Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

Russia presented a contradictory record in 1994. Intransigent problems overshadowed symbolic and legislative progress. The gravest concerns included appalling prison conditions, abuses of military draftees in the Russian armed forces, restrictions on movement, and state-sponsored ethnic and gender discrimination.

In reportedly free and fair elections on December 12, 1993, Russia adopted a new constitution enshrining human rights protections. The parliament drafted a law creating the post of a human rights ombudsman. The human rights committee that President Boris Yeltsin created in November 1993 issued a highly critical report on the government's human rights record in 1993, in what was intended to be the first of a series of such annual reports.

During the same time period, however, President Yeltsin legalized some violations of civil liberties in the name of crime prevention. He authorized arbitrary house searches and detention for up to thirty days without charges – human rights abuses akin to those widely criticized under Soviet rule. In October a group of experts appointed by the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe concluded that "the Russian Federation does not (yet) fulfil the condition 'of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms'," and thus fell short of standards enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Despite some government restrictions, Russians enjoyed considerable freedom of speech. The Presidential Human Rights Committee's report also did not shy from criticism of specific government figures, such as influential Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Strong investigative reporting by the independent media and human rights groups kept violations from being completely ignored.

However, on December 22, 1993, President Yeltsin took direct control of Russian state mass media, and four days later brought two news agencies, ITAR-TASS and RIA Novosti, back under government control after a short-lived independence. The October 17 suitcase-bomb murder of a Moskovskii Komsomolets investigative reporter, twenty-seven-year-old Dmitri Kholodov, who was about to present his findings to parliament on illegal arms sales, was a horrifying development. President Yeltsin promised a thorough investigation, one which will be closely watched by the international community.

Two watershed court rulings upheld fundamental civil liberties this year. In June a court awarded scientist Vil Mirzaianov compensation (approximately $15,000) from the Federal Intelligence Service – the ostensible successor to the KGB – and the General Procurator's Office for psychological damages suffered when he was wrongly imprisoned in 1993 and 1994 for allegedly disclosing state secrets.

In August, a court also overturned the travel ban that had prevented Dr. Mirzaianov from leaving Russia. According to the independent civil rights group Movement Without Frontiers, the decision gave hope to an estimated 6,200 individuals who have been denied, on security grounds, the right to leave the country by the Russian government. According to Movement Without Frontiers, the government commission created to review such cases confirmed that 95 percent of the decisions in the 120 appeals they reviewed were "arbitrary."

At then end of August, Russia, the security giant of the former communist bloc, withdrew the last of its troops from Estonia, Germany, and Latvia, dismantling the instrument of fear that had terrorized these areas for decades. At the same time, abuses continued both by the military against civilians in the C.I.S. and within the military's own ranks. Elements of Russia's armed forces that had attacked civilians and committed other serious violations of the laws of war during conflicts in 1992 and 1993 in the "near abroad," including Moldova, Tajikistan and Georgia, remained unidentified and unpunished in 1994. There were almost no reports in 1994 of fresh abuse by Russian forces in the "near abroad."

The North Caucasus, an ethnically mixed area of the Russian Federation north of Georgia and Azerbaijan, remained an area of upheaval in 1994. Since the November 1992 "six-day war" in North Ossetia's Prigorodnyi region between Ingush and Ossetians, ethnic relations have settled into a uneasy peace, with the majority of the more than 47,000 Ingush expelled from their homes in North Ossetia unable to return. After the fighting, bands of Ossetians wantonly destroyed Ingush homes and property with little interference from either Russian or North Ossetian authorities. In neighboring Chechnya, which proclaimed independence from the Russian Federation in November 1991, bloody fighting erupted in late summer 1994 as opposition groups with purported Russian support battled the Dudayev government.

Little progress has been achieved in restoring normalcy to the Prigorodnyi region despite the fact that large areas of both Ingushetiya and North Ossetia remain under state of emergency decree, ruled from Vladikavkaz by a temporary administration under a Moscow-appointed governor, Vladimir Lozovoi. Russian Interior Ministry troops patrol the area and have set up command posts in most villages in the Prigorodnyi region. But few Ingush have been able to return to their homes, despite these security measures and a December 1993 presidential decree ordering their return to four villages of the Prigorodnyi region. Few have been brought to justice for crimes committed during the fighting in November 1992, and efforts to disarm paramilitary groups have progressed slowly. The Russian government has also been slow to release funds earmarked for reconstruction of destroyed homes, gas lines, electricity and water systems, sewers, and public buildings.

According to the independent Moscow-based human rights group Foundation of the Rights of the Mother, some 4,000-5,000 draftees in the Russian armed forces died annually in the 1990's, some beaten to death during hazing (dedovshchina), and others reportedly driven to suicide because of degrading and harsh conditions. In a July 14 article in Izvestia, the Russian Defense Ministry acknowledged the phenomenon, although its figures were significantly lower: that 5 percent (twenty-five people) of the total deaths in the Russian armed forces for January through June 1994 (518 people) were victims of hazing, 8 percent (forty-two people) were murdered, and 27 percent (140 people) committed suicide.

Public and government acknowledgment that Russian penal facilities were dangerously overcrowded, unsanitary, and rife with physical and mental mistreatment of inmates increased in 1994. At the invitation of the Russian government, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture conducted an investigation of detention conditions in June. The Russian government also reversed a seventy-year ban on prison work by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

So far, however, these steps have done almost nothing to improve widespread misery in the facilities. On August 1, some 3,000 inmates launched a mass hunger strike in pre-trial detention center No. 1 in Ekaterinburg, and in September over one hundred inmates in Moscow's notorious Butyrki facility did the same. Both groups were protesting severe overcrowding and lack of adequate medical attention.

Russia's record on protection of minority rights was also checkered, and favored protection of Russians over other ethnic groups. In August, the Duma, or parliament, finalized a draft law to protect the rights of Russian-speakers living in the republics of the former USSR, and the Foreign Ministry pressured other nations in the Commonwealth of Independent States to grant dual citizenship rights among other measures it claimed would protect minority rights.

The government did not equally protect the rights of minorities within Russia proper, however. Following the bloody failed coup in Moscow on October 3-4, 1993, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued Ordinance No. 1122, which allowed Moscow police to stop thousands of individuals on the street or to enter their homes, to check their identification and vehicles, and to levy heavy fines and otherwise intimidate those who cannot prove they are legal residents of the capital. In practice, almost all of those detained were dark-skinned or otherwise thought to be non-Muscovites.

Thus, the decree turned into an instrument for government-sponsored racism. In addition, Mayor Luzhkov's November 15, 1993 decree required non-Russian citizens to register their whereabouts with the Ministry of Internal Affairs within one day of arriving in the capital and to pay the equivalent of U.S. $1 per day to remain there (the average monthly salary in Moscow at the time of the passage of the act was about U.S. $100). The regulation became tantamount to extortion, and was enforced disproportionately against refugees and minorities.

In early September 1994, the immigration control agency was empowered to conduct interrogations, check vehicles, confiscate unacceptable identification papers, and order the Ministry of Internal Affairs to forcibly expel individuals who refused to leave Russia voluntarily. The southern region of Krasnodar, a major refugee processing center, imposed particularly strict restrictions, severely limiting non-ethnic Russians' ability to obtain residence permits (propiskas) or even stay temporarily in the region. The legitimate need to fight crime in the Russian capital spawned legislation allowing legal infringement of fundamental civil rights. Presidential Decree No. 1226 concerning "immediate measures for the protection of the population against banditry and other manifestations of organized crime" authorized local law enforcement agencies to search homes and vehicles without a warrant, use information gained illegally as evidence at trial, and hold individuals in detention for up to thirty days without charges. The director of Counterintelligence Services stated that he was "in favor of the violation of human rights if the person is a bandit or criminal." In a largely ceremonial vote, the Duma rejected the decree by a rate of 279 to 10 on human rights grounds, but President Yeltsin ultimately adopted it on June 14.

A Human Rights Watch Women's Rights Project investigation in March revealed that the government offered jobs on a gender-specific basis and failed to treat reports of violence against women as a law enforcement problem, relegating it instead to "domestic" problems.

There were numerous incidents of security forces from other parts of the C.I.S. committing abuses on Russian territory during the year covered in this report. On November 5, 1993, men believed to be from the Uzbekistan security service beat three activists in their Moscow apartments; one of them was beaten again on the street in March 1994. Otakhon Latifi, chairman of the Coordinating Center of Democratic Forces in Tajikistan and an outspoken leader of the opposition in exile, was similarly attacked on August 4 in front of his Moscow apartment. Yet another vicious Moscow street attack on October 4 left Turkmenistan opposition leader Murad Esenov with broken bones and head contusions. Three other members of the Turkmenistan opposition reported that Turkmenistan security servicemen watched their Moscow homes following the suspicious death of another opposition leader on July 2 in the Turkmenistan capital. Desultory Russian investigations were unsuccessful as of this writing, suggesting that the Russian government lacked the will to confront fellow C.I.S. intelligence forces about violations.

The Right to Monitor

Monitors, both domestic and international, worked unimpeded in all areas of investigation except in one penal investigation. In April, Human Rights Watch requested permission from the Minister of Internal Affairs to investigate conditions in several Russian pre-trial detention centers, to follow up the organization's study of Russian penal facilities in 1991. Two months later, the Ministry rejected the proposed work as "undesirable" since the Duma was currently doing similar work, and in July rejected an appeal without elaboration.

The Role of the International Community: Council of Europe Policy

The Council of Europe actively reviewed Russia's compliance with council standards in preparation for rendering a decision on admitting Russia as a member state. The delegations made human rights their centerpiece issue. The council sent teams of independent experts and Parliamentary Assembly representatives to gather information, including conducting first-hand prison visits, and met with government officials and governmental and non-governmental human rights groups.

In October, experts appointed by the Council concluded that Russia did not yet meet council standards. Nonetheless, the investigation and deliberation process continued, raising concern that the October expert report may not be the final word in the decision-making process. Political pressure to grant Russia membership in order to win political and economic compliance jeopardized broad and sufficiently serious consideration of the experts' concerns.

U.S. Policy

U.S. officials repeatedly raised human rights concerns with their Russian counterparts in 1994. Presidents Yeltsin and Clinton met in January and September 1994, reaffirmed commitments to human rights protection, and ultimately paved the way for expanded U.S. investment in Russia. U.S. obligations under all assistance programs totalled a staggering $3.6 billion in 1994, including useful programs on the rule of law and administration of justice. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor John Shattuck traveled to Moscow in March and July, received documentation of violations from human rights organizations, and raised human rights concerns.

U.S. officials were known to have touched on issues of restrictions on emigration, abuse of the residence permit system and violations of minority rights, particularly anti-semitism. The scope of issues known to have been raised was narrower than the actual situation warranted, however. Specifically, the U.S. talking points on human rights apparently gave short shrift to the appalling conditions in prisons, government-sponsored gender discrimination, abuse of conscripts in the armed forces, and the need to identify and prosecute individuals in the army who violated the laws of war in Abkhazia (Georgia), Moldova, and Tajikistan. The limited scope of issues raised is surprising since the section on Russia from the U.S. State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 did portray a much broader spectrum of abuse in Russia.

U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation chief Louis J. Freeh visited Russia in July and voiced concern about the need to protect human rights. Later actions undermined this message, however. Mr. Freeh stated that the U.S. had "also" suspended civil rights in times of emergencies. The F.B.I. also signed an agreement on cooperation with Russia's intelligence services, and opened an office in Moscow to assist in crime-fighting efforts. There is hope that the U.S. side will integrate human rights training into its program. Until then, however, it runs the risk of sending a message that the U.S. is willing to work within the framework of President Yeltsin's abusive anti-crime law.

In early September, the U.S. began nine-day joint military training exercises with Russian counterparts in Totskoe, Russia, with an eye toward peacekeeping. Despite these highly visible and expensive efforts, no concern was known to have been raised by the U.S. military about the Russian armed forces' failure to discipline those in its ranks who had committed serious violations, including killing civilians, during operations in the "near abroad."

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki attempted to change Russia's human rights behavior by documenting and publicizing its findings about various abuses in the press and in meetings with Russian officials. We actively documented abuses the Russian government either sponsored or failed to condemn, and monitored trials and conducted investigations in Ingushetiya and North Ossetia, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. We also sought to influence Moscow through third-party pressure, by alerting members of the U.S. government and the Council of Europe to such abuses.

In a November 1993 letter and subsequent report, we challenged President Yeltsin to refute evidence that some Russian troops participated in gross abuse of civilians in Moldova, Georgia, and Tajikistan. In letters to the government and interviews with the media, we protested Mayor Luzhkov's ordinances restricting the rights of non-Muscovites, and elicited a promise from his office in a letter of June 15 that "the principle of unlimited freedom of movement and a rejection of the residence permit (propiska) will definitely be realized in Moscow and Russia." We also urged the Russian and U.S. governments to protect fourteen political refugees from Central Asia, at risk of persecution in Moscow, and facilitate the immediate issuance of proper documentation to allow them to remain in Moscow. We took advantage of Russia's influence throughout the C.I.S., holding six press conferences and issuing more than twenty press releases in Moscow concerning violations throughout the region.

We informed the international community about violations in Russia and recommended specific action. In July, we met with and submitted information to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck for this purpose. As the Council of Europe reviewed Russia's application for membership, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki recommended conditioning membership on improvements in its human rights record. We also met with members of the European Union in Moscow and Brussels, and regularly briefed embassies in Moscow. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki expanded its work by monitoring trials in and around Moscow in which we objected to the charges on principle or feared miscarriage of justice. The positive results of the trials we monitored illustrated vividly the efficacy of such efforts in both averting due process violations and unjust decisions, and raising consciousness among defendants and legal workers, including judges, about the need for human rights protection.

Throughout the winter, we monitored and issued protests about the closed trial of scientist Vil Mirzaianov, accused of disclosing state secrets. Dr. Mirzaianov was ultimately cleared of all charges and awarded damages. We criticized the government for bringing charges of "war mongering" against Yeltsin critic Vladimir Zhirinovsky, suggesting the charges were brought to silence and discredit him. In June and July, we attended the trial of two demonstrators accused of "hooliganism" for burning photos of President Yeltsin, and we disseminated information about the case to the media. The defendants were given the minimum sentence, a nominal fine. Throughout 1994, representatives of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki attended numerous trials of refugees facing eviction from their temporary shelters in Moscow in accordance with municipal ordinances. In September, a representative attended the Moscow trial of eleven men who had been held for up to five years in appalling conditions awaiting trial. All but three were cleared of all charges and immediately released on September 30.

Human Rights Watch/Helsinki also promoted the work of independent human rights organizations. In August we conducted two joint fact-finding missions – to Georgia and southern Russia – with the Moscow-based group Memorial and held one joint press conference on our findings. On July 9 we organized a meeting at our Moscow office between leading members of the human rights community in Moscow and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck.

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