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Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression

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Sharing worst practice: How countries and institutions in the former Soviet Union help create legal tools of repression examines the ways in which authoritarian regimes learn from each other and collaborate to develop repressive practices. The publication looks at the role of regional structures in the development of repressive rules and norms of behaviour, as well as exploring the extent of bilateral influence, most notably from Russia. It examines the impact of these countries’ shared Soviet heritage and the nature of their current governments in determining their desire to emulate practices from neighbouring countries that undermine human rights. The publication explores the development of copycat anti-NGO and anti-LGBTI legislation, alongside similar restrictions on freedom of assembly, media and internet use. The publication also looks at the role security concerns play in developing and excusing bad practice, exploring the sometimes negative role of Western countries as part of the ‘War on Terror’.

The publication contains contributions by: Prof Thomas Ambrosio, North Dakota State University; Dr Michael Hamilton, University of East Anglia; Joanna Hoare and Maisy Weicherding, Amnesty International; Melissa Hooper, Human Rights First; Adam Hug (ed.), Foreign Policy Centre; Eka Iakobishvili; Kate Levine, EHRAC; Dr David Lewis, University of Exeter; Katie Morris, Article 19. Kindly supported by the Open Society Foundations as part of the FPC’s Exporting Repression project.

Key findings
Sharing worst practice finds that the regional political atmosphere is shaped by what Dr David Lewis describes as the ‘Moscow Consensus’, an approach supporting ideas of national sovereignty, defending the stability of fellow regimes, pushing back against western influence and alternative sources of power by heavily ‘managing’ civil society, coopting business, and enhancing security service cooperation. The focus on sovereignty, stability and security of existing regimes is being buttressed by the growing influence of China as seen through the Shanghai Coooperation Organisation. US and Western policy as part of the ‘War on terror’ has also helped facilitate and excuse torture, kidnapping and other abuses by local security services, undermining credibility of international criticism on human rights abuse.

The region is also being impacted by emerging, if sometimes ad hoc, attempts to promote socially conservative ‘traditional’ values to counteract Western liberal ideas and efforts at European integration. Often originating in Russia, these messages are then echoed and adapted for local audiences by anti-Western forces within the societies of the region to underpin attacks on NGOs and minority groups.

Sharing worst practice shows that bad legislation and practices have several roots including the shared Soviet heritage, regional structures that foster the development of repressive rules and norms of behaviour, and bilateral influence, most notably from Russia, to put pressure on civil society and shut down voices perceived as pro-Western. Fundamentally, however, authoritarian states in the region need little encouragement to find ways to repress their own people and are actively looking to learn from each other’s experiences to strengthen their control.

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