Medvedev’s first year: failure to improve human rights

The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, has not delivered on the promises he made about human rights during his first year in power, Amnesty International has said. One year after Mr Medvedev took office, pledging to respect and protect human and citizen’s rights, little has been done to improve the situation in Russia, and in some areas it has worsened. “A year ago, as he took office, President Medvedev declared his commitment to enhancing the rule of law in Russia,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General. “In the course of the last year, the president set several goals. However, no significant changes are yet visible.” At the beginning of his presidency, Amnesty International sent a memorandum to President Medvedev highlighting the human rights issues that needed to be addressed in the Russian Federation. There has been no response to the memorandum.. Meanwhile, human rights violations in the country continue… •    The North Caucasus region remains plagued by instability and armed clashes. The legitimate aim of tackling violence by armed groups is being pursued by means that violate international human rights law. •    Impunity prevails for human rights violations by law enforcement officials, particularly in the North Caucasus. •    People continue to be “forcibly disappeared” or abducted, arbitrarily detained, tortured or even killed while in detention. •    The recently proclaimed end of the “counter-terrorism operation” in large parts of Chechnya is seen by the authorities as a step towards normalization. However, Amnesty International has said that normalization is not possible without full accountability for the grievous human rights violations that have taken place in the region. •    The right to assembly has been frequently violated in many places across the Russian Federation, with the authorities banning demonstrations, in particular by members of the political opposition. Protestors have been frequently detained for attending such demonstrations. •    Threats to and physical attacks on civil society activists, lawyers, and journalists are on the increase and in some cases have even led to the killing of human rights advocates, such as Stanislav Markelov, and the journalist, Anastasia Baburova. •    The trial following the murder of the human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya did not answer crucial questions about who ordered and committed the killing. Investigations into attacks against civil society activists, journalists and lawyers remain ineffective, creating a climate of impunity and preventing the development of a strong civil society. •    The trials and treatment in detention of former Yukos executives, Mikhail Khodorkovski and Platon Lebedev, illustrate serious flaws within the criminal justice system that undermine the right to a fair trial. •    In the international arena, Russian armed forces were reported to have indiscriminately attacked civilian housing during the armed conflict between Russia and Georgia in August 2008, and to have failed to protect the civilian population in territories under “de facto” Russian control from human rights abuses committed by South Ossetian forces and militia. •    The 2006 law regulating the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has presented difficulties, ranging from an excessive administrative burden to judicial harassment. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for it to be reviewed. President Medvedev should ensure that measures are taken to enhance the development of  civil society organizations and to demonstrate respect for human rights activists. One promising development is the recent establishment of a working group, consisting of government and NGO representatives, to amend the 2006 NGO law. One year into his Presidency, Amnesty International calls on President Medvedev to take urgent measures to strengthen the rule of law and to ensure that the authorities of the Russian Federation respect and protect human rights. “President Medvedev has stated that respect for the rule of law and a vibrant civil society are necessary for the health of society. Concrete actions are needed to prove that he is doing more than paying lip service to reforms and that his statements amount to more than window dressing,” Irene Khan said.