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Human Dimension Implementation Meeting 2017

This year’s Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, the biggest European conference on human rights organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, is starting on 11 September.

The HFHR will be the organiser or a co-organizer of five satellite events accompanying the conference. The events will be devoted to the shrinking civil society space in Poland, the situation in the Donbas region, the situation of human rights defenders in the government-controlled territories of Ukraine, Russian policy in Crimea and human rights lawyers working in challenging environments.

Detailed schedule:

Tuesday, 12 September, 13:15-14:45

Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Government-Controlled Territories of Ukraine: Three Years after Euromaidan

Meeting Room 2

Convenor: Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights; Netherlands Helsinki Committee; Human Rights Information Center

Working language: English, Russian

Over the last three years, the focus of attention of international organisations and human rights groups has been justly devoted to the security concerns as well as humanitarian and human rights situation of civilians in the conflict-affected Donbas and the illegally annexed Crimea, where hefty charges, including charges of terrorism are levied against human rights defenders, activists and critics of de-facto authorities. At the same time, multiple cases of legal and physical harassment of human rights defenders and activists striving to protect public interest occur in the territories of Ukraine controlled by the government in Kyiv. A comprehensive report on this issue, prepared by HRIC within the framework of a NHC-HFHR-coordinated project on support for human rights defenders was presented in Kyiv in May. The report provides a situation analysis and description of cases of interference with the work of human rights defenders and activists who strive to protect the public interest in the government-controlled territories of Ukraine. The report covers the three years after Euromaidan (March 2014 – March 2017). It describes legislative changes that have adversely affected freedom of association and freedom of movement for human rights defenders and contains an overview of criminal and administrative proceedings against human rights defenders and activists who act to protect the public interest, incidents of threats and physical violence (including murder, violent assault and property damaging), surveillance and smear campaigns. The side event will feature a presentation of the report, including new information on developments after March 2017. This includes legislative initiatives to increase financial reporting obligations of NGOs. Discussion at the side event will focus on steps that are required by the Ukrainian authorities to improve the protection of human rights defenders, and to take enabling rather than suppressing steps vis-a-vis civil society

Tuesday, 12 September, 13:30-14:30

Illusive Terrorists? Russian Repressive Policy in Crimea under the Guise of Combatting Terrorism

Plenary Hall

Convenor: KrymSOS; Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Working language: English, Russian

In the last decade, governments have increasingly employed counter-terrorism measures to limit civil and political freedoms, surveil societies, control particular groups, as well as endow police and intelligence agencies with excessive powers. Russia has followed this general trend, particularly tightening its counter-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation and policy since 2012-2013. It is based on broad definition of terrorism and extremism used to toughen control and suppression of civil society and particular groups of population. After seizing control over Crimea in 2014, Russian de facto authorities started to increasingly use counter-terrorism and anti-extremism legislation and policy in the peninsula, which resulted in the suppression of civil freedoms and persecution of disloyal groups of population. However, in the eyes of the international community counter-terrorism slogans may legitimize repressions and human rights violations, and hinder correct assessment of the situation in the field. The prohibition of the so-called extremist materials, literature and publications leads to serious violations of freedom of speech, the media and information. These violations are accompanied by criminal and administrative prosecution for publications, regular searches at private houses and offices and blocking of web-sites and the media. In the same way, de facto authorities have banned public events, non-governmental organizations, as well as the Crimean Tatar self-governing body. The counter-terrorism policy enabled the de facto authorities to establish security services’ surveillance over religious institutions and clergy; organize regular raids on markets and compact settlements of Crimean Tatars; and to regularly detain and interrogate persons suspected in any alleged extremist act. This policy has also resulted in politically motivated criminal prosecutions of Crimean Tatars, Crimean Muslims and pro-Ukrainian activists, particularly in the case of Sentsov-Kolchenko, socalled ‘Hizb ut-Tahrir’ case and prosecution of Ilmi Umerov, Nikolay Semena and Suleiman Kadyrov. Russian counter-terrorism measures in Crimea are, in principle, directed against anyone who disagrees with the annexation of the peninsula or with the Russian policy in general, labelling them as enemies and extremists. Thus, state-sponsored hate speech causes discrimination and aggravation of interethnic relations. Russian policy creates fear among general population and constant sense of endangerment to which the absolute power of security services is supposedly the only possible response. The speakers at the side event will include representatives of Ukrainian and Russian NGOs, and human rights defenders and activists from Crimea working in the field.

Tuesday, 12 September, 18:15-19:45

Shrinking civil society space in Poland

Meeting Room 3

Convenor: Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Working language: English

Over the last several years, systemic violations of the freedom of assembly and association have taken place in several countries all over the world, leading to what has become known as a “global crackdown” on the civil society. It is estimated that over the past four years, more than 60 countries across the globe have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations. Poland has not remained immune to this trend. In recent months, there have been several significant changes limiting the operational space for the civil society – from personal attacks on activists through administrative decisions cutting funding for selected nongovernmental organisations to the recently submitted to the Parliament draft law significantly changing the distribution of public funds among NGOs. At the same time, however, the Polish civil society has shown its strength and impact on public life by mass mobilisation in protests against e.g. the complete abortion ban (Black Protest in October 2016) or the reforms of the justice system (Candle Light Movement in July 2017). The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights would like to invite you to join the discussion on the recent changes in the Polish civil society. The invited speakers will present their diagnosis of the condition of the civil society in Poland and the recently occurred changes significantly limiting its operational space. By comparing the situation in Poland to that in other countries in the region, the speakers will assess the role and impact of the civil society in light of the observed democratic backsliding. Eventually, the discussion should answer the question whether the civil society is the first victim of illiberal trends in governing or the last guardian of democratic values.

Thursday, 14 September, 18:15-19:45

Investigation of human rights violations engendered by the armed conflict in the East of Ukraine

Meeting Room 2

Center for Civil Liberties; Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Working language: English, Russian, Ukrainian

Members of the coalition “Justice for Peace in Donbass” have been documenting since 2014 the facts of serious human rights violations resulted from the armed conflict in the Eastern Ukraine. A large number of victims have addressed the members of the Coalition with the requests of legal aid. The violations in question are related to fundamental human rights and also social and economic rights. There are also the cases related to the war crimes. Illegal arrests (kidnapping) and holding in the detention, extrajudicial executions, sexual violence, forced labour, and involvement of children in military activities – it is an open list of violations that occur in the conflict in Donbass every day. Today more than 3 million people continue to stay on occupied territories in Donbass. The persons staying on these territories are deprived of any legal remedy protecting them from these illegal activities. The question remains: what can Ukraine do for all these situations to receive a proper legal assessment, and for the offenders to be punished? How should Ukraine carry out the investigation when the conflict still continues? During the side-event, Ukrainian human rights defenders will expose the scale and the tendencies of the main violations, as well as the level of their investigation by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. In addition, the organizers are ready to propose for discussion their recommendations in this regard for both Ukraine and international organizations. The presented recommendations will concern both changes in Ukrainian legislation and practical investigation of the above-mentioned crimes.

Wednesday, 20 September, 13:15-14:45

Lawyers Need Legal Protections too: Human Rights Lawyers Working in Challenging Environments

Meeting Room 1

Convenor: Justice International; Lawyers for Lawyers; International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR)

Working language: English

The Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), Justice International (JI), Lawyers for Lawyers (L4L), International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR) are highlighting the important role lawyers play when working in challenging conditions, performing professional duties representing human rights defenders, journalists, activists, opposition members and regular citizens. The panel of speakers and experts will discuss the challenging situation for individual lawyers and the legal profession as a whole in the Eurasian region. In particular, this discussion will include cases from Belarus, Crimea, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The focus will be on current trends in civil society in the region, explanations of the national and international legal mechanisms of protection or the lack thereof, presentation of specific cases, and discussion of the ways to move towards finding solutions in defending lawyers working under threat. Over the past several years, this region has not seen improvements in the human rights situation — much the opposite, governments are becoming increasingly authoritarian and citizens are seeing their rights curtailed on a number of fronts. In countries with limited respect for human rights and weakening civil society, lawyers can play a key role in slowing or reversing the trend towards authoritarianism. However, lawyers’ work is becoming increasingly difficult as they face retaliation, harassment and abuse as a result of performing their professional duties upholding the rule of law. Nevertheless, lawyers are still willing to take the risk and work in these challenging conditions under increased pressure to defend the ideals of human rights and rule of law by representing defenders, activists, opposition members, journalists, and regular citizens. The panel will discuss current issues facing lawyers and defenders who work and live under threat in challenging conditions. For example, the February-March protests in Belarus showed that the government yet again failed to respect fundamental human rights by suppressing peaceful protestors and arresting more than 700 people including lawyers and human rights defenders, and we will explore the important role lawyers played in these events. In annexed Crimea, lawyers are working in challenging conditions representing the threatened Crimean Tatar minority. In Kazakhstan, the lawyers are being threatened with criminal prosecution as a result of fulfilling their professional obligations. In Tajikistan, some lawyers are still being behind the bars as a result of their work representing people who are opposing government’s policies. In closed countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, it is extremely difficult for lawyers to openly work representing human rights defenders as the threat to their own lives and the lives of their families is too high. As a result, many lawyers working inside these countries cannot travel abroad, the human rights defenders living outside these countries will share with their cases.

Full description of side events is available here.


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