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„PL“ continues the discussion on the problems of human rights protection movement

Aleksandr Bukalov, „The Donetsk Memorial“, Donetsk
The circle of the problems of the activities of public organizations, in particular human rights protecting ones, their mutual relations with the power and their interrelations, including the questions of uniting into associations and coalitions, is rather wide. I shall try to confine my remarks to one subject: to the necessity of creating the association of human rights protecting organizations.

The discussion of the question about creating the union of human rights protecting organizations must be started from formulating the problem, the solution of which demands such unification.

Several years ago the similar idea was discussed, but it was not realized. This happened not because the potential participants could not create the union, but, first of all, because there was no „absolute necessity“ to do this. Today one can see that the „non-creation“ of the union did not affect negatively the activities of its potential participants. Does the necessity of establishing the closer cooperation of the human rights protecting organizations by creating some structure (union, association) exists now? If YES, then what kind of a structure must it be? The question may be formulated otherwise: is the creation of the united organizational structure necessary for increasing the efficiency of the work of human rights protecting organizations?

The above-mentioned questions are not rhetorical at all.

The very idea of uniting the efforts of the NGOs with similar direction of the activities and even, to a certain extent, the coordination of these activities, looks quite logically and pragmatically. This is also confirmed by the comments sent to the KhG site. However, it seems to me that the majority of the participants of the discussion, who support the idea of the DISCUSSION of the problem, are speaking very warily about the creation of such association NOW. I suppose that I am not the only person, who suspects that many complications will appear while realizing this idea.

The union may be organized with creating a juridical person or without this. In the first case, the steering organ and its head must be elected. In the second case, the election of such organ is not obligatory, but is possible. Yet, in the both cases the problem will appear of representing the NGOs in this organ. Most probably, each organization will want to represent itself. If the number of such organizations does not exceed ten, the organ will be able to work. Else, if this number equals, for example, 20-25, the efficiency of the work will be very doubtful, and the organ should be created only if extremely necessary.

There is another group of the important questions: the questions of joining the union and, what is even more essential, of expelling from the union, saying nothing about the right of the leaders of the organ to represent this organ in the contacts with other structures.

The negative aspect of the discussed problem, I believe, is the attempt to prevent the existence of the organizations, which call themselves human rights protecting while their activities rather discredit the very idea of human rights protection. Such organizations exist and would exist; this is an inevitable fact that cannot be an argument for creating the association. This is another angle of the problem.

It seems to me that the discussion on the questions of the creation and functions of the future union can waste so many time and efforts that we will have not enough strength and energy for practical work.

Taking into account the probable organizational complications, the structure having only the coordination functions looks to be the most reasonable. The supporters of this type of structure may state: we must not engender new structures and to elect the human rights protection bosses, all of us are equal and we need only the coordination of our activities. This structure would not take the decisions obligatory for everybody. Yet, would the structure take any decisions, at least some recommendations? If yes, the need appears to discuss the procedure of taking the decisions, of the responsibility for the obedience or disobedience to these decisions. Moreover, if any organization would have the right to join the association, the latter risks to become too large and to lose the rests of its ability to work turning by and by into a simple signboard. To prevent this, we must work out the procedure of „screening“ the candidates, as well as the criteria for this procedure. There the danger emerges again to wallow in the endless discussions and arguments, even if we can find the people and organizations, who will do this. At the same time, I know the category of my colleagues, who support the idea of the unification (or something else) loudly and decisively. But when the time comes to do something concrete, to spend their time and energy, they step aside giving the way to those, who, they say, are more clever, talented and experienced.

Well, does the urgent and inevitable need to create the association of human rights protecting organizations exist today? I think no, at least in the form of some structure. Is this an objective conclusion? Of course, no. This is my subjective opinion grounded, first of all, on my own experience. Thus, this viewpoint does not pretend to be a „universal“ one.

Does it mean that I have something against any joint actions of human rights protecting organizations? Against the creation of associations or coalitions? Against the coordination of the efforts directed to the solution of the common and important problems? Of course, no.

Now a little digression. Nowadays the quantity of political prisoners in our country is very small, and I think that the authorities do not persecute the human rights protectors not because they understand that this is inadmissible. No. The matter is that until recently the power has been too weak to overcome this movement. But the times change and the power becomes stronger. „Naturally“, it increases the pressure upon everybody, who hampers it, including the human rights protecting organizations. According to my most optimistic prognoses, the situation will not worsen very much, maybe, but I am sure that it will not improve. But how worse it will become? This depends on the total efforts including the efforts of the power, on the one hand, and the efforts of the society, NGOs and human rights protectors, on the other hand. It seems doubtful that the NGOs will be able to exist and work being „almost independent“ on the power, like it was in the recent years. The INTERACTION of some kind is inevitable, and here some questions arise:

•   the principles, on which the NGOs must (or may) base their „interaction“ with the power structures;

•   the necessity to unite the efforts of NGOs for taking the decisions on some concrete problems (including the problem of the NGOs survival).

The sensational article by Litvin about the civil society demonstrated how and using which principles the power wants (and can) to hold a dialog with the NGOs.

Nowadays the majority of the more or less really functioning human rights protecting NGOs in Ukraine act on their own. I do not mean that they work without any partners, but they are not united into the global structures. Quite often this approach is more convenient and simple. However, in Russia, which have moved forward more than our country, the number of human rights protecting associations is also not very great. Yet, if to compare with Ukraine, their cooperation is much tighter. They conduct the joint actions (also more frequently than in Ukraine), and last year, when the power tried to curb them by the grandiose Civil Forum, they managed to find a compromise and to present their opinion on the goals and the forms of organizing the Forum. It seems that the so-called negotiation areas were a happy innovation in the dialog with the authorities. I think that if we want to develop the idea of the cooperation with the state structures in Ukraine, we must copy, of course not blindly, but constructively, the experience of our neighbors (and it will be enough for the time being).

By the way, I want to mention the question on the Public Council at the committees of the Supreme Rada that would participate in the preparations and discussions of law drafts and in their lobbying. I believe that this is the Supreme Rada or its committees, who have the prerogative to create this organ, but not NGOs. We may only make the suggestions: about the sphere of powers, the composition, the number of members, the form of interaction, etc.

I think that the discussion of the form of the association would be the first step forward to the closer cooperation of human rights protecting NGOs. The most rational idea now is, in my opinion, the creation of the NETWORKS working with different problems.

In the recent years our organization, „The Donetsk Memorial“, focused the attention on the problems of the penitentiary system. We have the partners throughout the country. It should be pointed out that not all our partners are the human rights protecting NGOs, but all these organizations deal with the „prison“ problems. Eighteen months ago we proposed to them to create the NGO NETWORK for working on the problems of the penitentiary system. We conducted several joint actions. In particular, two years ago, we organized the wave of letters to the Minister of education with the demand to open schools in penitentiaries. It is difficult for me to assess whether the action had any result, but the scores of the letters were sent to the Ministry, and the copies of these letters – to the administration of the Penitentiary Department.

Recently we conducted the seminar of NGOs that concern with the problems of the penitentiary system. More than 30 organizations took part in this seminar, where they discussed the questions of our interaction. Some of our colleagues endorsed the idea of creating something like the association. As a rule, they represented small and weak NGOs, who wanted to raise their status due to their membership in the association. This is not a shameful wish, but the status is formed, above all, by the fulfilled work, but not by the belonging to some structure. An NGO, which works stably and professionally, does not need to join any structure for solving its problems. The partners can realize concrete projects without such formalities.

So, what is the difference between the creation of a network and the creation of an association (coalition)? First of all, a NETWORK is an informal (not juridical) structure without any strict or even definitely fixed conditions of the cooperation. Such structure may not have a head or a governing organ. Each member of the network, having chosen his concrete problem, may manage the solution of this problem in the network. When the members need help, they turn at first to each other. Such network differs from a simple set of NGOs by the more intensive information exchange and closer contacts, which are the consequences of the fact that the NGOs work in the similar spheres. May an organization not engaged in human rights protection, for example women or ecological one, be a member of the network? In our case – of course.

That is why I reckon that it is possible (and maybe even necessary and sufficiently) to create now the NETWORK of human rights protecting NGOs. This type of structure will scare away the least number of the potential members. The stricter will be the form of the union, the less will be the number of the members. Maybe, we do not need too many members, but here we must establish the balance between the QUALITY and the QUANTITY of the united NGOs. I think that it is senseless to create the union consisting of 3-5-7 organizations. The existence of the network will show us with what speed and in which form we are ABLE to create the association of human rights protecting organizations.

So, let us compare our wishes and needs with our ability to satisfy these wishes and needs.
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