Ms Shakhova, thank you very much for agreeing to give an interview for the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum. “Citizens’ Watch” is one of the oldest human rights organisations in St. Petersburg. What current projects have you been implementing? What challenges does your organisation face?
“Citizens’ Watch” was established in 1992, i.e. 24 years have passed since then. When the idea for the organisation arose, we believed that Russia had become a member of the international community, had accepted its obligations to defend human rights but the officials hadn’t changed. We suspected – as we can see now, this suspicion was correct – that they were unlikely to work within the new democratic system. Thus we founded an organisation targeting at conducting civilian oversight, as the Russian government has the responsibility to fulfil its obligations in the field of human rights.
Around 2000, we realised that we would like to focus on one fundamental right - the right to fair trial. We are convinced that as soon as Russia has an independent professional court, the other problems in the field of human rights - sooner or later - will be solved, thus, this instrument will help to solve other problems.
As of today, we are still focusing on the same subject, though it became quite hard. We are trying to work more with lawyers, journalists, who write on legal topics, and young activists, who are interested in human rights work and want to be professionals in this field. We offer our expertise providing independent monitoring of courts, hearings, and court’s websites. I have to admit that to carry out work has become more difficult than it was in the 2000s. We are trying to continue our work, complete our mission, and, certainly, not to reduce its scope. Now the major task and simultaneously challenge for us is to keep all kinds and scopes of our activities, to carry on the mission of the organisation in the same form we had implemented before the start of repressions wave against NGOs in Russia.