Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Human rights in Russia

Delivered in Plenary - 15th December 2005

Mr President

Russia remains the largest country in the world and because it is a member of the Council of Europe and the OSCE it is under greater scrutiny and criticism by the EU in terms of fundamental democratic rights. It currently enjoys privileges, such as the PCA Agreement, a strategic partnership based on the Four Common Spaces Agreement, and eventual ENPI and EIB funding benefits.

Russia continues to be a democracy, albeit an imperfect one. However, for some time now, concerns have been expressed that the Kremlin and the siloviki, so-called men of power close to President Putin, have been attempting to restrict freedom of the media and NGOs, in particular, where it was felt that they were interfering with Russian strategic interests, such as the bloody conflict in Chechnya, or the strategy of reversing some of the controversial sell-offs of the oil and gas sector in the early 1990s in order to increase the patronage of the state.

A handful of men, such as Khodorkovsky, benefited enormously. He was convicted of several criminal offences and had his extensive Yukos holdings renationalised. His controversial trial followed with accusations internationally of political manipulation of the judicial system. More recently, on 23 November, the Duma approved the law restricting freedom of association and the ability of foreign NGOs to operate in Russia by imposing fiscal and residency requirements of registration, which the Council of Europe, in a provisional opinion, has seriously questioned as incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, much to his credit, President Putin has listened to the objections and asked to rewrite aspects of the bill which infringe fundamental human rights and which are not legitimately necessary to fight terrorism, as was mentioned in Chechnya in particular, and money laundering.

I hope reason prevails. We all wish to see a democratic, European Russia with whom we can all share fundamental common values of basic human rights.