(Washington, DC--June 6, 2003) "The right to life itself is being violated across the Russian Federation," according to Tanya Lokshina, Executive Director of the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG) and the editor of that organization's annual "Human Rights in Russian Regions" report. Speaking at a recent RFE/RL briefing along with Ludmilla Alekseeva, MHG Chairman and President of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, Lokshina said that, although international human rights standards are included in Russia's 1993 Constitution, they are often disregarded and that federal laws neither define human rights clearly, nor provide controls over abusive officials.
Lokshina called the Chechen Republic a "testing ground" for atrocities -- a place where human rights abuses begin, which then are exported to the rest of the country. According to Lokshina, "Police and military officers come to [serve in] Chechnya, where they engage in lawlessness and violence with impunity," and then take the practices back to their home regions. "Violence and discrimination, fabrication of criminal cases, arbitrary arrests and searches ... happen all over Russia," Lokshina said. Alekseeva, who has visited Chechnya three times in recent years, added, "There are no rules of humanitarian law at work [in Chechnya]; what is happening is beyond the pale of what can be imagined ... it is worse than medieval."
Other minority groups also suffer in Russia. Lokshina said that Meskhetian Turks, Kurds, Roma, and Armenians in Krasnodar are denied identity and travel documents as well as birth certificates and marriage licenses. Minorities are subject to "internal deportations," a system that forces people to move from one region of the country to another, she said.
Lokshina added that the federally-funded courts are immune to oversight and subject to the will of federal officials. She said judges still perceive themselves to be a part of the state machinery and continue to engage in "accusatory perception," often signing arrest warrants without examination and ignoring allegations of police torture, which she said is widespread. Lokshina noted that procedural restrictions, such as an internal passport system that requires citizens to register based on their city of residence, are also used to limit freedom of movement and deny citizens access to education and health care.
According to Lokshina, radio and television outlets are controlled by the Putin administration, and the few independent newspapers remaining are pressured to represent presidential views. Human rights NGOs are the only remaining force defending the rights earned by Russians in the 1990s, Lokshina said, but many of these -- especially smaller groups based outside of Moscow -- are openly pressured by local governments.