Russian Federation: One year on President Dmitry Medvedev fails to improve the human rights situation

Little has been done to improve the human rights situation in the Russian Federation – in some areas it has even worsened, Amnesty International reported one year after President Dmitry Medvedev pledged to respect and protect human rights and citizen’s rights.

“A year ago, as he took office President Medvedev declared his commitment to enhancing the rule of law,” said Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.  

“In the course of the last year, President Medvedev set several goals. However, no significant changes are yet visible.”

At the beginning of his presidency, Amnesty International highlighted in a memorandum to President Medvedev human rights issues that need to be addressed in the Russian Federation. That memorandum still remains without response.

One year later, the organization takes stock of the human rights developments over the year. The organization notes that in spite of some initial steps, in some areas the situation has worsened.

Impunity prevails both for human rights violations by law enforcement officials and for attacks against civil society activists, journalists and lawyers, hampering the development of a strong civil society.

Instability and armed clashes remain hallmarks of the North Caucasus region where legitimate aim of tackling violence by armed groups is being pursued by means which violate international human rights law. 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 considers 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 and physical attacks on activists, lawyers, journalists and members of the opposition are on the increase and in some cases have even led to the killing of human rights advocates, such as Stanislav Markelov, and journalist Anastasia Baburova. The trial into the murder of human rights journalist Anna Politkovskaya did not answer crucial questions about who ordered and committed the killing. Investigations into such attacks remain ineffective, creating a climate of impunity and preventing the development of a strong civil society.

The 2006 law regulating the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) has presented difficulties ranging from excessive administrative burden to judicial harassment. Amnesty International has repeatedly called for it to be reviewed. The organization welcomes the recent establishment of a working group, consisting of government and NGO representatives, to amend the 2006 NGO law. Amnesty International urges President Medvedev to ensure that measures are taken to encourage the work of civil society organizations and activists.   

The trials and treatment in detention of ex-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.

Thus one year into his Presidency, Amnesty International is calling 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, as required under both Russian legislation and the various international human rights treaties to which the Russian Federation is a state party.

In recent meetings with journalists and human rights activists, President Medvedev has made statements which give rise to hope that improvement of the human rights situation is possible.  

“President Medvedev has stated that respect for the rule of law and a vibrant civil society are necessary for the health of the society. Concrete actions are needed to prove that he is doing  more than paying lip service to reforms, that his statements amount to more than window dressing,” Irene Khan said.