Becoming Extinct? Russian Human Rights Activism and the Observer Commissions

In: Russian Politics

Human rights defenders (hrds) in hybrid regimes face numerous challenges on the domestic arena. They struggle against complex and non-transparent regulations and hindrances, are obstructed by an intrusive state that seeks not only to regulate human rights activism but also to bar professional and independent human rights ngos; and they also risk being subjected to violence. This article analyses how Russian hrds have succeeded in gaining inspection rights in places of permanent detention in Russia through the system of Public Observer Commissions (Obshchestvennye nablyudatel’nye komissii/ onk), and how state structures seek to co-opt, screen and contain professional and continuous hrd work in these commissions. Although the hrds have succeeded in forming a legal structure that enables them to conduct inspections, since 2013 the Public Chamber has understaffed the onks, excluded prominent hrds from the committees, and used pro-regime organizations in order to gain control over the system of public monitoring.