For Immediate Release: December 5, 2008
WASHINGTON – Consistent promotion of human rights must be an integral part of the United States bilateral relationship with Russia, asserts Human Rights First in a new Blueprint on promoting human rights in Russia for the incoming Obama administration, issued today. The United States must avoid the temptation of striking ad-hoc bilateral agreements on strategic issues while setting aside more contentious issues like human rights.
Despite resistance from the Russian government, the U.S. government cannot afford to give up on human rights promotion, the blueprint, How to Promote Human Rights in Russia, asserts. An increasingly authoritarian Russia risks spreading instability throughout the world and cannot be a reliable strategic partner. It also casts a shadow on human rights promotion among its neighbors. While the United States clearly has a vested interest in a continued relationship with Russia, the quality of that relationship is affected to a significant degree by human rights conditions inside Russia.
“A positive cooperative relationship with Russia on a wide range of shared strategic interests will not be advanced by overlooking mounting repression and authoritarianism,” the report warns, “Unwavering support for basic freedom…should be a central element of the bilateral relationship.”
Human Rights First’s recommendations focus on two areas that are crucial to enabling Russians to promote the rule of law and secure human rights. The first is greater support for independent human rights defenders, a task made all the more urgent by yesterday’s unwarranted police raid on the human rights group “Memorial” in St. Petersburg. The second is increased efforts to combat racism, xenophobia and violent hate crimes, a seriously escalating human rights problem on which coordinated cooperative action between the United States and Russian governments is both possible and necessary.
The Blueprint calls on the new administration to demonstrate support for independent human rights organizations including having the President or Secretary of State meet with Russian human rights leaders when visiting the country. It sets out practical steps the new administration should take to enhance cooperation with the Russian authorities in combating the surge in violent hate crimes. Among those steps are:
- Engaging in a regular dialogue to raise individual hate crime cases and to promote a stronger response to violent hate crime. Support that dialogue with offers of technical assistance and other opportunities to exchange experiences and best practices.
- Expanding funding and other support to build the capacity of Russian civil society groups to combat violent hate crime.
As foreign ministers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe convene in Helsinki, Finland for the annual OSCE Ministerial Meeting, the blueprint calls on the new administration to renew and strengthen the United States’ commitment to an institution built for the purpose of multilateral cooperation between the U.S. and its democratic allies to promote human rights. As part of the OSCE process, Russia is bound by wide-ranging commitments in the human rights field that provide a clear framework within which Russia’s human rights performance can be evaluated.
The blueprint, How to Promote Human Rights in Russia, is the fifth in a series of strategy papers released by Human Rights First to guide the next administration in restoring American leadership in human rights in critical spheres. The first paper in the series, How to Close Guantanamo, was released this August, the second, How to End Torture and Cruel Treatment, was released in October, the third, How to End Impunity for Private Security and Other Contractors, was released in November, and the fourth, How to Repair the U.S. Asylum System, was released just yesterday.