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Press release 11 March 2005
Source: Helsingin Sanomat
Press releases by the Estonian Institute for Human Rights:
European Parliament Examining the Mari Situation in Russia
The Traditional National Minorities, Constitutional Regions and Regional Languages Intergroup of the European Parliament decided yesterday to raise the issue of Mari people in Russia at the talks with the delegation of the Russian parliament in April. According to the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat (March 11, 2005), after the yesterday's hearings on the situation of indigenous Mari nation in their territory, named the Republic of Mari El, it was decided to apply fast procedure to pass a resolution demanding protection of their rights. The European Parliament will also draw an action plan to improve the situation of Finno-Ugric peoples in Russia.
The problem of minorities was raised by the European Union already at the meeting with Russia on human rights issues held 1 March. The situation of Maris was not treated then but Mrs. Emma Udwin, representing the Europe Commission, said on 4 March that the subject would be raised at next meetings, Radio Free Europe reported.
The next week, foreign ministers of EU countries will come together to consider preparations for the EU-Russia summit this May. Finnish foreign minister Mr. Erkki Tuomioja points in the article published on his web-page that "brutal treatment by Russia of its own citizens deserves evaluation from the aspect of universal human rights". Tuomioja says that the issue should be raised at bilateral talks between Finland and Russia and, if necessary, at the Europe Council.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, in his comment to the Information Centre of Finno-Ugric Peoples said that "Russia's absurd and bizarre accusations against Estonia and Latvia concerning alleged human rights violations have come back to Russia like a boomerang". "Brutal oppression against the Mari people, discrimination of their language and culture and jamming of free press, crowned by physical attacks on democratic opposition leaders of Mari origin, highlights the widespread discrimination of ethnic minorities in Russia. The excuse of fighting terrorism, used by Russia to justify its Chechnya war, would not work here. The Maris are not militants but just a peaceful Finnish-Ugric people who want to speak their own language and develop their own culture", Ilves said.
By the March 11 afternoon, over seven thousand people from more than 60 countries had signed the international appeal to protect the Mari people. The appeal was supported by the Estonian Institute for Human Rights, the Jewish Community of Estonia (JCE) and the Helsinki University Students Association. The appeal can be signed at the web-page http://www.ugri.info/mari.