Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

“Human Rights in Russia Are Headed Down the Wrong Road” Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Chris Smith says

WASHINGTON – “Human rights in Russia are no longer at a crossroads but have been headed down the wrong road for several years,” said Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe Co-Chairman Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing “Whither Human Rights in Russia?”

Against the backdrop of the National Security hearing room and its symbols of U.S. military might, the Commission heard from witnesses about the deteriorating human rights situation that is affecting the average citizen due to increased corruption at every level of government, corrupt journalists who are in the pocket of the mafia-styled oligarches and political czars, pointed “ethnic cleansing” aimed at “blacks” (which in Russia means peoples from the Caucasus), religious repression from the Federal Security Bureau aimed at minority faiths, and ever-increasing anti-Semitism.

Witnesses included: Dr. Elena Bonner, chair of the Andrei Sakharov Foundation; Ludmilla Alexeyeva, chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group; Larry Uzzell, Moscow-based director of the Keston Institute; Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews; David Satter, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute; and Mark B. Levin, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.

“The decline in Russia’s recent economic fortunes has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the area of human rights and civil liberties,” said Smith. “Anti-Semitism in Russia—thought to have been exiled since the Soviet period to the pages of rabidly nationalistic newspapers—has moved into the more comfortable seats of the Russian Duma. Last October, at two public rallies, a Communist Party Member of the Duma, Albert Makasho, blamed ‘the Yids’ for Russia’s current problems.

In December, at Duma hearings, the chairman of the Defense Committee blamed President Yeltsin’s ‘Jewish entourage’ for alleged ‘genocide against the Russian people.’ In response to the public outcry, both in Russia and abroad, Communist Party chairman Zyuganov explained that the Party had nothing against ‘Jews,’ just ‘Zionism.’

Smith pointed out that “Russia has laws on the books, but they seem to work only when bureaucrats see legal justice in their own interest. The average citizen appears helpless before the arrogant bureaucracy, coupled with brutal crime and economic chaos.”

Dr. Bonner pointed out that the anti-Semitism may be virulent right now, but that it is not “in-bred.” Regarding U.S. financial support, Bonner recognized the allocation of the funds to various domestic projects, but pointed out that no one knows how the monies have actually been spent. “I cannot state whether the funds were stolen or not, that must be decided by the courts,” she said. Bonner also expressed support for linking human rights and civil liberties improvement to any future U.S. support for the Russian Government.

Ms. Alexeyeva believed that the comments from the leaders of the Communist Party were actually true reflections of the Party, not of the Russian people. She also felt that other self-respecting parliamentarians from other countries should not deal with the Duma until the anti-Semitic remarks are rebuked and the purveyors of anti-Semitism denounced by the government and the Duma. She felt it would be helpful if distinguished Members of Congress would lead the way by telling Yeltsin they would oppose support for Russia until appropriate steps are taken to quell anti-Semitism. “Russian human rights activists perceive that the contemporary major problem is not in the domain of political persecutions the way it used to be in the USSR, but instead in the phenomenon of legal nihilism of all the state officials, from the most powerful ones to the most insignificant ones,” she said.

David Satter’s conclusion was, “The new face of human rights abuses in Russia, in which the individual is deprived utterly of the protection of the law in the face of criminal business mafias, should be of deep concern to the United States. Fear for one’s physical security and the conviction that one is helpless to assure the safety of one’s family can only have a corrosive effect both morally and spiritually. When this condition is generalized to an entire population, it instills a distaste for democracy and a desire for authoritarian solutions which, in Russia, could have extremely violent consequences.”

Larry Uzzell described in some detail the plight of religious believers in the new Russia, and felt that “Russians don’t have significantly less religious freedom than they did one-and-a-half years ago, but less than they did five years ago.” He did feel that the ongoing transfer of power to the provinces “is a good thing” and that different provinces apply laws very differently, resulting in varying degrees of freedom throughout the country. He optimistically felt that while “in the short term Russia will have less freedom, in the long term it will be free.”

Naftalin and Levin discussed the current trends of anti-Semitism and how it manifests itself across Russia. They pointed out that there are both extremes, areas where there is little or no religious bigotry and other areas where there is extreme anti-Semitism—to the point of cemetery defacement and synagogue burning. But they both felt that the actions of a radical few were having a tremendous impact overall, that the public anti-Semitism was not shared by most common people.

Background: The Commission decided to hold this hearing because the decline in Russia’s economic fortunes in 1998 has been accompanied by disturbing developments in the areas of human rights and civil liberties. A religion law adopted in 1997 has led to legal difficulties with local authorities for some religious organizations. After seven indictments, environmental activist Alexandr Nikitin is still being confined to St. Petersburg having been neither acquitted nor convicted at an October 1998 trial for allegedly revealing state secrets.

Nikitin has been listed by Amnesty International as Russia’s first political prisoner. Communist Party members of the Russian Duma have blamed “Yids” for Russia’s economic travails and Jewish members of Yeltsin’s entourage for “genocide” against the Russian people. In November, one of the most prominent liberal Duma members, Galina Staravoitova, was murdered in St. Petersburg.

Ironically, Russian President Boris Yeltsin declared 1998 “The Year of Human Rights” in Russia in honor of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Hearings

Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner

Sep 20, 2023

Stream here: HEARING: Vladimir Kara-Murza: Putin’s Personal Prisoner – YouTube Vladimir Kara-Murza, a father, husband, and a freedom fighter, has been in detention for over five hundred days and is currently being transferred to a prison in Siberia. As he is being moved, his family has lost all contact with him and are faced with worry […]

screen-reader-text
Articles

United States Demonstrates Global Leadership on Ukra...

Jul 14, 2023

The Helsinki Commission’s four senior leaders helmed the United States’ bicameral, bipartisan delegation to the 30th Annual Session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly last week in Vancouver, Canada. Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), serving as Head of Delegation, was joined by Chairman Joe Wilson (SC-02) as Deputy Head of Delegation as well as Ranking Members […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Supporting A Democratic and Secure Moldova

Jul 12, 2023

In recent years, Moldova has made notable steps to improve its democratic institutions and combat corruption. President Maia Sandu and her Party of Action and Solidarity (PAS) have spearheaded wide-ranging reforms and backed a number of high-profile anti-corruption cases. Moldova has also made strides toward greater integration with the European Union (EU). In 2022, the […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Hearing: Supporting a Democratic and Secure Moldova

Jul 06, 2023

Wednesday, July 12, 2023 2:00 pm Cannon House Office Building, Room 210 Live stream: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jm-R6rfQbCo In recent years, Moldova has enacted numerous reforms under current Moldovan President Maia Sandu to strengthen its democratic institutions, combat corruption and kleptocracy, and integrate with the European Union. In 2022, the European Union granted Moldova “Candidate” status in its […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

HELSINKI COMMISSION SENDS APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PRESIDE...

Apr 28, 2023

WASHINGTON— The leadership of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-02), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), and Ranking Members Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09) and Senator Roger Wicker (MS) sent a letter to Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili urging her to intervene to break […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

CHURCH, STATE, AND RUSSIA’S WAR ON UKRAINE

Apr 27, 2023

The Putin regime has long used the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) to consolidate its power at home and abroad. Under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, the ROC has explicitly endorsed Russia’s war on Ukraine, even blessing weapons for the invasion. Churches under the mantle of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) had long been viewed […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Leadership Statement on Georgian...

Mar 06, 2023

WASHINGTON—In response to news that the Georgian parliament is considering Russian-style foreign agent legislation, which would have a chilling effect on Georgia’s vibrant civil society, Helsinki Commission Chairman Representative Joe Wilson (SC-2), Co-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (MD), Ranking Member Representative Steve Cohen (TN-09), and Ranking Member Senator Roger Wicker (MS) issued the following joint statement: “Since regaining independence, the Georgian people have clearly and […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Chair and Co-Chair: Statement on...

Feb 20, 2023

WASHINGTON—Following reports of the sharp deterioration of Azerbaijani dissident Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-2) and Co-Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following joint statement: “We are absolutely appalled at the continued unwarranted detention and mistreatment of Azerbaijani civil activist Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, who has been imprisoned on trumped up charges and […]

screen-reader-text
Helsinki_Default
Hearings

The Alarming Rise in Antisemitism and Its Threat to ...

Dec 13, 2022

In response to a rise in antisemitism in the United States and abroad, the Helsinki Commission held a hearing on December 13, 2022, featuring experts on preventing and combatting it. Witnesses testified about current development and how best to respond, as well as reinforced the important role of multilateral cooperation. In an increasingly global world […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Announces Hearing on Crowdsourci...

Dec 07, 2022

WATCH LIVE                                                                                                           […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text
Statements

Congressmen Cohen and Wilson Introduce Resolution Re...

Oct 28, 2022

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, and the Commission’s Ranking Member, Congressman Joe Wilson (SC-02), today introduced a resolution recognizing October 30 as International Day of Political Prisoners. Congressman Cohen was recently named the Special Representative on Political Prisoners […]

screen-reader-text