(Washington, DC -- September 21, 2001) A survey supported by the U.S. government has allowed human rights groups across the Russian Federation to unite for the first time, a prominent Russian human rights activist told an RFE/RL briefing.
Ludmilla Alekseeva, a longtime human rights activist and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, was in Washington, DC to present the results of her organization's third annual report that for the first time covers developments in all 89 regions of the Russian Federation. Preparation of these reports has been made possible by grants from the U.S. Agency for International Development. This latest report, covering 2000, will be available online at www.fsumonitor.com.
Alekseeva said that the process of gathering information for the report had allowed human rights groups to come together into a single and increasingly influential lobby, one with more members than any other public organization in Russia except for the Communist Party. And now that they have united, Alekseeva said, the groups plan actions to pressure authorities both in Moscow and the regions to live up to the Russian Constitution.
Daniil Meshcheryakov, who oversaw the production of the report, said that President Vladimir Putin's efforts to reestablish central control had changed the nature of human rights violations in Russia. Increasingly, these violations take the form of ostensibly legal actions against individuals, groups and the media, a symptom of the "manipulated" form of democracy that Alekseeva said is no democracy at all.
Alekseeva said that the report suggests that government efforts to restrict the free flow of information, sometimes by pressure on news outlets and often by charging scholars with espionage, are among the most widespread human rights problems in Russia today.
Both speakers emphasized that the continuing war in Chechnya represents the most intractable human rights problem in the country. There does not seem to be any end in sight to the conflict because the Russian forces "profit" from the war through various corrupt practices and are largely able to act out of the glare of publicity because of Putin's controls on media coverage of the conflict.
In an effort to overcome these restrictions, Alekseeva said, she and other European human rights activists plan to try to create a permanent human rights monitoring station in the region, an entity that will help the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to call attention to human rights abuses there.