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#20 - JRL 2006-82 - JRL Home
US Department of State
Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2005 - 2006 [excerpt on Russia]
Released April 5, 2006


The Russian Federation has a weak multiparty political system with a strong presidency, a government headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral legislature consisting of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council). The most notable human rights development in 2005 was the continued centralization of power in the executive branch through changes in the parliamentary election laws and a move away from the direct election of regional governors. Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national television networks, and further undermined the effectiveness of NGOs. Legislation passed by the Duma in December 2005 and signed into law by President Putin in January 2006 contained many elements that could severely hinder the work of NGOs in Russia. These trends, taken together with a compliant State Duma, corruption and selectivity in law enforcement, and political pressure on the judiciary, resulted in the further erosion of government accountability. The Governments human rights record remained poor in Chechnya, where there were credible reports of serious human rights violations, including reports of unlawful killings and abuses of civilians by both federal security forces and Chechen Government security forces. Rebel fighters committed terrorist bombings and serious human rights abuses in the North Caucasus region. Authorities, primarily at the local level, imposed limitations on freedom of assembly. Minorities continued to experience widespread discrimination and racially and religiously motivated attacks. Trafficking in persons (TIP) remained a problem despite steps to combat it.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in Russia focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, a vibrant civil society, rule of law, human rights, independent media, and anti-trafficking measures. A range of senior U.S. officials, including the President, Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, Under Secretary for Political Affairs, and the Ambassador, raised human rights and democracy concerns with their Russian counterparts. In May and November 2005 meetings with President Putin, President Bush raised a broad range of bilateral issues, including democracy and human rights concerns. In addition to meeting with government officials, the President and Secretary of State met with Russian civic leaders during their visit to Russia in May. In early 2006, the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor visited Moscow to discuss the NGO law with civil society, Duma, and government leaders.

To promote free and fair elections, the United States continued to provide programmatic and technical support to a Russian election watchdog organization, nonpartisan training for political parties, and training for mass media representatives on covering political issues and engaging with the public about the role of free media in an open, competitive political system. U.S.-funded organizations conducted non-partisan observation of several regional elections in Russia. NGO observers of the December 4 Moscow City legislative elections successfully ran an election day hotline that received calls from candidates, observers, and citizens. However, changes to electoral legislation passed during 2005 could prevent Russian NGOs from observing federal elections in future years. A U.S.-funded organization conducted polling to help political parties, civic organizations, and citizen groups be more responsive to the concerns of their constituents and foster greater citizen participation in the political process. The United States also supported training and development activities for Russian political parties committed to working peacefully within the democratic process to advocate legitimate citizen interests and seek responsible legislative representation, with a focus on strengthening links with constituents, promoting effective governance, and encouraging the participation of women and youth. With U.S. funding, NGOs trained observers to monitor the work of deputies in regional legislatures, with the goals of encouraging interaction between constituents and their elected officials and promoting good governance.

The Government continued efforts to manage civil society, including scrutiny of many foreign and domestic NGOs. U.S. officials raised concerns about the controversial NGO legislation and harassment of specific NGOs. To strengthen civil society, U.S. programs provided technical assistance and grant support to civil society groups, NGO resource centers, advocacy and watchdog groups, policy think tanks, business associations, and labor unions. With U.S. funding, NGOs promoted volunteerism and community service, advocated for citizens rights, and fought corruption. A civic campaign launched by regional organizations and supported in part by the United States inspired more than 400,000 volunteers to address critical needs in their communities. School-based community service learning engaged thousands of young people in developing and implementing projects to improve their communities. During 2005, at least 20 government entities of the Siberian Federal District introduced competitive grant procedures for NGOs, due in part to the efforts of a U.S.-supported regional resource center. U.S. assistance supported more than 1,000 environmental protection, public advocacy, and other civil society events throughout Russia, with the participation of tens of thousands of activists. U.S. funding also enabled independent Russian think tanks in 17 regions to develop policy recommendations that influenced reform in areas such as local self-governance, economic development, and social policy. In 2005, more than 90 analyses prepared by think tanks, supported in part by the United States, were incorporated into legislation and policy initiatives of the Government. A consortium of U.S. and Russian NGOs dedicated to improving the legislative environment regulating NGOs provided analysis and opinion after the Duma introduced controversial NGO legislation in late 2005. In addition, the Embassy in part through a U.S.-sponsored American Corner branch at the Dumas Parliamentary Library helped provide Duma deputies with information on U.S. laws concerning NGOs.

Media freedom in Russia was a continuing concern in 2005 and was publicly raised by the President and Secretary of State. The United States worked to strengthen journalism in Russia, organizing International Visitors Leadership Programs (IVLPs) for journalists on public policy, which advocated a greater role for journalists in the policy dialogue. The United States also contributed to journalism education through an IVLP for journalism educators as well as through the Moscow State University-University of Missouri Columbia partnership in journalism and the Fulbright Summer Institute in Journalism. In addition, journalists across Russia participated in the Open World visitor program and, with U.S. funding, three media experts visited Russia to address various aspects of journalism in discussions with Russian audiences. The United States worked to strengthen regional broadcast media and to improve access to non-governmental sources of information. Organized by a U.S.-funded NGO, over 300 small and mid-sized regional TV stations participated in the first professional television competition that encouraged socially responsible journalism. More than 2,600 broadcast journalists participated in U.S.-financed training, conferences, and competitions on professional standards, socially responsible journalism, production best practices, and media business development. U.S. support also helped create the conditions for an independent association of newspaper publishers to advocate on behalf of its members and for Russias first media lawyers association to help protect news outlets from external pressure on editorial freedom.

To promote the rule of law, the United States continued to support exchange and technical assistance programs aimed at bolstering judicial independence, ethical conduct, transparency, and professionalism. In March, a U.S.-funded program helped organize a trip by senior Russian judges to Washington to meet with eight U.S. Supreme Court Justices, at the Chief Justices request. The delegation discussed issues such as jury trials and the relationship between the courts and the media. The Open World Program brought U.S. Federal judges to Russia to discuss with Russian legal audiences the fundamentals of an independent judiciary, including judicial oversight and the role of prosecutors, and expanded ties between Russian legal professionals and U.S. counterparts. U.S. funding contributed to reforms made in 2005 to further professionalize judicial operations by increasing the use of computers, professional court administrators, justices of the peace, law clerks, and court press officers. Innovations adopted in U.S.-funded pilot courts have improved customer service, efficiency, and transparency of operations, and Russian officials are considering expanding them throughout the court system. Other U.S. programs continued to support legal clinics, defend the rights of women, labor, and migrants, and develop NGO advocacy skills.

The United States supported the use of the legal system by NGOs, which have won the majority of over 2,000 cases taken to court in the last three years. Most cases were on behalf of refugees and labor union activists. The number of visitors to a U.S.-supported human rights website increased from 1,400 in 2003 to 125,968 in November 2005; 37,000 persons have visited the Russian-language version of that website since its establishment in 2004. U.S.-supported legal clinics have been established at approximately 80 law schools, many of which provide representation to indigent persons. Some clinics are now beginning to specialize in subjects such as the rights of women, children, and prisoners.

The gravest violations of human rights in Russia continued to occur in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus. Senior U.S. officials expressed concern to Russian leaders about the conduct of Russian security services and about the security services association with the Government of the Republic of Chechnya, which was increasingly linked to abductions and disappearances of civilians. U.S. officials stressed that the United States supports a political, not a military, solution in Chechnya; urged an end to human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict and accountability for such abuses when they occur; and urged officials to conduct the November 2005 local parliamentary elections in a free, fair, and transparent manner. U.S. officials continued to encourage the development and broadening of a political dialogue with all parties, which is a fundamental step necessary to the settlement of the conflict. The United States also condemned terrorist acts and violence against civilians carried out by Chechen fighters and called on them to repudiate terrorism and cut all ties to Chechen and international terrorists. The United States recognizes the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation.

U.S. officials, in Moscow and during visits to the region, met frequently with human rights NGOs to discuss the situation in Chechnya and to show support for the work of these organizations. In July, a delegation from Washington traveled to Chechnya, Ingushetia, and North Ossetia to assess the humanitarian situation as well as the potential to provide conflict mitigation and recovery assistance. U.S. officials also regularly met with officials from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and persons displaced by the conflict to ensure that those who returned to Chechnya did so voluntarily or had the alternative of staying in Ingushetiya. U.S. officials stressed to Russian officials that all returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to Chechnya should continue to be purely voluntary, that alternative shelter should be provided to those IDPs who wish to remain in Ingushetiya, and that humanitarian aid organizations should be allowed to work without interference. The United States supported legal assistance to IDPs, including through UNHCR and through an NGO that assisted thousands of IDPs in the North Caucasus. The same NGO conducted activities to foster more tolerant societal attitudes toward IDPs through public campaigns and the media. The United States funded international humanitarian assistance programs addressing a wide range of IDP needs in the North Caucasus.

To celebrate International Human Rights Day, the Ambassador addressed and took questions from students of Moscows Higher School of Economics on the subjects of human rights and democracy. The Embassy, working with a partner organization, supported three fellowships for human rights activists to spend up to a semester in Washington working on human rights-related issues. Gender issues remained an important element of the U.S. human rights strategy. A U.S.-funded program trained 60 social advocates in 2005 to handle domestic violence cases and other gender-related issues. This program also worked to improve law enforcement response to domestic violence complaints. The United States also continued working to promote the rights of the disabled and children. A U.S.-assisted NGO project promoted the use of legal advocacy to secure access to education for disabled students and conducted public campaigns on inclusive education for persons with disabilities. The United States supported seminars on the rights of the disabled for thousands of government and educational officials, community leaders, media representatives, and lawyers and supported the development of a university course on disability law. In November, the Ambassador hosted an event for "Inclusive Education Week," which included the participation of the Minister of Education, to encourage support for better mainstreaming of disabled children in public education.

Senior U.S. officials, including the Ambassador, maintained an active dialogue with government officials, religious denominations, and NGOs on freedom of religion and religious, racial, and ethnic tolerance. U.S. officials condemned attacks on religious minorities and their places of worship and met with Russian officials at multiple levels to urge them to hold accountable those responsible and to condemn publicly such attacks. The Embassys Democracy Commission Small Grants Program gave grants to 12 NGOs working to improve inter-ethnic and inter-religious tolerance. In five regions, the United States continued to support tolerance councils that brought together the general public, law enforcement officials, local NGOs, and local governments to combat intolerance toward ethnic and religious groups. Six speaker programs focused on various aspects of tolerance, including interfaith relations and multicultural themes. Two speakers specifically addressed interfaith relations in the United States, religious tolerance, and the experience of American Muslims.

U.S. support continued for a Russia-wide association of labor lawyers and advocates operating legal centers in seven cities. This association provides trade unions and their members with expert legal advice on a wide range of labor contract issues. In 2005, the organization represented in court the interests of 800 individuals and 34 unions, which resulted in 131 decisions two-thirds of which were in favor of labor and more than $160,000 in damages to plaintiffs. The organization appealed one of these cases to the European Court of Human Rights, which is expected to hear the case in 2006.

To assist Russia in combating TIP, the United States worked with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to train police and prosecutors on methods for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, using a victim-centered approach. Three week-long train-the-trainer conferences were held to train police instructors in state-of-the-art anti-trafficking techniques. The Embassy worked closely with the State Duma to conduct legislative hearings in each of Russias seven federal districts on additional victim-centered anti-trafficking legislation. The Embassy also worked with the Presidential Administration and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to develop implementing regulations for Russias new witness protection program and to assist in drafting an asset forfeiture law that can be used to divest traffickers of illicit proceeds and fund victim assistance. The United States and Russia established a bilateral law enforcement task force to promote closer cooperation among law enforcement officials on trafficking cases. The United States is working with the Federation Council to draft more effective child pornography legislation and continues to work closely with NGO partners throughout Russia to raise awareness of TIP and encourage closer, more effective cooperation between law enforcement and NGOs. The United States continues to support anti-trafficking NGOs throughout Russia that provide assistance to trafficking victims and train police on TIP issues. NGOs in the Russian Far East, supported by U.S. funding, conducted informational seminars for teachers from 55 schools to help them educate young people about TIP and provided more than 100 training sessions in job skill development to young, at-risk women. U.S. support helped to create hotlines for victims and persons at risk of being trafficked and improved community sensitivity to and civic action against TIP.