Russia Becomes Unlikely Human Rights Guardian

By Penketh, Anne | The Independent (London, England), May 19, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Russia Becomes Unlikely Human Rights Guardian


Penketh, Anne, The Independent (London, England)


A confident, even swaggering, Russia takes the helm of Europe's foremost human rights body today, ready to deflect accusations that it has failed to live up to the standards set by the institution it will lead for the next six months.

Russia's chairmanship of the Council of Europe, whose three pillars are human rights, the rule of law and open democracy, comes just two months before President Vladimir Put in hosts the G8 summit in St Petersburg and will place the Kremlin's commitment to the core values of the West under fresh scrutiny.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about Russia's moves to shut down non-governmental organisations, its curbing of the media and its imprisonment of Russia's richest man just when he was becoming apolitical rival of Mr Putin. The President has, meanwhile, developed strong links with the hard line authoritarian leaders of Belarus and Uzbekistan.

In Chechnya, according to Human Rights Watch researcher Anna Neistat who visited the restive Russian republic three weeks ago, the pro-Moscow leader Ramzan Kadyrov has taken torture to a new level as he seeks to crush resistance.

But the West's dependency on Russian energy has radically changed the balance of power, leaving European governments with less political leverage at a time when Russia has already used its gas- powered influence over the West-leaning former Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia.

Asked yesterday how Russia would respond to Western concerns about the level of its commitment to democracy and human rights as Council of Europe chairman, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: "I believe our common commitment to democracy will certainly be reconfirmed during the six months of the Russian chairmanship." But he made it clear that, for Russia, the West does not have the monopoly on democratic values.

"I do not believe the West would be interested in seeing the Council of Europe become a place where just one out of many models of democracy would be made a criteria to judge each and every other state," he said. "The world is much more complicated. It's not black and white and attempts to approach the whole problems in black and white manner has been made in the past few years. And they're not working."

His comments come after President Putin issued a muscular rebuttal of criticism from the US Vice-President Dick Cheney who - while in Lithuania - accused Russia of bullying its neighbours, reversing the democratic gains of the past decade and trampling on Russians' rights.

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