European Parliament Holds Public Hearing On Human Rights Conditions in North Caucasus
The deteriorating human rights situation in Russia, especially the Northern Caucasus, was the focus of a public hearing at the European Parliament on October 1, 2009, involving MEPs and Russian activists. One issue discussed was how best to strike a balance between dialogue and pressure in relations with the Russian authorities.
“The background to today’s debate is rather sad”, said Heidi Hautala, chair of the EP Subcommittee on Human Rights, which organised the hearing. “This summer human rights defenders Natalya Estemirova, Zarema Sadulayeva, Alik Dzhabrailov and Stanislav Markelov and his assistant were murdered”.
Via video conference from Nizhny Novgorod Stanislav Dmitryevski, editor-in-chief of the newspaper “Pravo-zaschita” (Human Rights Defence) called for the creation of a special tribunal for Chechnya “to try war crimes and crimes against humanity” committed during the armed conflict in Chechnya. He also urged the European Parliament to support the creation of a permanent commission to investigate the facts in the Northern Caucasus.
Human rights activist Sergei Kovalev said of current political trends in Russia: “We have an inactive constitution, no free elections, censorship of mass-media and no division of powers.” Mr Kovalev helped found the organisation Memorial, which seeks to rehabilitate victims of political persecution during the Soviet era. Memorial is among the nominees for the EP’s Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought 2009.
Magomed Khazbiev, a representative of the Ingushetian opposition, criticised the repressive regime in Ingushetia, where murders of journalists, death squads and torture still take place. “During the presidency of Mr Zyazikov, 2000 young people under 20 years of age were killed and many disappeared.”
Of MEPs who spoke, Barbara Lochbihler (Greens/EFA, DE) called on the EU Member States to accept more people who emigrate from Ingushetia. Thijs Berman (S&D, NL) suggested extending exchange programmes for Russian students, journalists and scientists in order to increase the democratic consciousness, and issuing EU short-stay visas to human rights defenders more easily.
Some MEPs, including Vytautas Landsbergis (EPP, LT), were sceptical about the existing EU-Russia political dialogue on human rights but others stressed that the EU must continue to raise human rights matters in its consultations with Russia. Mrs Hautala emphasised that the “future Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with the Russian Federation should have an operable human rights clause.”