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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Two Cheers For Russia's Rights Stand

At the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Russia has joined the United States, Britain and France in calling for the establishment of the post of U. N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. In so doing it has closed the door on decades of stonewalling by the former Soviet Union over human rights, and deepened the isolation of China, which continues to insist on the principle of non-intervention.

Those who have followed the history of human rights in this country over the years cannot fail to applaud Russia's move. It was not very long ago that the Soviet government was regularly issuing bitter denunciations of the West for "interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state" - shorthand for Western campaigns to promote free emigration and bring relief to those imprisoned for political crimes.

Barely six years ago Andrei Sakharov was still exiled to the town of Gorky (now Nizhny Novgorod), Sergei Kovalyov and Father Gleb Yakunin, both now prominent liberal legislators, were still in prison, the visa section of the American Embassy was a ghost town, and it was still a crime to read Solzhenitsyn. Westerners hoarded two-kopeck coins so they could call their Russian friends from random phone booths, rather than risk phoning from their bugged hotel and dorm rooms.

Tourism and emigration are now hampered more by the West's unwillingness to admit travelers from Russia than by limits on passports and visas; Russians mix freely with foreigners and fear the mafia more than the KGB, and Solzhenitsyn is having a dacha built in a posh Moscow suburb.

And Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said in Vienna, "We cannot accept the principle of non-intervention wherever human rights are violated". That statement could have just as easily come from former U. S. President Jimmy Carter, long the leader in the human rights struggle.

The West must welcome Russia into the ranks of countries concerned with human rights violations around the globe. But there are several points that should not be overlooked in the process.

First, in backing the move for a human rights monitor, Russia is deepening the political isolation of China, certainly not an unwelcome side effect of its high-road stance. Secondly, Russia's slate is not completely clean on the human rights front, as witnessed by the recent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, compounded by charges of official indifference. and third, since the post of U. N. High Commissioner for Human Rights cannot be established without consensus, and China seems certain to veto the motion, Russia risks very tittle in calling for it.