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Zek Week: Lev Ponomarev – Situation of Human Rights in the Russian Federation

[Below is a translation of an article written by Russian human rights defender Lev Ponomarev as part of our special Zek Week series on Russia’s prisons. See the intro post here.] Analytical Memo on the Situation of Human Rights in the Russian Federation By Lev Ponomarev Since 2000, an overall revanche of authoritarian-and police forces is being observed in the Russian Federation, the situation is becoming ever more depressing. As a result of the socio political evolution of recent years, human rights as such are completely absent in our country. This applies to the sphere of politics, and to civil rights, and to the socio-economic area. All that is left is but a certain quantity of democratic liberties, the exercise of which is strictly dosed by the authorities. It is necessary to note that the large-scale restrictions on civil and political rights, first and foremost, serve to neutralize society’s resistance to violations of social and economic rights. The total destruction and emasculation of constitutional-democratic principles and institutions in Russia is accompanied by the spread of unlimited violence and arbitrariness by the security [siloviki], law-enforcement, and law-application structures. Violence and arbitrariness have become everyday occurrences both in whole parts of the country: the North Caucasus (first and foremost – the Chechen Republic, but also the Republic of Daghestan), the Republic of Bashkiria, the Republic of Kalmykia, and within such federal agencies as the MVD and the Federal Service for the execution of punishments (FSIN). This, not to mention, the disgraceful situation in the armed forces. But if society hears at least something every now and then about the horrors of hazing and even of the summary-justice lynchings in Chechnya and Kabardino-Balkaria, the no less, and often more, tragic situation in FSIN institutions – prisons and camps remains hidden, thanks to the completely closed nature of the agency. It is necessary to note that under its current leadership – colonel-general of the internal service Yuri Kalinin, FSIN has acquired all of the characteristic features of the Soviet GULAG. Torture (in the broadest sense of this term) have become a customary tool of the law enforcement organs. An investigation to this day is in large part based on “confessions” obtained through torture. Monstrous arbitrariness and lawlessness is taking place in the system of execution of punishments [the correctional system–Trans.], which, as we have already noted, has been transformed into a new GULAG, where murders of, violence against, and abuse of prisoners have become the norm. Being used for extrajudicial “justice” are the so-called “discipline and order sections”, consisting of prisoners collaborating with the administration and receiving, contrary to the law, an opportunity for oppression and violence in relation to other prisoners. The second Chechen war has been going on during the course of 7 years already. It is gradually spreading out throughout the North Caucasus region. In addition to huge losses of the peaceful population during the course of military actions, according to the data of human rights organizations, as the result of punitive operations and the actions of various “death squads”, several thousand peaceful inhabitants of Chechnia, as well as Daghestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, and North Ossetia, have died or disappeared without a trace. The Russian authorities categorically reject a political peace process, the stakes are placed only on a solution by force and the “Chechenization” of the conflict. This leads to support for the created system of secret lynchings and unrestrained corruption. A wave of mass lynchings is rolling across the country: at the end of September 2004, participants in a peaceful protest rally in the capital of Kalmykia the city of Elista were cruel beaten; in the middle of December 2005 – mass lynchings took place in the Bashkirian city of Blagoveshchensk and surrounding population centers, where the OMON conducted an action of intimidation entitled “prophylaxis”; on 25 April 2006 in Daghestan, at the village of Miskindji the OMON shot down a peaceful protest demonstration, one person was killed, several wounded. Using as a pretext by the quashing of an armed uprising in the capital of the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic – the city of Nalchik (13-14 October 2005), the authorities dispensed summary justice to dozens of Islamic dissidents: not one of the participants in the events was taken wounded (all were killed, including, with blows to the head), relatives uncovered traces of torture on the bodies of the slain. The authorities refused to return all of the bodies of the slain (a total of 94) for burial under the pretext of the participation of the slain in a terrorist act. The inhuman and degrading conditions in FSIN institutions, the existence of a system of dozens of torture chambers “press-zones”, the arbitrariness of the red-armbanded “discipline and order sections” constantly provokes massive non-violent protest actions by prisoners, first and foremost in the form of serious self-mutilation. The largest such action took place at the end of June 2005 in a “press-colony” in the small town of Lgov of Kursk Oblast. Several hundred prisoners (according to various data – from 500 to 700) mutilated themselves then. The fact that the fault for what took place lies on the administration of the colony was stated both by then-miniser of justice Yuri Chaika and human rights Ombudsman in the Russian Federation Vladimir Lukin. However, the guilty parties from the side of the administration remained unpunished. The army has in fact once again become a “serf army” – powerlessness reigns in it, soldiers are used as free labor, several thousand soldiers, predominantly young, die or are crippled for life every year. A characteristic feature of ensuring that both regions and agencies remain “closed” is the tried-and-true system of collusion between the court, the procuracy, and the administrative power, which makes actions in defence of the rights of citizens practically hopeless. Such “consensus” creates unique conditions for conducting repressions, be they “contract” prosecutions or mass actions along political or ethnic lines. Speaking of the destruction of the principles of a law-based democratic state and an independent civil society, it is necessary to note the role of the well-oiled propaganda machine. Not limiting itself to the establishment of censorship, the power has transformed the mass media into a weapon of state propaganda, based on populism, a cult of autocracy, paranoia and xenophobia. Under the pretext of a struggle with xenophobia, the authorities have significantly expanded the concept of extremism, sweeping many kinds of opposition agitation into this category. Meanwhile, the procuracy is sabotaging the struggle with true neo-nazi organizations and anti-semitic campaigns. In many cases, we can already speak of actual encouragement by certain governmental and law-enforcement structures of the neo-nazi and neo-fascist “opposition”. The latest example of the inflaming by the authorities of xenophobia became the monstrous anti-Georgian campaign unleashed at the end of September 2006. At the same time, already at the very beginning of the campaign, Procurator-General of Russia Yuri Chaika publicly declared in advance that “all measures being applied comply with the law”. The mass media, controlled by the state, immediately created an “image of an enemy”, of violators of the law, of the prime culprits in various crimes, out of Georgians found in Russia. Mass deportations began – tens and hundreds of people, without distinction as to whether or not the deportees have a visa or a residence permit. Because of the horrible conditions under which the deportees were held, Tengiz Togonidze died right at the airport. For identifying ethnic Georgians, the police in several regions attempted to compet educational establishments to report lists of schoolchildren of Georgian origin. But only the Department of Education of Moscow recognized this as unlawful. This anti-Georgian campaign has already be recognized both in Russia and in by the international public as a manifestation of ethnic discrimination. With each passing day, new difficulties are being created for the functioning of civic associations, they are deprived of many rights, including, the right to appeal in favor of citizens to organs of state power and courts. Political persecutions have become the norm. There are already dozens of political prisoners in Russia. It is natural, that the authorities who are conducting a frontal attack on rights and liberties are preparing for the quashing of protests. A great deal has already been done for the conducting of both “pinpoint” and mass repressions. Including an ideological justification for the repressions, and “elastic” anti-extremist legislation. As a result of the court-and-judicial “reform” and the efforts of the Procuracy-General, the system of guaranteed issuance of guilty verdicts, adoption of court decisions in favor of the power, and pressuring of defense lawyers – which has acquired the contemptuous name of “Basmanny justice” – has been honed to perfection. This was manifested in all its glory during the time of the anti-Georgian campaign. Pointing to the readiness of the authorities for new kinds of mass persecutions of the opposition is the large-scale, cynically anti-constitutional operation by the FSB abd MVD – with the use of provocations, threats, beatings, and contract convictions in relation to several hundred participants in the Second Russian Social Forum (RSF-2) in many regions of our country. In Russia there have been adopted, but unlawfully classified, normative acts sanctioning “collective punishment” of entire population centers, extrajudicial lynchings (up to and including summary executions) and internment in improvized centers of inquest, the so-called “filtration points”. One of the examples is Order No. 870-DSP of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia of 10 September 2002 (signed by Boris Gryzlov) and Attachment No. 1 (on the actions of the MVD in extraordinary circumstances) to this order. There are serious grounds that what took place on the eve and during the Social Forum became the result of a massed operation of the special services on the basis of secret FSB and MVD directives. Testifying to this is the “Excerpt from the Plan for joint measures of the GUVD of Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast and the UFSB of Saint Petersburg and Leningrad Oblast to provide for the security of the preparation and conducting of ‘Group of Eight’ events in the city of St. Petersburg in the year 2006 and the realization of the demands of Directives of the MVD and FSB of Russia of 19.10. 2005 No. 941 and of 29.10.2005 No. 968.861”. The excerpt is prepared by Senior Inspector of the KRP for PT of the Operational Headquarters of the GUVD, lieutenant-colonel of the police E.E. Trofimovich. This plan in fact gave directions to pursue and block the arrival at the Forum of representatives of “informal” (unregistered) youth groups and anti-globalists (Forum participants preferred to consider themselves “alter-globalists”) on a par with “band[it]formations” and religious radicals (this is a euphemism applied to independent currents in Islam). If we are to sum up, then practically all constitutional guarantees of human rights and personal liberties have been liquidated, legal, ideological, and political conditions for the conducting of repressions – both against political opponents and against entire categories of the population – have been created in Putin’s Russia. Furthermore, during the course of several months of the year 2006, various variants of mass persecutions were tried out: in June-July in relation to the participants in RSF-2, starting with October – in relation to ethnic minorities set in contrast by president Putin to the “native” population. Repressions are becoming a universal practice, the number of political prisoners has attained the level of the 1970s-1980s. The anti-Georgian campaign, the readiness of the law-enforcement organs for ethnic persecutions, has displayed a tendency towards the fascization of power, the appearance of a new quality in the authoritarianism that has been created. As has already been noted, the liquidation of democracy and violations of access to justice have created conditions for a broad offensive on social and economic rights. A brazen violation of the rights of small and medium-sized business is going on, the “middle class” that arose as the result of liberal reforms is ever more defenseless in the face of the arbitrariness of the power and the monopolies. Rights providing for the vital needs of broad categories of the population are being violated in the grossest manner. Over a third of the population of Russia is found in conditions of frightening poverty, is deprived of access to necessary medical assistance. Another third is in very great need. The housing-and-public-utilities sphere is extremely monopolized and corrupt. The artificial understatement of purchasing power and the system of state monopolism impedes the development of domestic industrial and agricultural production, dooms the overwhelming majority to powerlessness and huge deprivations.