Konstantin Dolgov, ambassador-at-large with the title of “Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law”, met journalists two weeks ahead of Vladimir Putin's visit to Brussels for the second EU-Russia summit this year [more].
Dolgov explained that the 66-page report, which is available in Russian and English, and soon in French, was the first of its kind, coming on the hills of another one, on the human rights situation in the United States.
The Russian diplomat said human rights in the EU “continue to deteriorate”, citing other sources such as civil society and the European Parliament. He added that these sources and not Russian investigations were used to compile the report.
“Why this report?" Dolgov said. "There are different reasons for this. Obviously one of the reasons is that Europe now encounters very serious economic difficulties and it’s in periods of austerity that human rights and social and economic rights suffer the most.”
“A steady growth of xenophobia, racism, violent nationalism and neo-Nazism, violation of rights of minorities, prisoners, refugees, migrants, and persons with mental illnesses, lack of protection of children, gender inequality, violation of privacy, abuse of power by the police, a number of EU countries harbouring CIA black sites [for interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects], the situation as to the freedom of mass media, which is far from perfect, and the infringement of social rights of citizens,” reads the Russian report.
Country by country, the report lists the grievances of individual EU countries, but also slams Brussels for its inability to address human rights abuses in member states.
“There is a total lack of tools of active response by EU institutions and of prosecution of those responsible,” the report reads.
Dolgov said there was a “great degree of integration” of the economies, but the humanitarian field was “significantly lagging behind”.
In particular, the Russian diplomat slammed the EU for not having acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which all its member states have signedt.
The criticism on the failures of the EU in the human rights sphere has been expressed often from European circles.
>> Read our interview Human Rights Commissioner: Europe’s leaders betray basic principles
Dolgov also said that Stavros Lambrinidis, a former Greek foreign minister who has been recently appointed as the EU's special representative for human rights, told him he had a mandate to deal with human right issues everywhere in the world, except in the EU.
"Then who has a mandate? No big answer is coming," the Russian diplomat said.
Deteriorating media freedom
The Russian diplomat insisted particularly on the deterioration of media freedom in various EU countries. He pointed out at the recent ‘Press freedom index’ of Reporters without Borders ranked Greece 70 and Bulgaria 80 of the 179 countries surveyed. But he omitted to mention that in the same report Russia ranks 142.
The initiative to survey the EU on the eve of Putin's visit to Brussels, an occasion when human rights are normally part of the agenda, appears to indicate that Moscow is trying to pre-empt the critical discourse of the EU leaders.
A recent speech of High Representative Catherine Ashton to the European Parliament strongly criticised Russia for its authoritarian tendencies since Putin returned to the presidency in May.
Asked by EurActiv if Dolgov's media appearance was part of a strategic move to reverse criticism ahead of Putin’s visit, the envoy said that although the situation in Russia was not perfect, he strongly denied that it had worsened and even said it had improved.
“When we say the situation is worsening in the EU, I strongly advise to read certain documents coming from European institutions. This is not just our conclusion … When we hear that the situation [in Russia] is worsening, we want facts. And when we are given facts which are 10 years old, no, this is no good. Because the situation is changing. To the last part of your question, I don’t think the situation in Russia is worsening. It has improved over the years,” Dolgov said.
“We believe that nobody should have the monopoly to assess the human rights situation in other countries.”