30th Mar 2023

Pressure mounts on EU to coordinate visas for Russian rights-defenders

  • Olga Gnezdilova: the human rights lawyer is also working on getting justice for Ukrainians sexually-assualted by Russian soldiers (Photo: EUobserver)
Listen to article

Pressure is mounting for EU states to ease multiple-entry visas for human rights defenders from Belarus and Russia.

But with individual national capitals in charge of issuing the visas, the possibilities for a coordinated EU approach appears limited. The demand comes as Russian authorities continue to crackdown on people fighting for basic rights.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Among them is Olga Gnezdilova, a Russian lawyer and human-rights defender.

On Wednesday (25 January), she told EUobserver that people defending rights in Russia are under intense risk of persecution.

"They want to continue their work, but things are changing dramatically in Russia every day," she said.

On Thursday, a day later, the Russian state liquidated the country's oldest human rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group.

Human Rights Watch called the shut down a disgrace. And the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, described it as yet another attack on human rights in Russia.

"The Kremlin is extending its aggression in Ukraine into political repression at home," he tweeted.

Gnezdilova worked as a project manager for the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as a legal director for the Stichting Justice Initiative.

She left Russia for Germany three years ago on a visa following the first wave of repressions against jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Today, she represents victims of the Russian state at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

This includes cases involving victims of torture, gender based violence, judicial executions, and LGBTI rights. In February, the court is set to deliver a verdict in one of her cases involving sexual violence against an 11-year old child.

Russian police questioned the child 23 times, including why she hadn't screamed during the assault, said Gnezdilova.

"She got post traumatic stress disorder, not because of the violence but because of the investigation," she said.

Although Russia was booted out of the Council of Europe, cases that predate September 2022 can still be heard at the Strasbourg court. The workload is intense — with some 17,000 cases pending.


The liquidation of the Moscow Helsinki Group does not come as a surprise.

Only earlier this week, the Russian authorities labelled the Andrei Sakharov Foundation "undesirable." It means people who worked or volunteered for the foundation face possible jail.

The European Commission last September had also recommended EU states ease Russian visas for family members of EU citizens, journalists, dissidents and civil society representatives.

Rights defenders from Belarus and Russia are hoping those suggestions are put into greater practice.

Although Russians can also travel to Georgia, Armenia and Kazakhstan, Gnezdilova said they too are not safe. Humanitarian visas are also welcomed but require those applying to have a connection with the future host country, she said.

Sergey Lagodinsky, a German MEP and spokesperson on Russia for the Greens, says such visa options for Russian rights defenders need to be expanded.

"It is even more worrisome to see how some EU countries hinder Russian dissidents to apply or extend their visas. We should support those who raise their voices for civil rights in Russia, not push them away," he said, in an email.

Strasbourg rights watchdog seeks Russian accountability

The Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog Council of Europe wants Russia to pay for its crimes in Ukraine. Its secretary general Marija Pejčinović Burić says this includes setting up a new claims register to gather evidence for eventual prosecution and reparations.


What does China really want? Perhaps we could try asking

Perhaps even more surprising to the West was the fact that the Iran-Saudi Arabia deal was not brokered by the United States, or the European Union, but by the People's Republic of China. Since when was China mediating peace agreements?


Biden's 'democracy summit' poses questions for EU identity

From the perspective of international relations, the EU is a rare bird indeed. Theoretically speaking it cannot even exist. The charter of the United Nations, which underlies the current system of global governance, distinguishes between states and organisations of states.

Latest News

  1. The overlooked 'crimes against children' ICC arrest warrant
  2. EU approves 2035 phaseout of polluting cars and vans
  3. New measures to shield the EU against money laundering
  4. What does China really want? Perhaps we could try asking
  5. Dear EU, the science is clear: burning wood for energy is bad
  6. Biden's 'democracy summit' poses questions for EU identity
  7. Finnish elections and Hungary's Nato vote in focus This WEEK
  8. EU's new critical raw materials act could be a recipe for conflict

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Azerbaijan Embassy9th Southern Gas Corridor Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting and 1st Green Energy Advisory Council Ministerial Meeting
  2. EFBWWEU Social Dialogue review – publication of the European Commission package and joint statement of ETUFs
  3. Oxfam InternationalPan Africa Program Progress Report 2022 - Post Covid and Beyond
  4. WWFWWF Living Planet Report
  5. Europan Patent OfficeHydrogen patents for a clean energy future: A global trend analysis of innovation along hydrogen value chains

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us