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US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006
March 6, 2007
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor


The Russian Federation has a weak multiparty political system with a strong presidency, a government headed by a prime minister, and a bicameral legislature (Federal Assembly) consisting of a lower house (State Duma) and an upper house (Federation Council). The propresidential United Russia party controlled more than two thirds of the State Duma. The country had an estimated population of 142.9 million. Vladimir Putin was re elected in 2004 in an election process the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election, particularly in equal access to the media by all candidates and secrecy of the ballot. However, the voting itself was relatively free of manipulation, and the outcome was generally understood to have represented the will of the people. The government's human rights record in the continuing internal conflict in and around Chechnya remained poor. Both federal and Chechen Republic security forces generally acted with legal impunity in Chechnya where civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces. Chechen security forces at times appeared to act independently of the Russian command structure, and there were no indications that federal authorities made any effort to rein in those forces' extensive human rights abuses.

The most notable human rights developments during the year were the contract-style killings of proreform Central Bank Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov and journalist Anna Politkovskaya, known for uncovering human rights abuses in Chechnya. Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, political pressure on the judiciary, intolerance of ethnic minorities, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, continuing media restrictions and self censorship, and harassment of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) resulted in an erosion of the accountability of government leaders to the population. Security forces were involved in additional significant human rights problems, including alleged government involvement in politically motivated abductions, disappearances, and unlawful killings in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus; hazing in the armed forces that resulted in severe injuries and deaths; torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment by security forces; harsh and frequently life threatening prison conditions; corruption in law enforcement; and arbitrary arrest and detention. The executive branch allegedly exerted influence over judicial decisions in certain high profile cases. Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and media independence, particularly of major national networks. Media freedom declined due to restrictions as well as harassment, intimidation, and killing of journalists. Local authorities continued to limit freedom of assembly and restrict religious groups in some regions. There were also reports of societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities and incidents of anti-Semitism. Authorities restricted freedom of movement and exhibited negative attitudes toward, and sometimes harassed, NGOs involved in human rights monitoring. Also notable was the passage and entry into force of a new law on NGOs, which has already hadsome adverse effects on their operations.There waswidespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against ethnic minorities and dark-skinned immigrants, including the outbreak of violence against Chechens in the northwest and the initiation of a government campaign to selectively harass and deport ethnic Georgians. Xenophobic, racial and ethnic attacks, and hate crimes were on the rise.Violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and instances of forced labor were also reported.

In the internal conflict in Chechnya, antigovernment forces continued killing and intimidating local officials. There were also reports of Chechen rebel involvement in both terrorist bombings and politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya and Ingushetiya during the year. Some rebels were allegedly involved in kidnapping to raise funds, and there were reports that explosives improvised by rebels led to civilian casualties.

There were also some positive developments with regard to human rights. Reforms initiated in previous years continued to produce improvements in the criminal justice system. Authorities sought to combat instances of racial and ethnic mistreatment through prosecutions of groups and individuals accused of engaging in this behavior....

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press; however, government pressure on the media persisted, resulting in numerous infringements of these rights. Faced with continuing financial difficulties, as well as pressure from the government and large private companies with links to the government, many media organizations saw their autonomy further weaken. The government used its controlling ownership in all national television and radio stations, as well as the majority of influential regional ones, to restrict access to information about issues deemed sensitive. It severely restricted coverage by all media of events in Chechnya. There were indications that government pressure frequently led reporters to engage in self censorship. Nonetheless, on most subjects, the public continued to have access to a broad spectrum of viewpoints in the print media and, for those with access, on the Internet.

While the government generally respected citizens' rights to freedom of expression, it sometimes restricted this right with regard to issues such as the conduct of federal forces in Chechnya, discussions of religion, or controversial reforms in the social sector. Some regional and local authorities took advantage of the judicial system's procedural weaknesses to arrest persons for expressing views critical of the government. With some exceptions, judges appeared unwilling to challenge powerful federal and local officials who sought to prosecute journalists. These proceedings often resulted in stiff fines.

Although all but two national newspapers remained privately owned, as did more than 40 percent of the 45,000 registered local newspapers and periodicals, the government attempted to influence the reporting of independent publications. During the year government friendly corporations purchased majority or significant minority stakes in several key publications. Media freedom advocates viewed this trend as further evidence of government efforts to expand control of media beyond national television before the 2007 08 parliamentary and presidential elections....

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The law provides citizens with the right to change their government peacefully; while citizens generally have exercised this right in practice, the March 2004 presidential elections did not adequately reflect principles necessary for a healthy democratic election, particularly in equal access to the media by all candidates and secrecy of the ballot. A move away from the election of governors to their nomination by the president, subject to confirmation by regional legislatures, led some observers to complain about reduced accountability of regional leaders to those whom they govern. The fact that the president could dissolve a regional parliament that rejected presidential nominations three times further increased this concern. Corruption also limited accountability. During the year further electoral amendments allowed the removal of candidates from the ballot for "extremism" and forbade negative campaigning. The government also did away with a minimum voter turnout to validate an election.

Elections and Political Participation

Incumbent President Vladimir Putin, who was first elected president in 2000, was re-elected in March 2004 by a wide margin. The OSCE, which observed the elections, offered a positive evaluation of the technical conduct of the balloting but concluded that the overall election process, marred by widespread misuse of administrative resources, systematically biased campaign coverage, and inequitable treatment of political parties, failed to meet international standards. Although the legal requirements for televised political debates and free time for party candidates to present their views were observed, the government used its influence over the media, particularly the electronic media, to promote President Putin, resulting in coverage that was heavily biased....

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Although a number of domestic and international human rights groups operated in the country, investigating and publicly commenting on human rights problems, official harassment of NGOs increased. Authorities harassed some NGOs that focused on politically sensitive areas during the year, and other official actions and statements indicated a declining level of tolerance for unfettered NGO activity, particularly for those NGOs that received foreign funding. NGOs operating in the Northern Caucasus were at times hampered, although these organizations had wider access than in the past.

An estimated 20 25 percent of the approximately 450,000 registered public associations and nongovernmental, noncommercial organizations were regularly active. The vast majority were engaged in social or charitable activities, although many were working to influence policy and were critical of the government. There were several dozen large NGO umbrella organizations as well as thousands of small grassroots NGOs. There was often a large gap between these two categories of NGOs in terms of their organizational capacity. In the regions NGO coalitions continued to advocate on such issues as the rights of the disabled and of entrepreneurs, environmental degradation, violations by law enforcement authorities, and the war in Chechnya.

On January 10, President Putin signed into law legislation providing strict measures to oversee NGOs and requiring their registration with the Federal Registration Service. After vocal criticism of the draft bill from the civil society sector and foreign governments, some controversial measures, such as the banning of subsidiaries of international NGOs and the required notification for informal groups, were dropped. The law, which entered into force on April 10, imposes more stringent registration requirements for NGOs, particularly the branch and representational offices of foreign NGOs, strict monitoring of organizations, extensive reporting requirements on NGO programming and activities, and some limitations on the participation of foreign citizens in NGOs. The law also permits more intrusive means for government officials to scrutinize NGOs, including "public associations," with very limited procedural protections and grants the Federal Registration Service discretion to deny registration or shut down an organization based on vague and subjective criteria (see section 2.b.). All foreign NGOs were expected to register with the Federal Registration Service by October 18. While several organizations submitting applications reported difficulties obtaining approval from the Federal Registration Service, it appeared that most of these problems were bureaucratic, rather than political, in nature even though the process entailed a time-consuming and burdensome process of multiple editorial revisions that most organizations did not anticipate . By year's end most foreign NGOs that applied had been registered (197 total), with only a handful still awaiting final approval. All NGOs operating in the country will have to submit periodic reports to the Federal Registration Service in 2007 that disclose, particularly by foreign NGOs, potentially sensitive information, including sources of foreign funding and detailed information as to how funds are used. The reporting requirements will not begin to affect domestic NGOs until April 2007, therefore it was unclear how extensive the process will be and whether it could be used in a punitive fashion to limit the activities of selected organizations.

On July 28, President Putin signed amendments to the law "On Countering Extremism," despite concerns among many that they may restrict activities of political parties, the media, and NGOs as well as legitimate criticism of the government. The revised law expands the definition of extremist activity to include public libel of a government official or his family, as well as public statements that could be construed as justifying or excusing terrorism. Critics noted that the law could be used to stifle politically sensitive NGOs and opposition political parties during the 2007 2008 election cycle (see section 2.b.).

The government continued to scrutinize organizations that it considered to have an opposition political agenda. Numerous human rights and opposition groups reported politically motivated hostility from the government. During the year the government damaged the public image of the NGO community with statements that NGOs are suspicious organizations funded by foreign governments. Government accusations that implied connections between foreign funded NGOs and alleged espionage by resident diplomats increased public perceptions that NGOs serve foreign interests and fuel instability.

The new "Law on the General Principles of Organization of Local Self Governance in the Russian Federation," which went into effect January 1, provides more opportunities for NGOs to participate in policy-making at the local level. The law creates participatory mechanisms such as referendums, municipal elections, public hearings, law making initiatives, community forums, and citizen surveys. The law requires public participation in drafting the charters for municipal entities, planning local development and budgets, deciding land use issues, and other activities. The Vladivostok Public Chamber advocated for transparent decision making on adoption of the city's charter, and negotiation of lower tariffs for communal services.

While NGO advocacy efforts were sometimes hindered by a lack of unity and leadership, there were examples of successful advocacy campaigns. For example, efforts of the Primorye Coalition Against Corruption resulted in several new laws and amendments passed by the Primorskiy Kray and Vladivostok city governments, including a law regulating citizen access to public information, new provisions regulating conflicts of interests and gifts to public officials, and the establishment of a "one-stop-shop" for public services. Early in the year, the Free Choice Motorists' Movement headed a campaign to overturn the conviction of a driver charged in a fatal crash with an official vehicle in 2005 and persuade the government to limit, for the safety of the driving public, the number of official vehicles that are allowed to use blue lights and sirens to by-pass traffic....