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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Human Rights Emergency Declared

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Prominent politicians and former dissidents joined more than 1,000 activists in Moscow this weekend to declare a national emergency for human rights and urge a consolidated fight to protect the Constitution.

Human rights campaigners from 65 regions representing more than 300 organizations attended the two-day Emergency Congress in Defense of Human Rights. Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky and Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov were among the speakers.

The congress, which was sponsored by Yabloko and half a dozen U.S. foundations and labor unions, devoted attention to the war in Chechnya, judicial reform, freedom of the press, civilian control over law enforcement and the rights of workers and businessmen.

But Yavlinsky and other speakers cited the perceived threat to the Constitution as the primary component of the current "emergency."

"The Constitution, which we did not support in 1993 [when it was passed], has become Yabloko’s platform, and we will defend it using every parliamentary and nonparliamentary method," Yavlinsky said in his address Sunday.

Click here to read our special report on human rights.Many liberals say a bill now pending in the State Duma indicates that the Kremlin is considering a major overhaul of the Constitution.

The bill in question, introduced by State Duma Deputy Boris Nadezhdin of the Union of Right Forces, would provide for the formation of a constitutional assembly. Chapters 1, 2 and 9 of the Constitution — which outline the major principles of governance, the rights of citizens and the procedure for amending or rewriting the Constitution — can only be changed by a constitutional assembly.

Under Nadezhdin’s bill, which reportedly enjoys the support of the presidential administration, the assembly would consist of the president, the Federation Council, 100 Duma deputies, top judges and 100 lawyers appointed by the president. Opponents of the bill say it would create a "nomenklatura assembly," since most of its members would be appointees.

The speakers at the congress also issued warnings about a bill on political parties recently submitted by President Vladimir Putin. The bill’s backers say it would eliminate fly-by-night parties and encourage the emergence of an orderly two-party system.



Opponents maintain it would wipe out small parties and prevent new ones from emerging.

"Those countries that have two- or three-party systems don’t limit the number of parties that can participate in elections. The system is created by the voters themselves," said Duma Deputy Sergei Kovalyov, a longtime human rights activists and former dissident who was one of the congress organizers.

In his address to the congress, Kovalyov said the organizers debated about whether to call the congress chrezvychainy, which can be translated as "emergency" or "extraordinary."

"Some say that nothing extraordinary is happening here. It’s a trend. When a former superpower is turning into a second-rate third-world country, the rise of nationalism is inevitable," Kovalyov said.

Yelena Bonner, the doyenne of the human rights movement and honorary chairwoman of the congress, could not attend due to illness. In a written address to the congress, she scolded the human rights movement for losing sight of their values. Despite the increased openness of society since the Soviet Union’s collapse, moral choices have become more murky, she said.

"Today we have gotten entangled in our adherence to various movements and parties. But it was precisely our clear moral position … that had influence on society — significantly more influence than the hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of human rights organizations that exist today," Bonner said.

Mironov, who was appointed human rights commissioner by the Duma in 1998, also had words of warning.

"The situation with human rights today evokes alarm and concern and can be characterized as unsatisfactory," Mironov said.

Despite the pessimistic tone of the congress, some hopeful notes were also sounded.

"Russia has all the components of civil society. We have many nongovernmental organizations, many private businesses, independent media, political parties," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, chairwoman of the Moscow Helsinki Group. "Civil society has not strengthened yet and there are many trials ahead, … but we have great chances for success."

Organizers said between 1,200 and 1,300 people attended the congress, which was held at the Kosmos Hotel in northeastern Moscow.