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Institutionally blind? International organisations and human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union

[Cover of Institutionally blind? International organisations and human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union ]

Adam Hug (Ed.)

February 2016 Hard copy: £7.95, plus £1 p+p.

Download Institutionally blind? (1.25 megabyte PDF)

Institutionally blind? International organisations and human rights abuses in the former Soviet Union examines whether some of the major international institutions covering the former Soviet Union (FSU) are currently meeting their human rights commitments. The publication shows how the independence and integrity of institutions defending human rights in the region are under attack from outside and within, sometimes buckling under the pressure.

The publication contains contributions from: Anna Chernova, formerly OSCE; Dr. Rilka Dragneva, University of Birmingham; Charles Hecker, Control Risks; Adam Hug, Foreign Policy Centre (ed.); Gubad Ibadoglu, Economic Research Center; Florian Irminger, Human Rights House; Dr. Hrant Kostanyan, CEPS; Kate Levine, EHRAC; Libby McVeigh, Fair Trials International; Dr. Beata Martin-Rozumilowicz, formerly OSCE/ODIHR; Tinatin Tsertsvadze, International Partnership for Human Rights; Rebecca Vincent, Sport for Rights. Kindly supported by the Open Society Foundations as part of the FPC's Exporting Repression project.

The key points

The publication highlights the need to improve transparency and public understanding around how delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly (OSCE PA) operate, looking at the reasons why politicians overlook human rights concerns, from ideology to personal gain. It looks at ways make the delegations more attractive to ambitious politicians and better integrate their work into policy-making. It also notes how the CIS Parliamentary Assembly imitates the practices of PACE and the OSCE PA, while acting as rubber stamp for their regimes and giving credence to flawed elections.

The independence and effectiveness of outspoken human rights bodies such as the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of Media are under threat by budget freezes and attempts to put their work under the political supervision of the OSCE's consensus driven intergovernmental bodies. ODIHR's long-term detailed work in election observations is sometimes undermined by short-term delegations from other bodies such as PACE or the OSCE PA who are less critical of electoral impropriety. Across the region, in both democracies and authoritarian states, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is under political attack for its intrusion into domestic law, while its continuing case backlog means significant delays for those desperately seeking justice.

Institutionally blind? assesses the shift in EU policy away from 'values promotion' towards a more traditional focus on economic opportunities and regional security. However, it shows that for the most part the European Parliament (EP) has pushed to keep human rights on the agenda and it has a key role to play in the ratification of EU Agreements that must not be ignored.

Institutionally blind? examines these problems in the context of the economic and strategic pressures facing the countries and institutions of Europe and the FSU. While the situation may be tough, the current economic problems in the FSU may provide new opportunities. Challenging times are no excuse for being institutionally blind.

The publication makes a number of recommendations:

To the EU and European Political Groups

  • The EU must ensure that revisions to the operation of the Eastern Partnership policy and Central Asia strategy do not significantly downgrade the importance of human rights;
  • The EEAS and Commission should ensure that the revised progress report structure does not stop the EU reporting on human rights and governance issues;
  • Other EU institutions, the European Parliament's own delegations and member states should reflect the positions passed by the EP in their interactions with states in the FSU. The EP should be encouraged to stand by its objections to ratifying agreements with countries that have failed to meet agreed human rights objectives, such as in the case of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan;
  • International political groups must pay more attention to human rights abuses amongst their memberships and show consistency in their approach to such abuses.

To national parliaments and NGOs

  • National Parliaments should raise the profile and standing of the delegations they send to international Parliamentary Assemblies and improve the transparency around the work that they do there, such as recording votes on national websites;
  • NGOs, and parliamentary ethics bodies, must continue to increase scrutiny of financial relationships between Parliamentarians and groups aligned to FSU governments;
  • European nations, most notably the UK, need to show a greater understanding of the political impact that their domestic criticisms of international institutions, such as the ECtHR, can have on the debate in FSU countries.

To the Council of Europe and its members

  • The ECtHR needs to increase its capacity in order to further reduce its case backlog and must be properly resourced by member states to do so;
  • PACE needs to improve its organisational transparency, particularly when it comes to difficult human rights debates, and address its role in election observation so that it does not undermine the work of longer-term observers such as the OSCE/ODIHR.

To the OSCE and its participating States

  • The OSCE must defend the role of ODIHR in providing long-term election observation, ensuring it remains an assessment mechanism judging countries election practices;
  • OSCE participating States should strongly consider ending the OSCE budget freeze to enable it to respond to the increasing demands on is resources;
  • Human rights sympathetic participating States must help ensure the independence of ODIHR and the Representative on Freedom of Media from the consensus mechanisms that operate elsewhere in the OSCE. They should explore opportunities to introduce majority voting in the Permanent Council and other bodies to reduce political gridlock and work to improve the transparency of decision-making in such meetings;
  • Participating states should more strongly oppose the downgrading of field offices.

To the economic institutions

  • Regional and global development banks need to provide clearer incentives for lending that reward democratic development and governance reform; this is particularly true for the EBRD which formally retains such a mandate;
  • The EITI should look at ways to ensure and maintain the independence of the NGO's participating in its structures and improve central oversight of governance problems.

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