war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

70th birthday of Sergey Kovaliov

Sergey A. Kovaliov was born on 2 March 1930 in the Sumy oblast of Ukraine, in a family of a railroadman. In 1954 he graduated from the biological faculty of Moscow University. He lived and worked in Moscow, doing scientific research. He published more than 60 research papers, in 1964 he defended the candidate’s dissertation (analogue of a Ph.D. degree) in biology.

In mid-fifties he took part in the struggle with Lysenko’s theory — an antiscientific doctrine that dominated in the Soviet biology and was supported by the communist party.

In 1966 he organized a letter from researchers of the institute of biophysics, aimed at protection of the writers A. Siniavskiy and Yu. Daniel, condemned for the ‘anti-Soviet propaganda’. In 1968 Kovaliov joined the just appearing movement in human rights protection in the USSR and soon became there a noticeable figure. When in May 1969 the initiative group of human rights protection in the USSR was created, Kovaliov was one of the group. Sanctions from the authorities followed and Kovaliov was fired from the post of the head of the Department of mathematical methods in biology.

Kovaliov was one of those who organized the struggle of Soviet dissidents as an open and non-violent activity. As most of his colleagues, Kovaliov regarded the observance of human rights, first of all the observance of civil rights, to be the key condition of the development of the society.

In 1971 Kovaliov became one of the editors of the ‘Chronicle of current events’ — a typewritten informative bulletin of Soviet human rights protection activists; it was published since 1968 each 6 – 8 weeks. Observers of that time and our time wonder how, in spite of being a semi-underground edition, the ‘Chronicle’ was extremely accurate and complete when depicting violations of human rights. A. D. Sakharov, who did not participate directly in publishing the ‘Chronicle’, more than once declared that the ‘Chronicle’ was the main success of the human rights protection movement. The ‘Chronicle’ and the initiative group, as Helsinki movement later, was the center around which human rights protection and related movements consolidated. In particular, Kovaliov’s role was decisive in setting contacts with the movement of Lithuanian Catholics and Georgian dissidents.

In the end of 1972 the publication of the ‘Chronicle’ was suspended under pressure of the KGB, but a year later its publishing was resumed. On 7 May 1974 three members of the initiative group: S. Kovaliov, T. Velikanova and T. Khodorovich called the press-conference for foreign newsmen, where they declared that they refuse to obey the blackmail and resume the publication and distribution of the ‘Chronicle’. Three new issues of the ‘Chronicle’ were presented to the newsmen.

Kovaliov had time to participate in the preparation of the four further issues of the ‘Chronicle’. One of them, No. 33, was a special issue devoted to political prisoners; here the date of 30 October was declared the Day of the political prisoners in the USSR (since 1991 this holiday has become official, it is called ‘the Day of memory of victims of political repressions’).

In September 1974 a Soviet section of Amnesty International was created in Moscow. It was the first case of opening on the territory of the USSR a branch of an international organization independent of official powers. Kovaliov was in this group.

On 28 December 1974 Kovaliov was arrested on the accusation of ‘anti-Soviet agitation and proganda’. The main concrete accusation was his participation in the publication of the ‘Chronicle’. He was also accused of the distribution of the informative bulletin of Lithuanian Catholics and of A. Solzhenitsyn’s book ‘GULAG archipelago’. In December 1975 the court in Vilnius (Lithuania) condemned Kovaliov to 7 years of strict regime colony and 3 years of exile. Kovaliov did not plead guilty and was forbidden to pronounce the final speech.

The arrest and condemnation of Kovaliov caused a lengthy protest campaign both in the USSR and abroad, where a public committee for Kovaliov’s defense was organized. Prominent biologists, mathematicians and lawyers from various countries entered this committee.

Kovaliov did the term in the Perm colony and was sent to exile on the Kolyma. He left the exile before the term and settled in Tver, since his return to Moscow was forbidden and dangerous.

During the perestroyka he took part in various public initiatives, in particular in constituent congress of ‘Memorial’ (in 1990 he was elected a co-chairman of this organization). Then he also joined the Moscow Helsinki Group.

In December 1989 Kovaliov, by Sakharov’s advice, put out his candidature to the Congress of people’s deputies of the Russian federation, and in March 1990 he was elected.

The 1st Congress of people’s deputies appointed Kovaliov the chairman of the Committee on human rights. Working on this post, Kovaliov, jointly with his colleagues, wrote the Russian Declaration of human and civil rights — a framework document that determined the related constitutional norms. This Declaration was adopted by the Congress in the beginning of 1991. Basing on this declaration, Kovaliov, as a member of the Constitutional Commission, formulated basic articles of the corresponding part of the operating Constitution of Russia.

At this period he also promoted a number of laws. The most important of them are the following:

the law ‘On rehabilitation of victims of political repressions’ (October 1991);

the law ‘On the state of emergency’ (1991);

the laws ‘On refugees’ and ‘On the forced migrants’

amendments and supplements to the Reforming-Labor Code (1992).

On Kovaliov’s initiative the President of Russia signed in 1991 the Decree on amnesty; according to this decree remaining prisoners of former political colonies were released.

Since the autumn of 1991 Kovalev is the head of the Russian delegation in the UNO Committee on human rights. In February 1993 he was appointed a member of the Presidential Council.

In 1993 Kovaliov took an active part in creating the political movement which later became the party ‘Democratic choice of Russia’ and was elected a member of the political council of this party.

After disbanding the Superior Soviet in September 1993 Kovaliov was appointed the chairman of the Commission on human rights at President’s administration. This Commission jointly with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs created the ‘Federal program of actions concerning human rights’, prepared and published reports ‘On observance of human and civil rights in Russia’ (for 1993, 1994 and 1995) and created the draft of the law ‘On the ombudsman’.

Kovaliov more than once came to the ‘burning points’ of the CIS and Russia. In December 1993 Kovaliov was elected a deputy of the State Duma. In January 1994 the Duma elected Kovaliov the first Russian ombudsman.

In December 1994, when the military operations began in Chechnya, Kovaliov harshly protested against the Kremlin policy in this region. He headed a group of MPs and representatives of other public organizations and went to Chechnya. There he gathered information and spread it. During the attack of Grozny he was in the town, and his information was distributed throughout the country. The actions of Kovaliov and his colleagues shaped anti-war attitude in a noticeable part of Russian population. In December several leading Russian newspapers declared him ‘the man of the year’.

At the same time Kovaliov sent to the government and the President several appeals and memoranda, trying to convince them to stop the war and to pass to the peaceful solution of the crisis.

Up to March 1995 he remained in Chechnya, inspecting the so-called ‘filtration centers‘, informing the public on the situation of the civil population. Supported by ‘Memorial’ and several related public organizations, he created the ombudsman’s mission in the Northern Caucasus.

Simultaneously Kovaliov supported Russia’s entrance to the Council of Europe, considering that it would promote the international control on how Russia fulfilled her obligations in human rights protection.

In March 1995 the State Duma dismissed Kovalev from the ombudsman’s position, accusing him of the ‘pro-Chechen attitude’. Mass media decreased his support and somewhat criticized him. Yet, he still remained the chairman of the Commission on human rights, a member of the Presidential Council and the head of the Russian delegation in the UNO Committee on human rights.

In June 1995, when the crisis with hostages in Budionovsk happened, Kovalev arrived in the Northern Caucasus. On the instruction of the Prime-Minister Chernomyrdin he actively participated in the negotiations with Basayev: they agreed on the conditions of releasing the hostages and on the beginning of the peaceful settlement in Chechnya. Together with several MPs and journalists he gave up to terrorists as a guarantor of their safe return to bases.

In December 1995 Kovaliov again was elected a deputy of the State Duma. In January 1996 he became a member of the PACE from the party ‘Yabloko’. On 5 February 1996 Kovaliov asked for the demission from all presidential structures and published an open letter to President Eltsin, in which he accused the President of anti-democratic actions and declared him responsible for a stupid and bloody policy in Chechnya. Since that time up to 1997 he did not occupy a state positions, although remaining a member of the State Duma and the PACE.

Since spring 1997 he became the president of the public Institute of human rights.

In April 1997 the German translation of his book of memoirs ‘The flight of a white crow’ went out of press in Hamburg. In December 1999 he was again elected to the State Duma inside the party list of the Union of right forces. Since the beginning of the second Chechen war he has become one of a few prominent politicians who tried to stop the war.

Sergey A. Kovaliov is a political figure causing in the Russian society very contradictory assessments. The polarity of views on his activities increased with the beginning of the second Chechen war. Up to now Kovaliov was not a very noticeable figure in the big politics. During the putsch in August 1991 the putschists prepared the list of outstanding democratic politicians who had to be interned. The list contained 24 names. It is characteristic that the name of Kovaliov was the last.

Since the first Chechen war Kovaliov has become an idol of the democratic Russian intelligentsia. In some publications he was named ‘the conscience of the nation’ — the epithet which was given only to academician Sakharov. On the other hand, numerous supporters of the ‘state’ and ‘pragmatic’ approaches to the problem of human rights in Russia consider Kovaliov to be a rootless idealist, whose unwillingness to compromises brought to the society more harm than use. A. Kiva, a well-known politologist and Kovaliov’s colleague in the Commission on human rights at the President’s administration, published an article confirming the above-mentioned estimate. Nationalists of different descriptions regard Kovaliov as an enemy of the nation: they point out that he hated everything Russian and was a stubborn supporter of the Western approach in human rights and politics, he denied the idea of the specific Russian way. In 1995 P. Grachev, the then Minister of Defense, called him, in a TV feature, an enemy of the nation. A little later a Vedenkin, a nationalist, expressed his desire, in a TV interview, to shoot Kovaliov personally.

Such are the views of the politically active citizens. As to the ‘silent majority’ of the Russian population, it is difficult to determine their attitude to Kovaliov. If to believe some polls of the public opinion held in Moscow in 1995 – 96, he is trusted more than most leading politicians. This is confirmed by the easiness with which Kovaliov won the election to the Duma in December 1995. Yet, there are no data at all whether Kovaliov is popular in the provinces now, or even if his name is known at all.
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