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#20 - JRL 7129
full text:
[brief excerpt]
US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2002
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 31, 2003

The 1993 Constitution established a governmental structure with a strong head of state (President), 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 Duma has a strong propresidential center that puts majority support within reach for almost all presidential priorities. Both the President and the Duma were selected in competitive elections, with a broad range of individual candidates, political parties, and movements contesting offices. President Vladimir Putin was elected in March 2000, and Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov took office in May 2000. Both the presidential elections and the December 1999 Duma elections were judged by international observers to be generally free and fair, although in both cases pre-election manipulation of the media was a problem. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Although seriously impaired by a shortage of resources and by corruption and still subject to undue influence from other branches of Government, the judiciary showed increasing independence and was undergoing reforms.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Procuracy, and the Federal Tax Police were responsible for law enforcement at all levels of Government. The FSB has broad law enforcement functions, including fighting crime and corruption, in addition to its core responsibilities of security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism. The FSB operated with only limited oversight by the Procuracy and the courts. The primary mission of the armed forces was national defense, although they have been employed in local internal conflicts, and they were available to control civil disturbances. Internal security threats in parts of the Russian Federation increasingly have been dealt with by militarized elements of the security services. Members of the security forces, particularly within the internal affairs apparatus, continued to commit numerous and serious human rights abuses.

The country has a total population of approximately 143 million. The economy continued to grow, although at lower rates than in 2001. Annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth was 4.5 percent, compared with 5 percent in 2001. GDP was $252 billion for the first 9 months of the year. Industrial production grew by 3.7 percent; real income increased by 8.8 percent. Approximately 27 percent of the population, however, continued to live below the official monthly subsistence level of $60. Official unemployment was 7.1 percent, down from 9 percent at the end of 2001. Corruption continued to be a negative factor in the development of the economy and commercial relations.

Although the Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in some areas, its record was poor in other areas. Significant reforms occurred in law enforcement and judicial procedures; however, a variety of direct and indirect government actions further weakened the autonomy of the electronic media, the primary source of information for most individuals, and the Government's record remained poor in Chechnya, where federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights. There were credible reports of serious violations, including numerous reports of extrajudicial killings, by both the Government and Chechen separatists in the Chechen conflict. Hazing in the armed forces resulted in a number of deaths. There were reports of government involvement in politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya. There were credible reports that law enforcement personnel continued to torture, beat, and otherwise abuse detainees and suspects. Arbitrary arrest and detention, while significantly reduced by a new Code of Criminal Procedure, remained problems, as did police corruption. The Government prosecuted some perpetrators of abuses, but many officials were not held accountable for their actions.

Lengthy pretrial detention was a serious problem; however, the introduction of the new Code of Criminal Procedure led to significant reductions in time spent in detention for new detainees. Prison conditions continued to be extremely harsh and frequently life threatening. Laws on military courts, military service, and the rights of service members often contradicted the Constitution, federal laws, and presidential decrees, raising arbitrary judgments of unit commanders over the rule of law. The Government made substantial progress during the year with implementation of constitutional provisions for due process and fair and timely trial; however, the judiciary continued to lack resources, suffered from corruption, and remained subject to influence from other branches of the Government, and judges were inadequately protected by the Government from threats by organized criminal defendants. A series of alleged espionage cases continued during the year and raised concerns regarding the lack of due process and the influence of FSB in court cases. Authorities continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights.

Despite the continued wide diversity of views expressed in the press, government pressure continued to weaken the independence and freedom of some media, particularly major national television networks and regional media outlets. The Government at times restricted freedom of assembly at the local level. The Government did not always respect the constitutional provision for equality of religions, and in some instances the authorities imposed restrictions on some religious groups. Societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities remained problems. Despite constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of movement, local governments restricted this right, in particular by denying local residency permits to new settlers from other areas of the country. Government institutions intended to protect human rights were relatively weak, but remained active and public. The Government placed restrictions on the activities of both nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations in Chechnya.

Violence against women and children remained problems, as did discrimination against women. Persons with disabilities continued to face problems from both societal attitudes and lack of governmental support. Ethnic minorities, including Roma and persons from the Caucasus and Central Asia, faced widespread governmental and societal discrimination, and at times violence. There were increasing limits on worker rights, and there were reports of instances of forced labor and child labor. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and young girls, was a serious problem. Russia was invited by the Community of Democracies' (CD) Convening Group to attend the November 2002 second CD Ministerial Meeting in Seoul, Republic of Korea, as a participant.

A new Criminal Procedures Code that took effect beginning in July for the first time permitted the application of existing Constitutional provisions that individuals could be arrested, taken into custody, or detained, only upon a judicial decision. After the introduction of the new Code the number of criminal cases opened by the Procuracy declined by 25 percent; the number of suspects placed in pretrial detention declined by 30 percent; and the courts rejected 15 percent of requests for arrest warrants. Judges released some suspects held in excess of allotted time when the Government failed properly to justify its request for extension, and the Supreme Court overturned some lower court decisions to grant pretrial detention considered inadequately justified. Early indications were that the changes were having an effect on the behavior of police, prosecutors, and the judicial system. Human rights advocates reported that the strict new limits on time held in police custody without access to family or lawyers, and the stricter standards for opening cases, have discouraged abuse of suspects by police as well.

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