Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Help for Russia's NGOs

Cherie Blair, human rights lawyer and wife of Britain's prime minister, is to offer free legal aid to Russian NGOs which are challenging the recently introduced law that restricts their work. The UK Times says that
She began the meeting yesterday by saying that she had informed the other leaders’ wives, including Lyudmila Putin, that she was going to meet some NGOs.

“I know the organisations here represent a broad spectrum of the kind of work civil society is doing in Russia — issues in relation to tolerance, to mutual respect and, of course, ensuring that the state fulfils its human rights obligations,” she said.

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Reporters were denied access to the rest of the meeting, and Mrs Blair’s only comments afterwards were that it had been very interesting. But participants said that she had expressed particular interest in the new law, under which NGOs must re-register with a new regulatory body that can shut them if it deems them a threat to national security.

Yuri Schmidt, a lawyer who defended Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the oil tycoon who is in jail, said that he had told Mrs Blair that Russia was not a democracy. “We have an authoritarian regime here,” he said. “There is no separation of powers. The Kremlin rules the country. The Duma is a rubber-stamp body and there is no real discussion there.”

Among the participants were representatives of the most famous human rights groups in Russia, including Memorial and the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers.
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