Strong presentations at NHC breakfast seminar
Don’t forget about the political prisoners in Russia, it can prevent them from being killed! This was the message from Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, the two Pussy Riot/Zona Prava members that participated at the packed Norwegian Helsinki Committee seminar Safeguarding international institutions against authoritarian abuse on 13 May.
Together with other prominent guests such as William Browder from the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Campaign, Gerald Knaus Chairman of European Stability Initiative and Jago Russell of Fair Trials International, the seminar aimed at discussing how international institutions such as Interpol and the Council of Europe in recent years have been misused and captured to attack democracy and human rights defenders, and to give legitimacy to authoritarian regimes. You can watch the entire seminar by clicking on the picture below, or you can watch each of the presentations in chapters at the end of the article.
-Lately we have seen that states, and Russia in particular, are trying to undermine human rights by setting them up against “traditional values”. Our concern is that these efforts try to place traditional values above universal human rights standards, said Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee in his welcome speech.
William Browder, the Head of the Justice for Sergei Magnitsky Campaign explained in his presentation how Russia put him on the Interpol red list for his efforts to demanding Justice for Sergei Magnitsky, William Browders lawyer who was killed in a Moscow prison in 2009, after having been jailed for nearly a year under terrible conditions. While Browder managed to get off the list, he pointed to the fact that if you are not famous, or have a lot of money to pay good lawyers, it is very difficult to get off the list. Browder demanded that Interpol should be subject to a legal institution or committee that considers such cases.
Gerald Knaus from European Stability Initiative gave a strong introduction documenting how the Government of Azerbaijan has managed to manipulate the Council of Europe not to criticize the country in crucial moments, like during the last elections which were massively manipulated and by refusing to adopt a resolution demanding the release of a long list of political prisoners. Just as Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Council of Europe last week, it convicted eight youth activists to six to eight years in prison for their activities. Currently election monitorer Anar Mammadli, a long time partner of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, is on trial in Baku on politically motivated charges.
The credibility of the Council of Europe as a human rights promoting institution is at stake. –Instead of the Council of Europe Changing Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan has changed the Council of Europe, Knaus said in his presentation. This has developed under secretary general Thorbjørn Jagland's watch. In June, there will be elections for the next secretary general, and the two candidates, including Jagland, should be asked what they intend to do to change the urgent situation.
Jago Russell of Fair Trials International followed Bill Browder criticism of Interpol, and pointed to several examples where not only Russia but also countries like Indonesia and Venzuela had made sure to bring up exiled dissidents on Interpol's "Most Wanted" list in order to discredit them. – This is dangerous because it creates a climate a fear and prevents them them from crossing borders. Exiled dissidents should be given shelter from the storm, not be the subjects of persecution, Russell said in his presentation.
Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal from The Norwegian Helsinki Committee presented how "traditional values" are increasingly being used to undermine human rights, often by showing that they are based on respect and thus can be used to strengthen human rights. The UN Human Rights Council adopted on 27 September 2012 a third controversial resolution, presented by the Russian Federation, on traditional values and human rights.
Ekeløve-Slydal also showed that countries that sets traditional values high on the agenda in international institutions meant to safeguard human rights, often suppress groups within their own country, as is the case with gays in today's Russia.
- Making human rights depend on culture is the same as undermining them, said Ekeløve-Slydal.
Watch the statement by Pussy Riot/Zona Prava here:
Watch Bill Browder's presentation here:
Watch Gerald Knauss' presentation here:
Watch Jago Russell's presentation here
Watch Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal's presentation here:
Watch the panel discussion here: