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03.12.2008

Human rights defenders critical of the Council of Europe’s III Regional NGO Congress

   

Fifty Russian and international independent NGOs have criticized the preparations for the III Regional NGO Congress under the auspices of the Council of Europe and expressed their disagreement with the principles of its organization.

The statement which is open for signing to other NGOs in the region says:

“We consider that the event planned at the beginning of December in Penza (Russia) should not bear the name III Regional NGO Congress since it does not contribute towards dialogue between leaders of civic organizations in East European countries and to the promotion of the fundamental values of the Council of Europe – democracy, human rights and the rule of law”.

«Recognition of the event being held in Penza as the latest NGO Congress of the Council of Europe would mean that CE structures were supporting the Russian authorities in their approach to civic society and thus strengthening and legitimizing the policy of control over NGOs and restrictions on their independence, used by the authorities of some of the countries of the region”.

Yury Dribladze from the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights explains that “Five years ago the CE Committee of Ministers decided that in order to strengthen civic society in countries of Eastern Europe it would be useful to regularly hold congresses of nongovernmental organizations. The first two congresses took place in Warszawa in 2005 and in Kyiv in 2007.  They were successful, interesting, were organized by nongovernmental organizations in those countries and we took part. Very hard-hitting questions were raised there, for example, about the position of political prisoners in Belarus, freedom of assembly, of association, of speech and so forth. The Council of Europe took the decision to hold the third congress in our country (i.e. Russia – translator)”. 

The problem he explains came when the Council of Europe looked for local partners. They chose an organizing committee made up not of representatives of civic society, independent NGOs (as had been the case at the previous congresses), but of members of the Commission on Issues of the Development of Institutions of Civic Society under the Council of the Federation of the Russian Federation.

This, according to Yury Dribladze, “fundamentally changes the nature and type of meeting”. He says that the organizing committee was from the outset dominated by organizations loyal to the Russian authorities, while “real civic activists who work at grassroots level had to try to get into the Congress as though to an outside event, trying to persuade the committee to allocate them a quota”.

According to Dmitry Makarov from the Youth Human Rights Movement, “We’re used to civic society in Russia being built from above. However it’s particularly galling that our regime is trying to rope the Council of Europe into this process”. He says that as a result, the list of participants and the range of subjects planned for discussion have been strictly regulated. Hard-hitting and inconvenient questions  - about the presence of political prisoners, stifling of freedom of speech and association, the results of the war in the Caucuses, and so forth – have been excluded.

 

The statement has been signed by Memorial, the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Civic Assistance Committee, Public Verdict, the Youth Human Rights Movement, the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights and many others from Russia.  In Ukraine, it has been endorsed by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, “Democratic Initiatives”, the Europe XXI Foundation. .There are also organizations from Belarus, Poland, Moldova.  ,

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