Name

Russian Federation

The Russian Federation (Russia) is physically the largest country in the world, covering 6.6 million square miles and nine time zones over its 6,000 mile length.   Its population of about 147.5 million includes more than 100 ethnic groups, the current majority of whom are Slavic.  Once an underdeveloped, peasant society, Russia made considerable economic progress under Communist rule, mainly by the force of a centralized command economy and basic industrialization. 

As the successor to the Soviet Union, Russia traces its membership in the OSCE back to the organization’s roots in the Cold War and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, which was originally a Soviet bloc-led initiative.  The collapse of communism and Soviet rule in 1991 forced Russia into a difficult transition toward a democratic state and market-based economy.  That transition continues today, with a constitutional approach to governance that was initially well-defined and democratic in concept, if not in practice, suffering a series of setbacks.  As a result, Russia has eliminated much of the space for civil society and free media, reduced access to justice, and imposed severe restraints on political pluralism. 

Today, Russia is failing repeatedly to live up to its commitments of the 1975 Helsinki Act, such as respecting territorial integrity, refraining from the treat or use of force, respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, or fulfilling obligations under international law.

The Helsinki Commission is particularly concerned about Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and deeply disturbed by Russia’s culture of legal impunity that has resulted in unsolved murders of activists, whistleblowers, and opposition politicians such as Sergei Magnitsky and Boris Nemstov. The Commission played a central role in drafting the 2012 Magnitsky Act to impose sanctions of Russian officials implicated in Magnitsky’s murder, as well as other human rights abuses and corruption.  In October 2015, the Commission held a hearing to shed light on Russia’s violations of the rule of law across all three dimensions of the OSCE: security, economic, and human rights, including Russia’s abrogation of arms control commitments, illegal expropriation of international investments, and cross-border kidnapping and unjust imprisonment of non-Russian citizens.

Staff Contact: Rachel Bauman, policy advisor

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  • Soviet Law and the Helsinki Monitors

    Between February 3, 1977 and June 1, 1978, twenty Soviet citizens active in the defense of human rights in five different Republics were arrested and imprisoned; two others, traveling abroad on Soviet passports, were stripped of their citizenship and denied the right to return to the USSR. All are members of the Public Groups to Promote Observance of the Helsinki Agreement in the USSR (the Soviet Helsinki Watch) or, in the case of two men, of its subsidiary Working Commission to Investi­gate the Abuse of Psychiatry for Political Purposes. The twenty-one men and one woman are being punished under a variety of different criminal charges. Their "crime," however, is identical: political dissent, ex­pressed in the non-violent, open effort to spur Soviet authorities to implement the human rights and humanitarian undertakings of the August 1975 Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (the Helsinki Accord.) The following study by the staff of the U. S. Commission on . Security and Cooperation in Europe examines the workings of Soviet law and criminal procedure as applied in these cases of political dissent. It discusses the guarantees of Soviet law, including international covenants ratified by the USSR, against arbitrary arrest and unfair trial and compares those to the practices used against the Helsinki Watchers. From the study it is evident that those guarantees -- both substantive and procedural -- have been repeatedly violated in the persecution and prosecution of the twenty-two human rights activists. The violations uncovered range from improper conduct of pre-arrest house searches through illegally prolonged pre-trial detention to unlawful denial of the rights of the defense at the trial. This pattern of official conduct toward free, but dissenting political expression is not new in the Soviet Union. In the treatment of the Soviet Helsinki Watch, however, it has been systematic and can be termed, without question, a gross and intentional violation of both the pledges in the Final Act and the safeguards promised by the Soviet Constitution, Criminal Codes and Codes of Criminal Procedure.

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