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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Charter For Freedom and Dignity

There are two striking elements in the new draft constitution for Russia unveiled last week by the Yeltsin team. One has already come under attack by the president's opponents, namely the separation of powers as outlined in the document. The other has received relatively little attention. This is all the more remarkable given the fact that the 31 articles in question -- on human and civil rights -- were paid for by Soviet dissidents in their struggle for freedom and dignity.


The rights and freedoms listed in the constitutional draft read like a mirror-image catalogue of the abuses of the Soviet era.


Many are familiar in Western democracies. Thus we find freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly. Under Article 9, "All are equal before the law and courts; " under Article 26, all are innocent until proven guilty. The draft is progressive by the standards of some Western countries. It spells out equality of the sexes: "Men and women have equal rights and freedoms".


What is different is the extent to which many rights taken for granted in the West are spelled out in the Russian draft. Thus, under Article 17, interception of mail and telephone bugging are explicitly banned. Under Article 16, on freedom of movement, the right to leave the country and to come back is spelled out.


Article 13 states, "Everyone has the right to a free private life, to personal and family privacy, to the defense of his honor and good name". Article 35, like the 5th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, says that no one is obliged to testify against himself -- or "his spouse and close relatives".


That these and other rights are stated so explicitly is in effect a heart-wrenching cry of "Never Again! " Never again, the draft implies, will people who disagree with the system be exiled and stripped of their citizenship; never again will one have to label a husband or wife an "enemy of the people; " never again will Russia's citizens face arbitrary treatment based on the Orwellian principle that some are more equal than others; never again will the rights to privacy and freedom of thought be trampled.


President Boris Yeltsin's opponents and supporters alike will spend many months debating the merits of the rest of this draft constitution. But the president and his team -- as well as Oleg Rumyantsev, the legislator on whose work much of the present draft is based -- already deserve the strongest praise for seeking to enshrine in law the rights for which the most honorable men and women of the Communist years risked their freedom and their lives. It is sad that Andrei Sakharov, the father of the dissident movement, did not live long enough to see this draft. It is a document of which he would have been proud.