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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Russia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1997
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1996 - Russia, 30 January 1997, available at: [accessed 19 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1997


Russia continued its profound political, economic, and social transformation. Democratic institutions and practices are evolving but are not fully developed. The Constitution approved by voters in 1993 provides for a democratic government comprised of three branches with checks and balances. The executive branch consists of an elected president as its leader 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. For the first time in Russia's history as an independent state, its head of state was chosen in a competitive election. It was judged largely free and fair. The judiciary showed signs of limited independence.

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 also oversees most of the prison system. In addition to its core responsibilities of security, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism, the FSB has broad law enforcement functions, including fighting crime and corruption. The FSB operates with only limited oversight by the procuracy and the courts. The military participated in the conflict in Chechnya and is occasionally used for riot control. Some members of the security forces continued to commit human rights abuses.

For the past 5 years, Russia has been in the process of transition from a centrally planned to a market economy. Real gross domestic product had fallen 34 percent from the 1991 level by the end of 1995. The transformation has affected nearly every sector of the economy as labor resources shift from the former Soviet Union's emphasis on industrial output to a greater balance among production, trade, and services. Industrial output has shrunk from being over 75 percent of the country's economic activity in the 1980's to less than 40 percent in 1996. The energy and raw material sectors account for most of industrial output and constitute the majority of exports. Organized crime is active in many sectors of the economy. Per capita income is $3,400. A sharp reduction in inflation and stabilization of the exchange rate led incomes to grow significantly for the first time since the beginning of the transition. Income disparities have increased dramatically since the downfall of communism, and about 23 percent of the population live below the poverty line. By midyear official unemployment was 9 percent. Wage arrears were the cause of many strikes, including hunger strikes, and other forms of civil disturbance.

The Government's human rights record showed little progress in 1996. Domestic and foreign human rights groups continued to document serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights in the Republic of Chechnya by both Russian military and Chechen separatist forces. Violations committed by Russian forces continued to occur on a much larger scale than those of the Chechen separatists. Russian forces engaged in the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force, resulting in numerous civilian deaths. They also prevented civilians from evacuating from areas of imminent danger and humanitarian organizations from assisting civilians in need. These actions were in conflict with a number of Russia's international obligations, including those concerning the protection of civilian noncombatants. Security forces were also responsible for disappearances in Chechnya. Chechen forces executed some members of the federal forces and repeatedly seized civilian hostages. Both parties to the conflict at times used torture, mistreated prisoners of war, and executed some of them. Tens of thousands of civilians were killed and over 500,000 persons displaced since the conflict began in December 1994.

In August the two sides initiated a cease-fire and for the remainder of the year made steady progress toward a political settlement. Russian troops completed their withdrawal from Chechnya, leaving the separatist forces in effective control of the Chechen Republic. The two sides agreed to hold elections in early 1997 and to resolve Chechnya's status within 5 years.

Although the Government has made progress in recognizing the legitimacy of internationally recognized human rights, the institutionalization of procedures to safeguard these rights has lagged. Implementation of the constitutional provisions for due process, fair and timely trial, and humane punishment made little progress. In addition the judiciary was often subject to manipulation by political authorities and was plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem.

In one high visibility case that was fraught with numerous violations of due process, Aleksandr Nikitin – a former navy captain who was researching the environmental dangers of nuclear waste from the Northern Fleet – was detained by the FSB for 6 months without charge on suspicion of espionage and revealing state secrets, crimes possibly punishable by death. He was subsequently charged formally and later released pending trial.

There were 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 died in penitentiary facilities, some from beatings, but most as a result of overcrowding, inferior sanitary conditions, disease, and lack of medical care.

In the military, the practice of "dedovshchina" (the violent hazing of new conscripts) continued. The Government and human rights groups offered sharply divergent estimates of the number of soldiers who died as a result of abuse or suicide.

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 for arbitrary searches and detention on the pretext of maintaining public safety.

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 the Government, although there was evidence that the broadcast media did not give equal time to candidates in the presidential election campaign. The media reported freely on the Chechen conflict despite government pressure and heavy-handed treatment of journalists by Russian troops in the war zone. Several journalists were killed during the war, some deliberately, others accidentally; other journalists were kidnaped. In addition journalists elsewhere in Russia covering controversial issues were subjected to pressure and physical violence, including death.

The effort to institutionalize official human rights bodies stalled. In January Sergei Kovalev resigned as chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Commission to protest President Yeltsin's human rights record. Parliament failed to pass a law establishing a human rights ombudsman, a position that is provided for in Russia's Constitution and is required of members of the Council of Europe, to which Russia was admitted in February. With a few important exceptions, however, nongovernmental organizations (NGO's) documented and reported on human rights abuses.

The Government continues to restrict freedom of movement. Violence against women and abuse of children remain problems, as do discrimination against women, and both religious and ethnic minorities.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no confirmed political killings by agents of the Government. However, several journalists – including some covering the war in Chechnya – and government officials were murdered under suspicious circumstances. Some of these crimes have been attributed to organized crime or business disputes. In addition, 10,000 to 20,000 detainees and prison inmates died after beatings by security officials or due to harsh conditions (see Section 1.c.).

During the war in Chechnya, the Russian military continued its practice of using excessive force and targeting civilian populations, resulting in numerous casualties (see Section 1.g.).

Ten journalists have been killed by unknown assailants for their coverage of the war in Chechnya since December 1994 – 4 of them in 1996 – according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The body of Nadezhda Chaykova, a newspaper correspondent who had been missing for several months, was found in the Chechen village of Geikhi on April 11. Chaykova had been severely beaten, blindfolded, and shot in the back of the head. Chaykova was the author of articles on human rights violations in the Russian "filtration camps" in Chechnya. The body of Nina Yefimova, a correspondent for the newspaper Vozrozhdeniye, was found in Groznyy on May 9. She had been kidnaped and then shot repeatedly in the back of the head. According to news reports, Yefimova had received threats in connection with her articles.

Elsewhere in Russia, some journalists investigating crime and official corruption were also killed. Oleg Slabynko was killed in January, soon after producing a television program on government corruption. Photographer Feliks Solovev, who freelanced for the German newspaper Bild, was killed in Moscow on February 26. Viktor Mikhaylov, a journalist for Zabaykalskiy Rabochiy, was killed on May 12 in Chita while working on a series of articles on crime and the work of Russian law enforcement. At year's end, no one had been charged with these murders.

Several government officials were the targets of violent attacks, although the assailants' motives in many instances remained unclear. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's personal physician, Dmitriy Nechayev, was shot and killed on April 26, perhaps for political reasons. Deputy Justice Minister Anatoliy Stepanov was killed by a blow to the head on May 23, reportedly after a dispute with an old friend. Viktor Mosalov, the Mayor of Zhukovskiy, a town outside of Moscow, was shot and killed on June 13. Galina Borodina, acting head of the Moscow Oblast Justice Administration, was shot and killed in her apartment building in Podolsk on June 25. Gamid Gamidov, Minister of Finance in the Republic of Dagestan, was killed on September 23 by a car bomb that exploded next to the Dagestani Ministry of Finance building.

There were several high-profile murders involving members of Russia's financial elite and other prominent figures. It is unclear whether any of these killings were politically motivated, and most appear to be linked to organized crime or business disputes. According to MVD figures cited in press reports in May and June, 560 of the 32,000 murders in 1995 were contract killings (twice as many as in 1994). The MVD reports that only 22 per cent of such cases are ever solved.

In November prominent American businessman Paul Tatum was murdered in Moscow. Although the authorities pledged to investigate the case vigorously, no suspects have been identified.

The administration of capital punishment continued to raise procedural and humanitarian concerns because of the secrecy with which such cases are treated.

In June a Moscow oblast court acquitted a suspect in the case of the murder of Aleksandr Men, a Russian Orthodox priest murdered in September 1990, ruling that the defendant was under duress and had given a false confession. Men's family had publicly stated that they believed that the evidence against the suspect was fabricated.

The high-profile murder case of Vladislav Listyev, a journalist and television executive killed in 1995, remained unsolved, as did the murder of Dmitriy Kholodov, a Moskovskiy Komsomolets journalist killed in 1994.

In December six ICRC workers were murdered and a seventh wounded in an ICRC compound, which was located in a region under the effective jurisdiction of the Chechen separatists. By year's end, no suspects had been identified, although there were widespread suspicions that the crime was committed by persons who sought to derail the peace process.

Three terrorist bombings, apparently politically motivated, occurred in Moscow during the summer. A bomb exploded in a Moscow subway on June 11, killing four people. A second bomb exploded on a Moscow bus on July 11; a third bomb exploded in Moscow on July 12. No one has been charged in these attacks.

b. Disappearance

Both federal and Chechen separatist forces used hostage taking, including of civilians, as a tactic in the Chechen conflict (see Section 1.g.).

American relief expert Fred Cuny, who disappeared in Chechnya in April 1995, is believed to have been killed. His body still had not been located by year's end. No trace has been found of American photojournalist Andrew Shumack, who disappeared in July 1995 after reportedly entering Chechnya.

Police logged a number of reports about the disappearances of Russian citizens, particularly young men, elderly people, and children. Most were attributed to criminal foul play rather than to any political motivations. According to press reports, some of the young men reported as missing had been rounded up and conscripted for military service when they could not prove that they had performed their national service.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. However, prisoners' rights groups have documented numerous cases in which law enforcement and correctional officials tortured and beat detainees and prisoners. Russian forces and Chechen separatists used torture during the Chechen conflict (see Section 1.g.).

Law enforcement officials have admitted unofficially to the Moscow Center for Prison Reform (MCPR) that they use torture to coerce confessions from suspects, often by cutting off oxygen with a plastic bag or a gas mask. (The latter method is referred to as the "elephant" torture in which oxygen is slowly cut off until a suspect agrees to confess.) Guard brutality is rampant and notorious. In addition to raping and severely beating inmates, guards have been known to pour chlorine on cell block floors and cut off ventilation.

In a February report, the Presidential Human Rights Commission noted that existing legal norms and administrative instructions failed to provide specific, clear regulation of the application of physical force and that this allowed "the use of impermissible physical coercion directed against prisoners virtually without restraint."

The practice of "dedovshchina," the violent hazing of new recruits in the military, MVD, and border guards continued unabated. Dedovshchina includes various forms of physical and mental abuse, including the use of recruits as personal servants of more senior soldiers. Soldiers often do not report hazing to officers for fear of reprisals. In 1995 the Ministry of Defense (MOD) reported that 392 military personnel died from various noncombat related causes, one-third from suicide. The Mothers' Rights Foundation and the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee believe that many of those who committed suicide were driven to do so by violent hazing or in fact died from abuse. Although the Mothers' Rights Foundation has not compiled complete figures for 1996, the group estimated that thousands of soldiers died in 1996 as a result of criminal acts by fellow soldiers or officers, by committing suicide, or by not receiving sufficient medical attention. The Foundation stated that few of these cases were referred to the courts.

Senior MOD and MVD officials acknowledged that hazing is a problem but allege that it is difficult to eradicate given the quality of recruits, who are often youths raised on the streets who have spent time in prison. According to press reports, 5.2 percent of recruits have a criminal record. Military leaders claim to make every effort to punish both soldiers and officers who take part in or allow hazing. But there are credible reports that many officers continue to permit – and even encourage – dedovshchina, and that some officers hit recruits because they are "inattentive to their duties." In a number of units, hazing is at such high levels that officers have been ordered to sleep in the barracks until the situation improves. In August Itar-Tass reported that a preliminary investigation into the suicides of two sailors on a ship in the Arctic Sea attributed one of the deaths to brutal hazing from fellow sailors. Also in August, 30 MVD soldiers from Perm Oblast deserted, complaining of "unbearable," vicious hazing. They returned after a few days once a senior commander guaranteed their safety. Six soldiers suspected of hazing the recruits were sent to military prison and criminal cases were opened against them.

Despite the magnitude of the problem, the national military leadership apparently made no moves to implement training and education programs to combat dedovshchina systematically, nor was there any apparent progress in establishing a military police force.

The systematic abuse of psychiatry as a form of punishment has declined dramatically from Soviet-era practice, although human rights groups charge that psychiatric hospitals continue to conceal their archives and their practices. There were no reports of sane persons committed to psychiatric institutions.

Conditions in almost all pretrial detention centers and many penitentiary facilities worsened during the year and are extremely harsh and even life threatening. Yuriy Kalinin, head of the MVD's Main Directorate of Internal Affairs, stated in 1995 that "the conditions in our pretrial detention centers can be classified as torture under international standards. That is, the deprivation of sleep, air, and space."

According to the law "On the Detention of Those Suspected or Accused of Committing Crimes," which came into effect in July 1995, inmates must be provided with adequate space, food, and medical attention. Although most of its provisions were due to come in effect by the end of 1996, the authorities were not able to ensure compliance, primarily due to lack of funds and of a bail system. The law mandates provision of 2.5 square meters of space per detainee. However, detainees in SIZO's (investigative isolation wards) averaged only 1.6 square meters – only 0.9 square meters in urban areas. Under such conditions, prisoners sleep in shifts, and there is little, if any, room to move within the cell. At Kresty, St. Petersburg's largest SIZO, 5 to 15 prisoners are held in cells that were built 100 years ago to hold 1 prisoner. In most pretrial detention centers and prisons, there is no ventilation system. Cells are stiflingly hot in summer and dangerously cold in winter. Matches won't light in many SIZO cells during the summer because of a lack of oxygen.

Health, nutrition, and sanitation standards in penitentiary facilities declined due to a lack of funding. It is estimated that the MVD was able to provide only 15 to 20 percent of needed medications and medical care. Tuberculosis is perhaps the most serious health problem. The MCPR has asserted that rates of tuberculosis are 40 times higher in prison than in the free population, and death rates of those infected with tuberculosis in prison are 17 times higher than for those outside. Every month 2,000 former prisoners with active tuberculosis are released. Head lice, scabies, and various skin diseases are prevalent. It is estimated that MVD penitentiary facilities were able to provide only 60 to 70 percent of the daily food rations they envisioned providing. Prisoners and detainees typically rely on families to provide them with extra food.

Statistics are very closely held on the number of detainees and prisoners who were killed or died and on the number of law enforcement and prison personnel sanctioned for use of excessive force. According to Russian human rights groups, between 10,000 and 20,000 detainees and prison inmates died in penitentiary facilities throughout Russia, some due to beatings, but most as a result of overcrowding, inferior sanitary conditions, or lack of medical care. During 1996 the MCPR reported that according to official MVD statistics over 3,000 detainees died in IVS's (temporary holding isolators) and SIZO's and over 9,000 convicts died in prisons and penal colonies. The MCPR, however, reports that many detainees are transferred to hospitals just before dying so as to deflate the official mortality rate. Although hundreds of MVD officials have reportedly been dismissed for "unacceptable behavior" (usually corruption), there are no reports of any cases of law enforcement or correctional officers being punished for abusing detainees or convicts.

The penitentiary system is centrally administered from Moscow. The MVD, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Education all maintain penitentiary facilities. The MVD oversees about 85 percent of the prison population, which the MCPR estimated to be about 1,150,000 at the beginning of 1996. There are five basic forms of detention in the MVD correctional system.

IVS's are detention centers in police stations where suspects are held upon arrest. Approximately 70,000 individuals spent time in IVS's in 1995. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, suspects can be detained in an IVS for up to 3 days; in practice, however, a presidential decree permits this period to be extended for up to 30 days. Conditions in IVS's vary considerably, but are as a rule harsh. In most cases, detainees are not fed and have no bedding, sleeping place, running water, or toilet.

SIZO's are prison-like detention centers where those awaiting completion of criminal investigation, trial, sentencing, or appeal are confined. At the end of 1996, there were about 170 SIZO's holding some 300,000 suspects. Convicts are on occasion imprisoned in SIZO's because there is no money to pay for them to be transported elsewhere. Conditions in SIZO's are extremely harsh. A suspect can be detained in a SIZO for 18 months or longer while the criminal investigation is conducted. In 1995 the average length of detention was 10 months (see Section 1.d.). Men and women are separated, but juveniles are routinely detained with adults charged with serious crimes because guards have found less abuse occurs than when juveniles are segregated from adults. Family access is not usually permitted.

ITK's (correctional labor colonies) are penal institutions, divided into minimum and maximum security, which handle the bulk of the convicts, a total of 722,000 in 743 facilities at the beginning of 1996. Conditions in ITK's are, as a rule, much better than those in SIZO's and prisons, with the exception of the 158 timber correctional colonies where hardened criminals serve and where beatings, torture, and rape are common. A number of colonies have their own factories where prisoners work.

"Prisons" are penitentiary institutions for those who repeatedly violate the relatively lax rules in effect in ITK's. At the beginning of 1996, there were 13 prisons with about 4,750 inmates. Conditions in many prisons are extremely harsh. Although they are not as crowded as SIZO's, guards severely discipline prisoners to break down resistance. Prisoners are humiliated, beaten, and starved.

VTK's (educational labor colonies for juveniles) are prisons for juveniles 14 to 20 years of age. At the beginning of 1996, there were 61 VTK's holding 20,900 juvenile offenders. Conditions in VTK's are significantly better than in ITK's, but juveniles in VTK'S and juvenile SIZO cells suffer greatly from beatings, torture, and rape.

In January President Yeltsin approved the MVD's project to reorganize criminal procedures and the penal system in order to bring Russia's penal system in line with international standards. The President's Commission for Prison Reform monitors prison conditions and has prepared recommendations and legislation for reform. None of these efforts have made demonstrable progress.

Inadequate supervision by guards and brutal conditions have resulted in gruesome crimes, including murder and cannibalism, by inmates. According to MVD statistics, in 1995 there were 102 murders and 230 incidents of serious bodily harm in MVD penitentiaries. Violence among inmates, including beatings and rape, are common, as are elaborate inmate-enforced caste systems in which informers, homosexuals, rape victims, child molesters, and others are determined to be "untouchable" and treated very harshly.

Moscow human rights groups make frequent visits to the prisons in the Moscow area, but they have neither the resources nor a national network to investigate conditions in all 89 regions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides that the arrest, taking into custody, and detention of persons suspected of crimes are permitted only by judicial decision. However, the Constitution's transitional provisions specify that these provisions will not go into effect until a new criminal procedure code is adopted, which is not expected until late 1997 at the earliest. The new Criminal Code that was passed in 1995 was scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of 1997.

In the absence of measures to implement the procedural safeguards contained in the Constitution, suspects were often subjected to uneven and arbitrary treatment by officials acting under the present Criminal Procedure Code and "temporary" presidential decrees. The current code gives procurators authority to issue an order of detention without a judge's authorization and, if police believe that the suspect has committed a crime or is a danger to others, he can be detained for up to 48 hours without a warrant. The Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Code provide that detainees are entitled to have a lawyer present from the time of detention, during questioning following detention, and throughout investigation up to and including formal charging. However, the President's 1994 decree on combating organized crime allows law enforcement authorities to detain persons suspected of ties to organized crime for up to 30 days without explanation of the reasons for detention and without access to a lawyer. Authorities employed this decree extensively during the year. President Yeltsin's July 10 decree on combating crime in Moscow goes even further, allowing officials to hold unregistered residents suspected of crimes for up to 30 days and in certain cases to expel them from Moscow. In addition suspects frequently fear exercising their rights to request judicial review of their detention and access to a lawyer out of fear of angering the investigating officer.

Valeriy Shchelukhin, who is currently being held in a pretrial detention center, contested the constitutionality of several provisions in the decree and on May 27 the Constitutional Court began reviewing the legality of the 1994 decree's provision that suspects can be held for 30 days without being charged.

The Criminal Procedure Code specifies that only 2 months should elapse between the date an investigation is initiated and the date the file is transferred to the procurator so that he can file formal charges against the suspect in court. However, investigations are seldom completed that quickly. Detainees are sometimes held longer than the maximum investigation period. Some suspects spend 18 months or longer in detention under harsh conditions (see Section 1.c.). The code provides that the regional procurator may extend the period of criminal investigation to 6 months in "complex" cases. If more time is required in "exceptional" cases, the Procurator General can personally extend the period up to 18 months. Extensions of the investigation period are often issued without explanation to the detainee. Until the investigation is completed, the suspect is under the jurisdiction of the procurator's office and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. There is no procedure for a suspect to plead guilty during the investigative period, although if a suspect informs the investigator that he is guilty, the period of the investigation is usually shorter than if he maintains his innocence.

The use of bail is extremely rare in Russia, even if suspects are not flight risks or have not been charged with violent crimes. This aggravates crowding in pretrial detention and, due to delays in bringing cases to trial, results in many suspects remaining in pretrial detention for longer than the maximum penalty they might face if convicted.

Delays also plague the trial stage. Although the Criminal Procedure Code requires court consideration to begin no more than 14 days after the judge issues the order designating where the trial will take place, the congested court system frequently produces long postponements. Some suspects actually serve the length of their sentence while awaiting trial.

Some human rights organizations believe that the authorities have taken advantage of the system's procedural weaknesses to arrest people on false pretexts for expressing views critical of the Government. The case of Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired Russian naval captain who was detained for much of the year, was fraught with serious violations of due process, suggesting that his detention was politically motivated. The FSB detained Nikitin in St. Petersburg in February on suspicion of espionage and revealing state secrets, a crime punishable by a jail sentence or even death. Nikitin had been working with a Norwegian environmental foundation, Bellona, to publish information on the dangers posed by the nuclear waste generated by the Northern Fleet, where Nikitin had served. Nikitin and Bellona have demonstrated that all of the information they published was from open sources.

The FSB detained Nikitin without charge for over 6 months before charging him with treason and forgery. The authorities unsuccessfully attempted to deny Nikitin the right to choose his own legal counsel. The Government's case hinged on Nikitin's alleged violation of a secret 1993 MOD decree that Nikitin did not have access to because he had retired in 1992. Prosecution under the decree was also contested on constitutional grounds: the Constitution specifies that "any normative legal enactments affecting human and civil rights, freedoms, and duties cannot be applied unless they have been officially published for universal information." Furthermore, neither Nikitin nor his lawyer was shown the findings of the expert panel on which the charges are based. Amnesty International concluded that Nikitin was being held for political reasons. In December the Federal Deputy Prosecutor ordered the FSB to release Nikitin on his own recognizance, because the FSB had no legal grounds for holding him in jail before his trial.

Human rights activists maintain that Yuriy Shadrin was detained because of his intention to speak to Moscow jurists about abuses involving the judiciary in Omsk. Shadrin was arrested on an automobile-related charge that does not require pretrial detention and held for over 1 month. He immediately embarked on a hunger strike and prominent activists brought his case to the attention of the Moscow authorities. He was released in December.

Charges against Sergey Belyayev, a lawyer and trade union activist in Yekaterinburg, who had been detained, were dropped in February (see Section 6.b.).

The Government does not use forced exile.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; the development of an independent judiciary continued but slowed considerably. Judges remain subject to some influence from executive, military, and security forces, especially in high profile or political cases. The Government's inability to fully fund the operations of the justice system further undermined the independence of the judiciary, preventing it from acting as an effective counterweight to the other branches of government. In addition judges remain dependent on local authorities for allocation of a variety of benefits.

The court system is divided into three parts: the courts of general jurisdiction, with the Supreme Court at the apex; the arbitration (commercial) court system, headed by the High Court of Arbitration; and the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court is assuming a more active role in the judicial system after it was reestablished in early 1995 following its suspension for over 1 year. The Court has been asked to rule on a variety of cases involving the President's authority, the immunity of parliamentary deputies, parliamentary organization, the State's citizenship policy, and the constitutionality of oblast legislative actions. To date, however, the Court has had limited success in enforcing its decisions.

Disputes between business entities are tried in the system of courts of arbitration, which consists of lower level courts and the High Court of Arbitration. There are 82 courts of arbitration with over 2,000 judges. These courts hear over 360,000 cases per year. If a party to a civil suit is a private citizen, the dispute must be handled by a court of general jurisdiction.

Throughout Russia there are about 15,000 judges in approximately 2,500 courts of general jurisdiction at the district, regional, and federation level. Apart from the arbitration courts, there are no courts of special jurisdiction to handle cases such as domestic relations or probate. Within the regular court system, 90 percent of the civil and criminal cases are heard by trial courts of general jurisdiction called "rayon" courts. Only a limited category of cases involving the most serious crimes fall directly under the original jurisdiction of the next level of courts – the oblast (regional) court. Serious cases, such as those involving murder, can be tried by one of three methods: a judge and a panel of two "people's assessors;" a judge alone; or a jury. However, the latter is possible only in the nine regions where jury trials have been authorized. A decision of lower courts can be appealed through intermediate courts up to the Supreme Court. All higher courts have discretionary trial jurisdiction.

Procurators, like the courts, are organized at the district, regional, and federation levels. They are ultimately responsible to the Procurator General, who is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Federation Council. They supervise criminal investigations conducted by the MVD, except in serious crimes like murder where the procurator actually conducts the investigation. They then submit the results of their investigation to the judge or panel of judges. Procurators are quite influential in nonjury trials, which are inquisitorial, not adversarial.

The code provides for the court to appoint a lawyer if the suspect cannot afford one. The Society for the Guardianship of Penitentiary Institutions is often called upon by judges to provide legal assistance for suspects facing charges and trial without any representation. This Society operates primarily in Moscow, although it uses its connections throughout Russia to appeal to legal professionals to take on cases of the indigent. However, in many cases the indigent receive little legal assistance, because funds are lacking to pay for trial attorneys for them.

Because the right to a lawyer during pretrial questioning is often not exercised (see Section 1.d.), many defendants recant testimony given in pretrial questioning, stating that they were denied access to a lawyer or that they were coerced into giving false confessions or statements. Nevertheless, human rights monitors have documented cases in which convictions were obtained on the basis of original, illegal testimony which the defendant refuted in court, even in the absence of other proof of guilt.

In the 80 regions where adversarial jury trials have not yet been introduced, criminal procedures are heavily weighted in favor of the procurator. The judge or panel of judges conduct the trial by asking questions based on their prior review of the evidence. The constitutionally mandated presumption of innocence is often disregarded, and defendants are often expected to prove their innocence, rather than the procurators proving guilt. Judges, fearing that an outright acquittal will result in a procuratorial appeal, frequently send cases back to the procurator for "additional information." This greatly increases the defendant's time spent in the SIZO (see Section 1.c.).

Adversarial jury trials, at the option of the accused in cases where there is a risk of a death penalty, were introduced in 1993 in Stavropol kray and Saratov, Ryazan, Ivanovo, and Moscow oblasts and in 1994 in Ulyanovsk and Rostov oblasts and Altay and Krasnodar krays, covering 23 percent of Russia's population. The Department of Judicial Reform of the State Legal Administration of the President, which is charged with reintroducing jury trials to Russia, plans to expand jury trials to 12 new regions, including the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Republic of Karelia, and Chelyabinsk oblast. This expansion, which was proposed for 1996 but delayed due to lack of funds, would extend access to jury trials to approximately half of Russia's population.

In June the All-Russian Council of Judges adopted a resolution expressing lack of confidence in Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev because courts had received less than one-fifth the sums required to cover administrative costs and other expenses. Some courts stopped hearing cases. In October the support staff in 17 of 19 St. Petersburg courts went on strike because they had received no salary for over 2 months and only about one-quarter of their pay for the preceding 8 months. Justice officials also are at risk physically; two were killed in 1996 (see Section 1.a.), and court personnel are routinely threatened. Court security is minimal due to a lack of funds.

Journalist Valeriy Yerofeyev, editor of a Samara weekly called Vremya-Iks, was taken into police custody in September 1995 after writing a number of articles about city police officers accepting bribes from owners of "massage parlor" brothels. Yerofeyev started this series of articles in the spring of 1995 and was not deterred by 3 days of police detention in June 1995 during which he said that he was beaten by police and warned to stop writing. In July Yerofeyev was convicted of procuring the services of prostitutes following a closed trial by a court in Samara. He was sentenced to 10 months (exactly the amount of time he had spent in pretrial detention) and was released.

Viktor Orekhov, a former KGB officer who assisted dissidents under the Soviet regime, was released in March after serving 8 months of his reduced sentence of 1 year. Orekhov was arrested for illegally possessing a firearm shortly after he made unflattering remarks in an article about his former boss, now the FSB chief of intelligence for the Moscow region.

Semyon Livshits, a naval officer who was convicted after he had applied to emigrate to Israel, was freed from a Krasnoyarsk labor camp on July 2 and emigrated to Israel. Livshits had served 6 years of a sentence on criminal charges that many human rights activists regard as fabricated. The Government's handling of his case was marred by serious procedural flaws.

Chechen separatists have announced that they will institute the use of the Shari'a (the Islamic legal code) in areas that they control. Three men were executed for rape by a Shari'a court in September. Offenses such as trespassing and drunkenness are punished by canings.

There were no confirmed reports of political prisoners.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution states that officials can enter a private residence only in cases prescribed by federal law or on the basis of a judicial decision. It permits the Government to monitor correspondence, telephone conversations, and other means of communication only with judicial permission. It prohibits the collection, storage, utilization, and dissemination of information about a person's private life without his consent. The implementing legislation necessary to bring these provisions into effect has not yet been passed. In 1995 legislation was passed that gave broad authority for the FSB to utilize domestic surveillance and to conduct searches of private residences, with only limited oversight by the courts and the procuracy. These measures remain in force. There were reports of electronic surveillance by government officials and others.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

In the conflict with the secessionist Republic of Chechnya, Russian forces continued to commit numerous, serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. Russian forces used indiscriminate and excessive force without regard for the presence of noncombatants, prevented civilians from evacuating areas of imminent danger, blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching civilians in need, mistreated detainees who may or may not have had any links with separatist forces, and tolerated incidents involving groups of federal soldiers engaging in murder, rape, assault, extortion, and theft. The Chechen separatists also committed human rights violations, though on a lesser scale. Both sides deployed antipersonnel landmines. A cease-fire agreed to in August resulted in a dramatic reduction in violence during the final 3 months of 1996. By year's end, all federal troops had departed Chechnya.

Estimates vary of the total number of casualties caused by the war. Interior Minister Kulikov claimed that fewer than 20,000 civilians were killed while then-Secretary of the National Security Council Aleksandr Lebed asserted that 80,000 to 100,000 had been killed and 240,000 had been injured. Chechen spokesmen claim that the true numbers are even higher. Human rights groups estimate that over 4,300 soldiers from the federal forces were killed. In addition international organizations estimate that up to 500,000 people have fled Chechnya during the war. Many ethnic Chechens have returned since the conflict ended, but a majority of ethnic Russians are likely to resettle elsewhere. Since many records were destroyed during the war and many of the refugees who departed Chechnya are undocumented, the true numbers of casualties and refugees may never be known.

In numerous well-documented incidents, federal troops used excessive force against the separatist forces and recklessly put civilians in harm's way. Federal use of helicopter gunships and artillery bombardments were cited as the most frequent causes of death among civilians. Breaking a cease-fire shortly after the presidential election, federal forces launched a "preemptive strike" on July 10 against Geikhi, a village in which Chechen forces said there were no rebel soldiers. The attack, which was preceded by aerial and artillery bombardments, killed at least 20 civilians. Similar attacks were mounted in July against the villages of Mairtup, Kurchaloy, and Artury. The brutality of these actions prompted the ICRC to call on all parties to respect international humanitarian law, "in particular to respect and protect civilians by refraining from launching indiscriminate attacks, spreading terror among the population or using it for military purposes." Attempts by federal forces in August to hold Groznyy were also characterized by indiscriminate use of air power and artillery, destroying several residential buildings and a hospital, according to credible sources.

In March federal forces shelled the village of Sernovodsk while refusing to allow civilians to leave the area, resulting in numerous deaths. Similarly, in an assault on Samashki, the federal forces gave inhabitants 2 hours' warning to evacuate before shelling commenced. Once the bombardment started, Chechen men were not permitted to leave. The relief organization Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) reported that civilians were often forced to pay federal forces for permission to escape areas under attack through "humanitarian corridors;" in some cases, however, civilians – including women – were fired upon while transiting these corridors. In Samashki the human rights group Memorial reported that small groups of federal forces forced civilians to walk ahead of military formations or sit on the outer hulls of armored vehicles, making them "human shields." According to Memorial, during the battle for Groznyy federal forces occupied a hospital and used patients as human shields.

Prior to attacks, Russian forces often would encircle a village and issue an ultimatum to surrender weapons, troops, and money or face attack. Often, however, even those villages that complied with those terms were subjected to Russian attack.

Domestic and international human rights groups have compiled a substantial number of credible accounts of torture and other cruel and inhuman or degrading punishment of Chechens by Russian military and internal security forces during the Chechen conflict. These abuses include beatings of combatants as well as of unarmed civilians suspected of involvement with, or support for, the secessionist Chechen rebels. Amnesty International reported that allegations of rape were made against Russian forces.

Federal forces continued to use "filtration centers" to detain suspected separatists and supporters. Detainees were frequently subjected to torture during interrogation in these centers. Memorial reports that Russian forces took hostages through the filtration center apparatus – including civilians – and used these hostages to exchange for federal prisoners held by the separatists.

Incidents were reported in the Russian press of undisciplined federal forces engaging in theft, looting, assault, rape, and murder – frequently while intoxicated. There are many documented cases of junior officers and ordinary soldiers participating in such incidents.

In violation of international humanitarian law, federal forces repeatedly denied aid organizations access to the victims of the conflict. The MSF reported that "during the systematic attacks on villages and civilians, aid agency vehicles, supplies and teams" were "blocked by the military at the roadblocks" and that during the siege of Sernovosk, "aid was only allowed through 25 days after the bombing ended." The ICRC reported a number of instances in which its representatives were denied access to detainees. Each side claimed that the other was still holding detainees at year's end.

Final responsibility for the conduct of the war in Chechnya by the federal side rests with the military leadership and, ultimately, with President Yeltsin as Commander-in-Chief. Russian military and civilian officials routinely characterized separatist forces as criminal groups or illegal armed formations. Remarks in the press in July attributed to an unidentified major general typify the attitude toward accountability projected by the federal forces: "since we are not waging war in Chechnya, we do not apply the law on criminal responsibility for crimes committed in war and combat." Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that the Russian military procuracy was said to have convicted 27 servicemen for crimes against civilians, but that "it failed adequately to investigate, let alone prosecute, the most glaring combat-related violations of humanitarian law."

Separatist forces also violated international humanitarian law by taking and executing hostages and using prisoners as human shields. In January Chechen forces took about 100 civilians hostage in the city of Kizlyar and then transported them to Pervomayskoye (both in Dagestan). Following a stand-off of several days during which federal authorities claimed that hostages were executed, federal forces bombarded the settlement, resulting in extensive property damage and killing an unknown number of hostages and Chechen rebels. During the crisis, another group of rebels hijacked a passenger ship on the Black Sea with many Russians on board. The Turkish Government resolved the incident peacefully.

After the separatist takeover of Groznyy in August, Chechen forces also carried out summary executions of civilians deemed collaborators. Even after the cease-fire came into force, separatist forces detained, tortured, and killed members of the Moscow-backed administration of Doku Zavgayev. During the Pervomayskoye crisis, Chechen separatists tortured, burned alive, and left the remains of three hostages they had previously abducted from the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs. The separatist commanders, who were effectively functioning as a government by year's end, demonstrated no intent to punish violations committed by rebel forces.

As in 1995, journalists working in Chechnya were subjected to violence by both warring sides. Several were kidnaped and killed, while others were used in prisoner exchanges even though they are noncombatants (see Section 2.a.).

International relief workers in Chechnya were often targeted in kidnapings, most likely by local organized crime groups or segments of the rebel forces.

Efforts at producing a settlement, though ultimately successful, were uneven. In May during the final days of Yeltsin's reelection campaign, a cease-fire agreement was reached that lowered the intensity of the conflict for several weeks. Immediately after Yeltsin's victory, however, the federal forces unleashed an offensive that caused scores of civilian casualties, as they had in March. In subsequent weeks, Lebed took over the negotiations and in August he signed an agreement with Chechen commander Aslan Maskhadov that called for an end to hostilities, full exchange of prisoners, and joint administration by a coalition government. The agreement stated that Chechnya's political status would be decided within 5 years. Despite Yeltsin's dismissal of Lebed, the peace process continued during the fall and in November the two sides reached another agreement that called for the withdrawal of federal forces by the end of the year and the holding of elections in January 1997.

The Glasnost Fund established an "international intergovernmental tribunal on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Chechnya," which plans to conduct investigations and forward its findings to the Russian Procurator General, the Council of Europe, and the European Court of Human Rights. The tribunal's members include prominent human rights activists from throughout the world.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of the press and mass information and the "right of each person to seek, pass on, produce, and disseminate information freely by any legal method." The Government generally respects these provisions; however, the law contains provisions regarding secrecy of information that federal, regional, and local authorities have on occasion chosen to interpret broadly in order to limit access to information and to prosecute journalists and media organizations publishing critical information. Despite this, the major print media organizations, most of which are independent of the Government and represent Russia's broad political spectrum, were able to work relatively unhindered. Independent and semi-independent television stations continued to develop, and the number of small private radio stations, mostly in the big cities, continued to increase. Nevertheless, reports of government pressure on the media continued, particularly when coverage dealt with the Chechen war, other security related issues, corruption, or criticism of the authorities. Furthermore, journalists were killed or beaten, and the Government was criticized for its apparent failure to investigate these cases.

During the presidential election campaign, all candidates had access to the mass media, including both free broadcast time granted by law and paid advertising. However, candidates complained about unequal access and biased reporting. According to the European Mass Media Institute, President Yeltsin received more than 52 percent of television news coverage broadcast time, while his main rival, Communist Party candidate, Gennadi Zyuganov, only got 18 percent. Each of the other presidential candidates received no more than 7 percent. Reports proliferated that senior media figures received generous "retainers" from the Yeltsin campaign to assure their loyalty and that even junior journalists received compensation for positive stories. Immediately after declaring his candidacy, President Yeltsin dismissed Oleg Poptsov, the head of Russian state television (ORT), an action that human rights organizations asserted was in response to critical coverage of the war in Chechnya, a key election issue.

Media organs openly appealed to their audiences to vote for a particular candidate, in most cases President Yeltsin, a fact that can be explained not simply by government pressure, but also by journalists' fear of a crackdown on the liberal media if Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zyuganov had won. Igor Golembiovskiy, Editor in Chief of the Moscow-based Izvestiya, said that he and his staff had agreed that a Yeltsin victory was "in their interests." In the print media, only a few pro-Communist, hardline opposition newspapers, such as Pravda and Sovetskaya Rossiya, gave positive coverage to Zyuganov. With some exceptions, journalists showed little interest in investigating important campaign issues that might have resulted in more balanced coverage.

The press actively covered the war in Chechnya, providing the Russian and international publics with a wide range of information about the conflict despite physical danger to journalists and government attempts to restrict access. This coverage (which was often extremely graphic) was a determining factor in crystalizing public opposition to the conflict.

Journalists were subjected to violence by both warring sides (see Section 1.g.). The Glasnost Defense Foundation (GDF) reported that combatants violated journalists' rights in Chechnya almost daily. Several journalists were killed (see Section 1.a); many were detained and beaten; and some were missing at year's end. Natalya Vasenina, editor-in-chief of a newspaper published in Chechnya called Nezavisimost, was kidnaped from her home in Groznyy on September 27 and forced into a car by two unidentified masked persons. A Chechen spokesman stated that regional and state security authorities were searching for her. Vitaliy Shevchenko and Andrey Bazvluka, Ukrainian journalists working for Lita-M Television Company, were last seen on August 11 in Groznyy. Yelena Petrova, also of Lita-M, was kidnaped at the beginning of September and was believed held by Chechen forces in Achkoy-Martan.

Journalists were also used in prisoner exchanges even though they are noncombatants. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, on August 31 federal border guards detained Salman Betelgereyev and Bekhan Tepsayev, two Chechen journalists from the separatist television channel, at the airport in Makhachkala, Dagestan, upon their arrival from Turkey. Federal troops released Betelgereyev and Tepsayev on September 22 at the Khankala military base outside Groznyy in exchange for Russian MVD troops held by Chechen fighters.

Foreign and Russian journalists covering the conflict in Chechnya alleged that Russian forces fired upon and threatened them. On August 8, Russian army helicopters opened fire on two cars marked WTN (Worldwide Television News, a British company) and "press." On the same day in Groznyy, Russian troops shot at a Cable News Network car. Other reports of abuses by the Russian army included destruction of equipment, confiscation of exposed tape, and restriction of journalists' access to certain parts of Chechnya.

The Committee to Protect Journalists protested the "restrictive and aggressive manner in which Russian authorities" treated journalists in Dagestan during the Pervomayskoye events in January (see Section 1.g.). The newspaper Izvestiya complained that official attempts to manipulate information were "unprecedented," as journalists were denied free access to the released hostages. According to Russian press reports, the Russian military set up cordons 15 kilometers away from Pervomayskoye on January 16 and barred journalists from approaching the village. One reporter said that his car was fired on at a checkpoint by Russian soldiers; others were attacked by guard dogs at checkpoints. Two Russian journalists working for WTN had their equipment confiscated.

Human rights activists cited government pressure on the media in the cases of Yevgenia Albatz, an investigative journalist, and Valeria Novodvorskaya. Albatz was fired by the newspaper Izvestiya after she had completed a major article exposing alleged illegal activities by the FSB. Human rights activists charged that FSB pressure on the newspaper was responsible for her firing, noting that her editor had promised her article front page coverage only days before. Journalist and political activist Valeria Novodvorskaya was charged in 1995 with "promoting interethnic strife," apparently for her criticism of Russian citizens in Latvia and Estonia. During her trial the judge ordered an investigation of her organization "Democratic Choice." The Supreme Court subsequently overturned this order; however, her case is still pending. Human rights activists assert that the FSB is forcing the judiciary to prosecute Novodvorskaya.

Journalists publishing critical information about local governments and influential businesses, as well as investigative journalists writing about crime and other sensitive issues, were subjected to threats, beatings, and even murder (see Section 1.a.). Others were assaulted or harassed. In a report on violations of the rights of journalists, the Glasnost Defense Foundation found numerous instances of harassment, including financial pressure, physical assaults, and threats against journalists' families. Aleksandr Krutov, a correspondent for Moskovskiye Novosti who had just published an article entitled "The Chechen Syndrome in the Volga Region," was hit over the head with a metal pipe more than 10 times by two men in Saratov in February.

In the regions outside the major media markets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, local authorities continued to use city-owned media premises, printing facilities, government subsidies, and charges of libel to pressure the media. Vecherniy Neftekamsk, a newspaper in Bashkortostan, published a series of articles that accused Bashkortostan President Rakhimov's family of seizing control of the Bashkortostan oil industry and described corruption in the local government. As soon as the articles were published, the printing plants in Bashkortostan stopped printing the newspaper. In August the local prosecutor's office started libel proceedings against the newspaper's editor, Eduard Khusnutdinov, who also received phone threats.

In June the Tatarstan Parliament passed a law to prohibit insulting and humiliating the President of Tatarstan. According to the new law, journalists found guilty would be fined up to $5,900 (30 million rubles) and all copies of their publications confiscated. Tatarstan President Shaymiyev wrote in his letter to the Committee to Protect Journalists that Russian law prohibited insulting government officials, because doing so "encroaches upon the justice system and the established order of government."

In September the club of regional editors in chief announced that the head of the Komi Republic's Administration for Media and Law Enforcement issued written orders to all 23 heads of city and regional administrations in the Republic to begin judicial investigations against the newspaper, Krasnoye Znamya, because it had published an expose of alleged squandering of funds by senior Komi government officials. The President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes ruled in October that this action was unlawful and requested that the President of Komi take strong disciplinary action against his chief of staff who ordered this action. The Chamber, however, lacks the authority to enforce its decisions, and no disciplinary action was taken.

Meeting with a group of senior Moscow editors, President Yeltsin promised personally to examine each case of absorption of independent news organizations by other businesses to prevent media intimidation. Yeltsin also said that all cases of threats and violence against journalists should be reported directly to his office. The Committee to Protect Journalists, however, noted that it had received no response to its letters asking the President to investigate the cases of journalists who were killed, kidnaped, or harmed.

The Government's information policy remained restrictive by Western standards. Facts, documents, and statistical data are still frequently kept from the press. For example according to the GDF, in the Orel region all documents containing statistics on the region's economy are marked "not for the press." The secrecy of information, and the resistance of senior officials to releasing it, were typically cited as pretexts for refusing to provide information. The higher an organization's status, the more generally closed to the press it remained.

Institutions of higher learning enjoy academic freedom; however, extreme financial difficulties have slowed the revision of Communist-era curricula and textbooks. In larger cities, private high schools and universities have been formed without any government interference.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to assemble freely, and the Government respects this right in practice. Organizations must obtain permits in order to hold public meetings. The application process must begin between 5 and 10 days before the scheduled event. Citizens freely and actively protested government decisions and actions. Permits to demonstrate were readily granted to opponents and to supporters of the Government.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association and the Government respects this right in practice. Public organizations must register their bylaws and the names of their leaders with the Ministry of Justice. In 1995 a registration law was passed specifying that organizations had until 1999 to reregister. Despite this provision, the Jewish Agency, an organization operating around the world to promote Jewish cultural life and to facilitate emigration to Israel, was threatened in April by the Ministry of Justice with closure of its branch offices because its registration had expired. After protracted difficulties, the agency was reregistered as the Jewish Agency of Russia on September 13. The Agency's functions, including the facilitation of emigration to Israel, were unaffected by the reregistration difficulties.

In addition to submitting their bylaws and the names of their leaders, political parties must present 5,000 signatures and pay a fee to register. The Constitution and the law ban the participation in elections of those organizations that profess anticonstitutional themes or activities.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this right in practice. The Constitution also provides for the equality of all religions before the law and the separation of church and state. In December 1990, the Soviet Government adopted a law on religious freedom designed to put all religions on an equal basis. It forbade government interference in religion and established simple registration procedures for religious groups.

The Government does not require that religious groups be registered. However, by being registered, religious groups are able to establish official places of worship. Religious groups have not reported problems obtaining registration, although some evangelical and other religious groups have not applied. Religious publishing is flourishing, and religious books from abroad are widely available. The Government does not designate religion on passports or national identity documents.

Despite official toleration for various religions, however, many public authorities make increasingly less effort to avoid the appearance that the Russian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) and in some regions, the Muslim religion, have privileged positions, particularly in the return of church properties and in the allocation of public funds for restoration and construction of church properties.

The sharp increase in the activities of well-financed foreign missionaries has disturbed many sectors of Russian society, particularly nationalists and those in the Russian Orthodox Church, some of whom advocate limiting the activities of foreign religious groups. Some government officials have endorsed this idea. In June Lebed said that he viewed the activities of a number of religious groups as a "direct threat to Russia's security." Citing Aum Shinrikyo and the Mormons as examples, Lebed described foreign religious sects as "mold and scum" that "corrupt the people and ravage the State" and he argued that they should be banned. While Lebed later apologized for criticizing the Mormons, he reiterated his opposition to foreign sects in Russia.

About one-fourth of Russia's 89 regional governments have passed restrictive laws and decrees that violate the provisions of the 1990 Law on Religion by limiting or restricting the activities of religious groups or by requiring registration. Enforcement is uneven, but there are reports of local governments preventing religious groups from using venues, such as cinemas, suitable for large gatherings. As a result, denominations that do not have their own property are denied the opportunity to practice their faith in large groups or to hold prayer meetings. In 1996 the Constitutional Court refused to consider a challenge to the constitutionality of one such law on procedural grounds.

Although religious activity was generally not restricted, some religious groups encountered problems. In St. Petersburg in March, police raided a private apartment, disturbing a meeting of the Unification Church that was attended by six Russian students and one American. After searching the apartment without presenting a search warrant, the police took the American and three Russians to the police station for questioning and forced them to sign statements without the presence of legal counsel. There were reports that Jehovah's Witnesses were harassed in Tyumen. There was substantial negative Russian media coverage of so-called "totalitarian" or "nontraditional" groups, including such groups as Jehovah's Witnesses, the Unification Church, the Church of Scientology, the Church of Christ, Hari Krishna, and charismatic-fundamentalist Russian Christian groups.

Since 1993 governmental discrimination against people from the Caucasus and Central Asia, many of whom are Muslims, increased concurrently with new measures at both the federal and local levels to combat crime (see Section 2.d.). For example on October 2, a group of 40 OMON (MVD Special Forces) troops disrupted evening prayers at a mosque in central Moscow in order to check registration documents of the worshipers. Several Duma deputies demanded a thorough investigation of the incident and apologies from the appropriate authorities. The Government has not yet investigated the incident.

Although Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, they have not been inhibited by the Government in the free practice of their religion. In some areas of the country, other religions, including Buddhism, various minority Christian faiths, and Shamanism are practiced in accord with local traditions.

For the most part, synagogues, churches, and mosques have been returned to communities to be used for religious services, but there have been problems. For example some Roman Catholic churches have not yet been returned, and the Moscow Anglican church did not regain full possession of its St. Andrew's Church. In addition some religious buildings have been "privatized," and local authorities often refuse to get involved in property disputes, which they contend are between private organizations. Even where state or municipal authorities still have undisputed control of properties, a number of religious communities continue to meet with significant obstacles when they request the return of religious buildings, or when they seek to acquire land and necessary building permits for new religious structures. Reports from Baptist ministers suggested that the Russian Orthodox Church influences the Government regarding land allocated for churches of minority sects.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to choose their place of residence freely. However, the Government continues to restrict this right through residential registration rules that closely resemble the Soviet-era "propiska" (pass) regulations. Although the rules, which came into effect at the beginning of 1996, were touted as a notification device rather than a control system, their implementation has produced many of the same results as the propiska system.

Citizens must register to live and work in a specific area within 7 days of moving there. Russian citizens changing residence in Russia as well as citizens of former Soviet republics who decide to move to Russia often face enormous difficulties or are simply not permitted to register in some cities, such as Krasnodar. The cost of registration is often prohibitive, far beyond the means of most migrants or refugees, who usually do not register. In October the fee in Moscow was set at 500 times the legal minimum wage, or about $7,500 (40 million rubles). In April the Constitutional Court struck down a Moscow city law that gives local officials the right to collect high fees for registration, but the Court did not outlaw charging fees or specify how much could legally be charged. The mayor's office protested the decision and has not lowered the fees. Those who are not registered cannot work legally, are not eligible for social or health services, may not send their children to school, and may not vote.

The Government and residents of Moscow and other big cities staunchly defend retaining registration as necessary in order to control crime, to keep crowded urban areas from attracting even more inhabitants, and to gain revenue. According to an MVD press release, during the first 6 months of 1996, one out of every four crimes in Moscow was committed by a non-Muscovite. The President's Human Rights Commission and many human rights groups have condemned the registration system as well as the requirement to register visits as infringements upon freedom of movement that create the possibility of arbitrary enforcement by corrupt local authorities.

Discriminatory document searches and expulsions increased in the summer and fall. In part in reaction to terrorist acts in Moscow, including a bomb that exploded in a Moscow subway on June 11 (killing four people), President Yeltsin issued a decree on July 10 "On Urgent Measures to Consolidate Law and Order and Intensify the Fight Against Crime in Moscow and Moscow Oblast." A second bomb exploded on a Moscow bus on July 11. On July 12, at the scene of the explosion of a third bomb, the mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov declared that "the entire [Chechen] diaspora must be evicted from Moscow!" (By contrast, earlier in the month, the mayor had publicly criticized police efforts to harass law-abiding Chechens, urging that they restrict their attention to those who violated the law.) After announcing that "we plan to clear Moscow of both homeless people and dangerous elements," Luzhkov signed a resolution in August ordering the deportation of all unregistered people living in Moscow back to the place where they were last registered to live. At the end of September, the press reported that 4,051 unregistered people had "voluntarily" departed from Moscow and that 812 were deported under armed guard.

Although citizens are generally free to travel within Russia, the Government also imposes registration requirements on domestic travel. All adults are issued internal passports, which they must carry while traveling and use to register with local authorities for visits of more than 3 days (in Moscow it is 24 hours). However, travelers not staying in hotels usually ignore this requirement.

The Constitution provides all citizens with the right to emigrate. The Government does not impose more than nominal emigration taxes, fees, or duties. On average it takes 3 to 5 months to process a passport application, although it can take much longer if documentation is needed from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union. Emigrants must have an exit stamp in their foreign passport in order to emigrate legally.

However, if a citizen had access to classified material, police and FSB clearances are necessary to receive an external passport. By law the Government can impose a moratorium of up to 5 years on foreign travel for citizens who have had access to such material, and there were hundreds of people awaiting external passports on these grounds. Persons denied external passports can appeal the decision to an interagency commission chaired by First Deputy Foreign Minister, Igor Ivanov. In 1996, the commission granted travel permission to 267 applicants and denied 27.

Potential emigrants must satisfy all financial obligations, including the obligation to support immediate family members who remain in Russia. Members of an emigrant's immediate family can prevent emigration by claiming that the emigrant is their sole source of support. "Immediate family" can include parents and children and can also include grandparents if the parents of the emigrant are deceased. Daughters, however, are relieved of their obligations to support parents when they marry. There were a number of cases of persons who were not permitted to emigrate because they could not get permission from close relatives, sometimes because of alimony or child support concerns, sometimes because a cash settlement was desired.

Emigrants who have permanently resettled abroad, including in Israel, Germany, or the United States have been able to visit or repatriate without hindrance.

Russia has been a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol since 1993. Although the Government provides first asylum, effective procedures to determine refugee status have not yet been formulated. The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The Government is in the process of bringing its procedures up to UNHCR standards. Some progress has been made in developing appropriate mechanisms in St. Petersburg, where over 250 persons were interviewed in 1996. However, Moscow is still unable even to process applications. Human rights organizations claim that this is part of intentional efforts by the authorities to rid the city of foreign asylum seekers.

The UNHCR and Amnesty International are working with the Federal Migration Service and border officials to ensure that interviews of potential refugees are conducted in a timely fashion, that the UNHCR is allowed access to potential refugees in airport transit lounges, and that deportations of potential refugees are delayed until cases are adjudicated. The UNHCR has limited access to the transit areas of Moscow's airports. UNHCR officers were barred from entering the transit area of Sheremetyevo II airport in Moscow without prior notification. Denying UNHCR officials free access to the airport areas contradicts the agreement between the UNHCR and the Government. As a result, many would-be asylum seekers were deported without access to UNHCR. At the request of the Government, the UNHCR established three suboffices in the North Caucasus to handle the flow of people from Chechnya.

There are two groups of refugees recognized by the UNHCR in Russia. The first are citizens of the former Soviet Union, generally ethnic Russians, who wish to emigrate to Russia. For ethnic Russians who wish to emigrate to Russia, refugee status is usually granted in 5 to 6 months. April statistics indicate that there have been 137,000 refugees of this type since 1992. The other recognized group of refugees consists of persons from countries that were not part of the former Soviet Union. April statistics indicate that 67 persons have been granted refugee status from this group since 1992, including Afghans, Ethiopians, and Bosnian Muslims. Some refugees who sought refuge in Russia, such as Kurds, have left the country because cities would not issue them residence permits or because they were harassed by the police. Local legislation in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Rostov, and other major population centers prohibits the settlement of refugees within their cities, and Moscow refused to process any applications from asylum seekers. A large number of workers and students from Africa and Asia, who came to work or study in accordance with treaties between their countries and the former Soviet Union, remain in Russia. The Government has not deported them but encourages their return home.

The Russian Government does not recognize as refugees the Armenians evacuated in the wake of ethnic unrest in Baku, Azerbaijan, during the Soviet period. They are termed "internally displaced" and remain housed in the Moscow hotels where they were initially placed "temporarily." About half of them have emigrated. The remainder are unable to return to Azerbaijan, are not accepted by Armenia, and have no status or residency permits for Moscow. Without residency permits, the refugees cannot legally apply for work nor can they register their children for public schooling. They have rejected offers of relocation to other regions of Russia because they have no assurances of housing or employment. Their situation is becoming increasingly precarious as the formerly state-owned hotels in which they reside privatize and the new owners exert financial and other pressure on them to depart.

Several people in Russia accused of criminal acts, who are political opposition figures in other former Soviet countries, were extradited forcibly without due process.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Constitution provides citizens with the right to change their government, and citizens exercised this right in practice in presidential elections in July and in parliamentary elections in December 1995, both of which domestic and international observers declared to be generally free and fair.

The Federal Assembly comprises two chambers. The lower chamber, or the Duma, consists of 450 deputies, half elected in single mandate constituencies, half by party lists. In the December 1995 parliamentary elections, 43 political blocs appeared on the ballot. The upper chamber, the Federation Council, has 178 members – the 89 chief executives of regional administrations (many of whom had been appointed by the President) and the 89 chairpersons of regional legislatures. Under the terms of a 1995 law, all members of this chamber must be popularly elected by early 1997.

The Constitution provides the President and the Prime Minister with substantial powers, which they used in the absence of effective opposition from the Parliament and courts.

A democratic election for the President of the Russian Federation took place in July for the first time in the history of Russia as an independent state. President Yeltsin was reelected on July 3 with 54 percent of the vote in a generally free and fair election. The International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) found that the technical election procedures have shown continuing improvement since 1993.

While concluding that the elections were generally free and fair, OSCE representatives expressed concern about biased election coverage in state-owned media and scattered irregularities in some areas, such as illegal proxy voting. The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the court system have ruled on charges of fraud against regional election officials, and the CEC reprimanded candidates for violating prohibitions on early campaigning.

Elections in 52 of Russia's 89 regions were scheduled to take place between September and January 1997. Results in two oblasts were appealed to the regional electoral commissions based on allegations of vote rigging. In Amur oblast, the incumbent governor appealed the results of the September election after it was announced that he had lost by fewer than 200 votes.

Women are underrepresented in government and politics. In the December 1995 elections, 46 female deputies were elected to the 450-member Duma, a decrease from the 58 female deputies in the previous Duma elected in 1993.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Many domestic and international human rights groups operate freely. With the notable exception of Chechnya, most groups investigated and publicly commented on human rights issues, generally doing so without government interference or restrictions. Most are headquartered in Moscow and have branches throughout the country. Some of the more prominent human rights organizations are the Moscow Center for Prison Reform, the Society for the Guardianship of Penitentiary Institutions, the Glasnost Fund, Memorial, the Moscow Research Center for Human Rights, the Soldiers' Mothers' Committee, and the Mothers' Rights Foundation. Regional groups, which generally do not benefit from any international support or attention, reported that local authorities have obstructed their work and that law enforcement officers have begun criminal investigations based on fabricated charges against certain regional human rights groups' leaders.

In September the FSB prevented the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental group, from distributing its report on environmental hazards in the North Sea caused by Russian nuclear vessels, although Bellona had distributed the same report unhindered prior to the detention of Bellona employee Alexander Nikitin (see Section 1.d.). During Nikitin's detention, the Government restricted the movements of Bellona staff members who were visiting Russia in an attempt to assist Nikitin with his case.

The OSCE and the ICRC both reported that their access to areas of Chechnya was frequently curtailed by Russian forces. The Government strongly cautioned against, but did not specifically prohibit, travel by foreign diplomats and international organization staff to Chechnya. In the wake of the murder of six ICRC representatives and frequent kidnapings, all international organizations except the OSCE had withdrawn from Chechnya by year's end.

Russia's governmental human rights institutions were weakened during the year. The Human Rights Commission, created by presidential decree in 1993, which had the right to carry out independent investigation of human rights concerns, virtually ceased functioning after human rights activist Sergey Kovalev resigned as the head of the Commission in January in protest of the war in Chechnya. Four Commission members resigned in February, the day after releasing the Commission's Report on Human Rights in Russia in 1994-95. The Report declared that there had been a "visible retreat from democratic achievements" in many areas. The Report also noted that there was no official reaction to the Commission's 1993 Report.

In May President Yeltsin reaffirmed his commitment to the Commission and named new members, including law professor Vladimir Kartashkin as chairman. The reconstituted Commission is composed primarily of people from the Government whereas Kovalev's commission included independent human rights activists. The Commission plans to resume publishing a biannual report on human rights. Some human rights groups complained that the Commission's focus has changed from advocacy of human rights to defending the Government's policy.

In June President Yeltsin signed a decree entitled "On Certain Measures of State Support for the Human Rights Movement in the Russian Federation," which called for a high degree of coordination between federal structures and the human rights community. Specific measures laid out in the decree included the creation of three entities: an interregional human rights center to coordinate human rights activities; a human rights training center; and a center publishing human rights literature. Regional administrations were instructed to establish bodies analogous to the federal Human Rights Commission. The human rights group Memorial reported that no action has been taken on this decree.

By year's end, the Parliament had not approved a law establishing a human rights ombudsman. This position is provided for in the Constitution and is a condition for membership in the Council of Europe, which admitted Russia as a member in February.

In July President Yeltsin established by decree a Political Consultative Council (PCC) to assist in the creation of a legal framework for economic and political reforms with 12 standing chambers, including a human rights chamber, headed by Duma Deputy Valeriy Borshchev, and a legal chamber, headed by Boris Zolotukhin, a former Duma deputy. The PCC meets monthly. The Human Rights Chamber includes representatives of the various Duma factions as well as 10 members of the human rights NGO community. The Chamber has held hearings on issues such as prison reform and has proposed legislation on a death penalty moratorium to comply with Russia's obligations to the Council of Europe.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, religion, language, social status, or other circumstances. However, both official and societal discrimination still exist.


Domestic violence remains a major problem, as victims rarely have recourse to protection from the authorities. Police are frequently reluctant or even unwilling to involve themselves in what they see as domestic disputes. Many women are deterred from reporting such crimes because of this and because the housing system makes it difficult either to find housing outside the family dwelling or to expel an abusive spouse, even after a final divorce action.

During the first 6 months of 1996, there were 46,000 rapes reported in Moscow, an increase over the first 6 months of 1995. The MVD estimated that 80 percent of violent crime occurred in the home. Hospitals and members of the medical profession provide assistance to women who have been assaulted. However, some doctors are reluctant to ascertain the details of a sexual assault, fearing that they will be required to spend long periods in court. Human Rights Watch criticized the Government for failing to provide guidelines for improving police response to violence or to call for the adoption of a domestic violence law.

There is credible evidence that women encounter considerable discrimination in employment. At a Duma-sponsored roundtable held on March 5, representatives of 53 women's associations appealed to the Duma to improve the legal status of women by creating a council to assess all draft legislation to ensure that it provided for equal opportunities for women and men. In their appeal to the Duma, the women's associations' representatives raised their concerns that women form a disproportionately high percentage (62 percent) of the officially registered unemployed, that women are discriminated against in hiring and firing, that the differences between the salaries of men and women have increased sharply, and that few women attain senior positions. In March the Public Opinion Fund released a poll that indicated that the higher the income bracket, the lower the proportion of women. Women made up 87 percent of the employed urban residents with a personal income of less than $21 (100,000 rubles) a month and only 32 percent of those earning more than $315 (1.5 million rubles) a month.

Human Rights Watch accused the Government of participating in discriminatory actions against women, contending that the Government seldom enforces employment laws concerning women. Employers prefer to hire men, thereby saving on maternity and child care costs, and avoiding the perceived unreliability that accompanies the hiring of women with small children. In July a change in the Labor Code went into effect prohibiting women between the ages of 15 and 49 from being hired for jobs that are considered to be harmful to their health, including working on the night shift. Many of these jobs pay more, allow early retirement, or both.

In an April survey of female trade unionists conducted by the Institute of Free Trade Unions, 20 percent of respondents reported that they were aware of female workers in their enterprises being more frequently assigned to the lowest paid work, and 28 percent said that women were more frequently laid off or placed on involuntary leave. In the same survey, 16 percent said that women were less likely to be promoted, that women with young children were the first to be dismissed, and that women were not paid the same wage for the same work (as their male coworkers). Almost 14 percent of respondents considered that their enterprises shortchanged female workers on benefits, including maternity leave, exemption from night shifts, and other benefits.


The Constitution assigns the Government some responsibility for safeguarding the rights of children. The State endeavors to provide, within its reduced means, for the welfare of children. A new family code regulating children's rights and marriage and divorce issues came into effect on March 1. Although the President stated in March that government policies to improve the situation of children were a top priority, the Government had not begun any significant programs in this area by year's end. Many Moscow charitable organizations have established productive relations with the city government to address the needs of disabled children, as well as other distressed groups.

The position of many children has deteriorated since the collapse of communism, because of falling living standards, an increase in the number of broken homes, and domestic violence. According to press reports, 40 percent of all children live below the poverty line. In November 1995, Duma Deputy Mariya Gaydash stated that 2 million children under 14 years of age suffer from physical or mental abuse with as many as 200,000 dying each year from injuries received at home, usually from parental abuse or neglect. About 50,000 children run away from home each year, Gaydash asserted, and 2,000 commit suicide. To combat the growing number of children being abducted, police organizations, like the Nizhny-Tagil Police Academy in Sverdlovsk oblast, are forming programs to protect children.

The most vulnerable group of children in society are orphans and the mentally disabled, who are often given up by their parents to state-run institutions. Human rights activists allege that children in state institutions are poorly provided for (often because funds are lacking) and in some cases are physically abused by staff.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution does not directly address the issue of discrimination against disabled persons. Although laws exist that prohibit discrimination, the Government has not enforced them. The meager resources that the Government can devote to assisting disabled persons are provided to veterans of World War II and other military conflicts. Special institutions exist for children with various disabilities. The Government does not mandate special access to buildings for the disabled. The Society for the Defense of Invalids is working to broaden public awareness and understanding of issues concerning people with disabilities.

Indigenous People

The State Committee for the Development of the North, based in Moscow, is charged with representing and advocating the interests of indigenous people. With only a small staff, its influence is limited. Local communities have organized in some areas to study and make recommendations regarding the preservation of the culture of indigenous people. People such as the Buryats in Siberia; the Tatar and Bashkiri in the Urals; the people of the north, including the Enver, Tafarli, and Chukchi; and others have worked actively to preserve and defend their cultures, as well as the economic resources of their regions. Most believe that they are treated equally with ethnic Russians within the Russian Federation.

Religious Minorities

Muslims, who comprise approximately 10 percent of Russia's population, continue to encounter societal discrimination and antagonism.

There are between 600,000 and 700,000 Jews in Russia. Jews continue to encounter societal discrimination, and government authorities have been criticized for insufficient action to counter it. There were a number of anti-Semitic incidents reported in 1996, including the desecration of 60 gravestones in St. Petersburg's only Jewish cemetery; the disruption of a meeting in Orel by representatives of the paramilitary group Russian National Unity; the bombing of a Yaroslavl synagogue that damaged the library and offices; the robbery and spray painting of anti-Semitic graffiti in a Jewish center in Smolensk; vandalism of 40 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Kursk; and a bomb attack on Moscow's Marina Roshcha Chassidic Synagogue, which damaged masonry and shattered windows. With the exception of the Yaroslavl attack, no suspects have been identified in these crimes.

In addition anti-Semitic themes continued to figure prominently in hundreds of extremist publications, and some Russian politicians – including some who ran for president – made anti-Semitic remarks. Members of Russian National Unity, an anti-Semitic organization that uses a modified swastika as its symbol, patrolled two Moscow parks, reportedly at the request of local officials. A prominent foreign visitor was denied a visa to attend a conference in Russia on Jews in the former Soviet Union in July.

There were, however, a few important judicial developments in combating intolerant speech. In a notable decision, in March a Yaroslavl court sentenced Igor Pirozhok, leader of the neo-Nazi group Werewolf Legion, and another Werewolf Legion member to 5- and 9-year prison terms for murder and inciting ethnic hatred. Pirozhok had admitted to Izvestiya that his group commits terrorist acts against "Jews, Communists, and democrats." In February a St. Petersburg court found Yuriy Belyayev, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the National Republican Party of Russia, guilty of inciting ethnic hatred under the Criminal Code based on an interview he gave Izvestiya. However, although Belyayev was sentenced to 1 year in prison, he was immediately amnestied under President Yeltsin's 1995 general amnesty in connection with the 50th anniversary of World War II.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Ethnic Roma from the Caucasus and Central Asia face widespread popular discrimination, which is often reflected in official attitudes and actions. Since 1993 discrimination against people from the Caucasus and Central Asia increased concurrently with new measures at both the federal and local levels to combat crime. Law enforcement authorities targeted people with dark complexions for harassment, arrest, and deportation from urban centers (see Section 2.d.). In May Amnesty International sent a letter to the Procurator General's office, the MVD, and law enforcement agencies in Moscow demanding that a series of cases be investigated in which Moscow police officers threatened and beat Chechen refugees. In August participants at a roundtable of organizations of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly from the Caucasus expressed their concern over Russian authorities' intentional policy of open racial and national discrimination against Armenians, Georgians, and Azerbaijanis. They cited the arbitrary detention, beating, and humiliation of thousands of their compatriots in Moscow and the Moscow oblast as well as a campaign in the mass media against those originally from the Caucasus.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The law provides workers with the rights to join and to form trade unions, and roughly 65 percent of the work force are nominally organized. However, this number includes members of the successor organizations to the official Communist unions, which are themselves organized as the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR). The numerical dominance of the FNPR, its continued control over the extensive property and real estate of its predecessor, and its still-substantial role in the distribution of social benefits, function as practical constraints on the right to freedom of association. Moreover, almost all of the formerly official unions include management as part of the bargaining unit.

In practice the leaders of FNPR unions tend to remain dependent on enterprise managers or local political elites. The FNPR uses the leverage it has as the guardian of social benefits, including health care and recreation and vacation facilities, to dissuade workers from joining independent unions. Labor market analysts cite polls showing that the majority of workers either do not know that they belong to a union at all or belong solely because they believe that they would not be covered by social insurance or receive other benefits if they did not pay dues to their union.

On the national level, trade unions exist independently of the Government, political parties, and other political forces. The independent, or "free" labor unions supported a wide variety of political blocs in the December 1995 parliamentary elections. Political parties do not control or interfere in the function of any of the trade unions. At the national level, even the FNPR plays a very independent political role. On the regional and local levels, FNPR unions are often closely associated with lower-level political bosses.

Despite the thousands of strikes that took place in 1996, most strikes were technically illegal since the labor dispute at issue was not first reviewed by an arbitration court. (Frequently, however, local authorities do not bother to have the strikes declared illegal.) Unions have complained that arbitration court findings favor management. Transportation unions in particular have complained that, because transportation can be considered an essential service, their right to strike has been effectively negated.

There have also been incidents of reprisals for organizing and for strike activity. In October 1995, a district procurator initiated a criminal case against Sergey Belyayev, chairman of the Yekaterinburg Comradeship of Free Trade Unions. Belyayev was particularly active on behalf of the free trade unions and had initiated approximately 50 court cases on behalf of union members for wage arrears, failure to index payment of back wages, illegal layoffs, violations of collective bargaining agreements, and other matters. He was accused of hooliganism, a charge with a maximum prison sentence of 5 years, detained, and the local media launched a smear campaign against him. Union members protested the charges against Belyayev by picketing the prosecutor's office, and the charges were dropped on February 2.

In March in Lipetsk oblast, workers affiliated with the independent union federation SOTSPROF went on strike at a tractor factory over wages unpaid since December 1995. The oblast procurator began criminal proceedings against the strike's organizer, Igor Cherkasov. Investigators searched union premises and seized various documents relating to his union activities. In Krasnoyarsk kray, the management of an aviation company attempted to force three pilots active in the union to accept positions as repairmen, janitors, or drivers.

Unions may freely form federations and affiliate with international labor bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

While collective bargaining is protected under the law, its practice is limited by the frequent refusal of enterprise management to negotiate collective bargaining agreements with independent labor unions. This has been a particular problem for unions outside of the FNPR's organization. For example, the management of an electro-mechanical factory in Novosibirsk refused to recognize the independent federation SOTSPROF. In Tomsk oblast, the general director of a furniture factory refused to recognize an alternative union formed by his workers and ordered the mass dismissal of its members. Discrimination between the FNPR and alternative unions is not confined to enterprises. In Lipetsk oblast the SOTSPROF organized picketing in front of the oblast's administration building on July 1, in part to stem discrimination against union members, and in part to stop the administration from charging members of alternative unions more for vacation packages and other benefits than FNPR members.

Enterprises in special economic zones and export processing zones must comply with the Labor Code.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Labor Code prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and there are no documented cases of violations. Soldiers are regularly sent to work on farms to gather food for their units. There are documented cases of soldiers being sent by their superior officers to perform work for private citizens or organizations. However, while such labor might violate military regulations, it is not clear that it violates International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, which do not cover military personnel.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Code prohibits regular employment for children under the age of 16, and also regulates the working conditions of children under the age of 18, including banning dangerous, nighttime, and overtime work. Children may, under certain specific conditions, work in apprenticeship or internship programs at the ages of 14 and 15. Although in some instances children sell consumer goods on street corners, accepted social prohibitions against employment of children and the availability of adult workers at low wage rates combine to prevent widespread abuse of child labor legislation. According to figures cited by a Duma committee, approximately 2 million 14- and 15-year-olds are neither in school nor officially at work. There are no reports of children being forced to work due to economic necessity, although children working after school in family businesses is not unknown.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The monthly minimum wage as of April was roughly $15 (75,900 rubles). While this figure does not constitute a living wage under prevailing conditions, most people receive several times the official minimum. At the same time, much of the population continues to reside in low-rent or subsidized housing and receive various social services from enterprises or municipalities. The official minimum wage is primarily a benchmark figure for calculating university stipends, old age pensions, civil service wages, and a host of other social benefits.

The Labor Code provides for a standard workweek of 40 hours, with at least one 24-hour rest period. The law requires premium pay for overtime work or work on holidays. Workers have complained of being forced to work well beyond the normal week, i.e., 10 to 12 hour days, of abrogations of negotiated labor agreements, and of forced transfers of workers.

Nonpayment of wages was the most widespread abuse of the Labor Code experienced by workers, and the primary reason for the more than 3,000 strikes that occurred during the first 6 months of 1996. Nonpayment of wages was a widespread and pervasive problem: A May poll indicated that 27 percent of all workers had not received their salary for the previous month and 26 percent received their salaries late. In the same poll, 34 percent of workers indicated that wage arrears were the cause of labor conflict in their enterprise. Wage arrears across industries range between 3 and 9 months. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions estimated that wage arrears totaled approximately $7.5 billion (40 trillion rubles) in September, while government statistics indicated that as of July 8, wage arrears had reached approximately $5.6 billion (29.8 trillion rubles).

Although roughly 4 percent of the workers owed back wages have sought relief through the court system, this has proved ineffective, as many enterprises are themselves owed substantial sums by their customers, and some cannot afford to pay wages. Others simply chose not to use their funds to pay workers. Although Labor Ministry inspectors have found, as in the case of a Kazan factory manufacturing gas fittings, that enterprises owing workers substantial wage arrears have accumulated capital funds overseas, and have pursued these cases, individual punishments have not been a sufficient deterrent to resolve the problem. There have been various laws and presidential decrees issued, but these have had little impact on the problem. In order to draw public and Government attention to their plight and to place political pressure on enterprises to resolve their wage arrears, workers have resorted to mass hunger strikes, demonstrations, picketing, blocking roads, and, occasionally, suicide.

The law establishes minimum conditions of workplace safety and worker health, but these standards are not effectively enforced. Workers wear little protective equipment in factories, enterprises store hazardous materials in open areas, and smoking is permitted near containers of flammable substances. The Labor Code does establish workers' right to remove themselves from hazardous or life-threatening work situations without endangering their continued employment.

Workers were at unacceptably high levels of risk of industrial accidents and death. According to statistics compiled for 1995 by the Federal Employment Service, 21 percent of workers in industry, 11 percent of workers in transport, and 9 percent of workers in construction labored under conditions not meeting occupational health norms. Particularly egregious conditions were found in the energy industry (80 percent violating norms), foundries/metallurgical enterprises (60 percent), and underground transport (50 percent). It is unlikely that occupational safety and health improved substantially in 1996 compared with 1995, as industrial accidents have consistently increased over the past 5 years.

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