RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Human rights work is legitimate and needs to be protected

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Paris-Geneva, February 28, 2012. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), publishes today a note entitled “Kadyrov vs. Orlov: The defence of human rights on trial”, analysing the impact on the Russian civil society of the two and a half years of judicial harassment faced by the Human Rights Centre (HRC) “Memorial” and the Chairman of its Executive Committee, Mr. Oleg Orlov.

As the legal proceedings of ’Kadyrov vs. Orlov’ have finally come to an end, the Observatory calls on the authorities to fully recognise the legitimate role played by human rights organisations and to provide effective protection to human rights defenders instead of abusing the judicial system for their harassment.

Ahead of the presidential elections, the case displayed that human rights defenders continue to be subjected in the Russian Federation to a climate of contempt and harassment, including from the highest official level.

The Observatory welcomes the discharge of Mr. Oleg Orlov on January 20, 2012. This decision follows his acquittal in June 2011 and the coming into force of a law decriminalising defamation in December 2011. However, the Observatory recalls that the judicial harassment lasted two and a half years and forced HRC “Memorial” to use its resources and energy to defend the legitimacy of its fight for human rights before courts of law, instead of continuing their vital work.

The complaints for defamation filed by Mr. Ramazan Kadyrov, President of the Republic of Chechnya, were directed against Mr. Oleg Orlov who evoked the responsibility of the Chechen President after the assassination of HRC “Memorial” collaborator in Grozny, Ms. Natalia Estemirova.

Since 2009, the Observatory has been closely monitoring the hearings before both the civil and criminal jurisdictions through international trial observation missions. Today, it is to be hoped that HRC “Memorial” can resume its work without fearing any further acts of harassment.

Legal harassment is less spectacular than physical attacks, but it nonetheless participates in instilling fear and strengthening the system of impunity”, FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen said today. “I personally attended the first hearing of this judicial saga on September 25, 2009, and I could feel an extraordinary tension in the courtroom, the kind of tension human rights defenders feel everyday in the Russian Federation”.

The chilling effect of these proceedings for human rights defenders can only be repaired by clear and unambiguous stands by the authorities on the legitimacy of critical human rights defenders work”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “Instead of wasting legal resources on proceedings like this, efforts should concentrate on ensuring legal accountability for human rights violations, including the killing of human rights defenders”.

The report is available in English, French and Russian on the following web links:




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