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Human rights in Russia

From Academic Kids

Russia's human rights record remains uneven and worsened in some areas following the end of the Soviet Union. In particular, the Russian Government's military policy in Chechnya is a cause for international concern. Government forces have killed numerous civilians through the use of indiscriminate force in Chechnya. There have been credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law by Russian forces. Chechen groups also have committed abuses.

Although the government has made progress in recognizing the legitimacy of international human rights standards, the institutionalization of procedures to safeguard these rights has lagged. Implementation of the constitutional provisions for due process and timely trials, for example, has made little progress. There are indications that the law is becoming an increasingly important tool for those seeking to protect human rights; after a lengthy trial and eight separate indictments, environmental whistleblower Alexander Nikitin was acquitted of espionage charges relating to publication of material exposing hazards posed by the Russian Navy's aging nuclear fleet. On September 13, 2001, the Presidium of the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecution's last appeal against the December 29, 1999 acquittal of Nikitin. Nonetheless, serious problems remain.

The judiciary is often subject to manipulation by political authorities and is plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a serious problem. Russia has the second highest prison population rate in the world, at 685 per 100,000. There are credible reports of beating and torturing of inmates and detainees by law enforcement and correctional officials. Prison conditions fall well below international standards. In 2000, human rights Ombudsman Oleg Mironov estimated that 50% of prisoners with whom he spoke claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups estimate that about 11,000 inmates and prison detainees die annually, most because of overcrowding, disease, and lack of medical care. In 2001, President Putin pronounced a moratorium on the death penalty. However, there are reports that the Russian Government might still be violating promises they made upon entering the European Council, especially in terms of prison control and conditions.

Human rights groups are very critical of cases of Chechens disappearing in the custody of Russian officials. Russian authorities have introduced some improvements, including better access to complaint mechanisms, the formal opening of investigations in most cases, and the introduction of two decrees requiring the presence of civilian investigators and other nonmilitary personnel during all large scale military operations and targeted search and seizure operations. Human rights groups welcome these changes, but claim that most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished.

Efforts to institutionalize official human rights bodies have been mixed. In 1996, human rights activist Sergey Kovalev resigned as chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission to protest the government's record, particularly the war in Chechnya. Parliament in 1997 passed a law establishing a "human rights ombudsman," a position that is provided for in Russia's constitution and is required of members of the Council of Europe, to which Russia was admitted in February 1996. The Duma finally selected Duma deputy Oleg Mironov in May 1998. A member of the Communist Party, Mironov resigned from both the Party and the Duma after the vote, citing the law's stipulation that the Ombudsman be nonpartisan. Because of his party affiliation, and because Mironov had no evident expertise in the field of human rights, his appointment was widely criticized at the time by human rights activists. International human rights groups operate freely in Russia, although the government has hindered the movements and access to information of some individuals investigating the war in Chechnya.

The Constitution of Russian Federation provides for freedom of religion and the equality of all religions before the law as well as the separation of church and state. Although Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, they have not been inhibited by the government in the free practice of their religion. High-ranking federal officials have condemned anti-Semitic hate crimes, but law enforcement bodies have not effectively prosecuted those responsible. The influx of missionaries over the past several years has led to pressure by groups in Russia, specifically nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church, to limit the activities of these "nontraditional" religious groups. In response, the Duma passed a new, restrictive, and potentially discriminatory law in October 1997. The law is very complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. The law's most controversial provisions separates religious "groups" and "organizations" and introduce a 15-year rule, which allows groups that have been in existence for 15 years or longer to obtain accredited status. Senior Russian officials have pledged to implement the 1997 law on religion in a manner that is not in conflict with Russia's international human rights obligations. Some local officials, however, have used the law as a pretext to restrict religious liberty.

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