Russian human rights specialist answers your questions | Russia and rights

Barrie Hay works for Amnesty International. He is their Russian Federation co-ordinator which means he keeps an eye on human rights abuses in Russia and works with Amnesty to help stop them.

Is freedom worth less than safety? What if safety perpetuates segregation?

“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither…” Benjamin Franklin.

By choosing safety, we could be allowing governments the right to continuously strip away our freedom. Plus, safety is never guaranteed. Life should not be lived in fear, protected by an umbrella of safety. Freedom is the spirit of life.

From: MissHoney | Briar Hill Primary School

There has to be a balance between safety and freedom. If we wanted as much freedom as possible, we could ban all searches. That might mean that the police couldn’t stop people in the street even if they suspected they were up to no good, or search their home for dangerous weapons or substances that could be used to cause explosions.

Earlier this year in the Crimean peninsula (which Russia annexed in 2014), a human rights lawyer was driving his car when the police stopped him. Masked men from the Russian Interior Ministry ransacked his house and seized material. He was defending Crimean Tatar leaders and activists that oppose the annexation of Crimea. He was held for 10 days. This wasn’t the first time he’d been harassed by the authorities.

I like the quote by John Philpot Curran on the right of election of the Lord Mayor of Dublin: The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he breaks, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime, and the punishment of his guilt.

I think that sums it up. Do you agree?



In my opinion, I think that everybody should have their own point of view and speak about what they feel like is going on around them, but in countries such as Russia, this is not allowed, I don’t feel this is fair, because anyone should be allowed to talk about what they want to.

From: Knighthunter24 | John Ruskin Primary School

If everyone was kind and well-meaning then we could say what we thought. But we don’t live in such a world, and so we have laws that try to prevent us being slandered, harassed, abused, discriminated against because of our colour, race, gender, religion and so on, or inciting others to violence. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone has the right to their opinions, and to give and receive information.

United States Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said “protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting ‘fire’ in a theatre and causing a panic”. It depends on what is said and the circumstances whether or not it’s reasonable.

As mentioned above, in Crimea under Russian occupation, Crimean Tatars are prosecuted and jailed for protesting their country’s annexation by Russia. Many have been imprisoned and many have fled their homeland.

Russia has passed many repressive laws in recent years, making it very difficult for people who don’t agree with the government to do their work. Journalists who worked for newspapers and media that aren’t controlled by the government have been killed and the authorities have not investigated their murders seriously or brought the perpetrators to justice.

In 2013, Russia passed a law known as ‘the homosexual propaganda law’. It means that people the authorities consider promote ‘non-traditional sexual relations’ can be given hefty fines. The law has had a negative impact on the work of LGBT organizations and individual people. Amnesty believes this law violates freedom of expression and campaigns for its abolition. Amnesty is currently campaigning for the Russian authorities to drop charges against one such activist, Evdokia Romanova, who has reposted links to a website begun by the United Nations Population Fund and others, and to a Guardian article on the same-sex marriage referendum in Ireland. She could be fined up to £1,300. (The Faringdon Community College has recently posted on LGBTQ+ rights:

Do you think its right that Russia has such a law?

"Only an eighth of the members of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, are women... But a recent poll found that Russians now want fewer women in politics."

Barrie Hay, Amnesty International

The main countries that would allow or even have a woman in a high position in politics is the UK, Germany and the USA. So it appears the change Russia need is for a woman to step up in a male orientated place which is near enough impossible.

In conclusion, I believe that Russia need a female in power.

From: loyalwolf | St Gregory’s Catholic Primary School

Amnesty doesn’t take sides on what type of government a country has, only that it must make sure that its people enjoy the freedoms in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). In the 18th century, Russia did have a female leader for 34 years in Catherine the Great. She was the country’s longest-ruling female leader.

Your conclusion is fascinating because only an eighth of the members of the lower house of the Russian parliament, the Duma, are women. That’s somewhat lower than the number in our House of Commons. But a recent poll found that Russians now want fewer women in politics and even fewer want them to have equal numbers of men and women in important government jobs. Do you think this is fair to women?

A young female punk group, Pussy Riot, played a two minute piece in the main Russian Orthodox cathedral in Moscow in 2011. They asked the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and get rid of President Putin. They were protesting about the clampdown on human rights and gay rights. The band was arrested, and two sentenced for a hate crime against religion. They were sent to penal colonies for 2 years.

But it’s not only that there might be too few women. It’s also the difficulty anyone has to challenge the current government. You may remember that Boris Nemtsov, a prominent politician who opposed the government, was gunned down in broad daylight in 2015 as he crossed a bridge that leads to the seat of power, the Kremlin. No one has been held responsible for his murder.

Another prominent opposition leader, Aleksei Navalny, has been held in detention several times. Trying to organize a demonstration in Russia is difficult, if not impossible, unless you happen to be a supporter of the government. This is despite the Russian Constitution granting everyone the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

Opposition demonstrations are routinely violently broken up by the police and the demonstration leaders charged with administrative offences and then kept in detention for days.

It is becoming increasingly difficult for an independent media and civil society to operate, and for the political opposition to campaign effectively.

We cannot live without rights, we need them, Russia needs them. We all need them to have something to follow, something to guide them. Without rights we are scared, living in the shadows. We don’t know what’s going to happen.

From: Treedo13 | Crampton Primary School

That’s a very good question. I’m sure we all wish we could make governments stick to the agreements they have voluntarily entered into!

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights sets out a common standard for peoples and nations to follow, and countries have said they will abide by lots of conventions they have agreed to be bound by. But if they’re not honoured, how do we make sure governments obey them?

Amnesty works by encouraging governments to accept and enforce international standards of human rights and encouraging everyone to accept that all human rights must be protected. Amnesty focuses on preventing and stopping serious abuses of human rights, along with other like-minded organizations, and has been successful in campaigning for the United Nations Convention Against Torture (1984), and with others getting an Arms Trade Treaty adopted by the UN in 2013. We have campaigned to abolish the death penalty (and there is now only one European country that still uses it), and helped establish the International Criminal Court in 2002 to try those guilty of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In Europe, we have the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Russia has been successfully prosecuted in the Court many times. In 2016, nearly a quarter of all the judgments delivered by the Court involved Russia. (In contrast, the UK had seven cases, only one of which the government lost.) The Court ruled in June this year that Russia’s so-called “gay-propaganda” law is discriminatory and encourages homophobia. In Chechnya, a Russian republic in the North Caucasus, its leader has claimed there are no gay people and even if there were “their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning”.

Amnesty is committed to defending UK human rights protections. It wants us to keep the Human Rights Act (HRA) and remain a party to the European Convention on Human Rights (which rights are incorporated into the HRA). If we left the Convention, would other countries – with possibly less respect for human rights - follow suit?


  1. St Peter's Primary School St Peter's Primary School

    I have learnt a lot from this! Thank you for presenting this information!

  2. Willowtown Primary School Willowtown Primary School

    I think that we should not get involved because they sell stuff to us like gas also they have a bigger amy then us so we do not want to annoy them also it is risky. by unicornpower468