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US Department of State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2004
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
February 28, 2005
[DJ: Full report: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2004/41704.htm]


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 country has a multi-party system, but the pro presidential United Russia party that controls more than two thirds of the State Duma puts majority support within reach for all presidential priorities. President Vladimir Putin was re-elected in March in an election process that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) determined did not meet international standards in a number of respects, 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 Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, but the executive branch appeared to drive judicial decisions in high profile or Kremlin directed cases. Although also impaired by corruption, the judiciary continued to show greater independence in non politicized cases, and the criminal justice system was slowly undergoing reforms.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Office of the Prosecutor are responsible for law enforcement at all levels of Government. The FSB's core responsibilities are security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, but it also has broader law enforcement functions, including fighting crime and corruption. The FSB continued to regard contact with foreigners and the presence of non Orthodox Christians as security issues. The FSB operated with only limited oversight by the Office of the Prosecutor General and the courts. The authorities increasingly dealt with terrorism and other security threats in parts of the country by employing MVD Internal Troops. The primary mission of the armed forces is national defense. The Government employed them in Chechnya, and they are frequently used for civil disturbances. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. Members of the security forces, particularly within the internal affairs apparatus, continued to commit numerous and serious human rights abuses.

The country had a population of approximately 144 million. The annual gross domestic product grew by 6.9 percent as of October, slightly less than in 2003. Industrial production grew by 4 percent, and real income increased by 5 percent; however, approximately 19 percent of the population continued to live below the official monthly subsistence level of $82 (2,296 rubles). As of October, official unemployment was 7.5 percent, down from 8.4 percent at the end of 2003. 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 human rights record was poor in certain areas and worsened in several others. Changes in the parliamentary election laws and a move from election to nomination by the President of regional governors further strengthened the power of the executive branch and, together with media restrictions, a compliant State Duma, shortcomings in recent national elections, law enforcement corruption, and political pressure on the judiciary, raised concerns about the erosion in accountability of government leaders to the people.

The Government's human rights record remained poor overall in the continuing struggle against rebels in Chechnya, where both sides demonstrated little respect for basic human rights. There were credible reports of serious violations, including numerous reports of unlawful killings and of abuse of civilians by both the Government and Chechen rebels in the Chechen conflict. The September massacre of school children and adults in Beslan, North Ossetia, exemplified the gross violation of human rights in the region by terrorist elements. There were reports of both government and rebel involvement in politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya and Ingushetiya. Individuals seeking accountability for these abuses continued to be targeted.

There were credible reports that law enforcement personnel engaged in torture, violence, and other brutal or humiliating treatment, often with impunity. Hazing in the armed forces remained a problem. Prison conditions improved but continued to be extremely harsh and frequently life threatening. Earlier changes in criminal procedures led to further reductions in arbitrary arrest and lengthy pretrial detention, and judges routinely enforced pre trial time limits. Government protection for judges from threats by organized criminal defendants remained inadequate, and a series of cases of alleged espionage caused concerns regarding the lack of due process and the influence of the FSB in judicial proceedings. Amnesty International (AI) has highlighted the case of Igor Sutyagin, whom it has declared to be a political prisoner. Authorities continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights.

Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and the independence and freedom of the media, particularly major national television networks and regional media outlets which were the primary source of information for most of the population. The print media remained vibrant and pluralistic, but its impact on public opinion was limited by low circulation numbers. Authorities, primarily at the local level, limited freedom of assembly and imposed restrictions on some religious groups. Societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities remained problems despite some government attempts to address these problems. Some local governments restricted citizens' freedom of movement, primarily by denying legal resident permits to new residents from other areas of the country.

Government institutions intended to protect human rights were relatively weak but remained active and public. The Government continued to place restrictions on the activities of both humanitarian non governmental organizations (NGOs) and international organizations in Chechnya, at least in part for security reasons. The authorities regarded some NGOs with increasing suspicion, and the security services and other authorities harassed or threatened to close some local human rights NGOs. Ethnic minorities, including Roma and persons from the Caucasus, Central Asia, Asia, and Africa faced widespread governmental and societal discrimination, and, increasingly, racially motivated attacks. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and girls, remained a serious problem despite progress in combating it. There were some reports of forced labor and child labor.