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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Even Russia Admits: Human Rights Abuses are Spiraling out of Control

You know that Russia has got a big, big problem with human rights when the Kremlin's own functionaries have to admit it. The Moscow Times reports:

Russia has recently seen a sharp rise in the number of human rights violations, the nation's human rights ombudsman says in a report expected to be presented to President Vladimir Putin this month. After ombudsman Vladimir Lukin presents the president the 400-page 2006 report, "On the Human Rights Situation in Russia in 2006," it will be submitted to the State Duma for consideration in April. Excerpts of the report were published Monday in the newspaper Gazeta, which said complaints had jumped.

Most complaints in Lukin's report involved suspected civil liberties violations, which rose by nearly 47 percent from 2005 to 2006. These violations included reports of unfair court proceedings and suppression of "social rights." Social rights, as defined by the Constitution, include the right to open a business and to get an education. Other reported civil liberties violations involved judicial-related issues. These complaints rose by nearly 24 percent.

Broadly defined "economic rights" and "political rights" violations rose 15.5 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively. "Cultural rights" violations are also said to have gone up.

Lukin concluded that Russians did not trust their government. "They don't believe that authorities work hard to secure their social, economic and political rights," he was quoted as saying in the report. Lukin's spokesman, who refused to give his name, would not comment at length on the report, although he did say copies of it had been distributed to members of the State Duma and the Federation Council. The spokesman also refused to provide a copy of the report. The report finds that there is a huge gap separating the rich and the poor in today's Russia. The report added that many Russians were perplexed by persistent poverty given the country's high revenues from oil and gas.

Besides voicing concerns about low salaries and pensions, many Russians are critical of what they regard as substandard living conditions, health care and education. They are also deeply angered by the rise in corruption. Perhaps not surprisingly, Lukin's report also notes a rise in ultranationalism and xenophobia. The report cites multiple examples of violence -- from riots in the Karelian town of Kondopoga to Moscow to St. Petersburg to Salsk, a Rostov region town.

Lukin also observed some positive trends. "Implementation of a number of the most important national projects has started," he said in the report, referring to the president's four national projects on health care, education, housing and agriculture. "This allows us to hope that some of the traditionally painful knots in our society will be untied in the near future," he said. The report notes that 32.4 percent of those who had a problem received help; another 60.4 percent were given legal advice; and 7.2 percent were denied any aid on the grounds that their complaints fell outside Lukin's jurisdiction.

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