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Ukraine, Russia crisis:
NHC is proud to present our new publication format, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee's policy paper. Our first policy paper is a Q&A on the Ukraine, Russia crisis, where we want to point to some of the main legal and human rights issues in the current situation. You can read and download the policy paper below.
- The judgments by a Moscow court of eight Bolotnaya protesters to prison terms from two and half to four years must be seen in the context of Kremlin efforts to stifle opposition, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. - The judgments send a chilling message to ordinary Russians that they should refrain from taking part in protests against President Vladimir Putin and his rule. If not they may face serious consequences. The judgments target Russian civic activism and basic freedoms.
The NHC is deeply concerned about today’s verdict concerning the environmental activist Evgeny Vitishko, who in a Krasnodar court has been sentenced to three years in penal colony. Photo: Oleg Kozirov
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has produced a manual for journalists travelling to the Olympics in Sochi. The manual covers the political, human rights and environmental context of the winter games, which are taking place in a city on the Black Sea which has around 350,000 inhabitants. The manual is part of a major partnership to draw attention to the problematic aspects of the winter games in Sochi and developments in Russia regarding human rights and respect for human dignity, which is a central value of the Olympic Movement. The manual also includes an extensive list of useful contacts.
During the Winter session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) today, an overwhelming majority voted for the adoption of the report "Refusing impunity for the killers of Sergei Magnitsky"
A new book edited by Russian-French journalist Elena Servettaz, arguing for Europe to enact a Magnitsky law similar to the US Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act was launched in the UK on 5 November. -The book presents powerful arguments that Europe should deny visa and freeze assets of those who killed Sergei Magnitsky and other human rights violators, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General.
On 8 October 2013, Mikhail Kosenko, one of the defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya square case was found guilty of taking part in mass disorder (article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code) during the “March of the Millions” on 6 May 2012. The Zamoskvoretsky Regional court also found him guilty of physically assaulting police officers (article 318 of the Criminal Code) . - The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is critical of the trial, which did not comply with fair trial standards, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. - The conclusions of the court were not backed by solid evidence. Two police witnesses were unable to identify Kosenko as a person who had been involved in any violence. In the photo, Aleksandra Dukhanina, another of the victims from Bolotnaya awaiting trial is arrested. Photo: Rustam Adagamov
– The guilty verdicts of lawyer and world known whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky and the man he represented, William Browder, CEO of Hermitage Management Capital, by a Moscow court on 11 July 2013 represents a new low point in Russia’s efforts to distort facts and cover-up the real wrongdoing in the case, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. – The Magnitsky case implicates Russian authorities in a series of human rights violations, including illegal arrest, torture, and failure to provide medical treatment. Now they have added new violations to the list; exposing the legal nihilism and lack of rule of law in the country.
– The killing of journalist Akhmednabi Akhmednabiev on Tuesday 9 July should be promptly investigated and those responsible should be prosecuted, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. – The attempted murder on Akhmednabiev in January 2013 was ignored by the Prosecutor’s office, in spite of a Dagestan Supreme Court decision that it should be investigated. This culture of impunity for those attacking and even murdering journalists and human rights defenders in North Caucasus must end. If not, authorities will remain complicit in these killings.
The Siberian newspaper Yakutsk Vecherny, and Yelena Kostyuchenko, journalist of Novaya Gazeta, were among the laureates of this year’s Press Freedom Award, issued by Fritt Ord and Zeit Stiftung. – The prize jury has come to an important and appropriate decision, drawing attention to the deteriorating conditions for freedom of speech and the difficult situation for journalists in today’s Russia, said Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee condemns the legislation waved through this week by the Russian State Duma; prohibiting “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations”. The restrictive legislation is part of a wider trend of worsening human rights situation for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.
Russian Civic Assistance Committee will soon present a book,- a collection of memories of eyewitnesses of and participants in the Chechen wars. The title of the book, published in Russian, is ‘Stories of one war’ / Каждый молчит о своем: истории одной войны,
One of Russia’s most respected human rights defenders, Svetlana Gannushkina, is prosecuted for “failure to comply with legal requirements by the Prosecutor” and is to stand trial on 4 June. Gannushkina, the head of the Civic Assistance Committee (CAC), suspended cooperation with the Moscow Prosecutors' office in April 2013 because unreasonable requirements were imposed on her organization. In 2007, Svetlana received the Sakharov Freedom Award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. She has been nominated for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize by Erna Solberg, the head of the Conservative Party in Norway.
-Norwegian authorities should contribute to Europe enacting Magnitsky type legislation, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. – There is need for new ways of addressing the very serious human rights violations that take place in Russia from the part of European governments and institutions. Magnitsky legislation may prove to be an efficient supplement to regional and international human rights mechanisms. Norway should signal support of the EU enacting Magnitsky type legislation.
Today, Golos was convicted for failing to comply with NGO-legislation and failing to register as foreign agents.NHC was a witness during the trial where we refuted claims that Golos has accepted prize money from us. The legislation is itself in violation of international law, and we condemn the court decision as unlawful. Golos must pay a fine of 300 000 roubles, approx. 9 500 USD. Follow updates on our Facebook-page and on Twitter nhc_no.
Golos victim of repressive NGO-legislation in Russia:
On April 25, Golos was convicted for failing to comply with NGO-legislation and failing to register as foreign agents. NHC was a witness during the trial where we refuted claims that Golos has accepted prize money from us. The legislation is itself in violation of international law, and we condemn the court decision as unlawful. Golos must pay a fine of 300 000 roubles, approx. 9 500 USD. On 9 April Golos, a renowned human rights NGO conducting election monitoring in Russia, and Golos director Lilia Shibanova, was informed by the Ministry of Justice that a case is initiated against them for being in breach of the 2012 "foreign agents law”. – To initiate legal actions against a human rights organizations for not having registered as a “foreign agent”, is a violation by Russian authorities of international standards, said Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General. The 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders clearly states the rights of human rights defenders to receive funding from abroad.
Russia, mass inspections of NGOs:
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply concerned about recent developments in Russia related to freedom of association and the rights of human rights defenders to conduct their work, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General. – Large numbers of non-government organizations were today subject to inspections from authorities, including Memorial and other well-known human rights organisations. The inspections are follow-up on recently adopted restrictive legislation that violates freedom of association and aims at obstructing human rights work in the country. European institutions and governments should react strongly.
On 6 February 2013, the regional court in Nizhny Novgorod ruled that the city administration had violated human rights when refusing to provide time and place for a March of millions demonstration. – The court’s recognition that the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights should prevail is a promising development, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, NHC Deputy Secretary General. – It should set precedence for other courts handling similar cases of protesters being denied their rights under Russian and international law to freedoms of expression, assembly and association.
NGO Forum for Human Rights:
Norwegian Helsinki Committee, of behalf of the Norwegian NGO Forum for Human Rights, has submitted the annual recommendations to the Government of Norway on human rights at United Nations. The recommendations are particularly directed towards Norway's efforts before the UN Human Rights Council, but are relevant also to other UN bodies.
In a statement today the Civic Society Platform, which includes the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, condemned the December 19 raid on the premises of the Human Rights House in Voronezh by Russian police. The statement calls on the international community to speak out against this and other cases of harassment against civil society in Russia.
The Moscow City Court today decided to exclude the Russian Justice Initiative from the list of international organisations allowed to function in Russia. – The court decision sets an alarming precedence, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. It means that one of the biggest international human rights organisations in Russia is prohibited from doing its important work. It opens up for more similar cases against other international organisations.
A draft law criminalizing “promotion of homosexuality among minors” is to be considered by the Russian Parliament on 19 December. The draft violates the right to freedom of expression and association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.
In an article in Foreign Policy, Tanya Lokshina, senior researcher and deputy director at the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch and longtime NHC cooperator, looks at the current political crackdown sweeping Russia following Vladimir Putin’s May 7 presidential inauguration.
Sakharov Freedom Award:
Russian Association 'Golos' was presented the Sakharov Freedom Award at a ceremony which also marked Norwegian Helsinki Committee 35 years' anniversary on 23 October. Lilya Shibanova accepted the award on behalf of the organisation she leads. - It is a great honor to receive the Sakharov Freedom award. The recognition comes at a very important and suitable time for us, were Russian democracy is dwindling and organisatons like ours are under fierce attack from the authorities. The anniversary was also celebrated by a well attended seminar opened by Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.
NHC report 3/2012:
Tblisi,10 November 2012: Grave crimes were committed during the war between Georgia and Russia in August 2008. The NHC documented war crimes and crimes against humanity during and after the cessation of hostilities. In the years since, the NHC has investigated in Georgia and Russia, trying to assess whether domestic investigations are on-going and effective.
NHC interventions at OSCE HDIM in Warsaw:
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is represented also at this years' OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. In our interventions at the meeting we will focus on the importance of independent judiciary drawing upon the examples of the Sergey Magnitsky case in Russia and the case against several oppositionals in Western Kazakhstan, and also drawing attention to governments' obligation to facilitate human rights eduaction, including by refraining from hindering participation by visa denial.
The Association Golos is awarded the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award 2012 for its outstanding efforts to promote democratic values through free and fair elections in Russia, Secretary General Bjørn Engesland says in a statement today.
In a letter addressed to Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre today, NHC express concern with recent developments in the Russian Federation related to the on-going crackdown against opposition leaders and human rights activists, as well as the adoption of restrictive legislation on public rallies. - President Putin pledged to inspire “greater participation of citizens in public affairs” and to have “more consultations with different sectors of society about legal reforms” on the day of his inauguration, Secretary Bjørn Engelsnad says. Recent developments stand in sharp contrast to these words.
In a letter sent today to the Federal Minister of Justice in Austria Dr. Beatrix Karl, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, together with Human Rights Watch, Civil Rights Defenders, Austrian Helsinki Association, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, and International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), urges the Austrian government to request the extradition of Lecha Bogatyrov from the Russian Federation. Lecha Bogatyrov is the man who allegedly fired the fatal shots that killed the Chechen exile Umar Israilov on the streets of Vienna in January 2009. Three men were convicted 1 June 2011 by the Vienna Landesgericht to long prison sentences for the killing of Israilov, but the current current impunity for Mr. Israilov’s alleged killer should be treated as a political issue by the Austrian government.
(22/06-2010) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee has sent a letter to the Czech Commissioner on Human Rights, in support of initiatives to strengthen protection of Chechen asylum seekers.
(26/08-2010) Lev Ponomarev, the Russian human rights activist and the leader of the movement “For Human Rights” was arrested yesterday and got three days administrative punishment under article 19.3 Administrative Offences Code of the Russian Federation (charged with “insubordination to legal order of a policeman”). On August 22, Lev Ponomarev, together with the representatives of the movement “Soilidarity” Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Shnayder carried Russian flag at Novy Arbat on the Russian Flag Day. All three were arrested right after and charged with unauthorized demonstration and insubordination to policemen. The Moscow Presnenskij court refused to arrest Nemtsov and ordered the case to be further investigated, as the judge didn’t find the facts of “insubordination to policemen”. Mikhail Shnayder’s case was planned to be proceeded today, August 26.
(24/09-2010) - With the ascension of Dmitry Medvedev to the Russian presidency, a new kind of political rhetoric entered the Kremlin. Medvedev says he wants to combat legal nihilism, and has pledged reform and modernization. Do the modernization plans offer possibilities for Russian human rights groups, asked Secretary General Bjørn Engesland in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in his introduction at a public seminar organised by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee on 22 September.
A Just Russia party candidate in the 4 March 2012 mayor elections in Astrakhan, Oleg Shein, ended his 40 days hunger strike on 24 April after receiving access to webcam videos from polling stations in Astrakhan. Shein and his supporters had filed a law suit claiming that massive fraud had taken place during the elections. – The Central Election Commission should give full access to videos in order to help investigation of all substantiated cases of fraud, says Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General.
Three days ahead of the 4 March 2012 Presidential elections in Russia there is little doubt about the outcome. Despite increasing public protests against prime minister Vladimir Putin, all indications suggest that he will declare victory, probably after the first ballot. This will happen in an environment where free and fair elections are not possible. The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) will be present in Moscow during the elections.
- Putin will not survive the next presidential term. He will off course win the upcoming elections, he is in reality the only candidate, but he will be replaced within two years. The Russian political elites will ensure this, together with the protesters in the streets. This was one of the conclusions of Nicolay Petrov, who participated at The Norwegian Helsinki Committee’s seminar Presidential Elections in Russia – a New Spring?, at the House of Literature in Oslo on 15 February.
The credibility of the upcoming Presidential Elections in Russia, already marred by the claims of widespread violations in Parliamentary polls in December last year, is waning after Central Elections Commission’s refusal to register the liberal opposition leader, Grigory Yavlinsky for the Presidential race. At the same time, renewed pressure against the respected election monitor organization and NHC partner Golos is disquieting, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General.
Invitation to the seminar::
Associate Professor of Law Mr. Jeffrey Khan has recently submitted a report to President Medvedev’s Human Rights Council analyzing the second verdict against the imprisoned former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
- Russian authorities should accept peaceful demonstrations against unfair elections, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. - Norway and EU countries should publicly urge Russian authorities to investigate violations of election legislation and respect freedom of expression and assembly.
State Duma elections:
The tendency in the result of the voting yesterday nevertheless shows that the Russian population is getting wary of the tightfisted rule of the Medvedev/Putin tandem, says Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee Bjørn Engesland. -Independent national observers all over the country have registered countless violations in the election legislation, including pressure against voters to vote for the ruling party United Russia.
Russian authorities undermining trust in elections by impeding monitoring. In the run-up to Russian Duma elections taking place on Sunday 4 December, the country’s most experienced election monitoring group is being under scrutiny by prosecutors and pro-government media. –The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is concerned that these are deliberate attempts at hindering Golos important work, says Bjørn Engesland, Secretary-General. “By limiting monitoring of the elections, authorities are also undermining trust in elections being conducted in compliance with international standards of freeness and fairness.”
The elections process ahead of the 4 December Duma elections in the Russian Federation has not been fair”, said Bjørn Engesland, Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. “We have serious concerns on obstacles related to nomination of delegates and registration of parties, as well as lack of equal opportunities to campaign.”
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is actively and well represented at this years' OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting in Warsaw. In our interventions at the meeting we will focus on freedom of religion in Central Asia, rule of law in Azerbaijan, Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and freedom of expression in Macedonia, Bosnia and Serbia. We are organising a side-event on lack of justice after major human rights violations in Russia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Additionally we organise a side-event on strikers' rights in Kazakhstan and we are also co-organising a side-event with particular focus on Ales Bialiatski and the release of political prisoners in Belarus. Below you will find links to the HDIM webpage, all documents from our side-events and interventions and other relevant links.
Norwegian Helsinki Committee Deputy Secretary General, Gunnar M. Ekeløve-Slydal and Advisor, Inna Sangadzhiyeva visited Russia from September 5 to September 9, 2011.
Elena Bonner, the wife of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Andrei Sakharov, and herself a prominent human rights activist and laureate of the Thorolf Rafto Prize, passed away on 18 June.
On Tuesday, a Moscow court ruled to acquit Oleg P. Orlov, Chair of the Memorial Human Rights Society, one of Europe’s most
respected human rights groups. Mr. Orlov was charged with defamation against Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov, in connection
with statements Orlov made at the time Memorial employee and award winning human rights defender Natalya Estemirova was killed
- I welcome the ruling in our colleague Oleg Petrovich’s case as a step in the right direction for a judicial system that historically has lacked willingness to support and protect human rights defenders, says NHC Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.
Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia:
Last week, the Norwegian Helsinki Committee hosted a delegation of Azeri, Belarusian, Russian and international human rights defenders. They took part in seminars arranged by the NHC at the Norwegian parliament Stortinget and the Fritt Ord Foundation. In their recomendations to the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights of the PACE and Stortinget, they called for a sharpening of human rights policies towards Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia.
- The Norwegian Helsinki Committee would like to extend its sincerest congratulations to Svetlana Alekseevna Gannushkina, who yesterday became a Knight of the French Legion of Honour,” says Secretary-General Bjørn Engesland.
Russian Federation/Central Asia:
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee is deeply distraught to learn of yet another violent attack on human rights activist and employee of Human Rights Center Memorial, Bakhrom Khamroev, in Moscow on Monday June 6th 2011.
How can we combine the agenda of bilateral business relations with the active promotion and defense of human rights?
The Court in Vienna is to reach a verdict on the murder of the refugee who accused Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov of torture today, on 1 June 2011. On the eve of the verdict the coalition of human rights groups monitoring the trial wants to emphasize the importance of this emblematic case and expresses its regret at the absence of cooperation of the Russian Federation with the Austrian justice.
(14/12-2010) The Norwegian Helsinki Committee held its second training seminar for representatives from the Public Observation Commissions of Archangelsk, Murmansk and the Karelian Republic.
(24/09-2010) With the ascension of Dmitry Medvedev to the Russian presidency, a new kind of political rhetoric entered the Kremlin. Medvedev says he wants to combat legal nihilism, and has pledged reform and modernization. Do the modernization plans offer possibilities for Russian human rights groups, asked Secretary General Bjørn Engesland in the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in his introduction at a public seminar organised by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee on 22 September.
Statement from the NHC annual meeting 2011:
At these exceptional times – when authoritarian regimes are falling or are under serious pressure by democratic forces in the Middle East and North Africa – we witness that Europe’s last authoritarian states are successful in retaining control and undermining democratic developments.
The verdict in the case of murdering the Russian lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist Anastasia Baburova is finalized. On May 6, 2011, after more than two years of investigation and lengthy court hearings, the persons, accused of their murder, were convicted.
Bjørn Engesland, secretary general of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee has today sent a letter to Lyudmila Alexeeva, co-founder and leader of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) congratulating the Russian human rights organisation on its 35 years' anniversary.
(14/12-2010) International and Russian human rights organizations have sent a letter to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expressing concern with the lack of effective implementation of its resolution 1738 (2010) on Legal remedies for human rights defenders in North Caucasus.