Today a column I wrote is featured in the Moscow Times:
Monday, November 12, 2007. Issue 3783. Page 10. The Basmanny Court of Human Rights By Grigory Pasko Not long ago, when he was in Portugal at the EU-Russia summit, President Vladimir Putin announced that he planned to set up an institute in the EU that would monitor human rights in Europe. Putin’s aide on EU affairs, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, reported to journalists that the new organization would focus on monitoring Europe’s track record on freedom of the press, as well as the rights of ethnic minorities and immigrants. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that the institute would be staffed exclusively by Russian citizens.
I asked a friend in Germany whether he would like his rights to be defended by Russian bureaucrats who are cast from the Putin mold. “Heaven forbid!” he replied. He was a bit rash in his answer, of course. The idea of Chekists monitoring the rights of Europeans is a stroke of genius in its own right. First, rights are violated everywhere. (Is it not an abuse of human rights, for example, when a person is forced to choose among dozens of items at breakfast buffets in European hotels?) Second, if there is one thing Chekists know how to do well, it is monitoring people. They have always watched people — everywhere and everyone. Third, even though the stock argument of double standards and “Why don’t you look at yourself first?” is rather cheap and feeble, it still manages to work in favor of the other side. In recent times, Putin has been using precisely this argument to the hilt in meetings with the leaders of Western countries.The idea’s weak spot, in my opinion, is that the scope of the planned institute is limited to Europe. Why think so locally? It would be better to reach wider and to think world-scale. Especially since there is a new example out there right now — Georgia. In the opinion of Russian politicians of various stripes, Tbilisi is guilty of committing gross human rights violations. Oh, what self-gratifying, righteous indignation we see on the faces of Russia’s leaders when they talk about all the terrible things happening in Tbilisi. In the words of all the Gryzlovs and Mironovs, it seems that the rights of all Georgians are being perpetually violated.Every day, Russian television revels in reporting the atrocities that the Saakashvili regime commits against its people. You just want to say to them, using Boris Pasternak’s phrase, “Why don’t you take a look at what millennium it is in your own backyard?”But let’s get back to the human rights institute. Russia should definitely share its rich experience of watching various categories of citizens — including dissidents, journalists and scholars — and this should be done, of course, on a worldwide scale. Where else can you find the broad experience and global reach of Putin’s comrades?Our experts will be able to teach the art of surveillance, intrigues, dirty tricks and lies to anyone. No problem.And why are they talking about an institute? After all, the efforts of one, lone scholarly establishment — even if it is the best in the world — are not enough to defend the rights of all of the poor and miserable Europeans who are oppressed by the injustice of society. A more potent defense will no doubt be required as well. This is why I propose to Putin and his comrades that they consider the idea of creating an International Basmanny Court of Human Rights. They could base it in Strasbourg so that it is not too far from the institute in Brussels. They could study the theory in Brussels, then reinforce it in practice in Strasbourg.And naturally, we will also need to create a whole bunch of international and European nongovernmental organizations to protect people all over the world from the arbitrary rule of bureaucrats, security services, unscrupulous medical personnel and plumbers, bribe-taking police officers and cooks who keep attempting to make greasy food with lots of cholesterol. And all of these NGOs will be run by specialists from Russia — preferably, former members of the KGB and the Prosecutor General’s Office.Of course, this host of NGOs is going to need funding, which is why I propose the creation of the V.V. Putin Global Fund for the Protection of the Human Rights and a Worldwide Public Chamber. The chamber, naturally, should include only people who have been tested for loyalty to United Russia and have a deep personal love for its one and only leader.Oh, I nearly forgot about the need to create an International Academy of Law, whose activity will consist mainly of instituting the ideas of First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev about how it isn’t Russian laws that need to be changed, but international ones. Closer to the Russian model, of course. There are plenty of lawyers in Russia today who are ready at the drop of a hat to rewrite the laws and Constitution to fit a third term for Putin.The European Convention on Human Rights and its protocols, as is known, guarantee the rights to:• life, liberty and freedom of the individual;• a fair trial in civil and criminal cases;• to vote in elections and to participate as a candidate in elections;• freedom of thought, conscience and religion;• freedom of opinion, including freedom of the press;• private property protections; and• freedom of assembly and group association.Only Russia, of course, can claim to be a role model with respect to all of the above. If we speak about ensuring the protection of journalists’ lives, we’re ahead of nearly everyone else in the world: Two dozen journalists have been killed just during the years of Putin’s rule alone.And then there are elections. Where else can you find such free and multiparty elections if not in our country? Just ask the members of United Russia about this one, and they will tell you the whole truth.As for the protection of private property, is there anyone who could speak to that any better than former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence?The authorities understand very well the importance of complying with prohibitions. After all, the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits:• torture and inhuman, degrading treatment;• the death penalty;• slavery and forced labor;• discrimination as a result of exercising one’s rights guaranteed by the convention;• expelling citizens from their home country or refusing them entry; and• the collective expulsion of foreigners.All of these prohibitions are strictly observed in our country. You don’t believe me? Go ask the people locked up in Russian prisons about torture and inhumane, degrading treatment. The number of prisoners, by the way, is already approaching a million — just like in Soviet times.In addition, ask the dozens of foreign journalists who are prohibited from entering Russia simply because they criticized Putin and the war in Chechnya. And ask the Chechens about the government’s sincere concern for nationalities.And, after all of this, if somebody still has complaints against the state, let him appeal to the International Basmanny Court of Human Rights. The judges will certainly explain to him the rules of the game in Russia.Grigory Pasko is a journalist.