponomaryev, Liliya Shibanova, and Yuri Shmidt – said last night that the human rights movement “must consolidate, enter into dialogue with the political opposition, and support the formation of [similar]coalitions in the regions.”
In their statement, they indicated that the new council will not be registered as a juridical person but instead will act as “a permanent round table,” thus depriving the regime of one of the means it has used to restrict the activities of rights activists and other NGOs in the past and especially now (www.zaprava.ru/content/view/2440/2/).
According to the human rights leaders, Russia “is entering a very dangerous period: the powers that be evidently concerned above all about the preservation even of relative stability has not found in itself the ability to conduct a serious dialogue with civil society concerning the protection of democratic rights and freedoms.”
“On the contrary,” the nine declared, “forces inclined toward a sharpening of the situation and toward confrontation have taken the upper hand.” Indeed, widespread corruption and “the destructive character of many social and political processes not only doesn’t give a chance for ameliorating the situation but threatens the disintegration of the state.”
Despite their principled disagreement with the powers that be, the activists continued, they consider that “it is necessary to do everything possible so that these disagreements will not lead to a further and ever larger intensification of the conflict.” To prevent that, they argued, there needs to be a dialogue between the powers that be and society.
Arranging such a dialogue in the current circumstances will not be easy, they pointed out, and “such a dialogue must not begin” with the assumption that one or the other side will “capitulate.” Instead, there must be “a principled readiness for compromise, a search for intermediate and perhaps provisional steps.”
The Russian human rights community, the declaration continued, is ready to work toward such a dialogue even while “honestly defending out principled positions.” And given the consolidation of civil society “in various regions,” the Moscow leadership of that community has “a special responsibility” to work together toward that end.
But it is not just the actions of people in Russia’s regions that provide some hope, the statement continued. “In the government apparatus and in ‘the party of power,’ there are people who think in a healthy way, who understand that the current situation is a dead end, and who are trying to find a chance to conduct necessary reforms.”
The human rights community “must be prepared for a dialogue with them,” the statement said. Moreover, it insisted, “dialogue with the responsible political opposition is also very important” as part of this process.
The declaration concluded with the hope that “the leadership of the country will find in itself the ability to realize its publically declared intentions to protect the constitutional rights and freedoms and that the more odious personalities, ‘working’ to oppose civil society and demonstratively opposed to democracy will be removed from the power structures.”
But in the meantime, the nine leaders said, “the main thing now is serious dialogue and support of the unifying trends in the human rights community” first among themselves and then between their new council and the various groups in Russia’s regions who share their commitment to rights and freedoms.