HRW: Russian Civil Society Continues to Deteriorate

Human Rights Watch. Source: Hrw.orgThe human rights situation in Russia continued to deteriorate in 2009, according to an annual report by the international rights organization Human Rights Watch. According to the authors of the report, the North Caucasus region represented Russia’s main source of problems, with the murder of rights advocates in Chechnya particularly influencing the deterioration of civil society throughout the country.

The World Report 2010 by Human Rights Watch (HRW), released on Wednesday, details the results of the organization’s research on the conditions of civil rights around the world. Researchers concluded that 2009 marked a downturn in human rights on a global scale, but that the situation for Russian rights advocates in particular had become “unprecedentedly tragic.”

In addition to issues regarding the armed conflict over South Ossetia, government harassment of NGOs, migrant worker rights violations, health care concerns, and the failure of international efforts to address Russia’s rights situation, the report spent significant time discussing the slew of murders of Russian activists over the course of last year.

“The brazen murders of at least five civil rights activists and violence and harassment toward several others marked a severe deterioration in the human rights climate in Russia,” says the report.

Experts noted that, most often, the journalists and civil activists who were under the highest risk of violence worked on issues relating to the North Caucasus.

“2009 saw an increase in violence and threats against human rights defenders, civil activists, and independent journalists in Russia, particularly those working on the North Caucasus,” says the report. According to HRW, these developments contrasted sharply with the “positive rhetoric” of President Dmitri Medvedev.

“We don’t deny that the president’s rhetoric is positive,” said HRW expert Tatyana Lokshina in an interview with “It’s easy and nice to listen to his statements, but they remain only on the level of rhetoric, even though he’s been in power for a sufficient length of time.”

According to Lokshina, the actions of the Russian authorities have hastened the deterioration of Russian civil society. That the murders of rights advocates largely go uninvestigated “serves as a distinctive source of inspiration for criminals, who understand that no consequences will follow” their actions.

The report also remarked upon the continued discrimination of Russia’s 4 to 9 million migrant workers, citing unsafe working conditions, unpaid wages and a lack of redress for such abuses. Additionally, “police frequently use document inspections to extort money from visible minorities, including migrant workers,” the majority of whom are from Central Asia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

In its criticism of Russia over the consequences of the August 2008 military conflict with Georgia, HRW stated that 20,000 residents of “deliberately destroyed ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia” are still unable to return to their homes more than a year later. It also cited a September 2009 independent report funded by the European Union that found widespread violations of international law on the part of both Russia and Georgia.

The report concludes with a mention of the concern among residents of Sochi, the Black Sea city that will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, regarding environmental and property rights violations on the part of the government, which is struggling to complete the necessary infrastructure for the games.

The HRW report totals more than 600 pages, approximately ten of which are dedicated to Russia.

The full text of the Russian section of the report can be read by clicking here.