Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Report

Introduction

The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in Russia to promote democracy and human rights. For background on Russia's human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Reports at www.state.gov.

Part 1: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives

The overall U.S. objective is to support Russia in becoming a more democratic and open partner that increasingly moves toward a free-market democratic system built on checks and balances, and acts as a strong and effective partner in areas of common interest, while protecting and promoting universal human rights principles, within the international community. Thus, the United States supports democratic values, principles, and practices within the country. The United States seeks to strengthen and encourage the Russian government and society's own support for the development of civil society and respect for the rule of law. The United States will continue to support democratic reformers and human rights defenders, while also seeking opportunities to advance democratic practices and culture by working in cooperation, where U.S. goals are aligned, with national, regional, and local government authorities on areas of common interest.

There are challenges to this agenda: fear that democracy will cause instability ; political activism remains relatively low; public demand for government accountability is generally weak, although with the growth of Internet usage in Russia, there are some modest, detectable changes for the better; and the government's restrictions on and harassment of the activities of some civil society groups and some independent media create a difficult operational atmosphere for democracy-supporting programs.

U.S. priorities for promoting human rights and democracy in the country include encouragement of accountable, participatory democratic political institutions, an active civil society, independent media, and the rule of law. The United States engages government officials, NGOs, and the media in supporting the government's compliance with its constitution and its international commitments on human rights to guarantee that citizens have the freedom to develop democracy. The United States also supports the promotion of a strong and independent judiciary; the continued professional development of a broad array of justice system actors; and initiatives to address and bolster the country's ongoing efforts to combat corruption. To strengthen the country's governance and rule of law, U.S. strategy includes broad-based support for capacity building in the legal sector, strengthening independent regional media and networks of professional journalists, and responsive local government.

The United States encourages the active participation of an informed citizenry by developing the capacity of NGOs to become better advocates for citizens' interests, more effective interlocutors with the government, and stronger sources of expertise for the public and authorities, as well as the development of an active and independent media. In addition, the United States prioritizes a robust public diplomacy campaign, including academic exchanges, public messaging and speaking engagements, and promotes the use of new electronic media such as social networks, blogs, and electronic journals as essential components to the U.S. efforts to promote democracy and human rights. A new generation of activists is starting to use 21st-century methods to raise awareness of the role that civic activism can play in improving living conditions for average people; during the year, the United States sent a delegation of leaders in the technology industry to Russia to explore how technological advances can help enhance civil society in Russia. In addition, the United States seeks more rights and better treatment for the country's workers, and improvement of minority rights.

Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human
Rights and Democratic Governance

The United States promotes human rights and democracy through sustained dialogue; U.S. officials meet regularly with representatives of the Russian government, media outlets, the religious community, academics, and civil society. In these meetings, the U.S. Government promotes universal values, human rights and democratic norms, and attempts to understand better how the motivations, actions, and results of government policy and societal developments affect the observance of human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions, as well as address obstacles where they exist. The United States engages senior Russian officials regularly on issues affecting its civil society. The Embassy raises concerns about media freedom issues and violence committed against journalists. The United States also consistently urges authorities to pursue all those responsible for past unresolved murders and bring them to justice. The United States will continue to rely on well-coordinated efforts to promote Russian support of its developing civil society, and to dissuade or discourage the government from enacting legislative or administrative restrictions on civil institutions or internationally recognized human rights.

In 2009, Presidents Obama and Medvedev jointly authorized the creation of the Bilateral Presidential Commission (BPC) in order to build stronger ties and improve understanding between the two governments and between our respective societies. The BPC established 16 working groups, which seek to develop a sustained effort among the American and Russian people to identify mutual interests, and expand dialogue and cooperation that can pave the way to progress. One of the BPC working groups, the Civil Society Working Group (CSWG), is a mechanism for the U.S.-Russian engagement on issues affecting civil society in areas of mutual interest and concern. The first CSWG meeting, held in January 2010, focused on ways to combat corruption, protect children, and break down stereotypes. It included participation by senior government officials from both countries as well as members of the NGO community. Future sessions are currently being scheduled, including with discussion topics on the role that civil society plays in addressing issues arising in prisons and from migration.

While domestic financial support for many NGOs remains limited, the United States in close partnership with leading Russian NGOs continues to support human rights monitoring, advocacy, and public awareness initiatives to strengthen fundamental civil liberties, and to help citizens better understand and become more involved in the protection of their rights. U.S.-sponsored cooperation and exchange programs are long-term efforts to build trust and promote understanding of modern, independent, and accountable political and judicial institutions, as well as to support democratic civic voices. Thorough organized support to the spectrum of NGOs, associations, and coalitions – particularly those concerned with human rights and governance issues at a grassroots and regional level – in the longer term could foster participatory governance, promote civic responsibility, and help civil society effectively engage with government. Civil society organizations must have the responsibility and the space to become more professional, improve their expertise, expand their capacity for public outreach, and broaden their appeal in order to have a greater impact on society. Direct outreach to Russians is an important aspect of U.S. activities to promote human rights and democracy. This is accomplished through public affairs programming and visitor and exchange programs. The United States publicizes information about the American system of democracy through the Embassy Web page, press releases, interviews with the mass media, and in special invitational events. Academic exchange and visitor programs are part of a long-term effort to ensure that young, well-educated individuals have first-hand knowledge of the United States and its open society and democratic institutions. The United States continues to support such exchanges, which, according to representatives in the government and in the human rights community, are a crucial way to increase democratic and liberal thinking in the younger generation.

The United States continues to work, on a non-partisan basis, to strengthen the professionalism and responsiveness of political institutions, including parties. The United States also promotes pluralism and electoral fairness through support of election monitoring and advocacy in our bilateral discussions. In particular, U.S. programs encourage free and fair elections. During Federal-level campaigns that took place in 2007-2008, and in lower level regional and municipal elections occurring on an on-going basis, the United States provided non-partisan assistance to monitor the campaign environment and the conduct of elections, and to strengthen elections-related institutions and the elections environment. These programs included support for civil society efforts to monitor the abuse of administrative resources and fraud; for the monitoring of media coverage of the campaign period; for a voter hotline for citizen reporting of election law violations; and for long-term and election day domestic election observation. The United States works to strengthen independent media's capacity to cover elections-related issues, to increase voter access to information and the debate of issues, and, before the campaign period began, to strengthen political parties' capacity to build constituencies. The United States supports numerous programs designed to promote the rule of law and judicial independence, working with federal and local government partners in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, along with national and local bar associations and NGOs. These include legislative assistance projects in the areas of criminal procedure, trafficking in persons and victims' rights, as well as judicial exchange programs and training programs for prosecutors, defense lawyers and law enforcement agents. The Embassy also has worked with the Public Chamber and a coalition of legal reform NGOs to develop proposals for cooperation between the judiciary and NGOs. Central themes in these programs include encouraging respect for judicial independence, adjudication of cases on the merits, supporting the jury system, rendering the legal system more transparent, and expanding access to justice by helping citizens and NGOs to seek effective redress in the court system, including in justice of the peace courts. In addition, the United States continues to support human rights organizations and citizen watchdog groups, and to strengthen independent media. U.S. efforts to foster training and support for networks of independent journalists is geared towards improving professionalism and skills (in areas such as investigative journalism and in online modes, such as blogging), providing education on rights and journalism ethics, reducing the isolation of regional reporters and media outlets, and promoting public debate and coverage of important social and political issues. The United States is currently considering expanding into areas such as new media technologies to expand audience outreach while at the same time improving free and open access to democratic content. The United States supports Russia’s integration in multilateral organizations, such as the WTO and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which will promote rule of law, enhanced corporate good governance and transparency, and the push for greater adherence to international norms of democratic governance. The United States supported several anti-corruption and corporate civil responsibility programs during the year, including programs to foster greater understanding and receptivity for good governance and of an environment for the better protection of human rights. President Medvedev has made anti-corruption efforts one of the priorities for his administration. President Medvedev has declared that Russia cannot compete with other countries on the world stage unless it stems and reverses the tide of corruption in Russian society, from the top governmental level to ordinary societal interactions.

U.S. assistance is an important part of enabling NGOs, often together with local authorities, to engage citizens on key issues. Cooperation on projects of joint interest may, over time, induce the country to address weaknesses in governance and the rule of law. The United States helps NGOs to build effective relationships with government bodies and to advocate for improved government accountability and responsiveness to citizens' needs. The United States also engages in efforts to educate the public about their rights and to ensure that independent voices are heard, as well as sponsoring initiatives to devise common solutions to local problems. The United States supports human rights and citizen watchdog groups, as well as the development of domestic philanthropy, to encourage the indigenous, long-term realization of these goals. Given some attempts by government officials or groups connected to the government to damage the public image of the NGO community and cast suspicion that foreign-funded NGOs allegedly are engaged in espionage, domestic philanthropy is particularly important, and during the year the United States has continued to work with umbrella human rights organizations devoted to expanding locally funded civil society activities. Another U.S. program supports positive change in the easing of legal regulation of NGOs so that it facilitates rather than hinders their work. In addition to these programs, U.S. funding provides 30-40 small grants annually to local NGOs working throughout the country to strengthen civil society and encourage ordinary citizens to take an active role in their communities, including support for women's leadership and HIV prevention activities. Other recent examples of such grants include support for a network of Internet communities that work to promote human rights and hold local authorities accountable in a previously underserved area of Siberia; and funding for a series of seminars in Karelia designed to raise awareness of the problem of trafficking in persons, including police complicity. Another program aims to popularize the idea of human rights and methods to support rights among a broad sector of the public in targeted regions.

The United States worked closely with the Public Chamber and the Guild of Court Journalists to support the formation of a jurors' association, which provided a mechanism for judges and experts to obtain feedback from former jurors in formulating legislative recommendations to improve the jury trial system. The United States also worked with a business association founded by a victim of fraudulent "raiding" from corrupt bureaucrats, to promote reforms in Russian legislation on economic crimes. These reforms amend the laws on money laundering to make them less susceptible to abuse and manipulation for corrupt ends and also provide expanded opportunities for bail and release pending trial in white collar cases. The United States supports programs designed to enhance the capacity among Russia's law enforcement community to investigate and prosecute, in compliance with applicable international human rights standards, human trafficking and child pornography cases, as well as other high-profile crimes. U.S.-Russian judicial and legal partnerships also foster needed modernization, continued professionalism and legal reforms in the justice system. U.S. programs promote greater respect for and protection of human rights by supporting public awareness campaigns, advocacy initiatives, and legal aid to the victims of human rights abuses; facilitating collaboration between the government, NGOs, religious and other civic leaders, and the public on tolerance and human rights issues; and strengthening human rights NGOs through training in areas such as strategic communications, network building, and youth outreach. One program, in the remote Republic of Adygeya, organized a series of seminars to help NGO leaders improve their ability to raise funds and to establish relationships with local businesses. The program also conducted joint seminars for NGOs and mass media to provide more publicity for NGO activities, and it supported a contest for socially meaningful projects within the NGO community. The program was supported by equal contributions from a local NGO resource center, businesses, and the administration of the Republic.

The number of instances continued to increase in which NGOs have provided advice that the government (usually at the local or regional level) has taken into account, as well as the number of cases in which citizens or NGOs have successfully taken local authorities to court to account for abuse of power. Additional U.S. efforts to support democracy and human rights goals include engaging with civic organizations that represent both the majority of the country's population and those that protect marginalized groups, such as ethnic and religious minorities, migrant communities, and persons with disabilities. Projects currently underway include enabling a prominent NGO to distribute its own annual report on the state of civil society and human rights in the country to regional authorities and NGOs, members of the State Duma, Federation Council, and Public Chamber, the Ombudsman, and international bodies. Other U.S.-funded projects include an initiative for a domestic NGO to build public trust in NGOs through education and outreach, and projects for organizations that provide legal assistance to labor union representatives and increase the professional skills of labor lawyers, and provision of legal services to refugees and internally displaced persons from the North Caucasus and other troubled areas of the country.

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