ICJ Commissioner Karinna Moskalenko talks about the vulnerabilities of human rights defenders in Russia, as part of the ICJ’s ongoing women profiles series.
Ms Moskalenko is a Russian lawyer who has been a Commissioner of the ICJ since 2003. In the early 1990s she founded, and was the former Director of, the International Protection Centre based in Moscow.
The Centre was founded after Russia had ratified the Human Rights Committee Mechanism with the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This provided an opportunity to be able to use international mechanisms to appeal against injustices.
Once Russia had ratified the European Convention it was also possible to use the European Court of Human Rights as another means to challenge incidences where domestic remedies were failing to protect the rights of people in Russia.
The Centre pursued many cases successfully and the credibility of the organization grew, which also increased demands for help. Karinna said that women have a strong role to play in human rights defence work in Russia and form the majority of the human rights community where they are well respected.
However, this is not reflected elsewhere in Russian society where, although women are visible in senior roles within the judiciary and the executive, they do not often play an important role in leadership positions or decision-making.
“Women in Russia are sometimes much more vulnerable than other groups of the population,” said Karinna. She identified the particular problem of domestic violence as one where women are unable to obtain legal protections because police are not very interested in the problem. In addition many people within society think that women already have enough protections so there is little public opposition for reducing protections and no support for enhancing these.
Karinna felt compelled to work as a human rights defender to protect the most vulnerable people but commented that many lawyers are not interested in this field of law. Instead, they prefer to build careers within official bodies of the judiciary or the government. Human rights activities are no longer very popular, she said.
Members of non-governmental organizations are often accused of being ‘foreign agents’ or ‘enemies of the State’. As many people do not understand the nature of human rights defence work, Ms Moskalenko said it can be frustrating and hurtful to have to defend yourself against these accusations. However, Karinna thinks that those working in human rights are the most patriotic people she knows because they care about the rights of each and every member of society.
Fortunately, the International Protection Centre has won so many cases for ordinary people that they have a very good reputation in society, but they do not have enough funding for their activities. They cannot accept international funds and domestically no funding is available. Many lawyers take on unpaid cases, but not everyone can afford to do so. The defence of human rights is a very difficult career.
“I cannot say that there is no fear. There is, of course. Some of my friends were killed because of their human rights activity.”
Ms Moskalenko said that human rights defence work is very important but in Russia defenders are not protected financially, legally, morally or physically. They are frequently threatened, persecuted and even killed.
However, although working as a human rights defender is difficult, Karinna says that “when you somehow help people, you want to continue that, you think that you believe that you must do that, you cannot stop and people come to you, how can you refuse?”
Watch the interview:
The series of profiles introducing the work of ICJ Commissioners and Honorary Members on women’s rights was launched on 25 November 2016 to coincide with the International Day to Eliminate Violence against Women and the first day of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.Multimedia itemsNewsVideo clips