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Remarks by Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Yakovenko at a Briefing in RIA Novosti on the Issues of Human Rights Observance in the World and International Cooperation in the Human Rights Sphere


Dear Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, first of all I would like to say a couple of words on the briefing’s theme itself and why it was decided to hold it. The fact is that the role of human rights as a factor of international relations is continuously increasing. It is known that the United Nations Organization has proclaimed human rights as one of the three “pillars” of the new world order of the twenty-first century, along with international security and development. But there’s more to it than that. Cooperation in the field of human rights, in my view, is one of the most dynamically evolving areas of international relations. Its reach is continuously expanding, new standards are being developed and new instruments created. This is due in part to the fact that human rights channels offer the possibility for involvement in international relations by civil society institutions and non-governmental organizations, which make their own, unique contribution to developing this area.

In many respects, the past year was a turning point for international cooperation in the human rights sphere. The United Nations Human Rights Council was set up and began its work and the foundations of continued reformation of the UN human rights architecture were laid. The Russian Federation actively participated in all these processes. The rise and development of an international system of protection and encouragement of human rights is not only a priority of our foreign policy, but our national interest as well. That’s why Russia was elected as one of the UN Human Rights Council’s first members in 2006. It has to be said that in last year’s election for the Council we succeeded in receiving more votes than any other state in the Eastern European group, and the competition had generally been extremely tough. Even for many western countries, no seat on the Council was found.

Russia regards the United Nations General Assembly as an equally important platform for discussing human rights issues. At the current 61st session, our delegation has submitted two draft resolutions: “The inadmissibility of certain practices which contribute to fuelling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”; and “Hostage-taking.” Both these resolutions were adopted.

Russia is a party to the majority of key international human rights treaties. Pursuant to our obligations, we timely submit periodic reports on implementation of these treaties. As of now a report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is in the final stage of preparation, and next in turn is a report on observance of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Our interaction with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is dynamically evolving, the best illustration of which is our annual voluntary contribution to the budget of the Office of two million dollars. The process of agreeing a comprehensive program of cooperation is presently in the concluding stage. Close contact directly with the High Commissioner, Madame Louise Arbour, has been arranged. She repeatedly visited Russia, and I personally met with her in Geneva several times.

The Russian Federation vigorously interacts with regional institutions and mechanisms in the field of human rights. First and foremost, the Council of Europe. We are striving to ensure that the Council serves as an effective mechanism for pan-European cooperation in different areas. The chief slogan of our chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe last year was building Europe without dividing lines, based on democratic values, human rights and the rule of law. We realized a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening the national means of protection of human rights, promoting human rights education and defending national minority rights. Problems relating to an intercultural, interreligious and intercivilizational dialogue were included in the activities of the Council of Europe at Russia’s initiative.

Neither can I fail to note the important role of the humanitarian/human rights component of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, even though Russia has a number of questions to this area of OSCE activity.

Human rights occupy an important niche in our relations on the bilateral track. This theme has been continuously raised in the course of the talks of the Minister and his deputies with the partners from practically all countries. Mechanisms exist of bilateral consultations on human rights problems with twelve states, and this list is continuously expanding. The main aim of such talks is to exchange views on the ways and means of strengthening human rights standards at the international level and on concrete measures for their implementation within the states.

Every six months we hold expert consultations with the European Union – their next round is due to be held in Berlin on May 3. At these consultations we exchange assessments of the human rights situation in Russia and in the EC countries. I would like to note that this is not a one way street. Russia has quite a few concerns about the human rights situation in the European Union. I will not substantively dwell on our complaints about gross human rights abuses in the Baltic states – they are well known. These themes are being raised not only by the Russian side, but also by many international entities and non-governmental human rights organizations. We are awaiting concrete measures for rectifying the situation. We also have many questions about the observance of human rights standards in other European Union countries.

We closely cooperate with international verification mechanisms. Russia has been receiving special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council as well as monitoring delegations from different Council of Europe entities. The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, visited Russia a month ago, now for the second time since his appointment. Though it is true that the assessments and judgements that are being leveled at us sometimes bear a sharp and critical character, this is only a signal that we do have some problems in the human rights sphere. Generally speaking, there exist no ideal states from this point of view. We have something to improve and we have something to work on. That is why we are striving to carry out recommendations from verification institutions of international organizations and heed the opinion of authoritative human rights entities. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs plays a coordinating role in this process, and conveys the concerns voiced to other bodies of authority.

Feedback is also in place: the Foreign Ministry informs the world community of the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. For example, a regular report of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation, Vladimir Lukin, is due to be released soon, and we will by all means acquaint our foreign partners with it.

In conclusion I would like to dwell in detail on the principles that form the basis of our activities in the field of the protection and encouragement of human rights.

Firstly, discussions of human rights issues ought to be conducted in the format of a voluntary, equal and mutually respectful dialogue. Only in this way is it possible to ensure that cooperation in the human rights sphere serves to bring countries closer together and develop constructive engagement between them.

Secondly, we presume that states must play the chief role and that they bear primary responsibility for the protection and encouragement of human rights within their territories. International institutions and mechanisms as well as non-governmental organizations must perform an auxiliary function, although this in no way detracts from their contribution to the common cause of implementing human rights standards.

Thirdly, Russia acknowledges that the human rights situation in this or that country may be an object of lawful concern on the part of the international community. But we do consider it absolutely inadmissible to use human rights issues as a pretext for interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. Such actions ignore the fundamental norms of international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter and undermine the existing system of international relations.

Fourthly, Russia stands for due consideration for the national, religious, cultural and historical peculiarities, the development level and the socioeconomic position of individual countries when evaluating the human rights situation in them.

Fifthly, we resolutely condemn the use of double standards in the human rights sphere.

Sixthly, we proceed from the necessity to depoliticize the human rights sphere. Of course, to fully separate politics from human rights is hardly possible. But this does not at all mean that there should be no striving to minimize the unfavorable impact of conjunctural considerations. And it is altogether inadmissible to use human rights as an instrument for political pressure and score-settling.

Seventhly, Russia is against attempts by individual countries, groups of countries and non-governmental organizations to impose on the international community their own approaches in the human rights sphere under the guise of universal standards.

We will continue to be guided by these principles in the future as well.

In closing my remarks, I would like to stress once again that Russia has consistently been advocating the consolidation of international human rights regimes. We are open for dialogue and are ready to discuss existing issues, both in a bilateral format and in international organizations.

Thank you for your attention. And I stand ready to answer your questions.

Question: What priorities does Russia set itself by participating in the work of the UN Human Rights Council?

Answer: Russia has regarded, and continues to regard, the Council as a major forum for the forging of constructive interaction among states in the human rights sphere. We presume that cooperation in the field of human rights can become a unifying factor in international relations. The first and foremost long-term priority for us in this field is to strengthen the international human rights regime. And the major component of this regime should continue to be reliance upon collective principles in any decision making process, reliance upon dialogue and upon readiness to act jointly, on the basis of universally recognized international human rights standards and with due regard for the specificities and traditions of individual countries.

The Council’s past sessions have convincingly shown that a guarantee of its effective and efficient functioning is the presence of a well structured agenda, along with rules of procedure and methods of work. At the upcoming fifth session of the HRC, Russia is going to come out for regularization of the Council’s work and the creation of necessary instruments.

In addition, it is necessary to fulfill the requirements formulated in the UN General Assembly’s Basic Resolution 60/251: approve a universal periodic review mechanism, and decide on a reform of the human rights mandates inherited from the UN Commission on Human Rights. We are going to make our contribution to these processes.

I don’t mind repeating it once again: we think that the problems in ensuring the effective functioning of human rights institutions and mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Council, will linger as long as there are attempts to use them, and then also the theme of human rights itself, in somebody’s political and conjunctural interests. Therefore, Russia will consistently stand for ridding the activities of the Council and UN bodies of politicization, confrontation and “double standards.” Without such modification, any efforts to reform and strengthen the human rights sector of the Organization will simply be doomed.

Question: How does the Russian Federation cooperate with international human rights verification mechanisms?

Answer: First, the Russian Federation is a party to all the core universal human rights treaties with the exception of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. We on a systematic basis cooperate with the human rights treaty bodies and timely submit our periodic reports. In November 2006 Russia’s report was examined in the Committee Against Torture, and a regular report has also been presented to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Next in turn, as I have already said, are the reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and to the Human Rights Committee. Incidentally, in number of reports submitted to the treaty bodies (already numbering 39) Russia is one of, if I may say so, world leaders.

Secondly, I have already spoken of the Russian Federation’s cooperation with the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council and the Council of Europe, including their visits. I would like to give several examples. In particular, Doudou Diène, the HRC’s Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, visited Russia in 2006, and a visit by UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers Leandro Despouy is slated for the autumn of the current year. Agreeing modalities for a visit by Special Rapporteur on torture Manfred Nowak is currently under way. Delegations from the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and other verification bodies of the Council of Europe and the OSCE regularly visit Russia. At the beginning of March, as I have already said, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg was in Russia; he visited the North Caucasus, the Chechen Republic and took part in the human rights conference held there. By the way, leaders of authoritative international non-governmental human rights organizations quote often visit Russia – in December of last year the representatives of International Amnesty were in our country, and just two weeks ago – of Human Rights Watch.

Thirdly, the Russian Federation always responds to inquiries of international verification mechanisms about individual cases of human rights violations: the Foreign Ministry in this process plays the role of a connecting link between monitoring procedures and Russian federal executive bodies.

Question: In the US State Department report, ten guiding principles regarding interaction with non-governmental organizations were released. How do you assess them?

Answer: We have carefully analyzed those ten principles. Indeed, they briefly repeat the provisions enshrined in basic international documents on this problem, for example in the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, more commonly known as the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

However, we think that these principles clearly lack completeness and fullness. They pass over an important postulate which, by the way, in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders is very clearly stated. At issue is the fact that, among other things, national law also defines the legal field in which human rights and freedoms should be realized, including activities of non-governmental organizations. Here is how Article 3 of the Declaration puts it: “Domestic law consistent with the Charter of the United Nations and other international obligations of the State in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms is the juridical framework within which human rights and fundamental freedoms should be implemented and enjoyed.” There being no reference to the applicability of, and consideration for national law in such matters allows the American principles to be interpreted broadly and applied arbitrarily, among other things – as a tool of interference in the domestic affairs of other states.

April 12, 2007