UK Foreign Affair’s Select Committee Hears Evidence on Russian Crackdown

June 14, 2013

On Tuesday June 11, 2013, the UK’s Foreign Affair’s Select Committee heard evidence from Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch as part of its inquiry into the Foreign Office’s human rights work in 2012.

Taking evidence from Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK and David Mepham, UK Director of Human Rights Watch, the Committee opened by seeking views on the Foreign Office’s new criteria for designating countries of concern.

On Russia, which has been singled out as a country of concern since the FCO’s 2004 report, the Committee focused on the recent crackdown on NGOs, with Allen noting that they had seen sweeping inspections of more than 200 civil society organisations and NGOs across the country in recent months.  She recalled that the fear being experienced by NGOs in Russia was leading to a tendency to self-censor about what activities they are working on and what they are saying and doing. Mepham commented that the human rights climate in Russia is “as bad as it has been at any point in the post-Soviet period” noting the intimidation tactics that had been used against his organisation.

Both Allen and Mepham agreed that the UK could do more to push Russia on its human rights record with Allen stating that the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and the UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014 were both opportunities to raise human rights alongside discussions about trade and business.  Mepham pointed to the need for a common position within the EU and suggested the EU as a whole should have a stronger position on Russia.

Richard Ottaway MP, the Chair of the Committee, asked about Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s case and both witnesses agreed to speak to their colleagues on the ground in Moscow and come back to the Committee with answers to his question.

The Committee’s line of questioning was wide-ranging and covered areas of detention, torture and other abuses, and progress where applicable, in countries of concern including Uzbekistan, Colombia, Sri Lanka and Burma.