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excerpt re Russia
US Department of State
April 5, 2007
Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006

The "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006" report is submitted to the Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 665 of P.L. 107-228, the FY 03 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, which requires the Department to report on actions taken by the U.S. Government to encourage respect for human rights. This fourth annual submission complements the longstanding Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2005, and takes the next step, moving from highlighting abuses to publicizing the actions and programs the United States has employed to end those abuses.

Europe and Eurasia

Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record 2006 Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

"How could I live with myself if I didnt write the truth?" --Anna Politkovskaya, Murdered Russian journalist

During the past year, a number of countries in Europe and Eurasia continued to strengthen their democratic systems. For the first time since the 1995 Dayton Agreement, the authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina fully administered their own elections in October. The parliamentary elections in Ukraine in March met international democratic standards and were the most open in the country's 15 years of independence. Unfortunately, democratic principles and human rights eroded in other countries. Russia implemented onerous NGO registration processes and restrictive legislation that had some adverse effects on NGO operations. Restrictions in freedom of expression and the harassment and intimidation of journalists in a number of countries in the region, including Azerbaijan, Armenia, Russia, and the Balkans, were significant setbacks to democratic progress. Trafficking in persons for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor remained serious concerns....

Russia

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). President 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 most notable human rights developments during the year were the killings of the Central Bank's pro-reform deputy chairman and of journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Continuing centralization of power in the executive branch, a compliant State Duma, political pressure on the judiciary, corruption and selectivity in enforcement of the law, continuing media restrictions and self-censorship, and government pressure on opposition political parties eroded the public accountability of government leaders.

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 influenced 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 had some adverse effects on their operations. There was widespread governmental and societal discrimination as well as racially motivated attacks against 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. There were also instances of attacks on Jews and Jewish institutions. Violence against women and children, trafficking in persons, and instances of forced labor were also reported.

The U.S. human rights and democracy strategy in the country focused on promoting democratic institutions and processes, a vibrant civil society, the rule of law, human rights, independent media, and antitrafficking measures. A range of senior U.S. officials, including the president, secretary of state, national security advisor, and under secretary of state for political affairs, raised human rights and democracy concerns with their Russian counterparts. Early in the year, the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor visited Moscow to discuss the NGO law with civil society groups, members of the State Duma, and government officials. In April the under secretary of state for political affairs met with civil society leaders on the state of democracy in the country. In July within the framework of the G-8 Summit, President Bush hosted a roundtable of civil society and NGO leaders. Also in July senior U.S. officials participated in the "Other Russia" gathering for independent civil society; the assistant secretary for democracy, human rights, and labor and the assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs attended and during the year also met with NGO and democratic opposition representatives in the U.S. and elsewhere. In October Secretary Rice and the ambassador met with editorial staff at the Novastal Gazeta newspaper to discuss the state of independent media in the country following the murder of Politkovskaya, one of its leading journalists.

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. With U.S. support, NGOs continued to monitor the work of deputies in regional legislatures, encouraging interaction between constituents and their elected officials and promoting good governance. Sixteen U.S.-supported coalitions of business associations united more than 170 associations nationwide; these groups won at least 30 legislative changes in various regions of the country. The ambassador met with the head of the Central Election Commission and with political party leaders, including opposition leaders, throughout the year to emphasize the need for transparent and fair elections.

U.S. political party institutes conducted polling to help political parties, civic organizations, and citizen groups understand and be more responsive to their constituents, foster greater citizen participation in the political process, and strengthen links among parties, citizen groups, and constituents. In May over 250 volunteers from a U.S.-supported NGO conducted activities in 31 regions to increase citizens awareness of the electoral amendments made in 2005 and stimulate interest in elections. A major nonpartisan group observed regional elections in October; in one region, local monitors maintained a public hot line and provided information to the public about election laws against the abuse of public resources by candidates with ties to the government.

Media freedom in the country was a continuing concern during the year and was publicly raised by the secretary of state and the ambassador in October following the murder of Politkovskaya. The United States worked to strengthen journalism in the country, organizing international visitors leadership programs for journalists on public policy to advance the role for journalists in the policy dialogue. The United States also contributed to journalism education through a visitors program on broadcast news to coincide with the International Symposium on Online Journalism, as well as through the three-year Moscow State University-University of Missouri Columbia partnership in journalism and the Fulbright Summer Institute in Journalism. In addition, journalists across the country participated in the Open World visitor program. With U.S. funding, four media experts visited the country to address various aspects of journalism with Russian audiences.

The United States worked to strengthen regional broadcast media and to improve access to nongovernment information sources. More than 2,700 broadcast journalists participated in U.S.-supported training, conferences, and competitions on professional standards, socially responsible journalism, production best practices, and media business development. U.S. support helped create conditions for an independent association of newspaper publishers to advocate on behalf of its members and for the media lawyers association to help protect the editorial freedom of news outlets from external pressure. In May a U.S.-supported NGO co-hosted a regional festival in Moscow to encourage socially responsible journalism.

U.S. officials raised concerns about and closely monitored the implementation of the controversial new NGO legislation that came into effect during the year and resulted in increased government scrutiny of many foreign and domestic NGOs. Senior U.S. officials, including the president and the ambassador, met with NGO and civil society representatives to underscore the importance of their work. In September the U.S. Government signed a three-year agreement with an NGO in the country to implement a legal support program to help NGOs meet the requirements of the new law and improve laws governing NGOs.

U.S.-funded NGO networks in Siberia and the Volga, Far East, and Southern regions continued competitive grant-making programs with governors. Forty-five local governments developed and implemented more transparent governance models under a U.S.-supported program, including community-based strategic planning, training for over 2,057 local officials and NGO leaders in public policy development, and adoption of more than a dozen policies and procedures that improved the economic environment in the regions. U.S. programs also 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. Grant programs supported 500 grassroots civic initiatives in Siberia, Samara, and the south of the country. Through U.S. programs, approximately 6,500 young persons voluntarily participated in more than 100 community service projects. During the past year more than 20 government bodies in Siberia introduced competitive grant procedures.

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. Nearly 120 government officials, political activists, NGO representatives, and business leaders involved in community development traveled to the United States as part of Open Worlds accountable governance visitor program. Two Democracy Commission grants were devoted to increasing rule-of-law and human rights awareness among youth, educators, and law enforcement officials. U.S. funding sponsored six judges as they spent a week observing federal and state court programs in San Diego to rehabilitate juveniles, drug users, and spouse abusers. In September five judges visited Oklahoma to examine the fundamentals of trial tactics and the role of prosecutors. Other U.S. programs continued to support legal clinics, defend the rights of women, labor, and migrants, and develop NGO advocacy skills related to legal rights.

The United States supported the continued implementation of the country's 2002 Code of Criminal Procedure, which provides for jury trials for certain categories of serious crimes, mandates the exclusion of illegally obtained evidence, sets stricter standards for pretrial detention, and requires judicial approval for wiretapping and searches of residences. The United States also provided trial advocacy training to prosecutors and defense lawyers. Judicial independence and reform programs led to the promulgation of self-defined standards of judicial ethical conduct and a commitment to publish the results of commercial court decisions. U.S. funding of one citys anticorruption coalition helped to foster public awareness of corruption. The coalition produced anticorruption television spots, hosted an annual week-long anticorruption festival, advised on loopholes in draft legislation, and publicly evaluated local officials on their activities.

The gravest violations of human rights continued to take place in Chechnya and other areas of the North Caucasus. Senior U.S. officials expressed concern to government leaders about the conduct of Russian security services and the government of the Chechen Republic, which was linked to abductions and disappearances of civilians. In meetings with federal and local officials during a visit to the North Caucasus in December, the ambassador conveyed U.S. concerns and expressed U.S. willingness to assist in ways that promote respect for the rule of law. U.S. officials met frequently with human rights NGOs to discuss the situation in Chechnya and to show support for the work of those organizations. They traveled to Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia-Alania 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 and persons displaced by the conflict to ensure that those who returned to Chechnya did so voluntarily or had the alternative of staying in Ingushetia. The United States supported legal assistance to displaced persons through the UN and an NGO that assisted thousands of displaced persons in the North Caucasus. The United States funded international humanitarian assistance programs that addressed the needs of displaced persons in the North Caucasus and supported the strengthening of civil society in the region.

The United States continued to support a wide range of human rights activities. U.S. officials in the country attended the second All-Russia Human Rights Congress in December. In January a community organization working on a U.S.-supported project opened the first womens crisis center in the Far East city of Blagoveshchensk to provide counseling and support to victims of trafficking and domestic violence and training for psychologists and regional officials. The United States also continued working to promote the rights of the disabled and children. A U.S.-supported advocacy organization worked with 15 NGOs in the country to improve their advocacy efforts and improve the rights for the disabled. The United States supported seminars on the rights of persons with disabilities for thousands of government and educational officials, community leaders, media representatives, and lawyers. In November a U.S.-supported network of disability rights NGOs hosted its third international film festival, "Breaking Down Barriers," in Moscow, raising public awareness of the needs and lives of persons with disabilities.

Senior U.S. officials, including the ambassador, maintained an active dialogue with government officials, NGOs, and religious denominations 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 country officials at multiple levels to urge them to hold accountable those responsible and to condemn such attacks publicly. The ambassador publicly deplored the January attack on one of Moscows synagogues. The U.S. Democracy Commission program gave grants to five NGOs working to improve interethnic and interreligious tolerance. The U.S. international visitor program sent religious and community leaders, scholars, journalists, and regional government officials to the United States for three weeks to study community activism in promoting a tolerant society. A U.S. speaker program in Vladivostock focused on various aspects of tolerance, including interfaith relations and multicultural themes. In April a U.S.-supported program facilitated dialogues in Ivanovo, Kostroma, and Moscow among religious leaders in an effort to increase interfaith communication and understanding and expose local university students to tolerance issues. In June the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom visited the country to discuss religious freedom with government officials, NGOs, and religious leaders.

U.S. support continued for a nationwide association of labor lawyers and advocates operating legal centers in eight cities that provided workers, trade unions, and their members with expert legal advice on labor contract issues. During the year the centers represented the interests of over 1,700 individuals and 35 unions in 713 court hearings; the hearings resulted in 243 decisions, two-thirds of which were in favor of labor. The lawyers also consulted with workers and trade unions on more than 5,400 occasions and prepared over 2,500 documents (complaints, appeals, etc.). The centers organized 34 seminars and roundtables that drew 343 participants.

To assist the country in combating trafficking in persons, the United States worked closely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs to train police and prosecutors on methods to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases using a victim-centered approach and worked closely with a U.S. NGO to develop a trafficking investigation manual for policemen on the street. U.S. and local law enforcement agencies held two bilateral law enforcement conferences to promote closer cooperation in human trafficking cases, including the development of witness protection, victim assistance, and legislation to better address child trafficking and pornography. The United States, working closely with the human trafficking working group of the State Duma and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, sponsored referral mechanism conferences throughout the country to encourage closer cooperation between police and NGOs on trafficking cases; this resulted in the creation of formal written agreements between police and NGOs in two cities during the year.

U.S. officials also worked with the presidential administration and the Ministry of Internal Affairs to develop implementing regulations for the countrys new witness protection program. During the year the program protected over 500 witnesses, including a small number of trafficking victims. The United States supported antitrafficking NGOs throughout the country that provided assistance to victims and trained police on trafficking issues. The U.S. Government partially funded a number of such NGOs through small grants programs and incorporated them into training programs for police and local government officials. During the year more than 4,000 people participated in antitrafficking street fairs as part of the U.S.-funded "PATH to success!" program. These large-scale activities helped raise public awareness about trafficking and the associated risks. In October more than 60 teachers participated in a U.S.-sponsored event at a Khabarovsk conference on preventing trafficking by developing positive values among youths.