7 May 2020
Vyacheslav Bakhmin, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group (pictured above left) and Yury Dzhibladze (pictured above right), president of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights, discuss Russia’s candidacy for election to the new United Nations Human Rights Council for 2021-2023 on ‘Aspects of the Week’
Vladimir Kara-Murza: Welcome to Echo of Moscow radio station and to ‘Aspects of the Week’ programme. I’m your host, Vladimir Kara-Murza Junior. […] The subject of our discussion today is, “Is the fox guarding the henhouse?” Can states that violate the rights of their own citizens claim a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council? And, more generally, we’re going to talk about the role of international human rights institutions. Joining us will be Vyacheslav Bakhmin, Co-Chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group. From 1992 to 1995, he was deputy head of the Russian delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights, and during that period he also headed the Department for International Humanitarian and Cultural Cooperation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, good evening!
Vyacheslav Bakhmin: Good evening.
V. Kara-Murza: We’ll also be talking to Yury Dzhibladze, Russian human rights defender, President of the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. Good evening, Yury!
Yury Dzhibladze: Good evening.
V. Kara-Murza: My first question is to Vyacheslav Bakhmin. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, the current UN Human Rights Council was created in 2006 under Resolution 60/251 of the UN General Assembly. It replaced the previous UN Commission on Human Rights, where you represented the Russian Federation in the 1990s. One of the main criticisms of the Commission was that it allowed countries with poor human rights records to be members. In its Resolution of 2006, the UN General Assembly laid out new standards for the Human Rights Council. And the Resolution states that, “Members of the Council must observe the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.”
I want first to ask you, looking back into history, how serious a problem was the membership in the old Commission on Human Rights–where you represented Russia in the 1990s–of states that were human-rights violators? And how much, now that you are today looking at it from the outside, has that problem been inherited by today’s Human Rights Council?
V. Bakhmin: It seems to me that this is an eternal problem and that it will move from one structure to another. That is because the nature of human rights today, and of those who defend them, is primarily a state matter. That is, it is a showdown between states. In the 1990s, the Commission was full of member-states that violated human rights. The situation has not changed today. And I think that it will not change significantly, despite all the resolutions of the United Nations.
That is because all states understand that the protection of human rights is one of their international functions. And they are more concerned about protecting human rights in other countries than in their own. This is demonstrated by almost all delegations on such commissions. They never talk about what is happening in their own country, but they are always happy to talk about human rights violations in other countries.
Therefore, to demand and hope that states will begin to sincerely defend human rights in their own countries, and that they will commit themselves to this and to all the rules of international law – I think, sadly, that this is naïve. So I do not think we should expect a bright future in this respect. As long, that is, as the architecture of international security, and the architecture of the United Nations, remains as it is today.
V. Kara-Murza: But it has to be said that in the 1990s, when you yourself together with Sergei Kovalev headed the Russian delegation to the UN Human Rights Commission, you were among those who said that human rights were violated in Russia as well, not just in other countries.
V. Bakhmin: Yes. But we were a very rare thing in those days. No one else did that. And only Kovalev and I could permit ourselves to do that to some extent because we were from the human rights movement and we understood that we had no right to criticise others if we were not bothered about preventing human rights violations in our own country, in the Russian Federation.
And that is why we always began our speeches by talking about human rights violations in our own country and what we proposed doing to reduce and prevent human rights violations in Russia. That gave us the right to talk about human rights violations in other countries. And I think that is a perfectly good position to take, objective and honest. Unfortunately on the international level this position is rare.
V. Kara-Murza: A question for Yury Dzhibladze. Yury, you are a regular participant in plenary sessions of the UN Human Rights Council as a representative of civil society, as a representative of the non-profit sector in Russia. In your view, to what extent should members of the UN Human Rights Council themselves maintain a certain standard in the realm of civic rights and freedoms? Or the Council should simply be a broad international forum, a fairly open place for dialogue, with the participation of countries whose own human rights record leaves a great deal to be desired?
Yu. Dzhibladze: Without doubt, there must be criteria. And the criteria that have been adopted for membership in the UN Human Rights Council, in my view, are very good ones. It’s another matter that most countries don’t treat them seriously, as Vyacheslav has already just said. The task of democratic countries, countries that are more committed to human rights, and of other international actors, including in civil society, is to ensure that the countries elected to the UN Human Rights Council meet these high criteria. Today, unfortunately, this is not the case.
As we have already discussed, among the members of the Council there are quite a few states that are major violators of human rights. And there are even a number of dictatorships. In all, there are 47 states that are members of the Council. And each year some of them change, elections take place. And so civil society organisations and human rights activists organise campaigns demanding that the states that obviously fail to measure up to these criteria are not elected.
V. Kara-Murza: It was in 2016 that Russia failed to be elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council. These elections are held via regional groups. Russia was a candidate, naturally, from the group of East European countries. But at the General Assembly session in 2016 more votes were garnered by Hungary and Croatia. Now, beginning from last year, officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have been talking about their intention for Russia to be a candidate again in this year’s elections.
To be fair, it has to be said that the United Nations Watch report talks about a number of countries that violate human rights intending to put themselves forward as candidates for the new Council. In addition to Russia there are also Cuba and Saudi Arabia. These are the ones already known about by United Nations Watch. However, formally, as I already said, the applications will be published only in the autumn.
I now want to discuss specifically the candidacy of the Russian Federation. In this position paper published on the website of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, apart from this phrase, that I have already cited, to the effect that the promotion of human rights is one of the priorities of Russian policy, there is a great deal here about the intention to engage the institutions of civil society in the resolution of international problems, increasing cooperation with international non-governmental human rights organisations for the purpose of strengthening the generally accepted norms in the sphere of human rights. And a lot more in the same spirit.
Vyacheslav Ivanovich, how do you think all these statements actually relate to the real situation that exists in our country today in the sphere of civic rights and freedoms?
V. Bakhmin: Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are very experienced people. And it’s not for the first time they formulate such things. They know how they should be formulated. And in other countries similar statements are drawn up in approximately the same way – that is, so that there is nothing concrete, but to show that we are always speaking out for everything good and against everything bad. But you should note that if you read carefully what you have just said it is evident that this primarily concerns international matters and international relations. This means that Russia, like other countries, is most concerned about whether human rights are being violated in other countries.
In this sense, the whole construction of human rights intergovernmental institutions are arranged such that they are all watching one another to ensure that others don’t violate human rights, and use this in the political fight, in all kinds of political arguments against other countries, while at the same time defending the situation in their own country and explaining that in their own country everything is in order, everything is wonderful.
That is how almost all countries behave. And have always behaved. It is part of that same real politics from which all international relations suffer. That is why I find such formulations utterly unsurprising. They are well practised, they have been used for many years. And it is hard to take issue with them because all others use roughly the same approach.
V. Kara-Murza: This question is for Yury Dzhibladze. Just now, when preparing for our programme, I took a look at the Ministry of Justice website and at the website of the Memorial Human Rights Centre website. Just some dry statistics. So far, 22 international non-governmental organisations have been declared undesirable organizations in the Russian Federation. This is published on the Ministry of Justice website.
72 NGOs and 10 media outlets have been officially recognised as ‘foreign agents’ (this is also taken from the Ministry of Justice website). According to the Memorial human rights center, there are also 314 political prisoners in Russia today, as defined according to Resolution 1900 of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Yury — how, in this context, do those statements sound, those promises from the Russian Foreign Ministry to attract civil society institutions and to increase cooperation with human rights organisations?
Yu. Dzhibladze: It’s quite obvious that, frankly, it’s not true. Everyone knows that in recent years, especially since 2013, when the ‘foreign agent’ law on non-profit organizations was adopted, the civil society situation in Russia has been very difficult. You gave the latest figures, Vladimir. But dozens of organizations have been forced to close under state pressure. International ties have been broken.
In fact, diplomats, representatives of the Russian Federation and officials attack Russian human rights defenders and other NGOs on all international platforms, calling them “so-called human rights defenders”, “self-named activists”, “illegitimate”, “representing no one” and so on. Therefore, to say that the Russian state is cooperating and attaches great importance to interaction with civil society is, of course, impossible. This is exactly the opposite of what they state.
The same goes for international non-Russian NGOs. Not only are they declared undesirable and not allowed into the country, but there are also constant conflicts being stirred up by the Russian authorities against a huge number of these international and internationally recognised human rights organisations.
This document can therefore, of course, be seen as a promise that the Russian government can take with them to the polls in October of this year. It is, naturally, the absolute opposite of what is really going on. This applies to all of Russia’s fundamental obligations in terms of implementing UN standards that stem from agreements and conventions that Russia ratified and took part in.
You mentioned, Vladimir, the list― already long but growing―of political prisoners, which is maintained by the Memorial human rights center. The same applies, of course, to a huge range of fundamental rights and freedoms, whether it is freedom of speech, expression, freedom from torture or religious freedom. In fact, we are all seeing an unprecedented repression campaign against Jehovah’s Witnesses [whose organisations are banned in Russia]. More than 300 followers of this faith are already being subjected to repression and are included in Memorial’s list. Well, the list goes on.
I think that we will discuss in more detail different aspects of systemic violations of human rights in Russia, which, of course, do not allow it to be considered a country that meets the criteria for candidacy for membership of the UN Human Rights Council; it is not a country that respects the highest standards of human rights.
V. Kara-Murza: When you read these announcements and promises from the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry, more and more often you remember the phrase: “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” the slogan on the front of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in the novel 1984. A question to Vyacheslav Bakhmin. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, you said a few minutes ago that diplomats traditionally try to use gentle, smooth formulations in all their statements and official documents. Now I want to ask about the second example. In February of this year, speaking at the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, announcing the intention to apply to participate in elections for HR Council membership, said among other things the following:
“Accusatory rhetoric,” meaning on matters of human rights violations, “is increasingly used as a pretext for meddling in the domestic affairs of sovereign states, for introducing illegitimate unilateral sanctions, and frequently for attempts to change inconvenient governments, which do not share the dubious values unilaterally invented by the West.
There is no point in forcing on anyone so-called values which reflect the social morals of a narrow group of states, however high that group’s opinion of itself might be.”
Before asking the basic question, Vyacheslav Ivanovich, this is the question that came to me at once. In the years when you were a member of the collegium of the Russian Ministry for Domestic Affairs, Sergei Lavrov was also a member. If I’m not mistaken, he was the [acting] deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Andrei Kozyrev. He was responsible in particular for coordination with officies of the UN, including the Human Rights Commission. As far as you remember, did Sergei Viktorovich Lavrov talk back then, in the nineties, about so-called values, invented by the West?
V. Bakhmin: Another characteristic of diplomats is that they always cleave to the political course being conducted by the state at any given time, a course which is determined by the president of the country. So, today we say one thing, tomorrow we say the complete opposite, if life demands it, if the president demands it – that’s what life is like for them. Again, that kind of rhetorical turns don’t surprise me at all. That’s normal for diplomats. They serve their country.
They shouldn’t have their own opinion, on principle. They should express the president’s opinion and, accordingly, that of the Security Council, if it exists, and so on, that is, a certain collective opinion-maker that determines how Russian will behave in these circumstances.
At that time, talking about human rights violations as meddling in the domestic affairs of a country, that was the rhetoric of the Chinese People’s Republic, the Korean Democratic People’s Republic, and a panoply of other countries where human rights were being violated. And if a country uses phrases like that, you can tell at once that there’s a bad human rights situation there, that there will be a great many violations.
In 1991 there was an OSCE conference in Moscow, during which the position was taken that the protection of human rights on an international level should not interfere with the internal affairs of any of the States. That is, any of the States in the OSCE group. Now, in fact, the rhetoric of this position is being revised, with unanimous acceptance from all of the OSCE countries. So, there is no comparison. Clearly, this is earth and sky, day and night, black and white. As Orwell once noted, “war is peace,” and so on. Of course, to some extent this is all simply hypocrisy.
V. Kara-Murza: So then Sergei Lavrov didn’t say those words in the 90s?
V. Bakhmin: Well, how could he have said that if Yeltsin was president, who spoke completely differently?
V. Kara-Murza: What Vyacheslav Bakhmin has just said is very important. In the Moscow OSCE document from autumn 1991, (the document still exists,) the principle that issues relating to human rights, the fundamental freedoms of citizens, democracy and the rule of law must not be considered the internal affair of a country but as the subject of international obligations, was very clearly stated. Our diplomats and foreign ministers conveniently forget about this. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, what do you think that Lavrov (and the authorities in a broader sense) meant by “highly dubious ‘values’ unilaterally invented by the West”? What was he saying? What do you understand by this?
V. Bakhmin: I think that these are precisely the values that are so-called European, universal. These values put people before the State. They put the rights of people before the rights of the state. That is, these values for which a person is a subject rather an object to be suppressed by the State if it suits them, or to be used as an instrument by the State. This is the basic difference between the values that Lavrov mentioned that are unacceptable to the country, and those which are now guided by the Russian Federation.
V. Kara-Murza: Yury, again, as a regular participant in the plenary sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, to what extent do you consider it to be a meaningful and important tool? How necessary is it for the system of international law, and what role does it play as an inter-governmental institute to protect the rights and freedoms of citizens? Because there is a lot of criticism regarding the Council itself (for having a constant anti-Israeli bias, for example).
The United States left the Council in 2018 completely, even as an associate member, because of the constant criticism of Israel, even though they were not talking about actual human rights violators. What is your assessment of the Council itself and its role, how it functions?
Yu. Dzhibladze: Naturally, the Human Rights Council is a very important, I would say the most important institution called upon to serve as a platform, first, for direct, frank, and tough dialogue among states and, second, for interaction with UN human rights mechanisms. The Council meets three times every year and over the course of these 3-4-week sessions in Geneva hears reports from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, debates with him, and discusses with him these and other questions and the numerous special UN rapporteurs (who report directly to the UN Human Rights Council).
There are many such rapporteurs right now: 44 subject reports on the most varied and important human rights issues, such as freedom of expression of opinions, freedom from torture, discrimination against women, arbitrary detention, violent disappearances, migrant rights, freedom for associations, freedom of peaceful assemblies, and so forth. And it either appoints these rapporteurs or ends their mandate.
Moreover, there are rapporteurs on different countries regarding the situations in those countries where the human rights situation is especially acute. There are 12 of these at the present time. Accordingly, the creation and approval of such a rapporteurs, their mandate, the appointment of a specific expert and the approval (or nonapproval) of their reports and the extension of their mandate for the subsequent period depends on the UN Human Rights Council’s member-countries. All these are extremely important things. By relying on the work of these independent experts, these rapporteurs (or working groups, as they are called in some instances)… These are all independent experts, not representatives of states.
Accordingly, they are much more pointed and more honest, shall we say, than are diplomats, about whose characteristics Vyacheslav was speaking. They are free to tell it like it is. Naturally, they vary in quality and degree of toughness, but this is a very important instrument. And relying on their materials, on their arguments, recommendations, and conclusions, other states, the same UN High Commissioner on Human Rights and, what is very important, civil society work further with these arguments, make demands on states, establish specific criteria for the implementation of their demands, and so forth.
Moreover, there is an important procedure within the framework of the UN Human Rights Council known as the Universal Periodic Survey. Periodically, once every few years, each UN member-country undergoes this procedure, whereby a delegation submits a report on their implementation of the full range of their obligations with respect to human rights within the UN framework and stands on the tribune for several hours and listens to the questions of other states and civil organizations.
True, human rights organizations have the opportunity to ask questions there and make their own recommendations only to a fairly limited degree, but they still can. Based on the results of this dialog with other states and civil society, each state must voluntarily agree to carry out the recommendations other states have made within the next four years.
Understandably, the UN Human Rights Council that now exists and is justly criticized includes a great many undemocratic states. To the point, if we look at this list, on it now there are Venezuela, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Eritrea. And in years past there were also Saudi Arabia, which is now planning to run for membership, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and China. Well and Cuba, too, has been on it many times and now wants to be again. Understandably, they praise one another. The authoritarian regimes, undemocratic regimes, and human rights violators praise one another.
You see, Vyacheslav, a few minutes ago you were talking about which states in the early 1990s employed rhetoric about noninterference in internal affairs and about how human rights was the sovereign affair of the states. Now you see these states, naturally, interacting with one another very powerfully. The Russian delegation calls them like-minded countries, often making joint statements and referring to “Russia and like-minded countries.” Very often countries that violate human rights appear on this list. This is fairly characteristic.
Civil society organisations, human rights organisations and political parties are allies in certain situations and opponents in others. The field is narrower than you might think, and we often end up working on exactly the same issues. And that’s why I’m not in favour of drawing a line and stating that we are not involved in politics, because it’s blindingly obvious that civil society organisations and human rights activists are indeed involved in politics. We’re not fighting for power or standing for election as a group, but certain individuals among us have stood for election at one point or other in their careers.
A good example is Lev Ponomarev, our leader and a famous human rights activist, who was once a member of the State Duma and who for the past 15 years has headed up one of the most important Russian human rights organisations, and there are many other examples.
V. Kara-Murza: I’d like to return to our main topic of conversation, or in other words the Russian Federation’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council elections, and I’d like to put a question to Vyacheslav Bakhmin; Vyacheslav Ivanovich, a few minutes ago you made a very important point about the OSCE Moscow Document, which states that issues relating to human rights cannot be regarded as domestic affairs within an individual country, but are instead matters of international concern.
In your opinion, how important a role is played by these international bodies carrying out monitoring or oversight tasks, such as the OSCE or the Council of Europe, or – as in the case at hand – the UN Human Rights Council? We know what dictatorships think about their existence and their work, but what do human rights activists think about these institutions?
V. Bakhmin: It is necessary as a matter of principle to carry out monitoring or to exercise some form of oversight over different countries to ensure that they are observing human rights. It just so happens that this oversight currently forms part of a process that is incorporated into the architecture of international security – and this process is very far from perfect. It was flawed from its very inception because of its politicised nature, meaning that objective assessments are impossible. Yet there is merit in the fact that each country that is subjectively guilty of human rights violations is monitoring other countries to determine whether they too are violating human rights; wolves that are intent on tracking other wolves’ movements are too busy to eat hens, which is a good thing.
It’s important to be aware of the limited and flawed nature of these options and measures, but to remember that they are nevertheless important and necessary in principle, since they are the only ones that are accepted and regarded as legitimate at international level. The activities of human rights activists and NGOs are tolerated, but will never be viewed as serious grounds to take action. Countries exert a certain amount of influence over each other, and it would complicate the situation endlessly if human rights organisations were to do the same.
This is both the strength and the weakness of these international bodies, since the countries have learned to reach agreements between themselves; if you turn a blind eye to human rights violations within my borders today, I’ll turn a blind eye to violations within your borders tomorrow, and then we can make sure that trade between our countries increases significantly on the basis of our agreement.
And countries have good reasons for acting in this way; for example, the United States turns a blind eye to what is going on in Saudi Arabia, which is just as guilty of human rights violations as Russia, if not more so. Yet the United States is careful not to criticise Saudi Arabia because there is so much trade between the countries.
This is simply the way of the world. There’s a positive and a negative side to everything, including the international institutions that monitor and exercise oversight over human rights. […]
V. Kara-Murza: […] Question to Vyacheslav Bakhmin. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, you were long involved in the democratic, dissident human rights movement in the Soviet Union, and dealt with a lot of issues including punitive psychiatry in the 70s. You yourself were imprisoned. As you will remember, during that period the Democratic Union Party was founded. Probably many, or at least some, of your colleagues and comrades participated in the creation of the party. What stage did the conversations reach then at the end of the 80s?
V. Bakhmin: It was a pretty lively movement. A lot of people talked and wrote about it. And of course, during that time the Democratic Union was holding actions, mass rallies and protests, which usually ended with the arrest of Novodvorskaya and other leaders; they certainly attracted attention. Indeed, it is right to say that Democratic Union was the first such opposition party to declare itself and very strongly defend an opposite position to those the Soviet Union as a state then demonstrated and defended. So of course I remember it well.
But on the other hand, this party was so very eclectic. You see, it contained both Zhirinovsky and Novodvorskaya. There was also a man who turned me over to the KGB during that time, and who was also in the Democratic Russia party and handed out party leaflets, travelling between Tver and Moscow. I met him there and then told Novodvorskaya about it.
But essentially the party really did gather together everyone who was dissatisfied with something or who wanted in some way to show themselves and declare their position clearly and openly. And basically the party played a very important role in that time. It maintained and supported the radical wing and thereby did not let what was happening in the Soviet Union then – all the democratic transformations – slide prematurely into opportunism. So on the whole I have a positive view of what the party did. Although one has to bear in mind that, like a vacuum cleaner, it indiscriminately gathered up completely different people, and people with different aims and motivations.
V. Kara-Murza: A question to Yury Dzhibladze. How, in your opinion, do political and human rights activity correlate generally? Is it possible to combine them, or are they just simply different spheres?
Yu. Dzhibladze: The two spheres are very close, of course, because both political parties and civic organisations are involved in political issues; that is entirely clear. Because public interests, rights and freedoms, democracy and the rule of law are all of course political issues. They are by no means the sole prerogative of the state or political parties. According to the Russian state, non-governmental organisations should deal only with social issues.
Therefore, socially significant organizations have been given a certain status and have had certain resources assigned to them, and all those who criticise, who have a different position from the government on these issues of public interest, are recorded as belonging in the fifth column, as enemies, as puppets of the West, and so on. In this sense, returning to the question of the Democratic Union, many dissidents came to it and then people left it who became civic activists and did not participate directly in the struggle for power, for political representation in parliament.
Civil society organisations, human rights organisations and political parties are in some circumstances allies, in others opponents. It’s clear that we are acting in very close fields, at times working on one and the same issues. That is why here I am not a supporter of drawing some kind of line and declaring that we are not engaged in politics. Of course, we, civil society organisations, human rights activists, are engaged in politics. That is obvious. True, we are not fighting for power, we are not putting ourselves forwards as candidates in elections. But many individuals in our sphere, in various periods of their lives, stand as candidates in elections.
Or, it can be the other way round, take Lev Ponomarev, our leading, most well-known human rights defender. In the past he was a deputy in the State Duma, but the last 15 years he has been the leader of one of the most important Russian human rights organisations. There are many such examples.
V. Kara-Murza: […] And there were two more requests that are important to pay attention to. The UN special procedures that Yury Dzhibladze spoke of. In 2019, the special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, the UN working group on the use of mercenaries for human rights violations and the special rapporteur on the protection of freedom of expression penned a joint request to the Russian authorities concerning the summer 2018 killing of Russian journalists in the Central African Republic. Let me remind you, Orkhan Dzhemal, Kirill Radchenko and Alexander Rastorguev died while preparing a documentary on the activities of Wagner PMCs (Private Military Contractors) or so-called Wagner Groups in the Central African Republic. The United Nations’ request contained a direct question about whether the Russian authorities were going to investigate the possible involvement of the Wagner PMC in this murder and, in general, what was happening in the Central African Republic. There was absolutely no answer – just a bureaucratic reply in April 2019 sent via the Permanent Mission of Russia in Geneva.
In autumn 2018, another UN special oversight body, the working group on arbitrary detention, adopted Decree No. 89/2018 demanding the immediate release of Alexei Pichugin, a Russian political prisoner in the Yukos case. He has been in prison since 2003, the longest time among current Russian political prisoners. However, as we understand, almost two years have since passed and Aleksey Pichugin remains in custody.
Yury, how effective are these oversight bodies if national authorities just spit on them and refuse any form of meaningful cooperation?
Yu. Dzhibladze: Vladimir, I would add denying access to special rapporteurs to the long list of examples of Russian authorities’ refusal to cooperate with the UN’s special procedures. You mentioned that OSCE and Council of Europe’s rapporteurs investigating the murder of Boris Nemtsov were not allowed into Russia but regular rapporteurs are often denied access too. Their visits to the country are the most important thing for their work. They use their visits to various cities, regions, and meetings with different people and organizations to write their reports (along with some written requests that you mentioned). These visits are the most important thing for them to be able to do their work.
Russia has refused or ignored requests by a number of keynote speakers to come to Russia. I’ll just list those from the last two to three years. This is the special rapporteur on human rights for the fight against terrorism. This is of course very important for Russia, especially given the context of the North Caucasus, but also because of other current human rights violations. For example, in Crimea, many activists from the Crimean Tatar movement are being persecuted for allegedly participating in terrorist activities.
The Special Rapporteur on Torture, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Working Group on Enforced Disappearance. All these special procedures have received either a refusal or a postponement of their visits to some distant year.
Not only are written inquiries ignored or answered with a merely formal response, but a stream of the most important Rapporteurs, as a matter of fact, have not been able to come to Russia at all. Thus the assertion of the Russian Foreign Ministry, in its application for membership on the UN Human Rights Council, that Russia cooperates with the special procedures does not square with reality. The exact opposite is true.
This raises, of course, a fair question: what then is the sense of these special procedures? But the Rapporteurs are capable of interaction with civil society, getting information from various sources, making reports and statements even without a country’s cooperation. And then these reports–their material, conclusions and recommendations—serve as extremely important tools for other countries and civil society. They present these reports at sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and they become public documents, public instruments that many rely on in their subsequent activities.
Let’s ask ourselves why a state that does not cooperate with the special procedures, that during the universal periodic review does not tell the truth from the rostrum of the UN Human Rights Council, is even trying to get onto the council? Why do Russia, Cuba and Saudi Arabia want to become members? It is totally obvious that it is a question of legitimacy, recognition, and international prestige on the one hand. And in this sense, its humiliating non-election in 2016 was a slap in the face to the Russian Federation—it was a very severe humiliation.
This happened literally within a couple of years after the annexation of the Crimea and the beginning of military action with Russia’s participation in the Donbass. And it is clear that the mood of many countries then, their assessment, was related first of all to this gross violation of human rights and international law. Just remember the Resolution of the General Assembly about the Crimea. Now four years have gone by and Russia is somehow trying to rectify the situation.
V. Kara-Murza: Our time on the air is coming to a close. I would like to get in one more quick question to Vyacheslav Bakhmin. Vyacheslav Ivanovich, do you believe that the time will come when countries will take international human rights institutions seriously and, as you tried to do in the 1990s, not only point fingers at others but also talk about the problems in their own countries?
V. Bakhmin: Of course I believe that. Otherwise it would be impossible to do this work. But I am afraid that neither you nor I will live to see that wonderful day. It will be a fairly long battle. And we will not see the results in the next 50 years.
V. Kara-Murza: In that case I sincerely hope that you are mistaken. You have been listening to the program ‘Aspects of the Week’ on Ekho Moskvy. Producer – Nikita Vasilenko. Sound – Kirill Bursin. At the microphone Vladimir Kara-Murza, Jr. Thank you for being with us today. All the best, stay healthy, and until we meet next Thursday!