Human rights

   While Russia is a signatory to many international conventions on human rights (including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention of Human Rights), the country is viewed in certain quarters of the West as a regular violator of individual and minority rights, as well as weak on freedom of the press. Moscow defends its record on the basis of the country’s transition to democracy from totalitarianism and its unique political, social, and religious conditions. Indeed, the human rights situation in Russia varies widely across its vast territory, various social classes, numerous professional affiliations, and diverse cultural communities. The Kremlin often fires back at its European critics, citing evidence of abuses of the rights of ethnic Russians in Estonia and Latvia (where they have been stripped of citizenship and pushed out of most public sector jobs) and decrying the hypocrisy of the international human rights monitoring system.
   The fallout of the two Chechen Wars has had a particularly negative effect on the country’s reputation. Extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and attacks on civilian targets in the North Caucasus have resulted in a huge number of cases going before the European Court of Human Rights; in fact, nearly a quarter of all cases originate in the Russian Federation. The military culture of dedovshchina> (i.e., violent and often deadly hazing), the low quality of care given to Russian orphans, and widespread trafficking in women for the sex trade are also major issues on the individual level. In terms of minority rights, a number of religious groups complain of repression by federal and local authorities; this is particularly true for those religious sects that are not considered “native” faiths (Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism). Over the past decade, there has been a marked rise in attacks on ethnic minorities, immigrants, and Jews by neofascist youths. While it is improving, Russia’s record on homosexual rights remains well below European standards.
   In terms of press freedom, Russia’s international ranking has plummeted under Vladimir Putin. Nationalization of most television stations, the use of selective prosecution for slander, libel, and tax evasion, a series of unsolved murders of prominent journalists (including Paul Klebnikov and Anna Politkovskaya), and new restrictions on covering terrorist attacks have all contributed to this situation.
   Recognizing the overall problem, President Dmitry Medvyedev commented on his country’s human rights record in September 2009, stating it was “far from perfect.” His plans for improving the situation involve a larger reform of the Russian judicial system.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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