On 6th October 2016 the Henry Jackson Society, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, and Rights in Russia held a joint event at the London offices of the Henry Jackson Society featuring Dmitri Bartanev, Valentina Cherevatenko, Robert Latypov, Grigory Melkonyants and Natalia Taubina. This group of leading Russian civil society activists discussed the challenges of promoting human rights, civil society and democracy in Russia.
Dmitri Bartenev is an attorney based in St. Petersburg. In cooperation with Russian and international human rights organisations, Bartenev has represented clients in many high-profile anti-discrimination cases in fields such as mental disability, LGBT rights, and freedom of speech and association. Dmitri graduated from Petrozavodsk State University as a lawyer in 1999. He holds a Ph.D. in international law from St. Petersburg State University where he also teaches international law and human rights as an associate professor.
Valentina Cherevatenko is the chair of the “Women of the Don” Union. The “Women of the Don” Union, originally established in 1993, has worked for more than twenty years in different areas of human rights, with a special emphasis on the rights of women: in particular, it has focused on gender discrimination, violence against women, and peace-building initiatives in the North Caucasus region.
The Justice Ministry designated “Women of the Don” as a ‘foreign agent’ NGO in 2014. In June 2016 Cherevatenko became the first individual to face criminal prosecution under the ‘foreign agent’ law.
Robert Latypov is chair of the Perm Regional Chapter of the International Memorial Society, and heads the Youth Memorial Action Group. Since 2000, Robert has been organizing and conducting national and international volunteer camps in the Perm Region. An important ongoing project by Perm Memorial is the Memory Rivers expeditions, in which young people visit former locations of GULAG special settlements and prison camps in remote districts of Perm Region.
Grigory Melkonyants is co-chair of Russia’s leading independent election monitor Golos, the Movement for the Defence of Voters’ Rights. Since 2005 Golos has been a member of the European Network of Election Monitoring Organizations (ENEMO). In 2012 Golos was awarded the Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award by the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. In 2013 the Ministry of Justice designated Golos as a ‘foreign agent’ on the grounds that it had received foreign funding (this was a reference to the 7,700 EUR Sakharov Prize – despite the fact that Golos had declined to accept the money).
Natalia Taubina is the director of the Public Verdict Foundation. Natalia’s areas of expertise are international human rights standards, human rights in the work of law enforcement bodies, and NGO management. Under Natalia’s leadership, Public Verdict Foundation has created important programmes offering free legal aid and rehabilitation support to victims of human rights abuses committed by law enforcement officers. Natalia is a member of the Council of Experts of the federal Human Rights Ombudsman and is an expert of the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. In 2013 Natalia received Human Rights Watch’s Alison Des Forges Award. In 2015 Natalia was laureate of the 2015 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award.
Since Vladimir Putin returned to the Russian presidency in 2012, there has been a marked deterioration in the environment for civil society groups in the country, especially for those engaged in promoting human rights. Notably, there has been a raft of new restrictive legislation on public assembly, freedom of expression, the right of association and homosexuality. As Human Rights Watch has reported, as of today the so-called ‘foreign agent law’ of 2012 has been used to brand over 144 civil society groups as ‘foreign agents,’ courts have imposed large fines on many groups, and over 20 have closed down. Meanwhile, to date seven prominent US donors have been banned from working in Russia under the 2015 law on ‘undesirable foreign organizations,’ a law Amnesty International condemned as an attempt to ‘isolate Russian civil society, intimidate human rights defenders and suffocate the free press.’