Human rights policy in international relations is often perceived as either naive or cynical. However, things are more complicated than that, as exemplified by the case of Russia. How should we deal with the continuing human rights abuses of this important country, on which our energy policy is so heavily dependent? First there is the question of how consistently we should publicly address and condemn the human rights abuses of influential and powerful countries. Those who claim to want to achieve something answer with “a frank dialogue spoken with confidentiality.” Naturally, the results of various policies are difficult to measure precisely. But why should we trust the strong-arm politicians in the Kremlin more than the Alexeyevas, Ryschkovs or Kasparovs, or all those NGOs engaged in human rights? The former explain why “anti-government propaganda” cannot be allowed, while the latter give tangible reports of a continuously degrading human rights situation: of unsolved, politically motivated murders, to the discrimination of minorities, the excessive police violence against peaceful demonstrators and an erosion of freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly that gives rise to the impression of a systematic attempt to subvert free elections. If policy in Russia is synonymous with power politics, it would be criminally naive not to address these concerns critically and publicly.
The EU-Russia summit presents a good opportunity to confront Russia with its human rights violations at the highest level. After all, the chancellor also publicly criticized George W. Bush for Guantanamo. Are we employing double standards? Furthermore, those who criticize the USA and Israel should be able to do so emphatically while remembering that these countries are engaged in a battle with an outside enemy, not with their own populace!
Political realists and human rights activists like to build bridges. But what exactly is their use if there is no one on the other side willing to cross them? Almost every signal emanating from the Russian side during the last few months was purely a demonstration of power. Even those Kafkaesque court-proceedings reported on by Chodorkovski or Kasparov’s lawyers seem merely intended to serve this same purpose.
I believe that we must not ignore the signs. That would be naive. Additionally, it would justifiably open us up to the criticism of Russian human rights organizations-that we would be acting cynically towards them in a different but equally as unbearable way as the Kremlin. We should instead expect Russia to simply conform to the commonly accepted European standards. A sound realpolitik and human rights policy towards Russia means reminding President Putin of the words he spoke in front of the Bundestag in 2001, when he referred to a common European history and shared values. These values-recognized in Russia through, for example, the European Convention on Human Rights-would be inconceivable without the many Russian intellectuals, writers, musicians and painters. As the Russian president does not want to be seen as a liar, he should be forced to cross this bridge.
Günter Nooke, German politician and former civil rights activist, is the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office.
Related Material from the Atlantic Community:
- Alexander Graf Lambsdorff on The Russia Conundrum: EU and US Should Cooperate with the ‘Imitation Democracy’