Valery Borshchev: Liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group is part of a deliberate policy to destroy the human rights movement

1 February 2023

by Valery Borshchev, co-chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Собеседник]

On 25 January, the Moscow City Court liquidated Russia’s oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG).

The charge is completely absurd: the MHG is accused of having its members observe trials in other regions. This is nonsense! Human rights are extraterritorial. There is federal legislation which says we must protect human rights. There is a constitution which also says that human rights are extraterritorial.

The liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group is part of a deliberate policy to destroy the human rights movement and community. Since human rights defenders speak out directly about gross violations and arbitrariness, the authorities can see that they are a hindrance to them, an opponent. So they decided to break them. First they destroyed Memorial, now they have decided to destroy the MHG. At this very moment they are destroying the Sakharov Centre.

The actions of the court and the Ministry of Justice are outrageous. They simply decided to destroy the work that Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Kovalev, Elena Bonner – people who dedicated their lives to the creation of the human rights community – had done. For this they had paid by spending times in the camps, where many died.

I well remember how the MHG was created in 1976. At that time, I was taking part in the activities of the Committee for the Protection of the Rights of Believers, and there were discussions there about joining the MHG. But the decision was made to remain partners, along with other leading human rights organisations. And this principle of partnership still remains today and has always remained.

And now this is something for which we are being blamed: allegedly, members of the MHG travelled to seminars in other regions. But everyone had always done this, and there had never been any complaints! Even the court asked the representatives of the Ministry of Justice: “Why didn’t you pay attention to this before? How did the MHG operate after its re-establishment for 30 years?” They replied: “Because we weren’t set any such task before.” That is exactly the case: they had never been given the ‘task.’ And now they have.

The lawyer Mikhail Biriukov noted that in this trial, unlike in the trial of Memorial, the plaintiffs didn’t even bother to present arguments in their favour. Their approach simply was ‘we’ll liquidate them because we can.’ They really behaved very cynically. For example, when asked if, in a case where someone’s rights were being violated in another region, the Moscow Helsinki Group should not appeal to the authorities of that region, they replied, ‘No, they should not.’

Nonetheless, it is clear that the MHG, Memorial and other organisations are not in fact merely a legal entity, they are PEOPLE. And they will carry on with their work. Of course, we’ll have to change the name, because the name Moscow Helsinki Group will no longer exist, it will be destroyed when the court decision comes into force. But the people will remain. Human rights activists are – and will be.

Translated by Simon Cosgrove

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