Ludmila Alexeeva: I have no illusions. There will be victims again in Russia. After all human rights defenders are considered traitors and enemies of the present system

UHHRU interviews with human rights defenders from Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Georgia.

Ludmila Alexeeva, Head of the Moscow Helsinki Group

How would you describe the human rights situation in Russia?

Ludmila Alexeeva:   It’s a question of who you compare it with. If with Belarus or Azerbaijan, then it’s better in Russia. If with Ukraine – then it’s much worse.

What is the most acute problem with human rights in your country?

That’s very individual. For me the worst thing is that murders of human rights defenders have become more frequent. Even in Soviet times when we began our work, we knew that we could be charged under Article 70 for it – 7 years labour camp and 5 years exile. And each responsible person asked themselves whether they were ready for such a sacrifice, with all the consequences for your family, your future. And it turned out that a fair number of people were prepared to pay such a price in order to live in harmony with their conscience and do what they considered necessary. Now if you ask whether you’re prepared to be killed, or to have members of your family killed?  There would certainly be less who would agree to it. You’re talking about really heroic individuals who’ll take that path.

And now, although the death penalty is not envisaged by legislation and there is no punishment at all for active civic activities, murders which are becoming more frequent prove that that’s not the case. There are means which go beyond the constraints of the law for dealing with people inconvenient to the authorities.

How would you explain the increased number of human rights defenders killed?

It’s hard to give a unequivocal answer. I don’t think that they are being perpetrated in accordance with some kind of direct instruction from above. More likely at some level those working in the Security Service decided that they will please those up top if they do that. Or they’re venting their own hatred towards those who get in the way of them acting against the law. Why have these people begun acting more decisively? Firstly, over time, control over what they were doing weakened. That’s a consequence of them being allowed to act outside the law. They know that have the right to lawlessness. And they also know that they won’t be punished. And until those in power at the highest level react and begin worrying about international reaction (quite honestly I wouldn’t rely too much on their conscience), this will continue. The authorities need to take great efforts to stop this since they really let the whole machine get out of control. Can they get the control back?

This is more terrible even than Stalin’s times. After all under Stalin all the enforcement structures were under strict control. As soon as the order came from above to stop, they stopped.

And now those in power are simply unable to bring it under control, yet it is only they who can change the attitude of these enforcement structures to human rights defenders. By constantly stating, including in the media., that civic society is important, that there can’t be economic prosperity or political stability without nongovernmental organizations, only then after some time can this stop. Unfortunately there are no preconditions for this at the moment.  This is why I have no illusions. There will be victims again in Russia. After all human rights defenders are considered traitors and enemies of the present system

The Russian media have been writing about the possibility of the death penalty being reinstated. Is that a real possibility?

For us a result of the restoration of the death penalty will be expulsion from the Council of Europe. I don’t know whether the present leadership will go that far. I thought that they wouldn’t before the war in Georgia. However when they were prepared to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia, knowing in advance that this would outrage their international partners, I don’t know how they’ll act. It’s impossible to predict.

Mikael Danilian, Armenian Helsinki Association

How would you describe the human rights situation in Armenia?

If we take the Declaration of Human Rights and glance at its articles, in Armenia they are all infringed. Human rights in Armenia are most violated by the courts which work “wonderfully” according to telephone law. I would also have to mention problems in the army, prisoners, torture by the police. We have the largest number of prisoners of conscience. There are acute problems with freedom of speech and journalists are imprisoned. At present there are 21 political prisoners.

How do the authorities treat human rights defenders?

It depends which ones. They have a negative attitude to our organization. I was assaulted in 2004, the investigation was terminated after 2 months. In 2008 they shot at me from a gas pistol, and that case was also terminated, through lack of elements of a crime.

Oleg Huhak, Belarusian Helsinki Committee

How would you describe the human rights situation in Belarus?

The situation on the whole remains difficult though there has been some let up in the sense that there aren’t so many severe and overtly brutal moves by the authorities.

What is the most acute problem with human rights in your country?

The most acute are problems with political rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, association. And the most difficult in my opinion is the problem with violations of the right to a fair trial.

How do the authorities treat human rights defenders?

The first moves towards cooperation have been made. A public consultative council under the President’s Administration has appeared.

Are you a member?

Yes, I am. However this can’t be called fully-fledged communication between human rights defenders and the authorities.

Are there any results of the work of this council?

Yes, problems have been discussed, and the authorities were to some degree concerned about them. Something is being done. However it’s still difficult to speak of results.

Is there a threat to human rights defenders’ life in Belarus?

Thank God there is no tradition of resolving problems as in Russia. After all Russia has for a long time simply been fighting its own people. There is none of that in Belarus, and no direct threat.

Nino Tyshkhistavi-Kutsishvili, Caucuses Women’s Network (Georgia)

How would you describe the human rights situation in Georgia?

In general it’s very difficult to say. Yes, rights are violated, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many organizations trying to work in this area.

Are there a lot of human rights organizations in Georgia?

I would say that there are few, but there is a very large amount of work. I would like there to be more and that they worked in all regions.

What is the most acute problem with human rights in your country?

Since I work in the area of women’s rights, I would highlight these. However  obviously if we consider that last year there was a war in Georgia, it should be noted that at present there are mass violations of the rights of people forcibly resettled. And also the rights of those not given resettled status.

How do the authorities treat human rights defenders?

That’s a really interesting topic. After all there are several organizations here who have come under or are under pressure from the authorities. This is manifested in different forms, like detention, arrest, checks by the competent bodies of such organizations. The most interesting is that last Spring in Georgia there was a period of political crisis when the country was swept by demonstrations, and the President after a first unsuccessful meeting with the opposition stated that Georgia needed real nongovernmental organizations and that the authorities would help real nongovernmental organizations to appear in Georgia and begin their activities. Soon after this a State fund was created to support real NGOs.

And what is a real NGO?

As far as my colleagues and I can understand, this means those organizations whose activities are directed at supporting the regime and are agreed with the authorities.

Is it difficult to register a civic organization in Georgia?

Well, compared with Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, then no. However in practice there are a whole range of methods which can effectively block the work of organizations. I always find it interesting if the regimes of different countries exchange experience on holding the reins of this or that direction of civic activity, how to put pressure on the civic movement, why they then fight among themselves. If they have such common aims.


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