‘Silence is now unacceptable.’ Leonid Nikitinsky on why the statement from former members of the Presidential Council of Human Rights on the liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group is so important
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26 January 2023

Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya Gazeta, candidate in legal sciences, Moscow Helsinki Prize laureate

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Свободное пространство]

For those in the know, the occasion is out of the ordinary: on 25th January, by means of a routine decision, the Moscow City Court ordered the liquidation of the oldest human rights’ organisation in the country – the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG). All its founders in the USSR endured prison terms, asylums, exile or forced emigration, but they survived for eight years (from 1976 to 1984). And yet, judge Mikhail Kazakhov managed to destroy the organisation in the course of a single working day.

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Genri Reznik and other members of the MHG outside the Moscow City Court after the liquidation verdict. Photo: Mikhail Tereshchenko / TASS

More recently, the MHG was led by the legendary Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva, until her death in 2018. She was, without a doubt, the most highly regarded member of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, whose words even President Putin dared not ignore. The least her peers could do to honour her memory is to speak out.

In December when, knowing it would be victorious, the Moscow department of the Ministry for Justice brought its absurd case against the MHG, the Presidential Council for Human Rights stayed silent (barring a few individual members who are particularly worthy of respect). The Council seems set to maintain its silence, but for those members who have spent many years doing all they can to defend Russian citizens’ rights and dignity, silence now is unacceptable – it is a matter of conscience and honour, not just of “reputation”, which can be “cleaned up” in later down the line.

The first draft of this text – a statement in defence of the MHG – was tentatively titled a “statement from members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights in exile”, but the irony of this was lost on our colleagues: most of us have stayed in Russia and have no intention of leaving. It was also abbreviated (including in the working name of the file) to “PCHR – squeal”. But now: let’s leave the squeal out of it. Not everyone who signed this statement is willing to stick their neck out and risk being charged under those statutes which, alas, are so well known to us. Moreover, most of the signatories are hardly in their youth.

What’s more important than who signed the statement is who did not: you can go ahead and compare the signatures underneath it (and this list will probably continue growing, as we did not manage to get hold of everyone in one day) with the list of names on the Council’s official website.

You can see the statement below, and its signatories are also sharing it on social media.

I think that even more important reasons for “exiled members of the Presidential Council for Human Rights” to speak out will crop up. However, it is unlikely that all the members of this commonwealth which emerged to speak out against the liquidation of the MHG will put their name to all of them. That is one of the peculiarities of our civil society.

Leonid Nikitinsky (resigned from the Presidential Council for Human Rights on 24th February 2022)

Full Text: ‘The liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group is an act against democracy.

Statement by Human Rights Council members who served in various years

We, as members of the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights over various years and under two presidents, deem it necessary to state our position, without waiting for the Council to officially release its own. The Moscow City Court’s decision to liquidate the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), as with the liquidation of International Memorial and the Memorial Human Rights Center (recognized as foreign agents) a year earlier, and the recent declaration of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation as an “undesirable organization,” blatantly counteracts the democratization and development of civil society in Russia that the Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights has been working to support for years.

We are disappointed by the lack of response to the Ministry of Justice’s lawsuit to liquidate the MHG from the current HRC (with the exception of some members), especially considering the fact that former MHG chair Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva was one of the most respected members of the Council until her death in 2018. The Ministry of Justice’s arguments that the MHG violated the “declared framework of its location-based activities” based solely on the fact that the organization is registered in Moscow are unconscionable and ridiculous: Human rights are universal, and their protection cannot be limited by a registration permit.

The Association of Former Members of the Human Rights Council is an informal group of members who have maintained contact and shared common principles. They are or were members of the Council under different presidents of the Russian Federation in various years but either have been expelled by presidential decrees, resigned from the Council on their own initiative due to disagreements with the Council’s overall direction, or remain on the Council but do not share the views of the majority.

Aleksandr Verkhovsky
Svetlana Gannushkina
Natalia Evdokimova
Ivan Zasursky
Igor Kalyapin
Leonid Nikitinsky
Dmitry Oreshkin
Elena Panfilova
Ella Polyakova
Vladimir Ryakhovsky
Nikolai Svanidze
Olga Sidorovich
Anita Soboleva
Alexander Sokurov
Ilya Shablinsky
Ekaterina Shulman

Translated by Judith Fagelson

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