EU-Russia civil society contacts to be further strengthened
The potential of cooperation of independent civil society organisations across Europe needs to be exploited more fully. This was a leading thought at the 5th General Assembly of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum, held from 26 to 28 November in Tallinn, Estonia. As a member of the Forum, the NHC presented its work on stimulating advocacy on EU-Russia relations and on developing work on trans-border corruption affecting both Russia and European Union countries.
In a key note address during the starting session of the Assembly, Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves highlighted the importance in building a democratic society of citizens associating freely to pursue the common good. The Chairman of the Presidential Council on Human Rights and Civil Society of the Russian Federation, Michael Fedotov, looked back to 1991 in highlighting the important role played by Estonia in pushing for human rights adherence in all parts of the Soviet Union. Vygaudas Usackas, the ambassador of the EU to Russia, announced continued support from the European Union for the Forum.
Solidarity with organizations facing government harassment related to their criticism of government policies unfortunately is taking a lot of attention from the Forum. The Assembly issued a statement on the liquidation of its member organization North Caucasus Environmental Watch. One of the active members of this organization, Yevgeni Vitishko, has been unjustly imprisoned since February 2014.
Contacts between citizens caring for justice, social issues and sustainability should be strengthened rather than weakened in the face of the current tensions at governmental level, the Assembly said. The different working groups of the Forum met to brainstorm on ideas that can lead to joint work in the coming years, for example on inclusion, emancipation and human rights compliance in big cities. These contacts should be extended as well towards civil society in other European countries, including Ukraine. A member of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum attended the Assembly.