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Public Statements

Lack of Rule of Law in Russia

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


LACK OF RULE OF LAW IN RUSSIA -- (House of Representatives - July 19, 2004)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I thank the distinguished gentleman from California for requesting this time to discuss rule of law in Russia. Not only is this an issue of great importance to the citizens of Russia but U.S.-Russia relations are affected by the regard given to this critical component of democratic and civil society.

I have the privilege of serving as chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, commonly known as the "Helsinki Commission," an independent agency of the United States Government charged with monitoring and encouraging compliance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 and subsequent documents of the Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The fate of rule of law in Russia, an OSCE member, will determine to a great degree the future of the Russian state and its role in the world community.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia moved from an authoritarian police state under communist rule to a sovereign nation with democratically elected leadership and many of the civil liberties that we in this country take for granted. We were encouraged by those positive and historic steps. On paper at least, there have been significant reforms designed to bring the Russian political and legal system into conformity with the accepted norms and practices of the United Nations, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, etc.

In recent years, though, the Putin government has undermined these reforms. In its Nations in Transit 2004 report, Freedom House sums it up: "Russia is backsliding in key areas of democratic governance and rule of law."

Two months ago, on May 20th, the Hensinki Commission held hearings on the issue of human rights in President Putin's Russia. One of our distinguished witnesses, Mr. Gary Kasparov, chairman of the Free Choice 2008 Committee in Russia and world-famous chess champion, spoke with passion about restrictions on freedom of speech in the electronic media, a process that we see continuing today.

In the area of rule of law per se, we are also seeing some disturbing moves against individuals who have apparently offended the powers-that-be in the Kremlin or the intelligence apparat.

The first case is that of industrialist Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the Yukos Oil Company. Mr. Khodorkovsky's arrest on charges of fraud and tax evasion has received a lot of publicity. I don't claim to know whether Khodorkovsky is guilty or innocent, but this appears to be very much a case of selective justice. His real crime seems to have been, as David Satter wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week, that he "had demonstrated independence, and, by financing opposition political parties, had contributed to political pluralism."

Will Khodorkovsky get a fair trial? Let me jut quote from a report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development: "The courts are often subservient to the executive, while the security services, the prosecutors and the police remain highly politicized ..... the so-called 'Yukos case' reflects these problems." As if to confirm the OECD assessment, officials at the Matrosskaya Tishina prison confiscated documents from one of his lawyers after she met with her client.

Another case is that of Dr. Igor Sutyagin, a Russian scientist who was sentenced to 15 years of labor camp for espionage, i.e., passing military secrets to British intelligence agents. Sutyagin never denied that he had worked with foreign scholars or that he shared previously published material with them. Indeed, Federal Security Service (FSB) agents never found evidence of any classified documents in his possession, and he had neither security clearance nor access to classified material. However, the FSB and the court came to the conclusion that Sutyagin's research was so accurate that he must have used classified documents to draw his conclusions. Think of it: one may be imprisoned for espionage for being too competent an analyst in military-security issues.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Steven Pifer of the State Department has testified before the Commission that "most observers agree that [Sutyagin] had no access to classified information and consider the severe sentence an effort to discourage information-sharing by Russians with professional colleagues from other countries."

The final case I would mention in this brief presentation is that of Mikhail Trepashkin, an attorney and former FSB officer who was arrested on October 24, 2003, a week before he was scheduled to represent relatives of a victim who perished in an apartment explosion at a trial in Moscow. At the trial, Trepashkin was expected to present the findings of his investigation which implicated the FSB in the 1999 apartment bombing in Moscow and the aborted attempted bombing of Ryazan.

A week before the trial opened, the police just happened to pull Trepashkin over on the highway, and just happened to find a revolver in his car. Trepashkin claims the gun was planted, a venerable KGB tactic. Three weeks later, he was put on trial and sentenced to four years labor camp for allegedly divulging state secrets to a foreign journalist.

I don't know all the details of this case, but it has the whiff of the proverbial mackeral by moonlight. It is very possible that Trepashkin was arrested in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding the activities of the FSB.

These are just few examples of the challenges to rule of law and human rights that Russia is now experiencing under President Putin. Let us hope that he will soon realize that the way to a genuinely stable and prosperous society is paved with rule off law and civil society, not the high price of crude oil.

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