Major concerns at the human rights situation in Russia ahead of Sunday's presidential election were raised at a human rights subcommittee hearing on Tuesday. Representatives of Russian civil society pointed to the culture of impunity, restrictions on freedom of expression, gaps in the rule of law and possible fraud in the presidential election.
"Russia has no opportunity to change its leaders in a democratic way", stated Evgenia Chirikova, an environmental activist and leader of the Campaign for the Defence of the Khimki forest. She was worried that the upcoming presidential election would not be fair and was concerned for the safety of protesters. She said the authorities were treating protesters as if they were insane, even locking them up in mental hospitals, and described a case that she knew about.
MEPS voiced doubts about the electoral procedure in Russia. "The authorities did not allow people to stand freely", noted Werner Schulz (Greens/EFA, DE). Inese Vaidere (EPP, LV) said: "This regime takes away from the people the right to change the power".
Impunity and rule of law
Alexander Cherkasov, a council member of the civil rights society Memorial, and Ella Kesaeva, co-chair of Voice of Beslan, highlighted the culture of impunity. Mr Cherkasov reported that 3 000 to 5 000 civilians had disappeared during the Chechnya war and the crimes related to this continued to go unpunished without being properly investigated. Ms Kesaeva said the same was true regarding those responsible for the Beslan school siege in 2004. "Everyone in the North Caucasus now believes that you cannot find justice in the court rooms", she said.
Mr Alexander Verkhovsky, director of the SOVA Centre for Information and Analysis, struck a positive note, with the news that the number of hate crimes that go unpunished had fallen since 2008. On the other hand, mass media, activists and religious groups are facing numerous problems because of the anti-extremist legislation.
MEPs discussed the role Europe could play concerning the human rights situation in Russia. "It is important that in Europe we again and again emphasize the role of the European Court of Human Rights", noted committee vice-chair Andrzej Grzyb (EPP, PL).