Posts Tagged ‘Helsinki Committee’

Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Defender remembered by Aryeh Neier

March 31, 2014

On the Human Rights Watch website, 29 March 2014, Aryeh Neier, remembers fondly Zbigniew Zbyszek Romaszewski, a physicist, who in 1979 volunteered to lead an underground Helsinki Committee in Poland under the just concluded Helsinki Accords. Romaszewski died in Warsaw on 13 February 2014 at the age of 74.

When martial law was imposed in December 1981, some 30,000 people were arrested and imprisoned. Romaszewski and his wife Zosia were among them. Some time after the imposition of martial law, we learned that the Polish Helsinki Committee had found a way to continue to operate secretly.  They managed to smuggle highly detailed reports to Helsinki Watch.  Their first report, produced under the difficult conditions of search, seizure and secrecy, was 182 pages long. Helsinki Watch published it in English translation under the title “Prologue to Gdansk.” They were a leading source of information on human rights practices in Poland in that period. In March 1984 – after we had no person-to-person contact with anyone in Poland for more than two years – I traveled to Warsaw.  Before I left, I learned that Amnesty International had designated  Zbigniew Romaszewski a prisoner of conscience. Arriving in Poland, I hoped to see Zosia Romaszewska, who had recently been released from prison.  Her husband was still in prison.  I could not say for sure that I would see her because it was not possible to make advance appointments.  All I could do was to turn up at people’s apartments and hope that I would find them there. During my visit to Warsaw I met many persons who had been imprisoned, and also family members of those still imprisoned, who had been entirely cut off from such contacts.  This included Zosia who I was able to spend several hours with. I was able to publish a number of articles in the US on the vitality of the Solidarity movement.  During a visit to Warsaw in 1985, my colleague Ken Roth spent time with both Zbigniew, who by then had been released from prison, and Zosia.  They graciously spent many hours with him.  In this difficult period, when the country was still recovering after the imposition of martial law, Zbigniew and Zosia were the key source of information on the struggling dissident movement which remained very much alive despite the Soviet-backed General Wojciech Jaruzelski’s efforts to crush it. Later on, I got to know Zbigniew Romaszewski and, a couple of times, brought him to conferences in other parts of the world to speak about how a human rights movement could cope with a repressive regime. He became a Senator in Poland and Chairman of the Polish Senate Human Rights and Rule of Law Committee. The organization he founded, now the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights in Poland, is going very strong. The last time I visited Warsaw – about a year-and-a-half ago – its legal staff included 23 lawyers.  It is in the forefront of human rights advocacy in Europe.

via Remembering Zbigniew Romaszewski, Polish Human Rights Pioneer | Human Rights Watch.

Russia pursues its policy of labeling human rights defenders as ‘foreign agents’

April 26, 2013

In spite of protests by many NGOs and Governments around the world (including earlier posts in this blog), Russia seems bent on pursuing its idea of requiring all organisations which receive foreign funding and are engaged in political activity to register as ‘foreign agents’ [‘Foreign Agents’ Law of 21 November 2012] . After the passing of the law, GOLOS, Memorial and the Joint Mobile Group (just made the Final Nominee of the MEA 2013) and many other organisations declared that out of principle they would not register as ‘foreign agent’.

Yesterday, 25 April 2013, the Russian election watchdog GOLOS became the first NGO to be fined. The decision was taken by the Presnensky Court of Moscow. GOLOS is a Russian non-profit organisation which was founded in 2000 for the protection of voters’ rights and the development of civil society.  The court found that GOLOS had been receiving foreign funding, thereby implying that it considered the 2012 Andrei Sakharov Freedom Award  as such, despite testimony given by a representative of Norwegian Helsinki Committee who confirmed that GOLOS actually refused to receive the 7700$. The court also found that the advocacy work of GOLOS aimed at the introduction of amendments to the Electoral Code constitute ‘political activity’. The law does not define political activity, the precise definition of which depends on state officials’ interpretation.  The court ruled that GOLOS and its executive director Lilya Shibanova failed to comply with the obligation to register as a ‘foreign agent’ and fined them 300,000 roubles (approximately €7500) and 100,000 roubles (approximately €2500) respectively. They intend to appeal the decision.

And on 24 April Front Line Defenders reported that the Russian NGO ‘Man and the Law’ has been warned under the same Foreign Agents Law. Man and the Law, which is based in the Mari-El Republic in Russia, received a warning from the local Prosecutor’s Office re ‘political activity’, evidence for which has allegedly been found in their Charter and on their website.  Man and the Law is a local non-governmental organisation which monitors local officials’ and civil servants’ compliance with human rights standards. The NGO also works on prisoners’ rights and monitors detention facilities and organises seminars and workshops for local officials, especially from the Federal Penitentiary Service. The warning also states that the latest inspection of the organisation revealed foreign sources of funding, in which case Man and the Law should have registered as a foreign agent.Frontline NEWlogo-2 full version - cropped

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Civil Rights Defenders condemn harassment of Helsinki Committee in Bosnia

February 17, 2012

The Stockholm-based NGO “Civil Rights Defenders” is concerned about the recent threats and attacks against members of its partner organisation, the Helsinki Committee in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

“It is crucial that the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina condemn the attacks against the members of the Helsinki Committee and other human rights defenders. It is their responsibility to bring about an environment where human rights defenders can operate freely without fear of reprisals”, said Goran Miletic, Programme Director at Civil Rights Defenders.

In mid January, the newspaper Oslobodenje published two defamatory articles about Vera Jovanovic, President of the Helsinki Committee in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and other members of the organisation. The articles contained statements that could incite to hostile opinions against the members of the Helsinki Committee. This was not the first time. In October 2011, a group named Herzeg-Bosnia Republican Alternative directed serious threats against the former President of the Helsinki Committee, Srdjan Dizdarevic, and the current President, Vera Jovanovic, on the website http://www.poskok.info.

Civil Rights Defenders – We condemn the attacks against the Helsinki Committee.