Human Rights in Russia

By
Jodi Koehn

Many current Russian problems and opportunities are linked to the concept of Russian independence and the struggle for free Russia," remarked Sergei Baburkin, Professor, Department of History, Yaroslavl State Pedagogical University, and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Kennan Institute, at a 12 June 2000 lecture at the Kennan Institute. One of these problems is that of human rights and national security.

Baburkin described the major developments in human rights over the last few years. Under the Soviet system, limitations and violations of human rights and political liberties were mainly caused by policies of the state. These violations were committed by state security organs in the course of implementing security policy, as well as in the name of the security of the socialist state, Baburkin stated.

In contemporary Russia, first, there have been changes in the ideology of security. The concept of national security now is not only the security of the state, but the security of individuals, society, and the state. Second, the legal framework of security policy is more liberalized to include laws regulating activities of the security apparatus with special articles demanding respect for human rights. Next, the structure, personnel, and tasks of the security system have changed. The KGB has been divided into several parts such as the service of foreign intelligence, the service for counterintelligence (FSB), and the agency for state communications. There is no longer a monopoly of one agency in the security arena. Finally, and most importantly, argued Baburkin, there are now a number of governmental and non-governmental human rights organizations specializing in the social and political environment which issue precise reports on the state of human rights in Russia.

According to Baburkin, the reports produced by these organizations indicate changes in the structure of human rights violations in Russia. The magnitude of political rights and civil liberties violations in the country has diminished, argued Baburkin. However, there has been an increase in violations of basic rights of Russian citizens--such as the right to life and the right to one's security. There has also been an emergence of new forms of human rights violations, such as kidnaping and slave trade. Furthermore, Baburkin reported, the bulk of human rights violations are linked not to counterintelligence or intelligence services, but to law enforcement agencies such at the police, penitentiary system, and armed forces.

Baburkin stated that some of the human rights violations in Russia now are not viewed as state organ activities, but as the results of insufficient activity of the state apparatus responsible for maintaining security and enforcing law and order. In addition, Baburkin argued, there is increased discussion about the "counter-offensive" of the security apparatus, the secret services, and, particularly, the FSB. However, this increased activity does not represent a drastic threat to human rights, Baburkin argued.

The situation of human rights and the activities of secret services is different in various regions of Russia. Chechnya differs drastically from the rest of the country. Human rights issues and security are intrinsically intertwined. In the 1990s, Chechnya was an internal source of multiple threats to Russia's national security, Baburkin remarked. Its movements toward separation from the Russian Federation threatened Russia's territorial integrity and sovereignty over the country as a whole. The situation in Chechnya also jeopardized the security of Russian society and individuals through its attempts to introduce different laws and norms. According to Baburkin, Chechnya became a "bandit enclave" in Russia. From a security standpoint, it was evident that Russian authorities had to take action.

Baburkin went on to describe the response of Russian authorities. In 1994, Russia attempted to resolve the problem militarily--action for which they were poorly prepared. In 1996, there was an unsuccessful attempt at a resolution based on negotiations. In 1999, once again facing a security threat from the region--due to what Baburkin referred to as the open aggression against Dagestan--Russia again responded militarily. Unfortunately, this action has led to a new wave of human rights violations in the region--now including the participation of Russian troops.

According to Baburkin, although the reasons for human rights violations related to Chechnya may differ from those of other areas, there are some common aspects. Baburkin noted the security culture of Russia which is characterized by a low level of respect for the lives of people, including its own troops. There have been some changes in this aspect, Baburkin argued. Russian military command now pays more attention to the lives of its soldiers. Baburkin expressed hope that this is the first step in changing the nature of Russia's security culture. According to Baburkin, it is necessary to continue changing the security culture of the nation in a democratic and positive manner which would respect human rights and the lives of the people.

There have been some positive developments in the area of national security and human rights in Russia, Baburkin concluded. According to Baburkin, to ignore these changes would be politically counter-productive and unfair to those in Russia and abroad who have dedicated themselves to changing the situation in Russia.

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