Sunday

13th Oct 2019

EU to raise human rights with Russia amid visa-free hype

The European Commission on Wednesday (26 May) is set to raise concerns about human rights violations by Russian police less than a week ahead of an EU-Russia summit where Moscow is pressing for visa-free travel to Europe.

"In the discussions with my Russian colleagues, I will also bring up the importance of respecting fundamental rights and the rule of law," home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on her website ahead of a trip to Kazan, where she is meeting Russia's justice and interior ministers. The discussions are part of the EU's regular talks with Moscow on how both sides can better co-operate on issues such as fighting drug and human trafficking.

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Ms Malmstrom is due to flag up a particular case - that of a 36-year old lawyer who died in police custody in 2009 after representing a client accusing police officials of corruption and abuse. Human-rights groups last month demanded the opening of a criminal case into the murder of Sergei Magnitsky, accusing Interior Ministry officials being complicit in crime and torture.

The Swedish politician is planning to raise questions over the arrest and detention of Mr Magnitsky, especially focussing on the deprivation of medical care and the refusal of an independent autopsy after his death, as requested by his family.

"Furthermore, Russia wants to move forward in their talks with the EU on visa facilitation agreements, something that we from the EU side regard as closely connected with a list of demands and criteria," the commission official added.

The visa-free travel perspective for Russia has become something of a hot topic in Brussels. Most member states now agree that this should be done only in a "regional context" with countries such as Ukraine or Moldova also included in the scheme.

Diplomats preparing the EU-Russia summit due to take place on Monday (31 May) in Rostov-on-Don are wary of giving a clear path for visa liberalisation. So far, such a 'road-map' have only been granted to certain Balkan countries, already in line for EU accession.

Instead, it is likely that the summit conclusions will talk about an "action plan" for a visa-free regime, which entails no automatic lifting of visas once certain criteria are met.

The main reason for the downgrade are human-rights problems, flagged up not only by the commission and new member states, but also Germany and the Nordic countries.

Moscow, for its part, has tabled proposals for a "Partnership for Modernisation" with the EU, focusing mainly on the lifting of visa requirements and a "technology transfer" from the West. EU diplomats regard the move as an attempt at "cherry picking", ignoring less convenient demands by Brussels concerning democratisation, the protection of human rights and the fight against corruption.

However, the EU is keen to stick to negotiating a new Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) after the last one expired two years ago. The PCA contains many of the reforming elements that Moscow is less enthusiastic about adopting.

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