Human rights defenders to speak of their work

Mon, Oct 8, 2012, 01:00

TWO HUMAN rights defenders from Russia and Zimbabwe will give public lectures about the risks their work entails during a tour of Ireland this week.

Olga Sadovskaya and Farai Muguwu are being hosted by Dublin-based human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, which has provided grants to both to bolster their security.

Ms Sadovskaya works with the Committee Against Torture (CAT) in the city of Nizhny Novgorod. She and her colleagues helped set up a special rapid response team to investigate killings in Chechnya. The team, which won Front Line’s annual award last year, has received a series of death threats because of their work.

Front Line has provided the committee with funding to install security surveillance equipment at their offices.

“My husband says I am a crazy idealist. I still believe I can change something despite all the difficulties,” says Ms Sadovskaya.

“The human rights situation in Russia has worsened in recent years. There are real personal threats against human rights defenders working on taboo topics like the use of torture by the police. You can be beaten up, you can be killed, and those who work in the north Caucasus are in the most dangerous situation.”

Mr Maguwu has been threatened by government officials and security forces in his native Zimbabwe because of his work highlighting abuses by the army and police in the country’s Marange diamond fields.

Front Line has issued two security grants, including an emergency relocation grant, to Mr Maguwu due to concerns for his safety. “The state is the biggest threat . . . the army, the police and the government-linked militia groups that terrorise the people especially in the period around elections,” he says. “What keeps me going is the belief that things can change. To me it is a calling, a vocation.”

Front Line’s security grants programme can provide a grant of up to €6,000 within 24 hours to help address the immediate security needs of human rights defenders at risk. This might include bulletproof jackets, CCTV for the offices of human rights organisations, legal and medical support, and in some cases temporary relocation.

Ms Sadovskaya and Mr Maguwu will be joined by Front Line director Mary Lawlor at public meetings in Carlow, Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Athlone this week.