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Russia Rejects US Human Rights Criticism


Moscow is rejecting a U.S. State Department report that criticizes Russia as a high profile example of countries that regressed on human rights and democracy in 2007. In its dismissal, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry adds that Moscow is open to a human rights dialogue with interested countries. VOA Correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from the Russian capital.

In a statement published on its website late Wednesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry rejects the annual U.S. State Department report as a standard set of objections raised in the tone of a mentor. The statement reiterates three of those objections - Russia's retreat from democratic principles, repression of dissidents, and restriction of free speech.

The Foreign Ministry also says U.S. criticism is based on groundless accusations and biased sources, including the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. That organization said Russian parliamentary elections in December did not meet democratic standards.

Moscow says OSCE member states, which include Russia, never approved mandatory standards, and singles out the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) for allegedly politicizing the election monitoring process.

ODIHR spokesman Jens Eschenbaecher told VOA the organization has monitored elections in the 56 OSCE member states for many years.

"We have a mandate from all participating states to observe elections before, during and after Election Day," he said. "We felt that [with] limitations imposed on us by the Russian authorities, we would not have been in a position to fulfill our mandate."

The ODIHR did not monitor Russia's December election, saying Moscow did not issue observer visas in a timely manner.

The election resulted in a parliament that the U.S. State Department report says is compliant to the government. The report also accuses Russian authorities of centralizing power in the executive branch, and also of selective law enforcement, harassment of non-governmental organizations and corruption.

The Russian Foreign Ministry responds to State Department criticism in kind, accusing the United States of using the death sentence against minors, legalizing torture, and committing human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moscow also says it is open to a human rights dialogue with interested countries.

Political analyst Masha Lipman of the Carnegie Moscow Center expressed skepticism about the offer.

"Russia is in no mood to compromise. Russia enjoys its new power and influence as a result of its growing economic power," said Lipman. "And Russia is making up for past humiliations after the collapse of the USSR. This is the mood of the nation; this is the mood of the leadership. This is what brings the leadership and public together - the sense that we were humiliated, but no more."

Lipman says unprecedented economic prosperity is another reason why a majority of Russians do not seek democratic accountability from their government.

"Putin has offered, I usually call it a non-participation pact, we the government deliver and you the people do not meddle in politics or policy-making," added Lipman. "And since the government fulfilled its part of the contract, the people fulfilled theirs.

Lipman says she does not expect gradual evolution toward greater Russian democracy without a crisis, such as the collapse in oil prices that underpin the country's current prosperity. She notes, however, that nobody knows how Russia will respond to any crisis in the absence of democratic institutions.

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