U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Russia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Russia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa803.html [accessed 24 July 2014]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
RUSSIAPolitically, economically, and socially, Russia continues to be a state in transition. While constitutional structures are well-defined and democratic in conception, democratization continues to be slow. The 1993 Constitution establishes a tripartite government with checks and balances. The executive branch consists of an elected president and a government headed by a prime minister. There is a bicameral legislature (Federal Assembly), consisting of the State Duma and the Federation Council, and a judicial branch. Both the President and the legislature were selected in competitive elections judged to be largely free and fair, with a broad range of political parties and movements contesting offices. The judiciary, still the weakest of the three branches, showed signs of limited independence. President Boris Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov signed a peace agreement on May 12 in which both sides agreed to settle their dispute by peaceful means. In an earlier agreement, the two sides agreed to resolve Chechnya's political status prior to 2001, but fundamental differences remain on that question with Chechnya asserting that it has earned the right to full independence and Russia insisting that Chechnya will remain a part of the Federation. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Procuracy, and the Federal Tax Police are responsible for law enforcement at all levels of government throughout the Russian Federation. The MVD oversees most of the prison system, though most functions have been ordered transferred to the Ministry of Justice. 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 operates with only limited oversight by the Procuracy and the courts. The military's primary mission is national defense, but it is occasionally employed for riot-control missions. Many members of the security forces, particularly within the internal affairs apparatus, continued to commit human rights abuses. The economy stabilized during 1997, although estimated real gross national product remained almost 28 percent below 1992 levels. Inflation has dropped from 198 percent in 1995 to 11 percent in 1997. The per capita income was $152 per month. The ruble exchange rate stabilized and net outflow of capital ceased in 1997. Production increased slightly, but the level of capital investment remained low. The trade balance remains positive. Around 900,000 small businesses are registered. Crime and corruption significantly retard economic growth. According to official estimates, the informal and shadow economy accounts for 26 percent of gross domestic product. Unemployment reached a high of 9.6 percent in April. Moreover, an estimated 6.4 million people, of a work force of 72 million were considered underemployed. Wage and pension arrears continued to be a problem, with accumulated wage arrears reaching $9.5 billion by October. Wages and incomes showed a slight real increase by midyear. Approximately 21 percent of the population had incomes below the poverty level, up from 19 percent in 1996. The arrears in payment of public-sector wages and transfer payments were a symptom of a fiscal crisis that has plagued the Government for the past several years. Fulfilling a pledge to the public, the Yeltsin administration paid off all of its arrears as of December 31. The Government has been unable to formulate and implement an effective tax policy, resulting in widespread nonpayment and evasion of taxes. Federal tax revenues totaled approximately 9 percent of GDP. The consequent strain on the state budget has caused prolonged delays in payment of public servants and forced the Government to defer needed reforms and investments in areas regarded as low priorities by top officials. Delays in expanding and modernizing the prison system, introducing jury trials to more regions, training the judiciary and investing in the infrastructure of the court system and ensuring military reform contributed to human rights violations. The Government's human rights record was uneven in 1997. There were credible reports that law enforcement and correctional officials tortured and severely beat detainees and inmates. Prison conditions worsened and are extremely harsh. According to human rights groups, between 10,000 and 20,000 detainees and prison inmates may die in penitentiary facilities annually, some from beatings, but most as a result of overcrowding, inferior sanitary conditions, disease, and lack of medical care. The Government has made little progress in combating abuses committed by soldiers, including "dedovshchina" (violent hazing of new recruits). Military justice systems consistent with democratic practices remain largely underdeveloped. There were credible reports of deaths or suicides as a result of abuse, with sharply divergent statistics offered by the Ministry of Defense and human rights groups. Arbitrary arrest and detention remained problems. Police and other security forces in various parts of Russia continued their practice of targeting citizens from the Caucasus and darker-skinned persons in general for arbitrary searches and detention on the pretext of fighting crime and enforcing residential registration requirements. However, in a positive development, the President overturned two prior decrees (one presidential, the other from the mayor of Moscow) permitting officials to detain certain individuals for up to 30 days without access to a lawyer and in some cases to expel them from Moscow. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. The Government made little progress in the implementation of constitutional provisions for due process, fair and timely trial, and humane punishment. In addition, the judiciary was often subject to manipulation by political authorities and was plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Authorities infringed on citizens' privacy rights. The case of Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired naval captain who had been researching the environmental dangers of nuclear waste from the Northern Fleet, continued to be fraught with serious violations of due process, suggesting that the FSB's case against him was politically motivated. Institutions such as the Ministry of Internal Affairs remain largely unreformed and have not yet adopted practices consistent with law enforcement in a democratic society. While the President and the Government have supported human rights and democratic practice in their statements and policy initiatives, they have not institutionalized the the rule of law required to protect them. While most abuses occur at lower levels and not by central direction, Government officials do not investigate the majority of cases of abuse and do not dismiss or discipline the perpetrators. In the face of a variety of obstacles, the media continued to represent a wide range of opinion. The major print media organizations functioned relatively unhindered by governmental pressure at the national level, although respect for freedom of the press varies in the regions. The principal obstacle to independent journalism was the concentration of ownership of news media by major banks and businesses, which sought to ensure that reporting was in line with their interests. Such pressure caused journalists to practice self-censorship. The practice of accepting money for printing articles remains widespread. Foreign and Russian journalists were frequent victims of kidnapings for ransom by criminals in Chechnya and throughout the north Caucasus. In October the Government enacted a restrictive and potentially discriminatory law on religion which raised questions about Russia's commitment to international agreements honoring freedom of religion. The implications of the law, which will not be fully implemented until the end of 1999, remain unclear though it contains provisions that could result in significant restrictions on the activities of minority religious communities, including foreign missionaries. By year's end, there had been numerous instances of harassment of religious groups by local authorities, citing the new law. In addition, 22 regional governments have passed laws and decrees since 1994 restricting the activities of minority religious groups, some of which have been subjected to harassment as a result. The constitutionality of the new national law has not been formally challenged, nor has the Federal Government challenged the constitutionality of the local laws. Despite constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of movement, regional governments (especially the city of Moscow) have imposed restrictions on movement through residence registration mechanisms. These restrictions, though successfully challenged in court, remain largely in force and are tolerated by the Federal Government. The presence of these restrictions demonstrated the continued obstacles to the enforcement of judicial rulings. Although the Duma passed a law providing for a human rights ombudsman, it failed to select a candidate within the period allowed under the law. The post remained vacant at year's end. The Human Rights Commission examined human rights issues such as prison conditions, war crimes in Chechnya, and a draft law on religion. Similarly, the human rights chamber of the President's Political Consultative Council held a number of sessions and offered opinions on human rights issues. Governmental human rights commissions have been formed in 66 regions. With few exceptions, human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) documented and reported on human rights violations without governmental interference or sanctions. However, some local officials harassed human rights monitors and in some cases arrested them. The Prosecutor General's response to these incidents was criticized. Some groups in Moscow have demonstrated their expertise on particular issues and regularly participate in Duma legislative working groups, as well as in the human rights chamber of the President's Political Consultative Council. Violence against women and abuse of children remain problems, as do discrimination against women and religious and ethnic minorities. In the breakaway Republic of Chechnya, kidnapings orchestrated by uncontrolled armed formations and bandits, some of which may have links to the former insurgent forces, have become frequent. The usual motivation for kidnapings is ransom, but some cases have political overtones. Both journalists and humanitarian assistance workers have been targets. Despite the strong opposition of federal authorities, Chechen authorities used Shari'a courts in some cases and carried out death sentences without respect for due process. The Shari'a law is still not codified.