Members of European Parliament Call for More Respect for Human Rights in Russia

Heidi Hautala, chairwoman of EP Subcommittee on Human Rights, together with Laima Liucija Andrikiene, Vice-Chairwoman and Thijs Berman, member of the Subcommittee, held on 14th of September a press conference to report back from delegation visit to Beslan and Ingushetia, Russia 30.8.-3.9.2010. [:]

The Subcommittee on Human Rights travelled to Russia to commemorate the three day siege and a hostage-taking in Beslan at a local primary school that took place on 1-3.9.2004 and resulted in deaths of over 300 people. Most of the victims were children.

In Beslan the the delegation of European Parliament met with the families of the victims and those who survived the tragedy themselves. Talks were also held with officials in charge of investigating the tragedy. With sadness the members of the delegation learned that even as the 6th anniversary of the tragedy neared, several key questions of the tragedy remain unanswered. Not only has the investigations been highly unsatisfactory, the treatment of the families by the Russian authorities, whose children perished at the siege, has tremendously increased their grievance. The members of the delegation were told how the authorities have retaliated at the families’ requests to identify their dead children and find the cause of their death, refused effective compensation and failed to acknowledge their responsibility in the tragedy.

Most of the mothers still do not know where the bodies of their children are. They were given back bodies of some children, but most said they suspect this was not their child and thus do not know who they have buried. Families of the victims are denied an opportunity of exhumation of the remains and denied investigation.

Member of European Parliament Thijs Berman described this as shocking and stressed that the way the Russian authorities have treated the families and victims of Beslan is absolutely unacceptable. “They have failed to show any respect to them,” he noted.

Chairwoman of the Subcommittee, Heidi Hautala, underlined that full investigation and inquiry must be carried out.
The Subcommittee on Human Rights was invited to Beslan by several non-governmental organisations, amongst others, the Voice of Beslan, Kabardino-Balkariya Human Rights Centre, Mothers of Beslan and independent Caucasian journal Dosh.

In Moscow the delegation visited also the trial of the former heads of Yukos, Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. They have been arrested since 2003 and are charged with fraud and embezzlement. This is their second trial. The cases have been denounced as fabricated, fraudulent and unfair by the wider international community. Member of the European Parliament, Ms Laima Andrikiene underlined the grave concerns that the delegation has following their attendance at the court room.
In the presence of the delegation, a witness, Mr Vladimir Pereverzin, former head of the department of Yukos, testified that he had been pressured by the prosecution to witness against Mr. Khodorkovsky and, among others, to blame him for giving orders to violate the law. In return he was promised conditional sentence. When Mr Pereverzin refused the deal he was sentenced to 11 years imprisonment in a strict regime prison. MEPs Andrikiene and Hautala stressed that such allegations must be promptly investigated. Moreover, the delegation underlined that against the backdrop of the pervasive irregularities and manipulation of the trial, it is a high time that Mr Khodorkovsky and Lebedev be released.

The delegation also visited civil society organisations and Chechen refugee camps in Nazran in Ingushetia. Meetings were also held with families of disappeared and victims of violence. The delegation was left with a view that impunity for grave violations remains the norm still today and this continues to feed the cycle of violence.

Lastly, the delegation observed the Strategy 31 demonstration in Moscow on 31st of August. Prior to the demonstration the Prime Minister of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin, had stated in Russian newspaper Kommersant that those who would attend the demonstration would “be beaten upside the head with a truncheon.” The police and militia responded to the peaceful demonstration with disproportionate use of force and arrested more than 70 people. The members of the delegation were also mishandled forcefully as the police made its way onto the people. To impose itself on the unarmed demonstrators, the police was armed with riot tools and dogs. The delegation recalled that the right of assembly is indeed guaranteed by Article 31 of the Russian constitution. “All these people seem to be asking is that the constitution of the country be respected,” the delegation observed.