US-Russia NGO falls victim to Kremlin’s ‘Cold War on civil society’

“The road from little-known Russian-American nongovernmental organization to enemy of the state is traveled quickly,” writes Masha Gessen:

First, your e-mail accounts are hacked. Second, a Kremlin-friendly tabloid publishes your internal and external correspondence. Third, a somewhat more reputable Kremlin-friendly tabloid publishes an analysis of the correspondence, concluding that your aim is to circumvent Russian law, implying that your ultimate aim is to bring down the regime. Fourth, the press secretary of the pro-Kremlin youth movement, as well as the movement’s former press secretary, alert their sizable Twitter and blog followings to your leaked correspondence.

Fifth, a politician who is known to shoot off his mouth in ways that seem spontaneous and rogue but in fact are an almost-perfect predictor of what the Kremlin will say, accuses you of being “anti-Russian.” Sixth, the mainstream media pick up on the scandal. Seventh, the state news agency puts out a seemingly objective report that says you refuse to comment on “allegations of anti-Russianness.” Eighth, we don’t yet know what happens next, but my guess is, you are ordered to cease and desist.

Gessen is recounting the fate of the U.S. Russia Foundation, a reputable NGO that supports programs on the rule of law, institution-building and economic development. The group seems set to fall victim to what activist Yuri Dzhibladze calls the Kremlin’s Cold War on civil society even though it is neither one of the foreign-funded Russian NGOs subject to increased tax scrutiny and requirements that they brand themselves as “foreign agents,” nor associated with USAID, which was summarily expelled from Russia last month.

But the case does reveal the extent of the prevailing paranoia, Gessen suggests, writing on The New York Times’s Latitude blog;

A letter listing some of the group’s activities mentioned journalism training. “This is the limit,” wrote a pro-Kremlin blogger, using a term unsuitable for a family newspaper. “These guys are openly saying that they ‘teach journalists’ the right way to cover trials.”


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Dissidents pushing Demand for Another Cuba

Cuba’s cautiously incremental economic reforms are prompting a new debate over the U.S. embargo which challenges “the longstanding logic that broad sanctions are necessary to suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raul Castro,” The New York Times reports.

“Maintaining this embargo, maintaining this hostility, all it does is strengthen and embolden the hard-liners,” said Carlos Saladrigas, a Cuban exile and co-chairman of the Cuba Study Group. “What we should be doing is helping the reformers.”

Any easing would be a gamble. Free enterprise may not necessarily lead to the embargo’s goal of free elections, especially because Cuba has said it wants to replicate the paths of Vietnam and China, where the loosening of economic restrictions has not led to political change. Indeed, Cuban officials have become adept at using previous American efforts to soften the embargo to their advantage, taking a cut of dollars converted into pesos and marking up the prices at state-owned stores.

Even these adjustments — which could also include travel for all Americans and looser rules for ships engaged in trade with Cuba, according to a legal analysis commissioned by the Cuba Study Group — would probably mean a fierce political fight.

“The sanctions on the regime must remain in place and, in fact, should be strengthened, and not be altered,” says Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. “Responsible nations must not buy into the facade the dictatorship is trying to create by announcing ‘reforms’ while, in reality, it’s tightening its grip on its people.”

While Raúl “has a freer hand to advance needed economic reforms, and possibly even to seek improved relations with the United States,” notes one observer, “he has only cautiously departed from the sacred Fidelista policies of the past, constrained by hard liners devoted to his brother and by corruption and bureaucratic intransigence.”

‘But as Raúl speaks of eliminating the regime’s history of ‘paternalism, egalitarianism, and idealism’ he means Fidel’s dogmatic policies that now seem likely to be more systematically discarded,” writes Brian Latell, senior research associate in Cuba Studies at the University of Miami.

Furthermore, despite its recent overtures, the Communist regime “has a long history of tossing ice on warming relations” with the US, The Times notes:

The latest example is the jailing of Alan Gross, a State Department contractor who has spent nearly three years behind bars for distributing satellite telephone equipment to Jewish groups in Havana….. The 1992 Cuban Democracy Act conditioned the waiving of sanctions on the introduction of democratic changes inside Cuba. The 1996 Helms-Burton Act also requires that the embargo remain until Cuba has a transitional or democratically elected government…. Following the legal logic of Mr. Obama’s changes in 2009, further expansions in travel are possible along with new allowances for investment or imports and exports, especially if narrowly applied to Cuban businesses.

Cuba this week accused the Obama administration of helping dissidents access the internet by “promoting… financing and supplying” activists using “diverse media” in order to undermine the regime.

Diplomats from the US Interests Section were “permanently inciting these people… to undertake provocative actions… and act against the Cuban constitutional order,” Havana said.

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the section did offer free internet courses for Cubans as well as access to computers – like all other US missions – but denied that diplomats were working to subvert the Cuban government.

The US promoted “freedom of access to information around the world,” she said. “Obviously, this wouldn’t be necessary if the Cuban government didn’t restrict access to the internet and prevent its own citizens from getting technology training.”

The authorities are evidently concerned about an upsurge in civic activism on the island and security forces recently arrested advocates of the Demand for Another Cuba initiative. The wave of arrests included such leading activists as the celebrated blogger Yoani Sanchez and European Parliament Sakharov Award winner Guillermo Fariñas. The arrests were condemned by international organizations, including the Inter American Commission on Human Rights and the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy.  

Several activists appearing in this short film outlining the Campana Por Otra Cuba were among those arrested. The activists have reportedly been released, except for Antonio Rodiles, the campaign’s national coordinator, who will be held in custody until his yet-to-be-scheduled trial on charges of “resistance to arrest.” Amnesty International has issued an urgent action calling for his release.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights has launched a signature gathering campaign – Campaña por la liberacion de Antonio Rodiles – and it is public awareness of the case through social media such as Twitter, using the hashtags #FreeRodiles, #OlaRepresiva and #LibertadAhora.

The Demand for Another Cuba initiative was highlighted at a recent global gathering of democracy activists which viewed the premier of a new video (above) featuring activists from the island, including Rodiles. He described the campaign as a “citizen initiative to demand the Cuban government’s ratification of the covenants of the United Nations, whose implementation could create a scenario for the transition to democracy.” 

The meeting in Lima, Peru, honored Cuba’s pro-democracy movement with the World Movement for Democracy’s Courage Tribute.

Despite the fierce repression of political dissent and a culture of fear in which ordinary people and independent-thinking Cubans are afraid to speak up, a wide spectrum of organizations and individuals continue to advance democracy and human rights at great personal risk. Pro-democracy activists are routinely imprisoned, detained, denied or dismissed from employment, and otherwise harassed. Under a “dangerousness” provision in Cuba’s penal code, the state can imprison individuals on suspicion that they may commit a crime in the future.

In the past year, two eminent democracy activists, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá, died under strange circumstances. Yet Cuban advocates for change continue to take advantage of whatever space is afforded them however small, using new technologies to circumvent government censorship and finding innovative ways to collaborate on advocating issues of concern to ordinary citizens.

The tribute was presented to the pro-democracy movement of Cuba by World Movement Steering Committee Member Carlos Ponce  presented the tribute to Regis Iglesias Ramirez, a leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, founded by the late Payá. Iglesias worked as a principal organizer of the Varela project – a citizen petition campaign for democratic reforms under the provisions of the Cuban Constitution.  He was one of 75 democracy activists imprisoned during the “Black Spring” of 2003. Sentenced to 18 years in jail, he served his time in isolation, until his release into exile in Spain in 2010. 

Iglesias said that he accepted the award on behalf of all those who were not free to leave their country and accept the award in person.  He called upon the international community to demand an investigation of Payá’s death, and added that “we need all of our Latin brothers and sisters to be on the side of the Cuban people.” 

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Rise of the ‘global swing states’

The rise of four powerful democracies – Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey – could bolster today’s international order. Yet this outcome is far from assured.

The degree to which the four “global swing states,” as this project calls them, will defend and reform the international order remains uncertain. If they do, their rise presents an enormous opportunity for the United States and its European allies. If they do not, they, the United States, and countries across the globe will suffer the consequences.

The Global Swing States Project, led by Dr. Daniel M. Kliman of the German Marshall Fund of the United States and Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, examines how the United States and its European allies can partner more closely with Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey to strengthen the international order.

The Center for a New American Security and the German Marshall Fund of the United States invite you to attend:

Global Swing States: Engaging the New Pivotal Powers

A Panel Discussion and Report Launch Featuring:

The Honorable Robert D. Hormats Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment

Date & Time: Tuesday, November 27, 2012 3:30-4:00 p.m.: Guest registration 4:00-5:30 p.m.: Remarks and Panel Discussion 5:30 p.m.: Reception Location The German Marshall Fund 1744 R Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20009  

Click here to RSVP

If you have any questions please contact Sharon Stirling-Woolsey at (202) 683-2679 or

On November 27, join the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) and the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) for the release of a new report that addresses a key opportunity for the second Obama administration: building closer partnerships with Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey to strengthen the international order. Co-authored by Dr. Daniel M. Kliman of GMF and Richard Fontaine of CNAS, the report, Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Future of International Order, offers a new framework for thinking about these four powers. It also focuses on how to expand U.S. cooperation with them on trade, finance, maritime security, nonproliferation and human rights. The event will feature a presentation of the report by the authors and include a panel discussion featuring Under Secretary of State Robert Hormats, with a reception to follow.

This is the first public event of the Global Swing States Project, a joint initiative of GMF and CNAS.

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UN troops look on as rebels seize Goma: civil society activists at risk

“Rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo today claimed control of the main city of Goma and its airport, in the mineral-rich east, as President Joseph Kabila urged people to defend the nation’s sovereignty. M23 rebel troops marched silently in single file into Goma meeting with little resistance,” according to AFP.

“The M23 is well inside Goma,” said a senior United Nations military official.

The fall of the city “could lead to serious human rights abuses against civilian populations,” says the International Crisis Group, which also fears “the settling of accounts or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists.”

Only ‘inclusive political dialogue’ can provide a lasting solution to the crisis in the eastern DRC, a coalition of civil society groups declared this week.

The AETA civil society network called on “politicians of all persuasions and social actors to overcome differences that undermine and divide the nation” and to “safeguard the territorial integrity [of the DRC] regardless of internal political divisions.”

The network includes the Réseau d’Education Civique au Congo, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.

“Donors, and probably the Congolese government, will have no choice but to deal with the rebels and call on Rwanda to help,” said Congo analyst Jason Stearns:

Rwanda would draw international criticism for the fall of Goma, the capital of Congo’s North Kivu province, but also regain influence. Donor nations, some of which had frozen aid to Kigali over its alleged backing for the rebellion, would be forced to accept its role in any negotiated settlement with Kinshasa.

“The escalation we’ve all been fearing has taken place,” writes Stearns, author of Dancing in the Glory of Monsters. How did this unfold?” he asks, providing a useful timeline of what’s going on in Goma.

According to the International Crisis Group: The new offensive is a tragic repeat of the threat by Laurent Nkunda’s Conseil National de Défense du Peuple (CNDP) to take Goma in 2008. Once again, the civilian population is paying a heavy price. As in 2008, the same causes could produce the same fearful effects:

  • the fall of Goma could lead to serious human rights abuses against civilian populations;
  • the settling of accounts or even targeted extrajudicial executions against authorities and civil society activists who have taken a stance against the M23 since the beginning of the crisis in March could raise the death toll and fuel more violence;
  • Kinshasa’s capitulation to the M23 could send shock waves throughout the Kivus and relaunch open warfare between the DRC and Rwanda; and
  • the UN and the ICGLR, both responsible for conflict management in the region, are being discredited.

As immediate steps, regional and international actors must secure:

  • an end to fighting inside Goma;
  • M23’s commitment to respect MONUSCO’s mandate to fully protect civilians; and
  • M23’s concrete assurances, visible on the ground, to respect civilians and property in areas under their control, and prevent further human rights abuses.

To avoid a regional implosion, the following steps are also necessary:

  • explicit condemnation by the UN Security Council, African Union (AU) and ICGLR of external involvement in the fighting;
  • immediate efforts by MONUSCO’s leadership to seek to negotiate and secure a formal ceasefire, as well as accelerate the deployment of the Joint Verification Mechanism and the Neutral Force agreed by the ICGLR;  
  • sanctions by the European Union (EU), UN Security Council, and especially France, the UK and the U.S., as well as the AU, not only against the rebellion’s leaders, but also against their external supporters;
  • an investigation by the International Criminal Court into the actions of the M23 and new armed groups, and the request by the court that MONUSCO transfer its files concerning M23 leaders; and
  • the immediate establishment of a joint fact-finding mission in the region by the AU, EU, Belgian, South African and U.S. special envoys for the Great Lakes to determine the best course for arriving at the long-term resolution of this crisis.

The immediate priority is to stop the current fighting and protect civilians.

Long-term solutions will require that the UN Security Council, AU and ICGLR ensure that peace agreements and that stabilisation plans no longer remain empty promises. To achieve this, coordinated and unequivocal pressure on the Congolese government and the M23 rebel movement, as well as the latter’s external supporters, is required from international donors and regional actors.

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EU inconsistent, confused and ‘hazy’ about promoting democracy?

Two and a half years after the Arab Spring exposed European leaders’ cozy relations with the region’s autocrats and the European Union’s foreign policy chief promised that human rights would be a “silver thread” running through Europe’s external relations, analyst Petr Pribyla considers how Brussels is performing. Despite recent commitments to fund a new European Endowment for Democracy, the bloc’s commitment to promoting human rights and democracy remains ‘hazy’, conceptually confused and more rhetorical than substantive, he suggests.

The first step goes back to December 2011, when the European Commission adopted a new document called “Human Rights and Democracy at the Heart of EU External Action – Towards a More Effective Approach” aiming to boost the human rights policy and foster democratization efforts throughout the matrix of EU foreign policies. The next step followed with the appointment of former Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis as Special Representative for Human Rights and the most recent initiative was the publication of a “Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy” from June 2012…..

Within a plethora of the EU instruments and initiatives developed over the last years, the substance of democracy promotion remains blurred and unclear. ….. As Anne Wetzel and Jan Orbie stated in a Policy Brief for the Centre for European Policy Studies, “[the] EU’s haziness with respect to the goal of democracy promotion and the steps needed to reach this goal allows it to stretch the definition of democracy promotion too far; potentially too far. This may be beneficial to the EU’s own interests since it allows for a flexible interpretation of what will (not) be supported under the banner of democracy, but (…) it may actually be detrimental from a democracy promotion perspective.”

In other words, the EU should seriously reflect on a role of elections, economic development, civil society and rule of law within its democracy promotion activities and bring more clarity of what it aim support in the first place.

Throughout the Strategic Framework, no attention is given to clarifying the relationship between human rights and democracy. “Human rights” appears 149 times, “democracy” 31 times and “human rights and democracy” hand-in-hand only 16 times.

In sum, if the EU aims to have a strong voice in human rights-related initiatives and start stitching the patchwork of EU external policies with the “silver thread”, it still needs to: (1) clarity what it aims to support through democracy promotion initiatives; (2) clarify the relationship of human rights and democracy in external policies; and (3) demonstrate stronger commitment to human rights protection within European borders, including the treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants and Roma.

This is a slightly edited extract from a longer paper published by the Foreign Policy Association. RTWT 

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