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Procedure : 2021/3018(RSP)
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Texts tabled :

RC-B9-0604/2021

Debates :

PV 16/12/2021 - 6.1
CRE 16/12/2021 - 6.1

Votes :

PV 16/12/2021 - 9
PV 16/12/2021 - 15
CRE 16/12/2021 - 9

Texts adopted :

P9_TA(2021)0509

Texts adopted
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Thursday, 16 December 2021 - Strasbourg
Continuous crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders in Russia: the case of human rights organisation Memorial
P9_TA(2021)0509RC-B9-0604/2021

European Parliament resolution of 16 December 2021 on the continuous crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders in Russia: the case of human rights organisation Memorial (2021/3018(RSP))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its previous resolutions and reports on Russia,

–  having regard to the international human rights obligations to which Russia has committed itself to uphold as a member of the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations (UN), and as a signatory to other human rights treaties,

–  having regard to the European Convention on Human Rights and the Protocols thereto, in particular Article 10 on the right to freedom of expression and Article 11 on the right to freedom of assembly and association,

–  having regard to the Venice Commission opinions on the Russian law on ‘foreign agents’,

–  having regard to the statement by the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (VP/HR) of 13 November 2021 on legal steps against the non-governmental organisation (NGO) Memorial,

–  having regard to the statement of 12 November 2021 by the Council of Europe Secretary General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, and to the letter of 30 November 2021 from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation,

–  having regard to Rule 144(5) and 132(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.  whereas Memorial is not only one of the oldest and most respected human rights organisations in Russia but also an international model for organisations working on the historical remembrance of political repression and the defence of human rights; whereas, for decades, Memorial has stood for a vibrant, humanistic culture of remembrance of the crimes of the Soviet regime against its own people and other peoples of the Soviet Union and other countries, as well as an active, civic commitment to human rights and the protection of victims and vulnerable groups; whereas Memorial continues to make an invaluable contribution to revealing the truth about Soviet crimes, historical reappraisal and rehabilitation of the politically persecuted and unjustly convicted, and is a symbol of the relentless fight for freedom, democracy and human rights in the post-Soviet area and beyond;

B.  whereas Memorial has also built an impressive database of over 40 000 officers in the Soviet Union internal security forces and has documented crimes committed by them; whereas members of Putin’s regime, some of whom have professional and family links with the KGB, are trying to conceal the crimes uncovered;

C.  whereas Memorial played an important role in uncovering documents and facts about the 1940 Katyn massacre, a series of mass murders of nearly 22 000 Polish military officers and intelligentsia, the 1945 Augustów Roundup, and other Soviet-era repressions and victims of Josef Stalin’s Great Terror;

D.  whereas Memorial is one of the last remaining organisations continuing work on human rights in Chechnya, a nearly totalitarian enclave within the Russian Federation, where the local Kremlin-sponsored leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, has been ruthlessly removing all forms of dissent through brutal repression;

E.  whereas the European Parliament named its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought after Memorial’s co-founder and first Chair, Andrei Sakharov, and awarded the 2009 Prize to Memorial, represented by Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Sergei Kovalev and Oleg Orlov;

F.  whereas Memorial’s two legal entities, International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Centre, are currently under threat of liquidation; whereas on 11 November 2021, International Memorial was notified about a lawsuit opened by the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation seeking its closure for alleged repeated violations of the country’s legislation on ‘foreign agents’ and, in particular, for failure to mark some published materials with the ‘foreign agent’ label; whereas on 12 November 2021, Memorial Human Rights Centre was notified about a similar lawsuit filed by the Moscow City Prosecutor’s Office, based on additional claims that the Centre’s articles allegedly justified the activities of terrorist and extremist organisations, due to the publication on the NGO’s website of lists of political prisoners and statements, among others, defending the human rights of Crimean Tatars and Jehovah’s Witnesses; whereas court proceedings opened on 23 November 2021 for Memorial Human Rights Centre and on 25 November 2021 for International Memorial; whereas the next hearing for Memorial Human Rights Centre will take place on 16 December 2021 and the next hearing for International Memorial will take place on 28 December 2021;

G.  whereas on 12 November 2021, even Russia’s Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights described the lawsuit as disproportionate, arguing that not a single legal violation by International Memorial had been detected in the preceding 14 months, and only two minor violations had been committed by Memorial Human Rights Centre;

H.  whereas the move to liquidate these prominent NGOs comes after years of persecution of both organisations; whereas these organisations were labelled as ‘foreign agents’ in 2014 and 2016 and have faced extortionate fines for alleged non-compliance with the ‘foreign agents’ law and arbitrary criminal prosecution of their staff, who have also been subject to attacks and harassment; whereas these attacks, such as the 2009 killing of Memorial Human Rights Centre researcher Natalya Estemirova, have not been properly investigated and the perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity; whereas Oyub Titiev, head of Memorial Human Rights Centre’s office in Chechnya, and Yury Dmitriev, head of the Karelian branch of International Memorial, were imprisoned on politically motivated charges; whereas most recently, on 14 October 2021, the International Memorial office in Moscow was stormed by a violent mob and then raided by the police;

I.  whereas the persecution of Memorial comes amid repeated and systematic attempts by the Russian Government to rewrite history and curtail free debate about the evaluation of historical crimes and events, especially those connected to the rule of the Soviet governments; whereas the authorities have falsified historical facts to deny the findings by Memorial Human Rights Centre on repression and persecution under Stalin;

J.  whereas attempts to intimidate, silence and ultimately close Memorial are a symbol of the Russian authorities’ increasingly repressive policies, thereby adding a new chapter to Russia’s history of political repression; whereas between 1987 and 1992, Memorial was specifically established to document, research, commemorate and educate on topics related to the country’s past repressions and tragic historical legacy;

K.  whereas an active civil society is a crucial aspect of a democratic and open society, and is essential for safeguarding human rights and the rule of law; whereas NGOs play a crucial role in modern democratic societies and must therefore be able to operate freely without undue interference from public authorities; whereas the proceedings against Memorial are the most recent example of the Russian authorities’ crackdown on civil society and human rights defenders and ultimately harms the interests of the Russian people and the possibilities for open and free dialogue;

L.  whereas the Russian ‘foreign agents’ law was adopted in 2012 and expanded last year by the Russian Parliament in ways that could apply to any public critic or activist; whereas the number of organisations and individuals that the authorities have designated as ‘foreign agents’ has drastically increased in recent months; whereas this law has been used by the Russian authorities to facilitate the crackdown on independent civil society active in Russia, targeting NGOs, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, women’s rights and LGBTIQ+ rights activists, and environmental activists; whereas this law, as well as legislation on ‘undesirable organisations’ and on ‘countering extremist activity’, violates Russia’s own Constitution and international human rights obligations, in particular concerning the freedom of association and expression, the right to privacy, the right to participate in public affairs and the prohibition of discrimination; whereas the example of Memorial clearly demonstrates how these laws are used by the Russian authorities as a tool to intimidate and silence critics and independent voices;

1.  Condemns the repeated persecution and the recent politically motivated attempts to shut down International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Centre; calls on the Russian authorities to immediately drop all charges against Memorial and ensure that Memorial can continue to safely carry out their important work without interference from the state; demands that the authorities, in the meantime, ensure full protection of and access to all of Memorial’s material and immaterial assets, including its archives, as well as performances and works by independent theatres, journalists and artists;

2.  Welcomes the letter of 30 November 2021 from the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights to the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation; insists that the requests for liquidation lack any reasonable legal justification; calls on the Presidents of the Commission and the Council and on the EU Member States to issue open statements of support with demands that the Russian authorities ensure Memorial’s safety and acquittal of all charges; calls on the EU Delegation and Member States’ representations in Russia to publicly show solidarity with Memorial;

3.  Calls on the VP/HR to impose sanctions under the EU global human rights sanctions regime on Russian officials involved in the unlawful repression of Memorial and in the judicial proceedings against its organisations and members;

4.  Urges Russia to stop the ongoing crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders and independent media by repealing the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’ laws, ceasing to create special legislation or abuse existing criminal or administrative laws with the aim of targeting dissident voices in the country or abroad, and bringing its legislation in line with the commitments that Russia has voluntarily undertaken under international law and its own Constitution, including by fully reinstating freedom of association and expression, as well as media and internet freedom; calls on the Russian authorities to ensure that restitution and reparation measures are put in place to address the violations committed in the process of implementing the ‘foreign agents’ and ‘undesirable organisations’ laws;

5.  Expresses its solidarity with the Russian people and urges the Russian authorities to stop persecuting Memorial, its staff, and all other NGOs, human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, scholars, historians, women’s rights and LGBTIQ+ rights activists and environmental activists in Russia; reiterates its support to Russia’s civil society and human rights defenders and calls on Russia to establish a clear legal framework and a safe working environment for civil society in line with international human rights standards; stresses the need to guarantee effective and efficient legal recourse procedures for civil society actors whose freedom to work has been compromised;

6.  Reiterates that the free and independent work of civil society organisations and the media is a cornerstone of a democratic society based on the rule of law; calls therefore on the Commission, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Member States to increase support for civil society, independent NGOs, human rights defenders, historians and independent media outlets active in Russia, including sustainable and flexible financial support and emergency assistance, and to encourage greater international support for these actors and their broader inclusion in international civil society networks; appeals to the sense of responsibility of Russian academia to provide those researchers and historians with adequate and safe opportunities to pursue their academic activity;

7.  Condemns the defamation campaigns waged by current Russian authorities against historians and scholars who speak openly about the crimes committed by the communist regime and who are uncovering direct links between that regime and people currently in power in Russia; regrets that Russia, which to this day remains the greatest victim of Soviet communist totalitarianism, is not yet able to come to terms with its gruesome past, and instead that its authorities are persecuting those who are working to shed light on Soviet totalitarian crimes;

8.  Praises Memorial’s significant contribution to the documentation, research and education about political repression in the Soviet Union and highlights that this work established international standards; applauds its tireless work in defence of human rights in today’s Russia and beyond; commends in particular its initiatives such as the request for initiation of criminal proceedings against members of the Wagner Group on behalf of victims in Syria, and its sustained efforts for the criminal prosecution of crimes and human rights violations in Chechnya; pays tribute to members of Memorial, such as Natalya Estemirova, who paid the highest price for uncovering atrocities committed there; stresses that liquidation of International Memorial and Human Rights Centre Memorial would therefore have significant negative consequences for civil society as a whole and for the protection of human rights in Russia in particular;

9.  Underlines that the liquidation of these organisations would also bring an end to Memorial’s unique databases and document collections and believes that these records are a unique heritage of humanity; stresses that it is paramount that they be protected and preserved and continue to be available to anyone interested, including students, researchers and families of victims; invites the Commission and the EEAS therefore to produce a comprehensive report together with civil society and Russian human rights experts on the living memory of the millions of victims of political terror in the Soviet Union, which would be based on the witness statements and databases collected by Memorial;

10.  Condemns the policy of historical revisionism and glorification of Stalinism promoted by the Russian Government and authorities, used not only in the current attempts to liquidate Memorial Human Rights Centre, but also in numerous other cases, such as the discovery of mass graves in Sandarmokh in the Republic of Karelia and the subsequent politically motivated prison sentence, based on fabricated charges, of Yury Dmitriev, local leader of Memorial, as well as the confiscation of the book by Agnes Haikara on the tragic fate of Norwegian and Finnish colonists of the Kola peninsula; underlines that remembering the victims of totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and recognising and raising awareness of the crimes committed by communist, Nazi and other dictatorships is of vital importance for the unity of Europe and for fostering resilience against modern threats to democracy, particularly among younger generations;

11.  Calls on the EU Delegation and national diplomatic representations in Russia to closely monitor the situation and trials linked to Memorial on the ground, ensure that these efforts are visible, and offer them any support that they may need, including direct financial assistance in order to pay lawyers and experts, but also psychosocial and medical support for employees throughout this period of extreme pressure;

12.  Calls on the EU Member States to continue to support the Memorial branches in their respective countries; urges the Member States to consider providing refuge for threatened or banned NGOs from Russia and to allow them to operate from EU territory if needed, and to provide emergency visas for Memorial employees and other threatened activists so that they can leave Russia and find temporary shelter in the EU;

13.  Urges the VP/HR and the Member States to take coordinated action with like-minded countries to increase international scrutiny of Russia’s restrictive laws, policies and actions and to persistently raise and condemn the restrictions of fundamental freedoms and human rights by the Russian authorities, including through high-level and public interventions, coordinated action, sustained scrutiny in international and regional human rights forums and regular human rights impact assessments to ensure that engagement with Russia does not undermine human rights objectives or directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations;

14.  Encourages EU and Member State ambassadors to Russia to carry out a joint, publicised solidarity visit to the office of International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Centre following the outcome of the court hearings;

15.  Calls on the EEAS to continue to raise the issue of Russia’s unabated crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders and independent media, especially the recent case of Memorial, and to initiate monitoring and evaluation procedures in all relevant forums, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the UN Human Rights Council, and in particular to add Russia’s persistent crackdown on civil society to the agenda of the next session of the UN Human Rights Council starting in February 2022;

16.  Calls on the EEAS and the Commission to closely monitor on an ongoing basis the impact of the ‘foreign agents’ law, in particular in order to maintain a detailed record of organisations and individuals declared as ‘foreign agents’ and sanctioned as such, and to assess the legal changes to the law and their effect on Russian civil society; calls for the EU and its Member States to systematically address concerns over the ‘foreign agents’ law and other restrictive legislation against civil society and human rights defenders in all meetings with Russian representatives and to call on Russia to immediate repeal its ‘foreign agents’ law and bring its legislation into line with its international commitments and with international human rights standards;

17.  Calls on the Council, the EEAS and the Commission to mainstream human rights and civil society consultation across any dialogues and areas of engagement between the EU, its Member States and Russia, and to honour their commitment to gender mainstreaming;

18.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Vice-President of the Commission / High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission, the governments and parliaments of the Member States, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, International Memorial and Memorial Human Rights Centre, and the President, Government and State Duma of the Russian Federation.

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