Svetlana Gannushkina, is a mathematician by training and for many years was professor of mathematics at a university in Moscow. She started her human rights work in the late 1980s during the break-up of the Soviet Union, arranging support for refugees during the conflict around Nagorny Karabakh, an autonomous region in Azerbaijan.
In 1990 she was one of the founders of the NGO Citizen’s Assistance (Grazhdanskoe Sodeistvie). In subsequent years, the NGO campaigned for the protection of human rights and the integration of internally displaced people, migrants and refugees into Russian society.
Citizen’s Assistance has helped many individuals, lobbied the authorities on improvements on the law on citizenship, on refugee rights and on laws easing the plight of people displaced from conflict areas in the former Soviet Union. It has protected many refugees from being extradited or deported to countries where they might be at risk of being tortured or sentenced to death. Lobbying the third governments helped to provide protection to refugees in Russia and asylum-seekers from Russia.
Svetlana Gannushkina was also one of the founding members of the Human Rights Centre Memorial. Working for both organizations, Svetlana has done a lot to protect the rights of Chechens during the first (1994 – 1996) and second (1999-2007) armed conflicts in Chechnya.
She went to Chechnya to provide humanitarian aid and to help set up legal advice centres. She founded a network of centres for migrants, refugees and the internally displaced in Russia, supported by the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR). In Moscow she started a centre where volunteers teach Russian, English, mathematics and other subjects to children from Chechnya who due to the conflict, often had not been able to go to school regularly. Psychologists work with those children, who are traumatised, and the volunteers organize trips to museums, theatres or summer camps.
Svetlana Gannushkina has acted many times on behalf of people accused of terrorism, criticizing the denial of basic human rights to those suspected of such crimes and protesting against the fabrication of criminal cases against young Chechens or Uzbekistani citizens, facing deportation to Uzbekistan.
Svetlana has received many awards for her work, among others the UNHCR Nansen Award for Refugees and the human rights award from AI Germany.
At the same time, she has been accused of supporting criminals and received many threats, some of which she had to take seriously . Her name, date of birth and address were posted on a website which listed a number of Russian human rights activists and journalists as so-called enemies of the people. The accompanying text could be read as an incitement to kill her as well as the other civil society activists listed.
She is a member of the Council for the Development of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights under the President of Russia.