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SPEECHES, INTERVIEWS, ARTICLES

26.12.2012

Ambassador's Notebook: On Human Rights

The Russian Embassy website recently published Russia's Foreign Ministry report on the human rights situation in the EU. One of the subscribers to our official twitter account commented that Russia does not have the right to be “lecturing EU on human rights.” The point made is the familiar position of some of our critics here in the UK and some other EU countries.

Although nobody denies the facts, one can, and even ought to ask, why our counterparts almost religiously believe that they have the sole right to monitor the human rights situation in other countries. The answer is not so easy.

Let's have a look at what is happening in the EU, and the UK in particular. A lot of respected human rights activists and international human rights organizations are expressing concern over the fact that, in recent years, the protection of basic rights, freedoms and democratic standards in the EU has been problematic.

The existing system for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms in the EU is not flawless. Neither the existing EU judicial mechanisms, nor the newly created office of the EU Special Representative for Human Rights cover all the systemic challenges in this area that the European Union faces today.

Both the institutional and legislative aspects of Human Rights protection in the EU leave much to be desired. EU institutions do not have any way of delivering an active response, or prosecuting those responsible for violations.

In recent talks with our European colleagues, we pointed out that the EU lacks supranational mechanisms to encourage respect for human rights among its member states, while the European Commission is chiefly focused on assessing the human rights situation in third countries.

The British Government strives to maintain its image as a leading nation in the observance of human rights. However, according to a number of high-profile NGOs, numerous human rights violations for which the British authorities are responsible, are recorded both within the country and beyond its borders. Both British and foreign nationals fall victim to these violations under UK jurisdiction.

Given the particular nature of the country’s legal system, international conventions can not be applied directly in British territory. One prominent exception is the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950, incorporated through the Human Rights Act of 1998. The UK has yet to ratify a number of significant human rights instruments.

Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, unilateral rather than universal approaches to human rights issues have become common in international practice, leading to the politicization of this area and the application of double standards. We have consistently opposed this practice. We believe that it is crucial to pay more attention to things happening in one’s own backyard, before criticising others.

Nobody is perfect, and no state in the world is free of human rights violations. These problems are often cross-border in nature, and in many cases global. The search for solutions should be a collective effort. Improvement can only be achieved through international cooperation, on the basis of equality and mutual respect. This is precisely one of the missions of the OSCE and the UN system.

So it is not about lecturing, nor looking for signs of decline in the Western democracy. Put simply, these are tough times; we are going through a momentous transition, in which the old models of societal development must be adjusted to new realities. But economic difficulties, and other factors, should not be allowed to roll back the past century’s human rights achievements, for which so many paid so dearly – in the tragedies of two World Wars, and the Cold War.

Having considered our objections, our critic agreed that we all need to sit around the same table and discuss the issue.




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