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April 07, 2017

Tillerson Urged to Raise Rights Abuses, Civil Society Crackdown During First Russia Visit

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First called on U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to publicly and privately raise concerns over recent human rights abuses, the crackdown on civil society, and widespread corruption during his visit to Russia next week. The call came in a letter sent to the State Department Thursday from Human Rights First President and CEO Elisa Massimino stressing that the way in which governments treat their people is inextricably linked to global peace and security. The trip was scheduled prior to last night’s U.S. airstrikes in Syria. Secretary Tillerson is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and other Kremlin officials on April 12. 

“Your upcoming visit to the Russian Federation comes at a particularly consequential time for bilateral relations between the United States and Russia,” wrote Massimino. “From Ukraine to Syria to North Korea, as well as with respect to Russian meddling in our recent presidential election, the world does not lack for crises that will require strong, smart, and patient diplomacy between our two governments.”

The letter follows a shocking series of reports of disappearances, mass arrests, and killings of gay mean in the Russian republic of Chechnya and a wave of protests in late March that swept 82 cities across Russia spurred by rampant government corruption. The protests resulted in what is reported to be over one thousand arrests of opposition figures, journalists, and protesters.  

Massimino urged Secretary Tillerson to openly raise these shocking human rights violations, press for an open and independent investigation into the persecution of the Chechen LGBT community, and urged for him to express concern over the Russian government’s crackdown on peaceful protest.

The letter additionally called on Secretary Tillerson to raise continued human rights violations in Russian-controlled Ukrainian territories and the harassment of Russian civil society through a highly controversial “foreign agents” law. In closing, the letter urged the secretary to heed the call of a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to meet with Russia’s pro-democracy opposition and civil society leaders.

“Doing so would not only send a clear message that the United States stands with these brave activists in their struggle for freedom and human rights, but can also serve as an important form of protection for them at a time when Russian journalists, lawyers, and political opposition figures are being killed not only in Russia, but in surrounding countries,” wrote Massimino. “As secretary of state, you can best express your support for the Russian people by meeting not only with members of President Putin’s government, but also with those who represent Russia’s future and share with us a deep commitment to the universal values of human rights.“ 

For more information contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org or 202-370-3310.