Following the EU-Russia human rights consultations on 17 November and ahead of the bilateral summit to be held on 7 December, the EP Human Rights Subcommittee on Tuesday took stock of the human rights situation and the rule of law in Russia. These are issues which should be raised at the highest political level, insist MEPs.
A representative of the Russian human rights NGO SOVA Center for Information and Analysis, contended that the definition of extremist-oriented crimes was very broad in the Russian law. Religious groups such as Jehovah's Witnesses, journalists, politicians, bloggers, social activists and even artists had been indicted because of extremist statements.
The Commission representative confirmed that this law was a cause of serious concern, saying "there is a great gap between the text of this law, which in general is in line with European standards, and the realities on the ground."
Thorough evaluation of EU-Russia human rights consultations
"Between 2005 and 2010, eleven rounds of consultations took place and eight human rights defenders were assassinated in Russia", Grégoire Théry from the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) told the meeting.
He also warned that his organisation would recommend the suspension of the human rights consultation unless a serious review of the process took place. This should include:
establishing public indicators of progress with concrete benchmarks;
holding consultations alternatively in Russia and the EU;
a solid political back-up at highest EU political level
Another request from the EU side was for other Russian institutions to be involved in the consultations besides the foreign affairs ministry like the ministries of justice and interior, the prosecutor's office and prisons.
The Council representative confirmed that "an internal reflection" was under way at Council level on ways of assessing these consultations
Human rights in the new partnership agreement
Referring to the new future Agreement with the Russian Federation currently under negotiation, Inese Vaidere (EPP, LT) wanted to know what place human rights would have in this new legal framework, given that the conclusion of the new agreement would need the European Parliament's consent. The Commission representative reassured MEPs that human rights would occupy a strategic position and be mentioned as a key principle and objective but also that it would be referred to in sensitive chapters such as fighting terrorism and granting asylum.
Civil society organisations are "losing courage"
Asked by MEPs Graham Watson (ALDE, UK) about the trend of reporting by Russian NGOs when meeting European Commission representatives, the Commission said the NGOs "are losing courage". There had been some hope when President Medvedev took office but since then the realities hade not changed substantially.
Report of EP delegation to Beslan
Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI), chair of the subcommittee, reported to the meeting on the delegation of MEPs to Beslan and Ingushetia from 30 August to 3 September, when the EP delegation had attended the commemorations of the three-day siege in September 2004.
In the chair: Heidi Hautala (Greens/EFA, FI)