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Successful Expert Meeting with 16 Russian Human Right Defenders

On Monday 31 October the Europa Instituut had a special guest lecture by not one, but sixteen leading Russian Human Right Defenders. The Leiden Law School was very happy to host the Russian delegation, at the initiative of the Dutch Consulate General in St. Petersburg.

Prof. Rick Lawson, who organized the expert meeting, believed the meeting to be a success and explains: “It was a wonderful opportunity for students to meet those persons who have been campaigning for human rights under difficult circumstances. One of the Russian defenders present was Mr. Zakharov, who stood before the European Court of Human Rights and won his case concerning the secret interception of mobile telephone communications. Several students actually wrote an essay on the ‘Zakharov-case’ and they were now able to see him in person and to ask questions during the ‘meet-and-greet’ hour. This was of course a fantastic experience for our students.” Kristel van Kruisbergen, who is teaching in several human rights courses together with Rick Lawson, fully agrees: “This guest lecture was a rare opportunity for students and staff to meet those that fight on a daily basis for something that we believe is normal.”

One of the persons attending the lecture was emeritus prof. Ferrie Feldbrugge – the ‘grand old man’ of Russian law: he held the chair of East-European law at Leiden Law School from 1968-1998. He observed that, despite the obvious difficulties that NGOs are facing in Russia today, still a lot of progress has been made. Taking a wider perspective, he noted that many of the activities undertaken by the activists would have been unthinkable in the days of the Soviet Union.

All the speakers gave a good impression about the challenges that human rights activists and NGO’s face in Russia, but despite various set-backs they remain hopeful that one day they can live in freedom. As Maria Kanevskaya, a human rights lawyer and civil society activist, put it: “There are still open-minded people in Russia, please don’t close the door on us. We need your moral support.” She ended her presentation with a quote that sums up the shared believe of the human right defenders present, namely to “never give up”.

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