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NEWSLETTER NOVEMBER 2015


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
World AIDS Day and Its Topicality in the EECA Region >>

TOP NEWS

General Assembly in Budapest: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words >>
Refugees Welcome: Visit of EU Bottom-Up Initiatives to Berlin >>
Black Sea NGO Forum in Tbilisi: Outreach to New Audiences >>

STEERING COMMITTEE
Statement "Stop the Unfounded and Arbitrary Pressure on the Prominent Russian NGO - the Human Rights Centre "Memorial" >>
Statement "Solidarity with Magomed Mutsolgov: Stop the Pressure on the Prominent Ingush Human Rights Defender"  >>


MEDIA
Two New Brochures of the Forum Published >>
Oleg Orlov (Human Rights Centre "Memorial", Moscow, Russia): 'We Still Don't Know What Is Happening' >>

MEMBERS' VIEWS
European Council on Foreign Relations: Dayton Revisited - Bosnia's Peace Deal 20 Years On >>
INTERRA: IDEIstvui, Siberia! >>
European Platform for Democratic Elections: Azerbaijan - Whitewashing of Flawed Parliamentary Elections Through PACE and Other EOMs >>

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

World AIDS Day and Its Topicality in the EECA Region

On the occasion of the World AIDS Day being marked on 1 December, Corie Leifer, Project and Office Manager at the AIDS Foundation East-West (Amsterdam, Netherlands), wrote a piece on the topicality of the AIDS problem in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) Region:

 

The EECA Region is home to the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the world. While worldwide the incidence of HIV is decreasing, in EECA, the number of new HIV cases continues to grow. Key populations (men who have sex with men, prisoners, people who Inject drugs, and sex workers) in EECA are disproportionally impacted by the HIV epidemic. Therefore, serving the needs of key populations through increasing access to healthcare can provide an effective method to reduce the spread of HIV.

AIDS Foundation East-West (AFEW) is a network of civil society organisations that is dedicated to improving the health of key populations. With a focus on Eastern Europe and Central Asia, AIDS Foundation East-West strives to promote health and increase access to prevention, treatment and care for public health concerns such as HIV, TB, viral hepatitis, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. In preparation for the World AIDS Day on 1 December, AFEW offices in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Russia conducted multiple activities around the prevention, treatment, and care of HIV. The World AIDS Day is an important day for AFEW and the region as it allows us to raise awareness to HIV and what we can do about it.

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TOP NEWS

General Assembly in Budapest: A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Just few days left before the start of the 6th General Assembly (GA) of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum - the largest annual event and the highest decision-making body of the Forum. This year’s GA will be held on 7-9 December 2015 at the Benczúr Hotel in Budapest, Hungary.

Around 110 representatives of the NGOs - members of the Forum from both the Russian Federation and the European Union - will discuss the issues of internal and external development of the Forum and implementation steps for the adopted Forum's Mid-Term Strategy 2015-2018 as well as vote for new Steering Committee members and further Forum's bodies.

The highest interest ever was also shown by supporters of the Forum and external experts - diplomats, researchers, NGO activists, etc. In three days, more than a hundred of them are expected to join the audience for open formats of the General Assembly dealing with such topics as situation of the civil society in the EU and Russia, migration, climate, LGBTIQ, anti-corruption, Helsinki +40 processes, capacity building, and others.

The up-to-date programme version is always available here. Welcome to Budapest!

The 6th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is supported by the European Commission, the Oak Foundation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Germany. Official media partner is Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

TOP NEWS

Refugees Welcome: Visit of EU Bottom-Up Initiatives to Berlin

On the occasion of the International Day for Tolerance celebrated on 16 November, representatives of bottom-up initiatives for assistance to refugees from five EU states were invited by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum to Berlin. The guests participated in the Discussion “Refugees Welcome: European Citizens on Watch” at the Literaturwerkstatt (Kulturbrauerei) as well as visited related authorities and a registration site for incoming refugees.

‘This was one of the first meetings by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum specifically organised with representatives of the EU countries only,’ says Ralph du Long, member of the Forum’s Steering Committee, lawyer, spokesperson at UNITED for Intercultural Action (Netherlands). ‘The visit was very fruitful for networking and definitely contributed to further shaping of the new Forum’s Working Group on migration. It was also very important to support our colleagues from the countries, which are less friendly to the refugees than Germany: Unfortunately, now these are not only refugees, who are endangered in entering the EU, but also civil society activists, who provide assistance to those.’

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TOP NEWS

Black Sea NGO Forum in Tbilisi: Outreach to New Audiences

Thanks to an invitation by FOND, a Romanian NGDO platform, the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was granted an opportunity to attend the 8th Black Sea NGO Forum. The event, organised by FOND, took place on 2-3 November 2015 in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The discussions this year were devoted to such issues as environment for the development of the civil society in the region, international visibility of the NGO work, economic impact of civil society organisations on the local and regional level, the role of donors, and many others. Besides, the delegates identified learning as a development driver for the nonprofit sector and were dealing with a strategy framework while selecting proposals for further elaboration.

'I believe the platform - as a strong attraction point for as many interested nonprofit organisations as possible in the very important Black Sea Region - may become a reliable partner for our Forum,' considers Moisés Jomarrón de la Cerda, Project Manager at the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, who represented the Forum in Tbilisi. 'I found it interesting that our colleagues have been working on a knowledge network, which is similar to our E-Corner. That may be one of the common points to explore in the future.'

STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Stop the Unfounded and Arbitrary Pressure on the Prominent Russian NGO - the Human Rights Centre "Memorial"

The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum expresses its serious concern and indignation at the increased campaign of pressure by the Russian authorities against the leading Russian NGO – the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” (HRC “Memorial”), a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.

On 9 November 2015, the HRC “Memorial” received a report from a routine inspection carried out by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation on 5-30 October 2015. According to this report, the NGO's members had allegedly tried to "undermine the foundations of Russia's constitutional system by calling to overthrow the current government and change the country's political regime." In support of its statement, the Ministry of Justice cites the publications on the website of the organisation criticising Russia's actions in respect of Ukraine and the verdicts handed down to protesters in the Bolotnaya Square case. On 11 November 2015, the findings from the Ministry of Justice inspection containing the wording cited above were forwarded to the Prosecutor General's Office.

These actions are not the first steps of Russian authorities in the campaign of persecution of the HRC “Memorial”. Earlier last year, in July 2014, the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” was included by the Ministry of Justice on the list of “foreign agents”. In September 2015, it received a fine of 600,000 roubles (over 8.5 thousand euros) for violating legislative requirements requesting from the NGOs “executing the functions of a foreign agent” to indicate all their publications (including those on the net) with a remark that they were published by a “foreign agent”. In both cases, the HRC “Memorial” expressed its firm disagreement with these decisions and appealed against them in courts.

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STEERING COMMITTEE

Statement "Solidarity with Magomed Mutsolgov: Stop the Pressure on the Prominent Ingush Human Rights Defender"

The Steering Committee of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is extremely concerned by reports of a raid conducted at the office of the NGO MASHR, Forum’s member, in Karabulak, Ingushetia, and in the home of its leader Magomed Mutsolgov, Head of the Ingush Public Monitoring Committee and a prominent human rights defender.

As reported by Mutsolgov, mass media, and non-governmental organisations, in the early morning of 6 November 2015, a few dozen armed men, some of them masked, came in three armored ”Gazelle” vans and two passenger cars to the MASHR office and Mutsolgov's house located nearby. Saying that they were police officers, the men sealed off the area around the house and the office and spent a few hours searching the premises and confiscating the computers and all of the organisations's documents and archives dating back to its establishment. The conduct of this large group of armed men was clearly intimidating; Magomed's children were terrified and his mother had a heart attack.

We are particularly concerned about the text of the order warranting the search as part of the ‘operational investigation and search activities’, signed by the Acting Chair of the Supreme Court of Ingushetia. This document says that Magomed Mutsolgov allegedly ‘serves as liaison for anti-Russian NGOs located in Georgia, United States, and Europe, and acts on behalf and orders of foreign NGOs" and that he, ‘while pursuing subversive purposes in Russia, has taken steps aimed at inciting religious conflict’ and is involved in ‘various extremist projects’, ‘which spread anti-Russian information and propaganda to shape destructive public opinions about the Russian government's actions in regard of Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria.’ The document further states that ‘for subversive purposes, he uses various online media and social networks. In addition, Mutsolgov had organised various seminars, workshops, and forums.’ The document also states that Mutsolgov allegedly ‘acts in a very secretive manner, trying to conceal his involvement in extremism. He only uses proven channels and proxies. He manufactures and stores various extremist materials aimed at inciting ethnic hatred in society, and also other items prohibited for free circulation in Russia.’

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MEDIA

Two New Brochures of the Forum Published

The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is proud to present two brochures, which were published in 2015.

The booklet "Voices from Civil Society" was prepared within the “EU-Russia Legal Dialogue” Project. 14 authors from NGOs and universities in Russia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Slovakia presented legal aspects and thematic areas, in which NGOs from Russia and the EU have a need for share of experiences and coordination, and jointly reflected on possible working formats for the Legal Dialogue in the future. The booklet consists of 13 articles and five thematic units - NGO-Government Relations, Civilian Oversight, Advocacy/Lobbying, Environmental Protection, and Gender Equality.

Another brochure - "Our Stories" - is a collection of stories told by Forum members, supporters, representatives of authorities, donors as well as our kind volunteers and interns. The contributors reflect on various aspects of the Forum's operation - starting with its origins, mission, and values through the achivements of Working and Expert Groups and up to Forum's events, guidelines for statements and policy papers, or communications. As Anna Sevortian, Forum's Executive Director, put it in her preword, 'the story of tomorrow has yet to be written. If one of the stories resonates with you, we would be happy to start writing one together.'

Both publications will be presented at the 6th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, which will be held on 7-9 December 2015 in Budapest, Hungary.

MEDIA

Oleg Orlov (Human Rights Centre "Memorial", Moscow, Russia): 'We Still Don't Know What Is Happening'

To watch the interview in Russian please follow the link

Mr Orlov, thank you very much that you agreed to give an interview for the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum under such challenging conditions for both Russia and the Russian civil society. Not once and not twice, your colleagues received threats or were persecuted, the Human Rights Centre “Memorial” was named a “foreign agent”... But it is the first time, when your organisation was blamed of ‘ruining the foundations of the constitutional system of the Russian Federation.’ How do you assess these new developments?

Certainly, I can assess those negatively It is clear that there is a new level of pressure on Russian NGOs. How are we ruining the foundations of the constitutional system? The inspection report by the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation states that we were ‘calling to mount a coup d’etat.’ Where and when were we calling for that? There is no any verification for this. We still don’t know, what is happening. Probably, it is a test step to find out the reaction from the Russian and international human rights community to that unprecedented political accusation. Perhaps, that is the beginning of a new pressure campaign. We still don’t know. There may be another assumption that the perpetrators overleapt themselves, ie the inspection group didn’t understand some details, went too far, etc. To tell the truth, it is hardly to believe in this, as long as because such an accusation could not be brought in without having had an approval from the high level officials of the Ministry of Justice.

Anyway, for the moment, the campaign of public support against such a political accusation towards us has played a significant role. Anyway, in the warning document, which we received as a follow-up of the report by the Ministry of Justice, there were no political accusations anymore. There are only references to doubtful changes there, which we should include in our Charter. But these are not political accusations anymore. What it is, we still don’t know. And it is not clear, whether it is a step back or the Ministry of Justice, as it has already declared, just forwarded the report as it is to the Prosecutor’s Office. So, the ball is on their side of the court - and we will soon know, how they are going to act towards our organisation.

You mentioned that it might have been a test on reaction by the Russian civil society and the international community. Do you feel support from both of them in this case?

Yes, we feel that support, actually. Signatures were gathered in support of us. It was claimed by many organisations, politicians, and Council of Europe bodies that the actions towards a legally operating organisation were inadmissible. That’s why we felt the strong support in Russia as well as from abroad. Presumably, the government has noticed that support in some way as well.

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MEMBERS' VIEWS

European Council on Foreign Relations: Dayton Revisited - Bosnia's Peace Deal 20 Years On

Two decades after the end of the Bosnian war, Carl Bildt from the European Council on Foreign Relations, who co-chaired the Dayton peace conference, considers its successes and failures, and the lessons for Europe.

Hopes that Bosnia would move closer to Europe have been disappointed, while politics is still split along ethnic lines and the central powers remain weak. However, the peace agreement has had significant achievements. Large numbers of refugees have returned to the country, property disputes have been swiftly resolved, and the line dividing Bosnia’s different entities does not have border controls.

 

INTERRA: IDEIstvui, Siberia!

Forum “Territory of changes. IDEIstvui!” was held on 1-7 November in Krasnoyarsk. 89 pupils and 16 teachers from across Siberia took part in the Forum. At the end of the Forum young people wrote an article on the event.

'It was our first experience of helding such an event by our organisation aiming on pupils from 14 to 18 years old and their teachers,' said Elena Bobrovskaya, Director at the Krasnoyarsk Regional Youth Public Organisation "INTERRA". 'We are glad that the Forum took a great interest: after a selection procedure we decided to approve more applications from the participants than it had been planned earlier. We also succeed in gathering an exciting group of trainers that came not only from Siberian towns but from Berlin, Grozny, Kiev, Ryazan, St Petersburg, and Cherkessk.'

 

Read more

 

European Platform for Democratic Elections: Azerbaijan - Whitewashing of Flawed Parliamentary Elections Through PACE and Other EOMs

EPDE expresses its concern over international election observation missions delegitimising the institution of election observation as well as damaging the reputation of those parliaments and international institutions that they represent.

A significant number of international observation missions registered for the recent Parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan have violated international standards of election observation. According to an EPDE survey of the work of international election observation missions during the Parliamentary elections on 1 November 2015 in Azerbaijan, none of the 40 officially registered international missions conducted a long-term election observation in the country. Only two missions made their election observation methods a matter of public record. On Election Day, 24 international election observers expressed in the media positive assessments of the electoral process before the closure of voting precincts. Among them were the head of the PACE delegation, Jordi Xucla, and delegation member Augustin Conde.

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