The period of Russian history, which began in September 1999 with the tragic explosions of apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, can properly be called the Putin era, the successor to the Yeltsin era. This new era has been characterized by several distinctly troubling tendencies fundamentally affecting the Russian nation.
1. Violations of the Constitution by the President and state officials.
First of all, there is the creation of a union of Russia and Belarus, with the prospect of combining them into a single state. This can be lawfully accomplished only if it is preceded by popular referendums confirming the desire of the two peoples to unite, followed by the introduction of appropriate amendments into the two Constitutions. Second, there is the virtual liquidation of the Federal Council, depriving it of the functions assigned to it by the Constitution and turning it into an advisory organ. This destroys the federal structure of Russia, which de facto is turned into a unitary state. The division of Russia into seven regions, although formally not a violation of the Constitution, reinforces the emasculation of the upper chamber, giving the president additional levers to pressure local authorities and to centralize state power. Such fundamental changes in state structure reduce society's possibilities for influencing the government and impair the rights of voters. Besides, this kind of reorganization ("strengthening the vertical chain of authority" as Russian officials call it) has led to a colossal growth of the bureaucracy and to exorbitant expense for its maintenance which cause further grief to citizens and taxpayers.High-ranking officers of the army and security services have left their former posts and infiltrated central and regional government bodies, and they continue to do so. The dependence of procurators and judges on the central and local executive organs has grown. A number of laws adopted by the Duma and presidential decrees clearly illustrate the retreat from the democratic principles of government and humane values proclaimed during the previous era. The following examples are far from exhaustive and vary in importance. There is the law on political parties, which deprives significant groups of voters of the opportunity to elect persons to the legislative bodies who will represent their particular interests and which also allows the president to secure a parliament even more compliant than the present one.There is the doctrine of information security. There is the interruption of the work of the Presidential Pardons Commission, introduced by President Yeltisn. There is the introduction of military training for high school students, the allocation of money from the budget for so-called "education in patriotism," and the creation with the help of the presidential administration of a pro-Putin organization of young people. At the same time we see a steady increase in the number of runaway children, in drug use by young people, and in child prostitution. Today there are more homeless children in Russia than there were in 1921 after our Civil War. And 18,000 children are serving sentences in reformatories. The tragic fate affecting many children is the result of mass impoverishment. According to offical statistics, more than a third of the population lives below the poverty level. There is the recurring spymania and the recently revealed circular of the Russian Academy of Sciences obliging scientists and scholars to report (once again!) to their bosses their contacts with Western colleagues and any plans to publish abroad or receive grants from foreign sources. Truly, "what goes around, comes around."
2. The use of financial and legal pressure to curb the independent media - television, radio, and the press.
We still haven't seen the end of the crushing of the Independent Television Company (NTV) as well as Media-Most's press holdings. This will be followed, judging from actions of the Procurator's Office, by the destruction of TV Channel 6 and the Echo of Moscow radio station. The situation is even more catastrophic in the provinces, where, in addition to the financial and legal pressures leading to the closing of local newspapers, radio and television, there are frequent reports of threats to, beatings of and sometimes even murders of independent journalists. Furthermore, I do not know of a single case when investigation of such crimes has resulted in the conviction of the perpetrators. Recent examples of the persecution of independent journalists was the trial in Belgograd of Olga Kitova and the scheduling of a second trial of Grigory Pasko. In short, the proclamation in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that everyone has the right to "receive and impart information and ideas through any media" is being violated in Russia today.
3. The Chechen war.
In Chechnya, mass violations of the rights of the civilian population - looting, "cleansing" of villages, torture, imprisonment in pits, extrajudicial executions, including shooting of children -- are continuing. The military authorities are trying to cut off access to information about Chechnya and to interfere in every possible way with the work of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Memorial Society, and other humanitarian organizations.Investigations of mass crimes against civilians are sabotaged. Independent investigators are not permitted access to the investigations of mass burial sites. According to official statistics, more than 3,000 Russian soldiers have died in the second Chechen war. No one knows how many civilians have perished. There are no statistics on civilian deaths. These should include not just those killed directly during military operations, but those who have died from cold and disease as well as the majority of those who have been detained during "cleansing" actions and then have vanished without a trace. In time the bodies of some "disappeared" persons have turned up in the mass graves of the executed.The situation of Chechen refugees is going from bad to worse. According to the numbers recently published by the State Commission on Statistics, there are 77,000 refugees in Russia, mostly migrants from Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian Republics. Chechens are not included in that figure. This is the result of a technicality - only a person arriving from a foreign country is considered to be a refugee. In this way tens of thousands of Chechens, who fled bombing, shelling, and other horrors of the war, who have lost their homes, their possessions, and often family and friends, are not counted as refugees and are thereby deprived of the right to choose their place of residence within Russia and the right to international assistance and defense.The temporary camps for displaced persons in Ingushetia are filled beyond capacity. People survive in them only thanks to the assistance of international humanitarian organizations. Russian government representatives, instead of helping these organizations, do everything possible to hinder their work and to compel the return of the exhausted, half-starved, often diseased people to Chechnya. But no one can guarantee that they will be safe there. The Chechens fear - with good reason - that they will be left without shelter, food or humanitarian assistance. They fear robbery, violence, and the continual "cleansing" actions, during which practically all adult and adolescent males are detained. The genocide of the Chechen nation is continuing.On May 25, 2001, the Russian National Committee to End the War and Make Peace in the Chechen Republic received a letter from Aslan Maskhadov, President of Chechnya, in which he has again confirmed that he is ready to engage in peace negotiations without preconditions. I ask that this letter be included in the record together with my testimony.
ELENA BONNER: Statement at the Hearing of the United States Commission on The Security and Cooperation in Europe
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