Both the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and the respected Russian activist Vitaliy Ponomarev, are part of a global network. After he was repeatedly denied entry into Kyrgyzstan, we demanded immediate action. Within a few hours, 37 organizations from 18 countries affiliated with the Civil Society Platform, signing a statement calling on the Kyrgyz authorities to revoke the entry refusal.
Power of collective action
Due to the collective solidarity work of the 37 organisations, the story about Ponomarev was widely shared on social media. Letters were sent to relevant governments, urging them to demand that Kyrgyzstan reverse the ban.
The power of networks was also tested after the arrest of activist Oyub Titiev, head of the organization Memorial in Chechnya. 50 international organizations protested against the trumped-up charges and demanded his release. Titiev is still in jail, but his case has become one of the most widespread campaigns for political prisoners in Russia.
It is about showing solidarity. Human rights organizations work together to act as a constant reminder to the international community that we cannot sit still at a time where serious injustices continue to take place.
Although at times it can prove difficult to be heard, the solidarity work done by our networks have resulted in the saving of lives.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was founded on international solidarity. Strong international co-operation developed in the 1970s between the United States, Canada and Western Europe, on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe on the other.
This international co-operation was called the Helsinki process and led both to the formation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and to numerous Helsinki-groups. The first was the Moscow Helsinki Group in 1976, demanding Soviet authorities to respect human rights and the Helsinki Declaration. All members of the group in Moscow were arrested or expelled but inspired the birth of Helsinki committees in many countries in Europe. One of the most famous was Charta 77 in Czechoslovakia.
The Norwegian Helsinki Committee was founded in 1977, followed by sister organisations in Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Croatia, the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, Belgium, France and Canada. In 1977, the Helsinki Watch was founded in the United States and is the precursor of Human Rights Watch.
The “Helsinki movement” also spread to former Soviet states, such as the Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia. Some countries are also member to the so-called Helsinki Citizen Assembly, which works for democracy, peace and human rights, including in Armenia and Turkey.
The use of international networks leads to fast and loud responses in support of activists like Vitaliy Ponomarev and Oyub Titiev. They serve as constant reminders to authoritarian states that fear and repression are not solutions accepted by the international community.
Co-ordinated efforts are often the most effective way to get our message across to governments and major international organizations such as the UN, EU or OSCE.