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U.S. Says Russia's Activities In Ukraine Impair Human Rights At Home

The State Department report says Moscow continues to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.
The State Department report says Moscow continues to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

A new U.S. State Department report says human rights in Russia continue to be "significantly and negatively" affected by Moscow's "purported annexation" of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and its support for separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine.

The March 3 report is the first human rights report from the State Department to be released since President Donald Trump took office on January 20, and the first to be produced under Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The report, an annual examination of human rights practices of nearly 200 countries, has particularly harsh words for Russia -- which contrasts with Trump's largely conciliatory rhetoric toward Moscow and his reluctance to speak publicly about human rights concerns, either in Russia or elsewhere in the world.

In the Russia section of the lengthy report, the State Department says Moscow continues to train, equip, and supply pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine.

It says that "numerous fighters" from Russia have joined the separatists.

"Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine's Donbas region, and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea," the report says.

It also cites politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia.

The report also criticizes restrictions on political participation and freedom of expression, assembly, and the media.

"The government passed repressive laws and selectively employed existing ones to harass, discredit, prosecute, imprison, detain, fine, and suppress individuals and organizations critical of the government," it says.

"Authorities especially targeted individuals and organizations that professed support for the government of Ukraine or opposed the Russian government's activities in Ukraine."

In Ukraine, the report says the most significant human rights abuses were related to the conflict and "occupation" in the separatist-controlled parts of the eastern Donbas region.

"Russian-backed separatists in Donbas engaged in abductions, torture, and unlawful detention, employed child soldiers, stifled dissent, and restricted humanitarian aid," it says.

It also says that, to a lesser extent, abuses by government forces were also reported.

More than 9,750 people have been killed since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine in March 2014 between the Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

On the Kyiv government, the U.S. State Department report says there are problems within the Ukrainian judicial system that are impairing human rights. "The government generally failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity," it says.

It adds that watchdog groups and the United Nations saw "significant deficiencies" when it came to investigations into human rights abuses committed by government security forces.

The State Department report does not include comparisons or rankings of the countries that it studied.

A senior official in Trump's administration said the report was not a policy statement.

Marco Rubio, a Republican senator from Florida, criticized Tillerson for breaking with tradition and not being present during the unveiling of the report. "For 1st time in a long time @StateDept #humanrights report will not be presented by Secretary of State. I hope they reconsider," he wrote on his Twitter account.

A senior administration official said the report, signed by Tillerson, spoke for itself and that Tillerson spoke clearly about his concerns for human rights during his confirmation hearings.

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