INTERNATIONAL HELSINKI FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS (IHF)
Active from 1982 to late 2007, the IHF was “an international, nongovernmental, and non-profit organization constituted by national Helsinki Committees and Cooperating Organizations in the participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)” (IHF Website, http://www.ihf-hr.org/cms/cms.php?sec_id=1, accessed on 2 June 2008), which numbered “46 human rights NGOs” (IHF Website, http://www.ihf-hr.org/, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The IHF was created following an International Citizens Helsinki Watch Conference held in by “representatives of a number of the Helsinki committees” in 1982 which was partly inspired by “an appeal from [the Russian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate] Dr. Andrei Sakharov for the creation of a ‘unified international committee to defend all Helsinki Watch Group members’ and to bring their work together” (IHF Website, http://www.ihf-hr.org/cms/cms.php?sec_id=1&pag_id=2, accessed on 3 June 2008).
The IHF’s statutory purposes were:
“(a) to publicize and promote compliance with the human rights provisions of the Helsinki Final Act and its Follow-up Documents; with international legal obligations undertaken in the Council of Europe and United Nations; and with human rights norms promoted by the European Union;
(b) to strengthen, assist and coordinate the efforts of its members and other affiliates to monitor compliance by the participating States with legally and politically binding human rights instruments;
In November 2007, the IHF was obliged to declare bankruptcy and to “close down due to a massive fraud committed by its former financial manager.” The IHF stated that its website would remain in operation “for an undetermined period of time” (IHF Website, http://www.ihf-hr.org/, accessed on 2 June 2008). According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the IHF’s shutdown does not directly affect the national Helsinki committees since they constitute “technically independent legal entities” (Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty: Helsinki Federation Shuts Down After Fraud Scandal,12 December 2007, http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle/2007/12/7DE07AC5-C011-4246-8691-B6F91BD76421.html, accessed on 2 June 2008).
Governments and judiciary of countries of concern, OSCE participating states, OSCE conferences, EU, media.
The IHF sought “to protect and strengthen civil society groups that monitor and report on human rights issues from a non-partisan perspective, and to bring them together on a common international platform. The IHF represents its affiliates on the international political level and in the media, supports and assists their human rights monitoring and advocacy activities, and disseminates documentation based on their research” through annual reports, reports, statements, open letters and press releases (IHF Website, http://www.ihf-hr.org/cms/cms.php?sec_id=1, accessed on 2 June 2008).
According to the IHF 2007 Annual Report, the organisation received its recent funding (covering IHF activities in 2006) from the following donors: Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Austrian National Bank, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, European Commission, Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HIVOS (Netherlands), Kerkinactie (Church in Action, Netherlands), Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Open Society Institute (OSI), Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, United States Mission to the OSCE (IHF 2007 Annual Report, http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4387, accessed on 2 June 2008).
Scope of reporting:
Geographic focus: OSCE countries; priority regions of recent years were the North Caucasus, Belarus and Central Asia.
Thematic focus: Particularly civil and political rights (IHF 2007 Annual Report, p. 3, http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4387, accessed on 2 June 2008). Issues covered in IHF publications include independence of the judiciary, torture (particularly in the context of anti-terrorism measures), prison conditions, freedom of expression, intolerance/racism/xenophobia, human rights defenders, freedom of religion, ethnic and social minorities, refugees, and women (see coverage in recent IHF publications available at http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/?sec_id=58, accessed on 2 June 2008).
The IHF Annual Reports are a compilation of reports researched and written by the respective national Helsinki Committees. They include overviews of human rights issues in selected countries. The selection of issues for each country “reflects both the gravity of concerns as judged by the reporting NGOs and the authors’ expertise in the field of human rights”. “The absence of a country chapter in no way implies that human rights violations did not occur in that country [...] nor does the length of a country entry indicate the gravity of the IHF’s concerns.” The Annual Reports are based on secondary sources which include reports from IHF, local and international NGOs, governments, intergovernmental organisations (UN, EU, Council of Europe), local and international media. These are usually referenced in the foot- and endnotes, unless a source wishes “to remain unidentified for security reasons” (IHF 2007 Annual Report, p. 3, http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4387, accessed on 2 June 2008; see also several country entries in recent IHF Annual Reports available at http://www.ihf-hr.org/cms/cms.php?sec_id=71, accessed on 2 June 2008; see also the referencing in country entries of recent IHF Annual Reports available at, http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=4387, accessed on 2 June 2008).
Some of the IHF reports (eg those covering prison conditions and minorities) are based on fact-finding missions. The missions were conducted jointly by delegates of the IHF and national Helsinki groups or other cooperating human rights groups over periods of 2 to 6 days. Interviews are conducted with prison inmates and staff, family members of persons of concern, government officials, civil society activists, local leaders, representatives of media and academia. IHF seeks to conduct interviews with prison inmates in private, ie without supervision by prison staff. If necessary, interpreters are provided by the local Helsinki Committee. In addition, questionnaires may be sent in advance to the persons/institutions in question. Sources, except those who hold public positions, are often left undisclosed due to security concerns. Additional information is drawn from reports published by national Helsinki Committees and other NGOs in the field, independent experts, international organisations and the media. Other reports are based exclusively on these secondary sources.
The Annual Report was usually released in June (exception: 2007 Annual Report released in late March) covering the previous year.
Reports based on fact-finding missions were published three to twelve months after completion of the respective mission.
Due to IHF’s closure, there have been no IHF publications since November 2007.
IHF Annual Reports and other reports are published in English. For recent Annual Reports and most other reports, Russian versions are also available.
Navigation of website:
IHF Annual Reports can be accessed by selecting the item “IHF Annual Report” under the left-hand menu bar which appears after entering the homepage. Other IHF reports are accessible by selecting the respective item on the same menu bar.