16 May 2016
Source: Moscow Helsinki Group
On 12th May the oldest of today’s human rights organizations, the Moscow Helsinki Group, was 40 years old. In celebration it held a jubilee conference on 12-14th May in Moscow. Taking part were representatives of human rights organizations, experts, public figures, journalists, members of MHG, and friends. Those who gathered congratulated MHG on its jubilee and spoke of its role and importance both in Soviet times and in today’s Russia but pride of place was given to the discussion of basic problems relating to human rights in the country and the key tasks which face their defenders today.
The basic issues discussed by those who participated in the jubilee conference included: how to counter the attack on civil rights, ways forward for Russia’s court and law-enforcement system, human rights as centre piece in an ideological battle in Russia and the world, how the situation has changed over the past 40 years and what we can learn from history, key challenges to human rights today, public control as a positive strategy for human rights activists’ who participate in civic activity, the situation regarding human rights activists and organizations in Russia, the possibilities and perspectives for action in conditions of increasing pressure on activists, and defending human rights activists who are at risk.
Andrei Yurov, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, spoke of a global crisis in the sphere of human rights. “The crisis is connected, in the first place, with the very concept of human rights. Today human rights are, for many, unintelligible and uninteresting ideas. People do not understand that their freedom and a normal life are, in some way or other, related to the idea of human rights” he argued. “Either we learn to work rather differently with human rights or neither they nor a human rights movement will exist,” Yurov warned.
Mikhail Fedotov, chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, spoke, in his address to the conference, of “the defence of human rights as the art of the impossible”. “In a transition period human rights defenders are especially needed,” he suggested, “and I am happy that on the Presidential Human Rights Council there so many excellent activists for whom defending rights is not a profession but a mission, one which in no way depends on official position or membership of some kind or other. I see many of them here today in the hall”.
In her congratulatory letter to the Moscow Helsinki Group, the Ombudsman for human rights in the RF, Tatyana Moskalkova, thanked the human rights defenders for their unstinting service to the idea of defending human rights and freedoms, and expressed a wish that the Moscow Helsinki Group would celebrate its 50th anniversary just as committed and energetic as today on the 40th celebration of the human rights organization.
On 12th May John Tefft, the US ambassador to the RF, congratulated Liudmila Alekseyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group, with the organization’s 40 years’ existence. The diplomat’s message appeared on the US Embassy’s website. In Tefft’s words: “Over the past forty years, often experiencing harsh repression, the Moscow Helsinki Group has fought to promote the ideas and values of human rights in the former Soviet Union and in the Russian Federation”. And, today, the ambassador’s statement continues, the Moscow Helsinki Group “continues to defend human rights, dignity, justice and the principle of the rule of law”.
It was 40 years ago on this day, 12th May 1976, that a group of dissidents, led by physicist,Yury Orlov, announced the setting up of the Moscow Helsinki Group. The announcement was made at a press conference in Andrei Sakharov’s apartment in Moscow. The organization’s aim was to secure the observance of the Helsinki Accords, signed by European countries, the USA and Canada in 1975. According to these agreements, each country, including the USSR, accepted its obligation to observe international standards in the sphere of human rights. The Moscow Helsinki Group engaged in collecting information relating to the infringement of human rights in the USSR, and appealed to the USSR Supreme Soviet and to international organizations. In September 1982, after the arrest of a significant number of its members, the Moscow Helsinki Group ceased to operate, but came back to life in 1989. Since 1996 Liudmila Alekseyeva has chaired the Moscow Helsinki Group.
At the jubilee conference the Moscow Helsinki Group gave awards to the Bolotnaya Square prisoners and to Ildar Danin for their bravery in defending human dignity.
On 12 May, a celebratory evening was held at which the presentation of the annual Moscow Helsinki Group awards for work in the field of human rights took place. Henceforth the annual Moscow Helsinki Group award ceremony will be held place on 12th May – the day on which the Public Group to Promote Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR was founded.
Translated by Mary McAuley