(Washington, DC--August 2, 2002) A long-time expert on human rights in Russia told an RFE/RL audience yesterday that Russia's increased cooperation with the West could prove to be a positive development, but only if the West regards human rights compliance by Russia as a priority, if not a precondition for mutual relations.
Dr. Leonid Stonov, Director of International Bureaus for the UCSJ and a former soviet-era refusenik, said that the Russian government has taken advantage of its closer relations with Western governments after September 11, 2001 to divert attention away from continuing human rights violations in Chechnya and the unrestrained growth of xenophobia, religious persecution, and political extremism throughout Russia. Stonov cited numerous examples from the most recent annual  report of the Moscow Helsinki Group entitled, "Human Rights in Russia's Regions," which show that the "sphere of civil and political rights continued to sustain major 'losses' in 2001."
Stonov said that this year's comprehensive study, which for the first time contains human rights reporting from all 89 regions of the Russian Federation, underlined one positive aspect -- not only the existence of brave human rights monitors in Russia, but the strengthening of their organizational structure. Stonov called upon both Western organizations and governments to continue assistance to human rights monitors in Russia and throughout the former Soviet bloc.
Drawing a parallel with the "era of glasnost" (openness) that came into being in the waning days of the Soviet Union, Stonov said that Russia's human rights situation won't improve until an "era of slishnost" (listening) becomes the norm--when government officials listen to citizens and leaders of civic society in the Russian Federation.
The 2001 Report on the human rights situation in Russia was compiled by the Moscow Helsinki Group with the participation of UCSJ as well as regional human rights organizations throughout the Russian Federation, and funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The text of the report can be found at UCSJ's website, which can be accessed via RFE/RL's Regional Analysis website at www.regionalanalysis.org.