In the circumstances of mass civic protests, human rights organizations and civic groups must assume the initiative for monitoring the observance of the whole corpus of human rights, and prevent the emergence of violence on the streets... We do not believe in our own ability to change the country. We do not believe in the authorities, in politicians, in one another or in ourselves. But sometimes a naive faith in one’s abilities as a citizen makes possible not only one’s participation in spontaneous demonstrations of protest, but the creation of a system of monitoring and oversight by citizens over government, oversight by society over the government machine, oversight by justice over arbitrariness. And this means that whatever happens in our country over the next few days, it will be only the beginning of more serious processes that will take place above all between us as citizens and within us as people.
"1. Citizens have the right to monitor the actions of government in their own country.
In general terms, this may be almost the only basic right and – at the same time – duty that citizens have in relation to a country and its government. In countries with established democratic traditions this right can be realized peacefully and effectively both during elections (not in the form of political conflict or in the expression of certain political preferences, but in the form of monitoring election procedures, the rules of the game, and the observance of minimal standards and principles of law - and in elementary political decency), and also (what is still more important!) between elections in the form of the most various civic initiatives and institutions, making government at least to some degree transparent and able to take note of the criticism make by citizens.
Precisely in order to ensure these functions in any contemporary state protection of such fundamental rights as freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech and access to information is necessary; and it is precisely these rights that prevent “civil discontent” growing into “civil confrontation” and “civil conflict”.
2. In Russia in recent days a situation has developed characterized by a lack of trust in the authorities.
This happened as a result of the lack of transparency and equity in the conduct of the parliamentary elections – both at the level of the procedure of voting, and in terms of the established rules of the game, obliging many people to feel the full impossibility of being politically represented.
And this should have become, first, a topic for political negotiations between government and other political forces, and, second, a topic for civil negotiations about the setting up of new, more just “rules of the game” for all in the future.
But what is at issue now is no longer just about the elections. The situation is developing so rapidly that despite political actions by those who consider themselves political actors, civic action is necessary by those who wish to prevent mass violations of human rights by the authorities, as well as aggression and violence by a whole range of forces.
3. Members of the public have the right to express their discontent with what is happening in the country in a peaceful and organized manner, whether this discontent arises because of the actions of government or by other social structures.
And in the circumstances of mass demonstrations any reasonable government will act on the basis of a number of principles:
Independently of whether peaceful mass demonstrations are ‘sanctioned’ or ‘not sanctioned’ (where there is no violence or direct calls for violence) it is impermissible to use force to break them up; government must always remember that freedom of assembly is a basic right and limitation of this freedom by government is not a first priority; and in this sense the chief and immediate task of government bodies is to protect such assemblies and help their organizers so that the public assemblies remained peaceful and non-violent (and the identification and isolation from the body of protestors of those calling for the use of violence – without unnecessary force - is a joint task of both the political leaders of the protestors and representatives of the authorities);
It is necessary to open a political dialogue among all political forces that reject violence. It is precisely such a dialogue – on the condition that it is conducted honestly and openly – that is the guarantee that political activity and civic discontent do not issue in deep social division and the beginning of violence;
An immediate civic dialogue must begin with representatives of non-political civic forces that are able to act as go-betweens between the various sides and (most importantly!) ensure the observance of the general rules of the game (human rights and the rule of law). Such a dialogue must not be an imitation of dialogue with the help of affiliated pro-government pseudo-public structures. It must be based on the authorities having enough wisdom and courage to recognize the equal partnership of civil society in such a dialogue, and ready to appeal to civil society to work together to preserve civic peace.
If citizens cannot peacefully express their discontent, if government begins a campaign of mass pressure and intimidation, if freedom of speech is increasingly restricted, the more active political forces will quickly be radicalized.
There must be the widest possible discussion of the situation in the mass media, and the government must demonstrate that it is paying attention to society’s discontents. There must be a review of wrong decisions taken in official quarters. This is a chance for government and civil society to jointly undergo a process of learning that will enable the building of a more just society.
4. Human rights organizations and civic groups in these conditions take on a special public function. In the circumstances of mass civic protests, these groups must assume the initiative for monitoring the observance of the whole corpus of human rights, and prevent the emergence of violence on the streets.
This does not mean a distanced neutrality. It means an active participation in the protection of the rights of citizens in difficult circumstances.
The current situation is such that any violence by government will be perceived by citizens not as a sign of strength and continued control over the situation, but on the contrary as a demonstration of fear, uncertainty and an inability by government to take flexible political decisions. “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”
It is precisely the readiness of the authorities to enter into open dialogue with society (with both politicians and civic organizations) that can return the most basic, minimal level of trust on the part of a significant number of active citizens.
5. Civic groups, including human rights organizations, must create a provisional “civic platform for overcoming the crisis”. This should constitute a series of measures to be implemented immediately by all sides to ensure the maintenance of civil peace.
Civic organizations must address all sides, all political forces, with what are the most important basic conditions and rules for the beginning of political dialogue. They must then monitor the course of this dialogue exclusively from the point of view of the observance of the rules of the game.
Any political decisions by political forces must be taken only on the basis of this dialogue.
6. A possible way out of the current situation in Russia could also be proposed by international civil society.
First, a special international commission could be set up to include representatives of international civic organizations, academic circles and intellectuals (excluding politicians) that would conduct an assessment of the level of electoral fraud that took place during the parliamentary elections on 4 December 2011.
Second, an initiative is possible to set up a group of international human rights organizations that would monitor the observance of all the other fundamental human rights (above all in the areas of freedom of assembly, actions by police, fair trial and the conditions of those detained or sentenced to terms in prison).
This would not resolve even a small part of current problems, but would enable the crisis to take a path towards more constructive developments.
7. We are full of civic pessimism.
We do not believe in our own ability to change the country.
We do not believe in the authorities, in politicians, in one another or in ourselves.
But sometimes a naive faith in one’s abilities as a citizen makes possible not only one’s participation in spontaneous demonstrations of protest, but the creation of a system of monitoring and oversight by citizens over government, oversight by society over the government machine, oversight by justice over arbitrariness.
And this means that whatever happens in our country over the next few days, it will be only the beginning of more serious processes that will take place above all between us as citizens and within us as people."
Translation: http://www.rightsinrussia.info