On 30-31 May 2016, the International Symposium “Domestic Law in a Global Upswing? The Strained Relationship between International and Domestic Law“ within the “EU-Russia Legal Dialogue” Programme took place in Berlin, Germany. The “Four Decades and the Future of the Helsinki Movement” Expert Conference on the occasion of the anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) was one of the Symposium’s major elements. Both formats gathered over 90 representatives of NGOs, academics, legal practitioners, and renowned human rights activists from 23 countries.

At the public event attended by around 150 participants, Liudmila Alekseeva, MHG Co-Founder and Chairperson (Moscow, Russia), remembered:
When founding the Moscow Helsinki Group, we set virtually an impossible task, but we have succeeded in achieving it – thanks to support of the citizens and like-minded people from other countries. And now, in the times of a new Migration Period, all of us have to set an equally ambitious task – to alleviate poverty – for the sake of all mankind, and not in a single state, but across the world.
The experts of the Symposium and the Conference identified challenges the societies across Europe are facing – from neglecting international legal obligations to threats to the principle of separation of powers on the national level, from gender inequality to environmental violations, etc.
One of the topics, to which we kept coming back to, was a Europe- and worldwide decrease of belief in human rights and their misuse and politicisation, said Maciej Nowicki, Vice-Chair of the Board at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Warsaw, Poland). Today we have to return to Helsinki Movement values and revive it as an international network. Yet, while looking at the recent disturbing developments in Poland around the Constitutional Tribunal’s credentials, I still see the ground we can build upon – the public is protesting on the streets, while law practitioners go to schools to teach students human rights and the rule of law.
Both events produced some inspiring initiatives. It was decided that the “Legal Dialogue” Programme will start developing a format involving law students in NGO activities. Besides, a quarterly online journal “Civil Society Voices for Rights and Law” and webinars on practical and theoretical issues will be initiated soon.
The Symposium was not only about informative discussions but also about useful contacts, Dmitri Berezhkov from Arctic Consult (Tromsø, Norway) said. – For the time being, we have been working with indigenous communities in the North of Russia, which asked us to help them file their case to the European Court of Human Rights. In Berlin, I met several lawyers and human rights defenders including ones from the PILnet network, who expressed their willingness to support us pro bono.
Representatives of the Helsinki organisations from Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine agreed that it was an important moment to reconnect and join forces to adequately address such challenges as crackdown on activism, human rights defenders or integration of refugees and migrants.
The events were organised by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum in partnership with the German-Russian Exchange, the OSCE German Chairmanship, and the Human Rights Watch and supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany and the European Commission.
To learn more on the “EU-Russia Legal Dialogue” Programme, please follow the link.