Citizens’ Watch identifies democratic Russian officials who are supportive of human rights and reform and provides them with opportunities to strengthen democratic processes in Russia. The legacy of Soviet rule and totalitarianism left extremely challenging conditions for the development of democracy in Russia. Government officials had no experience in being responsive to the public, an essential practice in a democracy.
Citizens’ Watch carefully monitors the actions of leading government officials, including individuals in the Interior Ministry, police and judiciary. They then identify officials who demonstrate an interest in a more democratic government and support for human rights — people they also believe will be open to change — and tailor their approaches to suit each individual, always being respectful and supportive. In some cases, this involves translation of international documents that support democracy and respect for human rights or are otherwise useful to the bureaucrat’s job. In others, Citizens’ Watch invites officials from abroad for seminars or supports the travel of Russian officials to meet with colleagues in other countries. During Soviet rule, few officials had opportunities to travel and learn of the democratic work of colleagues abroad. Citizens’ Watch therefore uses travel and exchange opportunities both to train government officials and to entice them to actively seek change.
The group’s hope is that access to these international documents and exposure to international colleagues will help illustrate the possibilities, and even prestige, in government collaboration with citizens and in work to uphold human rights. It also provides government officials with concrete information and examples of ways to improve government and human rights in their own country.
As a result of these efforts, Citizens’ Watch has formed numerous collaborative relationships with government officials and institutions. Approaching officials in a variety of fields, and supporting them in their efforts to reform their departments, helps strengthen civil society and creates a more democratic relationship between the government agencies and the community.
For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.
This Russian organization has shown that persuasion tactics can promote change from within. In other words, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
Citizens’ Watch is trying to remind officials that they are citizens first, with constitutional rights that must be respected, and only next are they government servants. What we can learn from Citizens’ Watch is that, even in government systems with no tradition of engaging with the public or working in a democracy, there are openings for change. Other organizations hoping to take advantage of such openings in their countries will need to keep in mind that this approach requires a high level of individual diplomatic talent, along with a fairly deep pool of resources. These diplomatic skills and resources are also essential to another key aspect of the tactic: providing continued support to those who do want your assistance to advance human rights.