Rights in Russia Interview – with Ed Rekosh: “Russian human rights civil society had as much effect on US human rights civil society as vice versa”

This month Mary Page talks with Ed Rekosh, a US academic and innovative leader in the global human rights community. Ed Rekosh has been a member of the adjunct faculty of Columbia Law School for many years and a visiting professor of law at Cardozo Law School and Central European University.

In 1997 Ed founded PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law with a view to developing global resources and networks in support of local human rights advocacy around the world. He served as President & CEO of PILnet until 2015. He received the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award in 2009, and he was a co-founder of the International Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

In 2018 Ed co-founded Rights CoLab, an initiative that aims to advance human rights by encouraging collaboration among experts across the fields of civil society, technology, business, and finance. Ed, who lives in Brooklyn, has helped create innovative human rights initiatives in China, and in over 30 other countries in Europe, Asia and Africa.

Mary’s questions:

  • PILNET – the Global Network for Public Interest Law—that you founded in 1997 included attention to Russia and several other countries. Could you summarize for our listeners PILnet’s general aims and strategic methodology?
  • How successful was PILnet in the Russia of the 1990s and early 2000s?
  • At that time how did you assess the development of civil society in Russia?
  • Could you comment in particular on the human rights sector? I’m thinking both of the prominent organizations, such as Memorial and the Moscow Helsinki Group, based in Moscow, and also of the many local groups that existed in regional cities and towns throughout the country.
  • At that time when you were working with PILnet, did it seem to you that Russia was making irreversible progress towards a vibrant civil society, democratic institutions and human rights?
  • Are there lessons to be learned there for how foreign funding can or should interact with domestic civil society groups? 6) To what extent do you think civil society in Russia can be blamed for not being able to stop the development of authoritarianism in the country?
  • So how would you in general explain the most recent developments in Russia that culminated in the full-scale invasion of Ukraine?
  • Your work with Rights CoLab is focused on reimagining civil society, including looking beyond grant-funding for NGOs, exploring new organizational forms and alternative resource models. To what extent is this relevant to Russia today – or in the future?

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