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Russia: Activist Defines Human Rights At Forum 2000

By Jeremy Bransten and Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 4 September 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russian human rights activist and Duma deputy Sergei Kovalyov spoke of his concept of human rights in remarks to RFE/RL in Prague today.

Kovalyov is attending the Forum 2000 conference of leading intellectuals at Prague Castle.

Kovalyov said one of the main things to understand is that there is only one universal concept of human rights, and that concept grows out of the European Judeo-Christian tradition.

"Human rights are indivisible. There can be no such thing as Chinese human rights or Russian human rights," he said.

Kovalyov said Russia is not being integrated into the West because of short-sighted Western politicians, who are too concerned with the immediate goal of saving Yeltsin's face. He said politicians in the West are betting on current personalities instead of trying to support a system of values.

Citing Chechnya as an example, Kovalyov said that if U.S. President Bill Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had truly and forcefully opposed Moscow's military intervention in the republic, fighting would have stopped within a month. Instead, both leaders fretted about hurting Yeltsin's reputation and the war continued for 21 months.

Kovalyov recalled a quote by his campatriot, human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who said in 1988, that his country needed both "support and pressure." According to Kovalyov, Russia today is receiving neither.

Kovalyov said that in his opinion, the United Nations is not up to acting as the guarantor of human rights and justice in the world. He said that for one, the organization does not represent all the people in the world. Secondly, it is a place for politicians, where much compromise and horse-trading goes on in the corridors. He pointed to the irreconcilability of the U.N.'s declarations recognizing the inviolability of states' borders on the one hand, and the right of people's to self-determination, on the other hand.

Kovalyov concluded that there is hope for the future, since few people want to commit mass suicide, and, therefore, global political and environmental problems will have to eventually be addressed. But he warned that politicians cannot be counted on to be wise, as they have to take quick and popular decisions to remain in power -- unless of course they are dictators.

He also warned against the lure of patriotism, which he said forces us to concentrate on absolutely secondary things.

"We worry about the color of a rag that hangs on a stick over a house -- whereas we should be asking: how are the people in that house living?"