On 29 January 2020, a group of Russian and Ukrainian human rights defenders held a joint briefing in Strasbourg during a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, entitled “Compliance of the Russian Federation with its obligations seven years after the last PACE monitoring report”. The members of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum Advocacy Task Force participated in the briefing. The event generated a lot of interest: several dozen people gathered to listen to the views of human rights defenders, including several ambassadors of member states of the Council of Europe, vice-presidents of the PACE and chairs of its committees.

Currently, the Monitoring Committee of the PACE is working on a report on the implementation of obligations and commitments by the Russian Federation. It will be the first monitoring report on Russia, presented to the PACE since the previous report in 2012, and even more importantly, since the return of the Russian delegation to the Assembly in June 2019. At one of its upcoming sessions in 2020, the Assembly will discuss the report and adopt a resolution based on its findings. The goal of our side event was to contribute to the preparation of the report and draw the Assembly’s attention to the situation in Russia and Russian government’s actions in respect of Ukraine. The seven years that have passed since the previous report was presented have seen dramatic deterioration in human rights, democracy and rule of law in Russia, and the pace of negative changes is accelerating. An active position of the Council of Europe is needed to address the situation.

The briefing participants presented their information and analysis on human rights, rule of law and democracy inside Russia and in respect of the territories of Ukraine it has occupied and controls, and offered their recommendations on the application of the Council of Europe’s instruments to address key concerns. These range of problems is wide and includes violations of freedoms of assembly and association and persecution of human rights defenders, which were described at the briefing by Konstantin Baranov (International Youth Human Rights Movement). Natalia Taubina (“Public Verdict” Foundation) spoke about problems in the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, the problem of torture, and implementation of decisions of the European Court for Human Rights. Yuri Dzhibladze (Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights) addressed amendments to the Russian Constitution and the procedure of their adoption, problems with holding free and fair elections, freedom of expression and the media, including abuse of counter-extremism legislation, and persecution on religious grounds. Sasha Romantsova (Center for Civil Liberties, Ukraine) spoke about the situation in the annexed Crimea, persecution of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainian activists in Crimea, and called on the international community to double its efforts to ensure release of all political prisoners from Crimea and Donbass held in Russian custody. Stanislav Aseev, author, independent journalist, currently based in Kyiv, former prisoner of security services of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic from June 2017 until 29 December 2019, when he was exchanged in a group prisoners, spoke about his experiences in prison and torture of prisoners and urged the international community to pressure Moscow to free hundreds of people held in the dungeons in Donbas.

It is very important that the Assembly produce a strong monitoring report on Russia this year and adopt a clear and focused resolution, giving honest assessment of the situation and concrete recommendations, based on the CoE values and principles. The Assembly, other bodies of the Council of Europe and member states of the organisation will need to make a strong effort to develop an effective follow-up to the resolution and ensure that the Russian authorities take it seriously and take real steps towards its implementation. The Council of Europe will need clarity, perseverance and principled position. Otherwise, the return of the Russian delegation to the Assembly would be worthless and damaging.

 

Text: Yuri Dzhibladze

Photo: Marina Makarova