History of PRI’s Moscow Office 1998–2018
The Moscow office was the first regional office opened by PRI in 1998, with financial support from the Open Society institute. At first it covered the whole of the former Soviet Union, but in 2001 PRI opened regional offices in Georgia and Kazakhstan and the Moscow office then took responsibility for three countries – Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. Its work focused on advocacy, capacity building and practical programmes for reform, as well as providing technical expertise to a range of stakeholders including governmental and non-governmental partners.
However, in 2012, the Russian government tightened control over non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that received funding from foreign states, describing them as foreign agents. In 2015 a new law ‘about unwanted foreign organizations’ came into force and imposed further restrictions on the activities that NGOs could carry out. These included organising and holding public debates and discussion, making public speeches and commenting on government policy. These changes had a negative impact on NGOs and their donors and indeed, some donors that had previously funded PRI projects ceased supporting projects in Russia.
Despite this complicated political situation, PRI’s Moscow office was able to influence the decision-making process both at federal and regional levels through its membership of various Working Groups and longstanding relationships with those involved in penitentiary reform.
Almost 100 projects have been implemented by PRI’s Moscow office in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus since 1998. Some of the most significant included:
* PRI’s promotion and support for the introduction and development of community service as a real alternative to imprisonment in Russia.
* A five-year small grants programme that bridged the gap between NGOs and the prison service, enabling NGOs to provide health and social support to prisoners and ex-prisoners, including a model hospital for prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug-addicted prisoners.
* A pilot project in 2001 to raise the right of convicted women to live with their young children in places of detention. Thanks to our initiative, joint accommodation for convicted mothers with their children was successfully established. This has since served as a model for women with children in other colonies in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Now in all three countries, joint accommodation of convicted mothers and their small children is considered compulsory.
* Implementation of the Bangkok Rules for women offenders through PRI’s membership of Working Groups dealing with the rights of women in prisons. Their advocacy led to a new law that improved conditions and treatment for women with babies in places of detention and increased the use of deferred punishment for women with children.
* The project ‘Support to Penitentiary Reform in Ukraine’ during 2009–2012 covered a wide range of issues relating to criminal and penitentiary policy. It demonstrated good practice and a strategic approach, focusing on fundamental changes to the management of the prison system in terms of human rights. The project made a significant contribution to improving criminal legislation and promoting best practice for the treatment of offenders.
* PRI consistently promotes abolition of the death penalty, working with networks and coalitions, human rights institutions and like-minded groups to consolidate campaigning efforts for ratification of international treaties and moratoria on executions. Events organised in Belarus significantly raised the media and public awareness about the death penalty and related issues, as a result of which the number of those supporting abolition of the death penalty increased.
* Developing and supporting Public Oversight Commissions in all three countries through training and monitoring missions improved the skills of over 2,500 members of independent monitoring bodies; communication with police and prison officers during monitoring visits also improved.
Throughout 20 years of work in the region, PRI’s Moscow office developed and published over 250 publications on different topics covering human rights, criminal justice, and best practices in the field of penitentiary reform. These publications were widely disseminated through law institutes and training academies as well as public institutions.
PRI also organised study visits, invited experts to share information and contribute to policy change, held essay competitions and conferences, both national and regional, and in many other ways enabled over 20,000 specialists (prison officers, lawyers, judges, investigators, social workers etc.) as well as civil society bodies to meet together to share good practice and new ideas. About 500 human rights and public organisations from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus were involved in these activities, supporting the work of PRI in the region.
PRI is grateful to the donors who supported the work of the office in the region for 20 years. They include the Soros Foundation (the Open Society Institute), the Ford Foundation, the UK Department for International Development, the Global Opportunity Fund (UK), the European Commission, the Irish Department of International Development, CAF Russia, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Oxford University, Norwegian Women’s Aid Foundation, private Russian Foundation ‘Vol’noe Delo’, the EU Delegation to Belarus, and the Macarthur Foundations.
22 May 2018