#8 - JRL 7041
TITLE: PRESS CONFERENCE WITH MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP REGARDING HUMAN RIGHTS IN RUSSIA
[PRESS DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE, 11:00, JANUARY 28, 2003]
SOURCE: FEDERAL NEWS SERVICE (http://www.fednews.ru/)
Moderator: I think we can start our press conference. But first I would like to tell you, if you don't know already, that this press conference will be followed by another at 12:30 called "Nord-Ost Syndrome in Moscow: Ethnic Cleansing Practice Resumed." And the panelists in that press conference will be Lyudmila Mikhailovna Alexeyeva, Svetlana Alexeyevna Gannushkina, Musa Abuladinovich Geshayev, a Merited Writer of Russia, and Marat Zabirovich Khairulin, special correspondent of the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets and a Sakharov Journalism Prize nominee. That will be in exactly an hour from now.
But now we are starting our press conference devoted to a tentative review of the human rights situation in the Russian Federation. It is called "Human Rights in Russia -- 2002". All the panelists announced will be here. Lyudmila Mikhailovna will join us a little later. At the moment we have with us Tatyana Iosifovna Lokshina, a managing director of the Moscow Helsinki Group and Sergei Markovich Lukashevsky, the head of the Group's information and analytical department. And I would like to give the floor to Tatyana Lokshina.
Lokshina: Good morning. We are very sorry that Lyudmila Mikhailovna couldn't come on time, so we will start without her. This is in fact the first time that the Moscow Helsinki Group is presenting a preliminary report on the human rights situation for the previous year. As many of you know we have continuously monitored human rights since 1998 with the help of our partner human rights organizations in the regions of the Russian Federation who gather data on the human rights situation in their regions. They then analyze and present the data in a certain format, send them to us in the shape of regional reports and every year we make the all-Russian report based on their studies and our own additional studies.
Naturally, since we are working with the data from regional groups in all the 89 subjects of the Russian Federation drawing up an annual report is very time-consuming and usually it has come out in the summer following the year when the information was gathered. And we felt that in the intervening period these data become less relevant and that this practice should be changed. On the other hand, the time it took us to process regional information remained the same. So, we came to a compromise decision: to present a tentative report on the human rights situation at the beginning of the year and then proceed to a more detailed analysis of the data provided by the regional human rights groups and release the final detailed report in the summer.
The text that is available here campaigns our tentative conclusions on the human rights situation in the past year. In order not to recap word for word what is written in this fairly concise text on the one hand, and not to trespass on the territory of our colleagues who will be giving next press conference on the position of Chechens we would confine ourselves to the following remarks.
Basically the year 2002 was marked by two main interconnected trends, the fight against terrorism and the fight against extremism. And the Russian authorities have viewed the situation in Chechnya and the military campaign in Chechnya as part of the fight against international terrorism.
That position has met with support in some Western countries, Russia's allies in the anti-terrorist coalition. And several events have to be noted, for example, last spring Russia was stricken off the United Nations human rights agenda. And when a state is on the human rights commission agenda it means that the human rights situation in that state gives cause for concern. If a state is stricken off the commission's agenda, it means that the situation has improved, so much so that it need not be the subject of targeted discussion.
On the other hand, as we all know, the OSCE mission in Chechnya has been shut down. the mission in Znamenskoye. All this is extremely important. Just recently at this very press center I took part in a press conference of the International Helsinki Federation and the International Helsinki Federation deals specially with Chechnya. Its director Mr. Aaron Rhodes said, commenting on the events in Chechnya and the continuing human rights violations, disappearances, killings, torture, robbery and maraudery and so on -- he said among other things that Russians are used to being ashamed of their own country. And I know that many of the journalists present were insulted and even shocked by such a remark. I myself would not subscribe to it. In principle, it is up to every citizen to be proud or ashamed of his own country. But one thing is clear: the Russians are used not to expect a lot from their country.
The hostage-taking at Dubrovka was a characteristic situation. The special services operation was described as brilliant and perfect by a whole number of officials. But we know that a result of that operation more than a hundred hostages died, many of them could have stayed alive if certain precautions had been taken. But the operation is still described as brilliant and faultless and the majority of Russians, judging from a VTSIOM opinion poll go along with that description. In fact, we truly do not expect much of our state.
And the same can be said about the much publicized struggle against extremism which is very closely linked with the fight against terrorism. The year 2002 saw continued incitement to discrimination, violence, racial and ethnic violence. Informal neo-nazi groups, so-called skinheads, have become more active. Even by comparison with 2001, which was seen as a record year in terms of violence and mass unrest of the Russian nature, the wave of street violence has continued to grow. It was growing in such a threatening way that something unprecedented has happened. In May 2002 a group of ambassadors sent a note of protest to the Russian Foreign Ministry, to Foreign Minister Ivanov complaining about the tide of racism that has swept the country. Nothing like has ever happened before. Among the ambassadors were the ambassadors of Sweden, the Philippines, Gabon, Cameroon, Ecuador and Libya.
I must say that before that, in March, a similar appeal to the Russian Foreign Ministry was made by the Association of ethnic youth groups -- Tatar, Azeri, Tajik and Latvian. Of course the youth failed to attract so much attention. As for the note of the ambassadors, it could not have been ignored. So, that statement was a fact. Clearly, an official ambassadorial statement must be taken seriously. But what is happening in the country, which according to repeated statements of the President and the Foreign Minister and a whole number of top-ranking state officials regards countering extremism as a top priority? Incidents of street violence occur and the law enforcement bodies do not respond in any way. These incidents continue to be described as hooliganism unrelated to questions of race.
In 2002 there were several massive actions of skinheads, there was a demonstration in Petersburg in February, a demonstration in Moscow in March. I must add that in the same month of March the chief of Moscow's Interior Ministry Department General Pronin noted that the skinheads were actually an invention by journalists and if there were some quarters that were organizing problems, those were the sports fans who arranged problems. As to the skinheads, there are probably no skinheads. And considering that there are no skinheads, soon after this there was the well known football pogrom on June 10 in Moscow during the match between Russia and Japan which triggered massive disturbances and quite serious destruction. And again, soon after, on July 7, there were pogroms against Armenians in Krasnoarmeisk and literally on the heels of this they established the notorious PNI! movement. It is a movement against illegal immigration.
All this notwithstanding, we have no skinheads. The racial and ethnic violence is probably also absent in this country. In the process, the policy pursued by the authorities is extremely inconsistent. On the one hand, those guilty of racial crimes mainly turn out to go unpunished. On the other hand, for instance, a warning is served to quite a number of mass media organs for pursuing nationalistic propaganda. Some mass media get closed down, the newspaper Limonka was closed as well as the magazine called Russky Khozyain.
On the other hand, again, in the year 2002 there was the loud scandal in Yekaterinburg, having to do with the fact that a number of texts of openly nationalistic and anti-Semitic character, including the notorious protocols of the wise men of Zion, under the aegis of a Patriarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Jewish community of Yekaterinburg lodged a protest with the prosecution office. They were joined by quite a number of national communities. The affair was suspended for a long time, there was an endless number of delays but finally a criminal case was started. And at that point there occurred an interesting story, namely: quite a number of Russian Duma deputies appealed to all -- to the Russian President, the Prosecutor General, the Interior Minister -- to all quarters with the request to leave the hierarchs of the Orthodox Church in peace, saying that publications will be publications, nationalism will be nationalism but the Orthodox Church must not in any way be touched.
I don't know how the petition itself affected the situation, although it looks highly ugly, and be that as it may, the case was closed.
Also in 2002 a rather scandalous, so-called National-Power Party of Russia was registered. The constituent congress of the National-Power party proclaimed openly nationalistic appeals. For instance, one of the co-chairmen of the party Mr. Mironov, who incidentally had been the Press Minister of the Russian Federation, if I am not mistaken, in the early 1990s -- quite a specific personage -- said the following: "The party -- and let us put it straight -- is established for one thing -- namely to fight for power. We are not making any secret of it from the outset that a party of nationalists will go to get power. We have a common enemy -- the kike. The overall objective is a change of power."
Well, it would seem that this kind of a statement falls within the scope of Article 282 of the Criminal Code -- "Inciting the national divisions" in a simply remarkable way. But no, everything is much, much more complicated. And why complicated? It is because the word "kike", as has been many times said by a number of officials of law-enforcement authorities, actually in itself does not and cannot carry anything that incites national divisions. And in general, it is a doubtful and possibly inoffensive word.
Let us say that when on May 28 last year a slogan with a bomb was put up in Kievsky Highway, which said "Death to the kikes" and Tatyana Sapunova from Moscow -- all remember that -- tried to pull out the slogan and in the process suffered many wounds, immediately after the incident -- it was commented by chief of the Interior Ministry department of Leninsky district of Moscow region Mr. Vagin. And Mr. Vagin told journalists, and I quote for those who may not remember: "This is a contentious issue as to whether or not the installation of the board was a violation of the law. I believe that from a formal viewpoint the slogan which says "Death to the kikes" is not an appeal inciting inter-ethnic divisions. Around here, anybody can be called a kike."
Correspondingly, this word is used in this country to denote anyone and that is why it is absolutely impossible to talk about the consistent struggle by law-enforcement authorities, about consistent struggle of the state with nationalism. Indeed, over the entire year 2002, the policy of the state in this respect is striking precisely for its selectiveness, precisely for its fantastic inconsistency in action.
And in this respect the state which has taken the situation so far that a whole group of ambassadors come out with a note of protest over racial crimes committed -- of all places -- in the capital, in Moscow, to say nothing about foreign students in regions of Russia, who perennially become victims of youthful racists. The state takes the situation so far but it is impossible to speak about any consistent anti-extremist policy.
The same can also be said about the struggle with terrorism. The struggle with terrorism is priority number one of the Russian Federation on the one hand; and on the other, this struggle with terrorism did not at all prevent Barayev, according to official data -- from dying two times before appearing in the theater in Dubrovka.
In order to somehow improve the situation in the country and to broaden its possibilities of struggle with extremism, the Russian Federation adopted a law on countering extremist activity. The law entered into force on June 30, 2002. What does the law do? It establishes a special object of struggle, named extremism. And the law gives extremism quite a wide definition, probably in order to make the task of the prosecution authorities easier. Indeed, falling within its scope are grave crimes, for instance, preparing a mutiny, establishment of paramilitary formations and simply something that we call the language of enmity: deviations from political correctness.
Thus, in order to avoid using confusing legal definitions, one can cite a very simple example: I hope that in this particular case I am not offending any national dignity, a man who speaks like in that anecdote and says that Armenians are better than the Georgians -- can in principle perfectly fall within the scope of the law on countering extremist activity. Why? It is because at issue is the assertion of the superiority of one ethnic group over another or about assertion of inferiority of one ethnic group compared to another.
What is so dramatic in the law about extremism? Among other things, it changed Article 280 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and it is this Article that originally contained the definition of the appeal for deposing the constitutional system. That definition was replaced by calls for extremist activity. In the process, a reference is made to the law on countering extremist activity. In this way the entire broad spectrum of problems, including Armenians and Georgians, falls within the scope of Article 280 of the Criminal Code, which covers very serious cases and punishment.
What can be done? What can the state do in connection with this new law? It is very easy to suspend the activity of an organization, to close an organization and it is very easy to close down mass media bodies. What does the word easy mean? In connection with organizations, it is enough for the Prosecutor General's Office to issue one warning, after which the activity of the organization can be halted pending the clarification of circumstances or the organization can be closed upon a judicial decision.
As regards an organ of mass media, everything is quite dramatic here, namely, that if a single warning is issued, then, in connection with the next warning, the mass media organ can be closed. Considering that the warning can be served within the context of one concrete article, actually it turns out that two articles are enough. Again, the notion of extremism is defined extremely broadly and one can disagree with more or less anything and the situation of some daily newspaper may simply become very, very threatened.
Finally about how this law was applied. It is also very interesting. This dangerous and extremely unpleasant law was almost not applied. The law on extremism was used to close the Omsk regional association of the Russian National Unity, which is of course good. And the same law was used to issue a warning to one regional television company, if I am not mistaken in Nizhny Novgorod, which played a very dubious film about Chechen refugees.
In other words, the law has so far not been used in any threatening way. On the other hand, we know of two cases in the Krasnodar region where public human rights organizations were threatened with the law on extremism. We understand that this law can be used at any moment against any organization or any mass media. Given the selective policy of our state, it is not possible to predict anything.
Moderator: Who is the next to speak? Shall we give Lyudmila Mikhailovna a little bit of time to catch her breath?
Alexeyeva: No -- well, I have already caught my breath. I want to apologize for being late. My watch let me down. It did not stop but slowed down and showed nine o'clock when I received the telephone call. I thought it was great that it was getting light so early in the morning. Only the call brought me back to my senses.
You know, every cloud has its silver lining. I must say that mass media like recognizable faces. This is why they always invite me to speak for everybody. And of course who else could speak on behalf of the Moscow Helsinki Group if not me? My colleagues think the same way: how can a press conference with the Moscow Helsinki Group be held without Lyudmila Mikhailovna? Nut since was came late you could see that young employees of our group are not only able of doing everything but they also know the material, at least this particular material, better than I because they prepared it. I only read their finished product but they made it.
They are sane, qualified and responsible people. So I thought it would the beginning of the press conference without Lyudmila Mikhailovna to which mass media would come anyway because they are very informative and substantive.
Moderator: But we will not let you do this.
Alexeyeva: I don't know what was said without me. Were any opening remarks made without me? I just want to say that this is a preliminary report and we have decided to make this our practice because we want to do everything well but there is so much material that -- besides, we are not the only ones who work on this. We get information from our colleagues in regions and all this -- I can't say that we work slowly. We are working on this report very hard, but still we won't be able to finish it before July.
So we have decided to release a preliminary in January and the final one in July because it can't be finished sooner. I have attentively read what has been proposed as a preliminary report. Indeed it notes all -- well, not considerable but noticeable, shall we say, human rights violations last year. I would only -- the report to be released in July will give more space to the situation in Chechnya -- actually it will be a separate report -- and the situation in refugee camps in Ingushetia and about forced resettlement from Ingushetia to Chechnya. This one does mention this but only briefly.
My personal interest and the interest of all human rights activists is that -- the preliminary report does not have this section, but I mean so-called spy trials. I must say in 2002 there were no dramatic events in these spy trials, except the trial of Shchudov and Khvorostov. So, it is absolutely natural\that this has been omitted from the preliminary report.
And I want to say one more time that I am very proud that each worker of the Moscow Helsinki Group is the greatest authority in the group in his field. Don't pay attention to familiar faces. Pay attention to the quality of information you get.
Moderator: I would like to add to what Lyudmila Mikhailovna has said that we will hold a press conference with Lyudmila Mikhailovna on spay mania on Thursday, at 2 p.m.
Alexeyeva: It will be a great event because two so-called spies will attend -- Moiseyev and Danilov. One is from Krasnoyarsk and it is no so easy to meet him.
Moderator: So we will be looking forward to seeing you here at 2 p.m.
Alexeyeva: And the lawyer of a third spy who worried us most of all, Sutyagin, will also attend. He is the only one among our fellow citizens who have been made spies who is in prison. We have clawed the others out of prison. So you are most welcome to attend.
Moderator: Sergei Lukashevsky will continue.
Alexeyeva: Sergei has been the head of this printed version of our monitoring and contributed many articles since the very beginning, since 1998. Tanya joined him later but she too has conducted other monitoring of Xenophobia, women, etc. So today you will get qualified information.
Lukashevsky: First of all, as I continue the story about our report, I would like to add a few words about terrorism because events connected with the escalation of international terrorism, including the tragedy in America, make everybody, and human rights activists too, handle this topic with great care and attention. Not only because in the fight against terrorism the state often violates human rights and justifies them by the need to ensure the security of citizens.
On the one hand, we tried to show, even in this short report, that forcible measures, especially used indiscriminately, used in a way that leads to mass suffering of the peaceful population in Chechnya, these measures are no only a reason for human rights violations but they cannot effectively protect our citizens against terrorism.
Not so long ago, Helsinki Watch published a report --
Moderator: Human Rights Watch.
Lukashevsky: Human Rights Watch. Thank you. It published a report in which the Russian authorities were criticized over their handling of the situation at Dubrovka and government officials have criticized the report because international human rights activists failed to take due account of the fact that the terrorists had behaved in very cruel manner and were ready to sacrifice innocent lives and had not mentioned it concentrating entirely on criticism.
Being aware of this atmosphere that exists in the wake of major international terrorist acts, we did write in our report, we mentioned that human rights campaigners, like all other normal people, also consider terrorism to be an unacceptable evil from which innocent citizen may suffer in large numbers. But in principle we back the position of our colleagues that they monitor human rights violations on the part of the state, while the state performs its natural and obligatory task of providing security for its own citizens, including against terrorism. This is the normal position. And to some extent we are making a concession to public opinion which in this difficult and truly tense situation should understand that all the people who seek greater security of people in the whole world and to protect their basic rights, they all are aware of the threat of international terrorism. Yes we have such an awareness, but our prime task is to monitor human rights violations on the part of the state.
And I would like to pick up the topic raised by Tatyana about the lack of consistency in the policy of our authorities. This is very eloquently illustrated by the freedom of conscience situation. On the one hand, as we all know, our Constitution grants total freedom of religion and equality of all religious organizations before the law. But we know that the largest religious organization in our country, the Russian Orthodox Church, enjoys de facto privileges and support on the part of the state. That support does not just amount to backing the initiatives of that religious organization because some minor initiatives of other religious organizations are also backed, but it takes the form of support of its interests by administrative methods.
As we all know, during 2002 there were five incidents when representatives of other denominations, for instance, representatives of the Roman Catholic Church, were refused entry visas by the Foreign Ministry without explaining the reason or providing a very vague explanation.
For a long time human rights activists have suspected and have linked these actions with the decision of the Catholic Church to turn their administrations into full-fledged dioceses which met with criticism on the part of the Russian Orthodox Church. And at the very end of the last year we saw evident proof of our suspicions. It came to our knowledge that Deputy Foreign Minister Mr. Fyodorov said at a seminar of the Russian Civil Service Academy that the actions had been taken in order to express support of the Russian Orthodox Church, in order to indicate to the Roman Catholic Church that its line in our country is unacceptable.
We do not challenge the right of the country's authorities, which is enshrined in our law and in international standards not to explain the reasons for banning certain foreign citizens from entering the country. But we regret to state that equality of religious organizations is not honored. It is important to understand that freedom of conscience is written in the Constitution and in the international law. It implies not only the right of an individual to believe as he sees fit. And that right is largely observed in our country. But it is also the right to worship and promote one's belief through the activities of one's religious organizations, be they Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and so on.
And in other spheres our authorities always are at pains to stress that ours is a secular state and the secular principle will not be violated. In connection with the exchange of passports, Muslim women in Tatarstan campaigned in order to be allowed to take their pictures for their passports in their national kerchiefs which they must wear according to Muslim tradition.
That turned out to be impossible because of the regulations of the Interior Ministry that described how a person should look in a photograph. It is important that the law court that heard this case put the regulations issued by the Interior Ministry above the principles enshrined in the Constitution which, as human rights activists have repeatedly pointed out, is a self-implementing legal act. It is in principle above any other laws or enabling legislation. Our President saw it fit to speak on this matter and to make it clear that religious requirements, religious prescriptions cannot provide grounds for a citizen's failure to perform his or her civilian obligations.
It would have been all right if this policy were applied to all the religious denominations equally. Then we might have complained about this policy being too tough, but at least it would have been in line with the constitutional principle of secular state. But when Orthodox believers went to a local court in the Leningrad region seeking to be relieved of the duty to be given an individual tax index the law court upheld their arguments. It ruled that they can be exempted from that civil duty because of their religious belief. So, this is evidence that there is no equality of believers.
Furthermore, the principle of the secular state is often interpreted in terms of political expediency. This was highlighted by the ban on the entry of the Dalai Lama to the territory of Russia. The visit to Russia by that religious figure surely cannot provoke any extremist activities or religious strife. His arrival was to be at the official level, he was to come at the invitation of the President of the Republic of Kalmykia. Nevertheless the visit was banned for obvious reasons.
The ban is rooted in the relations between Russia and the People's Republic of China and the policy pursued by China with regard to Tibet and the Chinese Buddhists. So, the interests of the Russian foreign policy -- I am not going to speak about the attitude of the international human rights community to the actions of the Chinese authorities -- are put above the interests of Russian citizens and their right to communicate with their religious leader. Even if one speaks using the terminology that has been recently used by Russian officials, this ban infringed upon the interests of the citizens belonging to one of the traditional religions of our country.
Just as the rights of religious minorities may be violated in the religious sphere, other legislation de facto infringes on the interests of ethnic minorities. And this brings us to the sore topic for our country, the topic of migrants. And Tatyana will tell you about it in more detail.
Lokshina: I will simply sketch it in general...
Alexeyeva: But be sure you tell them about this.
Lokshina: Literally in a few general words I will tell you about the subject area of migrants and about the particular aspect of this subject area that seemed the most critical to us in the year 2002. The fact is that the legislative activity of the Russian Duma, which we can assess quite negatively, was naturally not confined to the law On Extremism, which, incidentally, puts the religious organizations into a perfectly fantastic situation. Sergei has not yet mentioned this, because the same subject area related to the assertion of superiority or assertion of inferiority relates to public organizations and to religious entities.
Alexeyeva: It relates absolutely to all.
Lokshina: To all, totally. Any religious organization, I think with the exception of a number of Buddhist groups, in principle and within the framework of the prayer as a rule speaks about its own exclusiveness in relation to others and in this case any may be closed down. Well, the Russian Orthodox Church will not be closed down and as to the rest, nothing can be guaranteed to them.
In addition to the law On Extremism, in our view, an extremely negative impact on the situation can be exerted not simply by the law On Extremism but by the combination of the law On Citizenship and the law On the Status of Foreign Citizens. What are these laws? Again, in order not to quote legislative provisions and not to confuse myself and you with terms, we shall probably try to describe the situation as follows. The law On Citizenship presupposes that the Russian citizenship can be obtained through two procedures: one is a simplified procedure, a general procedure.
What does the simplified procedure mean? The simplified procedure relates exclusively to those people whose parents at this point in time are RF citizens. For them the situation is very simple: citizenship is given to them actually automatically.
What is the general procedure? The general procedure is also divided into two parts: one a little simpler and one a little more complicated. The one that is simpler is with reference to elderly people, precisely elderly people whose children are citizens of the Russian Federation. They get a residence permit and they live at the expense of their children and then probably within one year they acquire Russian citizenship. Everything looks quite simple in this case.
Then comes a more complicated, but also quite common, procedure and it relates to all the rest. And it related primarily to the labor migrants who are bound in this country. Actually, a man must get a residence permit and then for the duration of five years live in the Russian territory, each year confirming the legality of his income in the Russian territory. Then, five years later, the man can thus receive Russian citizenship.
Thus, theoretically, according to the authorities, this law must in principle facilitate migration and contribute to an influx of migrants into Russia from the Near Abroad, from CIS countries. Naturally, states are interested precisely in having an influx of migration into unfortunate regions, suffering from depression.
That is why the regional authorities within the framework of regulating labor migration -- and all this has a bearing on the notorious law on the status of foreign citizens who are very closely connected with the law On Citizenship -- are given the possibility to determine the so-called regional migration quotas. This is to say that if I am the governor of my region, my region will need as many migrants as I choose to mention.
Among others, the Moscow mayor Mr. Luzhkov decided, for instance, that Moscow according to experts now has about 2 million labor migrants. The number must not be more than 500,000. No more is necessary and that's it. What does that mean? On the one hand, it means a banal intensification of corruption because naturally migration will not be stopped by such decisions and migrants still number more than 500,000. On the other hand, however, the size of standard bribes paid by different construction firms employing only migrants, very much increases.
And what happens as a result? As a result, many small firms, which naturally are unable to pay so much money, get closed down in quite a banal fashion. Generally, in Moscow already quite a large number of construction projects have withered away in this fashion. But how we shall live further -- is not clear because, overall, the Muscovites are not known for their propensity to take a low-paid job, physically heavy, at construction projects. But future will show.
It is curious, incidentally, that all these laws on citizenship and the status of foreign citizens, presuppose deportation procedures.
Alexeyeva: They do not only presuppose, there have already been deportations.
Lokshina: Yes, it is perfectly true, deportations of illegal labor migrants. They are working very curiously in the light of our struggle with different forms of terrorism and extremism. For instance, immediately following Dubrovka, 150 Tajiks were deported from Moscow region. The Tajik workers -- labor migrants -- were taken away in a military aircraft. It is quite an expensive way of deporting but, on the other hand, probably all states have problems with deportation. It is hard to imagine how this could be done with optimum simplicity and not very expensively.
So, we have laws on citizenship and on the status of foreign citizens. What do they mean for people de facto? They mean the following: very many people live in Russia, they are former citizens of the Soviet Union, who stay here from 5 to 10 years and for some reasons they have not obtained formal citizenship. It was complicated, it was difficult.
Alexeyeva: And one could well do without.
Lokshina: And one could do without it. Indeed, any bureaucratic procedure is quite difficult, as we all understand it, and incidentally this is not only the case in our country. So, people did not do it for years.
Now from the moment of the entry of the law into force, all the years that they have lived in Russia may be regarded as being equal to zero and everything has to be started all over again. And what is required to start everything all over again?
Alexeyeva: Now the citizenship needs to be formally obtained because if you live without citizenship, you are subjected to deportation.
Alexeyeva: Today it is announced that you are subject to deportation from tomorrow because you live here illegally.
Lokshina: So, how do we formalize the official status? The labor migrant must pay a small amount of money to buy the so-called "stamp" which enables him to have a legal way of looking for a job in Russia and then, in order to extend his residence permit, he has to prove that he has legal income. We all know that, on the one hand, we have a registration system at the place of residence, and that means that a man who has no registration, actually has no opportunity of finding a job -- this is to say that at least he cannot get a legal source of income.
It is very doubtful a prospect for a labor migrant to find precisely legal work. On the other hand, organizations and firms that employ labor migrants must pay a tax on them, something that many firms cannot permit themselves to do and many simply do not wish to do this. Thus, the situation that originally looks quite simple and looks to be aimed even at attracting labor migrants, actually is not what it purports to be but rather it is the other way around.
Among other things, what is perfectly unacceptable in our view is that these legislative acts actually legitimize what is happening in Krasnodar Territory -- the absolutely unprecedented discrimination of Meskhetian Turks, Kurds and other national minorities. This reduces to naught all the struggle of human rights organizations to enable the Meskhetian Turks -- who are stateless individuals -- to finally get citizenship. It is because at the outset our arguments precisely said that they have the right to get Russian citizenship by virtue of the old law, because in 1991 they were already in the Russian territory. All this is reduced to naught.
And one must say that the Krasnodar Territory's policy in regard to national minorities is absolutely unacceptable, while the statement by governor Tkachev in principle can fall within the scope of the notorious Article 282 of the Criminal Code as well as under the effect of the law On Extremism. So, nobody would apply the law On Extremism to Mr. Tkachev, although he has repeatedly stated that Kuban is the land of the Cossacks and all the rest have nothing to do with Kuban and might as well go away from Kuban and "we the authorities -- I am now quoting -- will see who is friendly with whom and what is the ending of every surname."
Moderator: Any questions?
Q: What is the general assessment of the situation in recent years? What is the dynamic as compared with previous years?
Alexeyeva: The general assessment is as follows: alas, the situation has not improved and we cannot find such spheres of life in which the situation would be notably and stably improving. But in some aspects, for example in connection with the law on citizenship and the law on the status of foreign citizens on the territory of the Russian Federation and the law on extremism it has grown worse. I can say that in general the worsening of the human rights situation is due above all to our State Duma which has bestowed on us totally unconstitutional laws which do not just affect the interests, but simply run counter to the interests and legitimate rights of millions of people, if you take the law on citizenship.
The press freedom situation has also worsened. And then it was in 2002 that the law on alternative civil service which we had long campaigned for was passed. But the content of the law is such that it would have been better if it had not been passed at all because it practically cancels the constitutional right of Russian citizens, and this is also due to the Duma.
Q: Have all the negative factors been caused by some new law or other?
Alexeyeva: Well, not all. But the laws that affect a large number of citizens at once are the law on migration, the law on foreigners, on alternative civilian service and the law on extremism.
Q: I understand that the Duma is responsible for much of the deterioration of the situation. Did you have contacts with the parties in the Duma and did you propose your own version? And have any results emerged from this? That's my first question. And did you pursue the same kinds of activities among migrants? I understand that the law was debated for at least a year. They could have assumed citizenship over ten years, but they didn't.
And my third question. You have said that the laws are unconstitutional. And if you think they are unconstitutional, are you or any other specific individuals going to appeal to the Constitutional Court?
Alexeyeva: So, your first question is about our work in parliament. To begin with, I disagree with your claim that the law took almost a year to debate. And let me look back a little. You may remember that in November 2001 a civil forum was held which was addressed by the President who called on our bureaucracy to cooperate with the nongovernmental groups, including human rights groups. And they agreed that the laws pertaining to human rights will be discussed with the public.
The law on alternative civilian service was just such a law. Human rights activists and lawyers we recommended were invited to take part in the working group of the Ministry of Labor and Social Development. I am also a member of that taskforce. We were sitting and diligently drafting the law. We came up with an excellent variant. It was even shown to the President and he said he did not object to the law being introduced. And Pochinok from the government and Surkov from the President's administration all said with one voice that they were in favor.
Then suddenly, two days before the bill was up for Duma hearings Pochinok and Surkov made an about turn and said that the bill proposed by the Defense Ministry was acceptable. And the Duma holds two readings, first and second reading in quick succession so that we couldn't do anything. In other words, we were simply cheated. I was told yesterday, though these are only rumors, that on the eve of that about turn, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov visited the President threatening that if our law is adopted, the whole General Staff would resign.
` If you ask me, that would have been an occasion to rejoice, after all, we have a lot of generals and he would have appointed others. Nevertheless, the President agreed to their bill. As for the law on citizenship, it was drafted under the supervision of the deputy chief of the President's administration, Viktor Petrovich Ivanov and it was drafted in deep secrecy. We were unaware that such a draft was being prepared. None of us were allowed in on it. We only saw the draft when it was introduced at the Duma and that was contrary to the agreement made with us.
What action did we take over this? As soon as this bill was passed by the Duma -- also in great haste so as to prevent us mounting a campaign -- we called an emergency congress of Human Rights and migrants organizations which voiced its protest and not only that, it provided an extended analysis of the law proving that it was not only unconstitutional and cruel on millions of people, but it was against the national interests. Given our demographic situation, we must have an inflow of migrants. And the law dooms people to deportation, people who, without violating the law, have lived in Russia for many years, have become integrated in our life and are our citizens. So, they are here illegally under the new law and that would mean and outflow of people. Well, what else did we do on the issue?
Lokshina: There was a similar situation with the law on extremism because when Mr. Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma Legislative Committee was attacked by experts he was saying that this provision and that provision would not be included.
Alexeyeva: But eventually they all were included.
Lokshina: And eventually they were all included.
Alexeyeva: So, unfortunately, our Duma shows disdain for public opinion. Are we working with the Duma? Of course we are. Traditionally, we have getting along rather well with two parties, YABLOKO and the Union of Right Forces. We have constant contacts with both. They take our initiatives into account and they back them. When they come with initiatives they discuss them with us, with out experts. But I think it is the misfortune, not only ours, but of all Russian citizens, that these parties combined make up a minority in parliament.
Moderator: Are you going to appeal to the Constitutional Court?
Alexeyeva: Non-governmental organizations are not allowed to appeal to the Constitutional Court, unless our interests as an organization are infringed upon. But this is not the case. If for example, they pull us out to investigators and prosecutors under the law on extremism, if only because as chairperson of the Moscow Helsinki Group I twice signed letters with Memorial asking for Zakayev not to be extradited -- we wrote such letters first to Denmark and then Britain. Because Zakayev has been declared an extremist, I could be declared an accomplice of extremists and the Moscow Helsinki Group can be shut down under this law as an extremist organization.
This is a threat that keeps us from appealing to the Constitutional Court. If we are shut down, then we can go to the Constitutional Court. But I would rather we did not have such a need. Let the law be by itself and we will be on our own, as they say in Russia, the flies and the cutlets will be separate. And there is yet another question.
Moderator: And the second question which I do not remember. In think we have answered all of them.
Alexeyeva: And everybody understood.
Moderator: It seems to me that all questions have been answered.
Q: There have been some proposals submitted through the Yabloko --
Alexeyeva: We also do that through individual lawyers and we ask them to submit requests in the Duma when we need this. And so on.
Moderator: Questions, please.
Q: Moskovskaya Pravda. Three questions.
Moderator: You always ask many.
Q: It is three questions. Is there any numerical information about the actual number of people who died in the Nord-Ost? And don't tell us now that we all know everything. What kind of a terrorist act was it? What kind of a terrorist act would it had been if there were no explosives? And I also have in mind yesterday's events. So, what kind of a terrorist act was it? And also regarding the question that we are ashamed of our own country. Tatyana told us about this half a year ago.
Even half a year before September 11 deputies, including Ivanenko from Yabloko, noted a sharp growth in activities in regard to human rights around the world. Could one somehow compare the data about what is happening in this country with what is going on outside? The day before yesterday our champion in figure skating in Sweden was beaten up by the guards. And nothing happened, you see? It is as if all this is happening only in Russia.
Lokshina: Concerning the data that we have about Dubrovka, it is the same data that have by now been pronounced to be officially correct. They are reflected in our text, namely that 129 hostages died, five of them directly at the hands of terrorists, and no people are missing. All terrorists, 41 people, were killed during the storming. We with Sergei have looked through a lot of materials of the most diverse kind on this topic. It is more or less everything that was published in connection with the Nord-Ost. We do not find confirmation of other, alternative statistics. Moreover, in our opinion, several alternative lists of hostages and alternative lists of those who died appeared precisely because the state was very consistent in hiding any information whatever at the beginning...
Alexeyeva: Not only at the beginning. The very fact that the dead were put not in one morgue but in several, without announcing which body was in which morgue, indicated a desire to confuse people in terms of how many died. That is why I have no grounds whatever to question the figure of 129 but I don't believe it. I don't believe it and I think there have been more. Otherwise why would they try to deceive us.
Lokshina: People were sent to see morgues, people were sent to different hospitals but they were not told who was in those particular hospitals...
Alexeyeva: I think that this is not only the lack of organization so typical of us but it was a deliberate policy that aimed at minimizing the possible number of the dead. In addition, this causes one to think about when our FSB told the truth. I can give you many examples when they were lying. And I don't know of a single case in which they told the truth. That is why a priori I assume that they are lying. Although there are grounds for that.
Lokshina: Well, be that as it may, we indeed have no grounds to suspect that the alternative lists are correct and that the official information is not correct.
Alexeyeva: We cannot rely on those lists.
Lokshina: But the problem is precisely that the state has spun such a confused knot and it has hidden so many things that indeed one is bound to get the impression that they told you some lies and there was "untruth" somewhere otherwise why would they stage it like that.
Concerning your second question, it is doubtless that violence and violence on racial grounds and violence based on ethnicity is happening not only in Russia. Naturally, it occurs not only here. And as regards the upsurge of ethnic violence in the struggle with terrorism, then what is happening here can be compared to what is occurring in the United States of America and with what was happening in West European countries. This is doubtless so. The problem is that, firstly, in Western Europe and in the United States where there were also many such incidents, the law-enforcement authorities respond much more adequately: they identify the trespasses, bring them to account, on the one hand, and the judicial system is performing much more adequately in this respect and in addition top officials quickly and specifically make statements about such things being unacceptable...
Alexeyeva: They state that clearly.
Lokshina: They clearly state that such things are unacceptable and it is probably very interesting to say that after September 11 when a whole string of incidents occurred in the United States, spearheaded against Muslims, President Bush visited a mosque in order to demonstrate to his citizens that despite what had happened, the behavior of some was not nice. In this country, in the wake of Dubrovka, there were also a number of incidents involving ethnic violence, violence against Chechens and against Caucasians in general, of course, President Putin did not visit anything anywhere. Mayor Luzhkov uttered an extremely ambivalent phrase that we do not give privileges to any nationalities but on the other hand, we will not demonstrate offensive behavior toward Caucasians. A very doubtful statement.
Alexeyeva: I will interrupt you and say something in defense of the President. Indeed, I did not pay attention to this first, but he himself drew my attention to this. On December 10, the Human Rights Day, the President met with the human rights commission under the RF President, and recently I was included in the commission and during that meeting, I spoke about the need to stop forcible evictions from refugee camps in Ingushetia into Chechnya, the President said in connection with that Nord-Ost story that there should be no sign of equality put between Chechens and terrorists. The President said that he could imagine what response that would bring from the population. So he made a statement to this effect.
And a substantial step in this respect. In the situation that we have, I also believe that this is not sufficient and that it is necessary to more frequently and demonstratively state one's position in this respect.
Moderator: Any more questions?
Lukashevsky: Excuse me, I will also add something. It is important to make concrete statements. We always stress in our reports that our federal authorities constantly declare that nationalism and racism are unacceptable and will be prosecuted and suppressed. But almost never have our officials designated concrete problems and concrete events.
Alexeyeva: And I will tell you one more thing. The President conferred an order on that Sapunova who --
Lokshina: The Order of Courage.
Alexeyeva: Yes, the Order of Courage. This is to say that the President did something. You cannot say that he decided to keep aloof from it altogether. But I have a certain grievance with him in regard to 2002. I mentioned that claim many times after governor Tkachev made his perfectly inadmissible statement for a high official. Only the President has to publicly disavow that statement. But he has not yet done so. I think that this means abetting such ugly acts of nationalism and racism.
Moderator: Thank you. I think we will stop here.