Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Using Russia's Human Rights Record as a Guide to Crimea Occupation

     Russia has not been a champion of human rights recently.  In fact their track record on the subject led many to believe the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi would be a cause for concern with many gay athletes participating, a group which does not enjoy public freedom in Russia.

     In the US State Department's annual Country Reports on Human Rights, several documented cases of human rights violations have occurred in Russia.  Among them are torture, unlawful detainment, freedoms of the press, and political corruption to name a few.  Despite stipulations in Russia's constitution affording protection against a majority of these violations, the State seems to weigh each situation on a case by case basis holding the rule of law in low regard.

     Russian President Vladimir Putin has been in charge of the country since 1999.  Jostling between president and prime minister, Putin has been able to elicit his authority for nearly 20 years.  In the State Department's report, Russian officials were able to directly affect the outcomes of elections.  According to the report, "A 2012 law restored direct popular gubernatorial elections, and in September voters directly elected seven regional chief executives.  In some cases, the president replaced or reappointed governors before their terms expired.  In some regions, however, such as Ingushetia and Dagestan, regional legislatures took advantage of a law signed in April that allows the legislature, rather than the public, to choose a regional leader from a list of three candidates selected by the president."

     The Russian government has also used its ability to suppress the media and violate freedoms of speech to influence political authority.  Many had hoped for a new Russian order separate from the days of communism.  However, it appears as if the facade of a new Russian order has been torn down by many recent stories.  According to a recent 60 Minutes report, the Russian government was able to seize the venture of an American businessman who bought a Russian company with the hopes of ending its corrupt management and making it ethically profitable again.  The Russian police and tax service then reestablished ownership to a puppet and provided them with the most generous government bailout in Russian history.  Russian officials also illegally detained the attorney hired to investigate the seizure and he eventually died in prison under suspicious circumstances.

     Vladimir Putin's KGB background provides some insight into his zero tolerance method for quelling uprisings, dissent, and overall unruliness in Russian society.  There continues to be civil unrest in the Northern Caucasus region where Dagestan (home to a heavily Muslim population) is located.  President Putin has been very harsh in his use of force in this area to quell the unrest against the government.  The State Department's report stated, "President Putin fired Sergey Bobrov, the recently installed head of Chechnya’s Investigative Committee.  The newspaper reported that Bobrov had recently been investigating abduction and murder cases allegedly perpetrated by the security services of appointed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov."  In addition, Russia instituted policies to restrict the humanitarian work of NGO's.  

     How does this affect the situation in Ukraine and Crimea?  Russia believes they have legal authority to enter Crimea to defend Russian citizens.  Brian Resnick of National Journal reported that, "Article 61, section 2 of the [Russian] constitution allows defiance of international laws in this situation. It reads, in English: "The Russian Federation shall guarantee its citizens defense and patronage beyond its boundaries."  Resnick went on to report that Russia used this same language for its involvement in Georgia in 2008.  

     This points to a seeming disregard for laws contrary to Russia's objectives domestically and internationally.  Russia has clearly violated the sovereignty of Ukraine contrary to what they had previously promised.  Many US officials have exclaimed that President Obama must determine what President Putin's objective is because thus far, President Putin has been one step ahead of the US.  Some believe Russia has used President Obama's failed "red line" enforcement in Syria to send troops to Ukraine.  

      Despite no shots being fired thus far, the situation is likely to escalate with the supposed ultimatum issued by Russia "to surrender by 5 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Tuesday or face a military assault."  One thing is clear when examining Russia's goals - their poor track record on human rights indicates they may be serious in exerting more influence in Ukraine with no regard for rule of law.  

Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices

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