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Manhunt on the Russians: how to stand against discrimination of Russian nationals abroad?

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Manhunt on the Russians: how to stand against discrimination of Russian nationals abroad?


Svetlana Smetanina 

A while ago the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights presented its Report: the Russians and Compatriots Abroad - without the right for the right. Russian human rights activists are raising the alarm: over the last years there has been sharp increase in number of overseas incidents involving violation of nearly all fundamental human rights of Russian nationals and compatriots. Is there any way to stand against it?

While introducing the Report, Alexander Brod, a member of the Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights Council under the President of the Russian Federation and the Head of Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, recalled the words said by Vladimir Putin at the 6th Global Congress of Russian Compatriots Living Abroad: “Tension and uncertainty have been accumulating. Fundamentals of international law have been undermined; longstanding arrangements between countries have been destroyed. Russophobia and other forms of extremely aggressive nationalism are widely applied. History has been rewritten in Ukraine, the Baltics and some other countries; there is a fight against monuments and Russian language. People have been intimidated and simply terrorized. Freedom of speech and the right for preservation of their own traditions have been grossly violated.”

Photo: the Public Chamber of the RF

It was no coincidence that in 2017 for the very first time the annual report of the human-rights ombudsman in Russia had a chapter on defense of human rights and freedoms for certain categories of citizens. It includes a section where issues of Russian citizens living abroad and our other compatriots are reviewed. Furthermore, protection of Russian nationals abroad is outlined as one of priorities of foreign-policy activities within the Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation adopted in 2016.

Explaining relevancy of such report, Alexander Brod pointed out that violation of Russian nationals’ rights are not merely isolated incidents within actual bilateral relations between Russia and the United States, as well as other countries. “It is included into broader humanitarian context related to human rights standards in the world. Failure in this area shall be regarded as a tacit failure of the world community, its inability to guarantee the basic rights and freedomsб” emphasized Mr. Brod.

The Russians and Compatriots Abroad: without the right for the right Report comprises of several sections. The first one is Manhunt on the Russians; it is dedicated to acts of illegitimate extradition, arrests and detentions. It points out to ominous extent, which the US requested extraditions of Russian nationals from third countries, where they were in business trip or on vocation, have taken in recent years. In 2017 there were more than 30 of such cases. Despite the fact that Moscow have repeatedly declared: it does not recognize application of American law and American jurisdiction all other the world above the International Law. However, today it seems that the International Law and arrangements between countries have been merely ignored; and priority is granted to the US requests for extradition.

Cases of Victor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko have still been the most high-profile ones. But lists of Russian nationals arrested based on the US request include quite a number of software developers. Such as Roman Seleznev, for example, who was arrested in the Maldives and sentenced to 27 years in jail for cyber fraud, which is the longest term for cyber crimes in American history. In January 2017 Stanislav Lisov was detained in Barcelona; he also faces quite long jail term in the US. Evgeniy Nikulin was extradited from the Chech Republic based on the US request in the end of March 2018; he is also charged for hacking attacks on web-sites of American companies.
The story of Maria Butina has been just as resonating. The detained Russian national faces five years in jail because she allegedly worked in the USA without special registration and acted as a foreign agent.

The way she was treated at the preliminary investigation stage, when no guilt is established, should have been referred for thorough examination to international human rights organizations. In the beginning they deprived her of sleep by putting torch light in her face every 15 minutes. They kept her in cold and in irons. And when she was finally allowed to call her family, the time for that was set from 1 am to 3 am. However none of human rights organizations has voiced any protest in respect of these very real tortures and abasement of human dignity.

According to Igor Borisov, the Chairman of the Board of the Russia’s Public Institute of Electorate Law, who took part in the roundtable discussion held in the Russia Today Agency, currently nearly all of twenty fundamental human rights have been violated against Russian nationals and compatriots at the governmental level in some countries; except, perhaps, the right to live. 

<p style="text-align: justify;"><hr/><b>Russian nationals are subjected to tortures, abasement of human dignity and unlawful arrests. Their Schengen visas are canceled without giving any reasons, and holders of such visas are entered into some lists of insecure persons, whose visits are not welcomed.</b></p>

And finally, there is ethnic segregation, when Russian speaking population is not allowed to have education in their native language or even speak it. This issue is extremely sensitive in the Baltics and Ukraine.

Igor Borisov also drew attention to the fact that rights of Russian nationals have been violated by those international organizations, which were established with intention to defend such rights and observe them. For example, during 25 years of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, the UK representatives have been elected as its members for 50 times, the US representatives – for 30 times, and representatives of Russia – for 5 times.

However, during the same period of time, the OSCE observers have visited Russia to monitor elections for 4153 times. While their visits to the UK and Germany for the same reason have come to 24 and 17 times respectively. Seeing that, can we talk of any equal rights and democracy within such international structures?

Borisov emphasized that it is necessary to establish our own school of human right advocates and pool resources of NGOs and the state together to ensure protection of the citizens.

Elena Sutormina, the Chair of the Commission on development of public diplomacy, humanitarian cooperation and preservation of traditional values of the Public Chamber of the RF, pointed out that the PC regularly appeals to the UN and the OSCE regarding various discrimination cases in respect of Russian nationals and compatriots, but 90% of the cases remain unanswered.

At the same time, she believes it would not be right to go to isolation and avoid means of the International Law. “One of our objectives is to be more active in the United Nations Human Rights Council. But there is an issue: we do not have sufficient number of organizations with status, suitable to invite its members to the HRC meetings,” Ms. Sutormina commented.

Summarizing the discussion, Alexander Brod highlighted the practical advises mentioned in the Report. They include mandatory and regular monitoring of discrimination cases towards Russian nationals, as well as drawing up respective reports for the MFA of the RF on regular basis by the Public Chamber and the human-rights ombudsman. It is also recommended to translate such reports into the UN languages and present them at international forums.
As it was mentioned during the round table discussion, the way Russia protects the rights of its citizens abroad demonstrates how prepared the country is to defend its borders. 

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