Washington – The United States Helsinki Commission today held a hearing to examine the current state of human rights in Russia, just over a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin took office.
“Our hope is that Russia will overcome the legacy of the past and achieve the freedom the Russian people deserve,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). “Indications of a downward trend in Russia’s human rights record were noted by several experts at a Commission hearing held in May of last year, and regrettably the situation has not improved since.”
Chairman Campbell added, “The discovery of dozens of bodies in a mass grave near the main Russian military base in Chechnya is only the most egregious horror in a long line of horrors being visited upon non-combatants in that region. This does not excuse atrocities committed by Chechen forces, or detract from legitimate concerns about conditions in Chechnya after the first war. The gravity of the violations in Chechnya demand our attention in light of Russia’s international obligations, including her OSCE commitments.”
Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) said in prepared remarks, “I am especially concerned about the carnage that continues to take place in Chechnya. The death and destruction continues, taking Chechen and Russian lives and making a peaceful solution appear even less possible.”
“I think we all understand that guerrilla warfare can be savage, and there have been documented instances of atrocities committed by Chechen forces,” Smith added. “However, Russia military actions in Chechnya suggest less of a military operation against an armed secessionist force – or an ‘anti-terrorist operation,’ as Moscow phrases it – than a war against an entire people who are its own citizens.”
“One of the most disturbing events has been the forceful takeover by individuals connected with the Russian Government of the NTV television network, an independent network that had been critical of the Putin administration,” Campbell added. “The pattern of harassment against the few independent news outlets is quite clear.”
Testifying before the Commission today were John Beyrle, Acting Special Advisor to the Secretary for the New Independent States, U.S. Department of State; Dr. Elena Bonner, Chairman, Andrei Sakharov Foundation; Paul Goble, Director of Communications, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty; and Dr. Emil Pain, Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Woodrow Wilson International Center.
Text of opening statements delivered by Commission Members and hearing witnesses are available on the Commission’s web site.