Open Address of the Russian Human Rights NGOs to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

28.09.2012

Ladies and gentlemen: We, the representatives of Russian human rights organisations, have studied the draft resolution on The Honouring of the Obligations and Commitments by the Russian Federation that was unanimously adopted by the Monitoring Committee.  The text features up-to-the-point

Ladies and gentlemen:

We, the representatives of Russian human rights organisations, have studied the draft resolution on The Honouring of the Obligations and Commitments by the Russian Federation that was unanimously adopted by the Monitoring Committee.

 The text features up-to-the-point analysis and useful recommendations that, if followed by the authorities, will definitely benefit Russia. We regret to say, however, that we found a number of issues concerning inadequate interpretations of certain facts. Those deficiencies may overshadow the positive effect of the PACE resolution.

In the draft, the current changes to the Russian law and legal practice are adequately described as being undemocratic. At the same time, it comes as a surprise that the text also expresses satisfaction with the dynamics, both as far as the package of laws proposed by former President Medvedev is concerned as well as mass protests (see paragraphs 3, 4, 10, and 24).

It is quite difficult to support that optimistic conclusion. The recent measures of the Russian authorities aimed at restricting democracy have apparently brought about systemic changes placing Russia among the world’s authoritarian police states.

The Monitoring Committee has noted in its report and draft resolution a number of effective measures that may signify the comeback of democratic opportunities (paragraphs 4 and 10). However, we can hardly consider those to be either sincere or adequate. They are more appropriately viewed as an imitation, and it is of major importance that the final document reflects it.

To begin with, the re-introduction of direct elections of regional governors used in the resolution to illustrate a success story of liberal reforms (paragraph 10) is in reality accompanied by a provision that immediately deprives it of any democratic value. A potential candidate for the governor’s post is required to ensure support of a certain number of regional MPs. Given the fact that the ruling party commands the majority in regional legislatures, the requirement effectively prevents the opposition from standing in the elections. Indeed, that has already been proved to be true in the regions were gubernatorial elections are about to take place.

Furthermore, while the requirement for party members has been cut down from 50,000 to 500 and it is easier now for a party to propose its own candidates, this has also proved to be an imitation. Election blocs are not allowed, but instead the 5% election threshold has been preserved. There also emerged the requirement for parties to participate in the elections or risk losing their registration. In practice, the measures above deprive genuine opposition candidates of any chance of being elected to the parliament.

Third, we find it difficult to understand why mass protests resulting from people’s anger over the fraudulent Duma and Presidential elections and political persecution are seen as a step ahead on the path leading to a democratic society (paragraph 3).

Fourth, it is regrettable that the resolution fails to mention the fact that major Russian media outlets, both state-run and owned by the Kremlin-connected monopolies, are used as a government propaganda weapon with frequent lies and outright slander targeting the opposition, human rights organisations, and other NGOs. We are sorry to note that the resolution says nothing about widespread political persecution, pressure on civil rights activists, the emergence of fabricated criminal cases and arbitrary and extensive use of the law on combatting extremism.

Finally, while taking proper note of human rights abuses in Ingushetia and Dagestan (paragraph 15), the resolution has completely ignored the situation in Russia’s Chechen Republic despite the fact that there have been no changes for the better in that region since the PACE approved Resolution 1738 voicing utmost concern with harsh and systematic violations of human rights in the Chechen Republic.

The draft resolution is silent about degrading treatment of Chechen women, who are often deprived of basic rights, although much has been said about that in human rights organisations’ reports and other sources available to the rapporteurs.

We urge the Parliamentary Assembly to alter the draft resolution accordingly so that its text properly reflects both the systemic nature of measures targeting democracy and the insincere character of the liberalisation of Russia’s political system.

We furthermore believe that the above-mentioned shortcomings of the Report and the draft resolution, which is based on the report, are regrettable and to a large extent may be attributed to the fact that the rapporteurs chose for some reason not to meet with the representatives of the Russian civil society.

Faithfully yours,

Ludmila ALEXEYEVA, chair, Moscow Helsinki Group

Valery BORSHCHYOV, member, Moscow Helsinki Group

Yury VDOVIN, deputy chair, “Civil Supervision” Human Rights Organisation

Svetlana GANNUSHKINA, chair, “Civil Assistance” Civil Rights Organisation

Oleg ORLOV, board member, “Memorial” Human Rights Centre

Sergei KOVALYOV, chair, Andrei Sakharov Heritage Foundation

Lev PONOMARYOV, chair, “For Human Rights” movement

Liliya SHIBANOVA, chair, “Golos” Association for Voters’ Rights

Yuri SCHMIDT, lawyer, St. Petersburg Human Rights Council

Moscow, September 26, 2012