Medvedev Pressed On Human Rights

Amnesty International on Wednesday urged President Dmitry Medvedev to initiate a "sea change" in his country's attitude toward human rights.

The appeal came in the form of a 15-page letter made public during a news conference on the release of Amnesty's 2008 world report on human rights.

"In your speech following your inauguration, you stated that human rights and freedoms are of the highest value to Russian society," it said. "Amnesty International looks forward to seeing this commitment made a reality."

The international rights group delivered its report, a gloomy tome stretching to nearly 400 pages, to a packed audience on the 60th anniversary of the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The report was highly critical of Russia, which it accused of employing torture, crushing free speech and ignoring its obligations under international treaties. "Increasingly confident on the global stage, at home Russia has repressed political criticism, pressured independent journalists and weighed down NGOs with burdensome reporting restrictions," said Nicola Dakbort, regional director of Amnesty International for Europe and Central Asia.

"Russia, like China, needs to remember that global leadership brings responsibility and expectations and that, to be credible, it cannot ignore the values and principles of the international community and the promises that it makes on human rights," she said.

Although Amnesty gave Russia some credit for improvements in Chechnya, it drew attention to increasing disappearances and torture in Dagestan and Ingushetia and the use of artillery against civilian targets in southern Chechnya. "Russia is failing to honor its obligations under international human rights law to respect and protect the right to life and to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment," it said.

The letter, which will be hand-delivered to Medvedev this week, calls on him to pay particular attention to limits on freedom of assembly and speech, restrictions placed on NGOs, a rise of violent racism and torture in police custody.

A spokesman for Medvedev said he could not immediately respond to questions about the report. The office of Russia's Human Rights ombudsman also declined to comment on the report.

Russia was not the only country to receive a scathing rights assessment from the group. The United States and China were singled out for sharp criticism. The group called on the United States to close its prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and release prisoners held without trial in Iraq and Afghanistan.

During the meeting, the group repeatedly called attention to the plight of Oborona leader Oleg Kozlovsky, who was forcibly conscripted before the State Duma elections last year and detained ahead of a recent opposition congress. Kozlovsky, who attended but did not participate in Wednesday's conference, said he had little confidence Medvedev would change the human rights situation here. "I don't believe that Medvedev, of his own initiative, or simply at the urging of certain members of the security services, will change the political course chosen by President Putin," he said.