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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rights Report Was Suppressed, Says Author

The head of President Boris Yeltsin's human rights commission has said that top administration officials attempted to stop publication of a critical report showing that police and prisons have replaced the former KGB as the chief abusers of human rights in Russia.

In the report, which was completed and submitted to the Yeltsin administration in July, Sergei Kovalyov's committee warned that despite good intentions and many promises by the government, "there is no tendency for improvement in the observance of human rights" in Russia.

"In the international arena, Russia speaks out very openly and progressively. We are very self-critical of our shortcomings," Kovalyov said in an interview this week.

"But to criticize is not enough," he said. "We need to start doing something about it in this country."

Kovalyov, a former dissident who served seven years in Soviet labor camps for editing an underground journal in the 1960s, said that now it was more important to focus on the activities of the police, the prison service and the government, rather than on the successor agencies of the KGB.

While remaining determinedly loyal to Yeltsin himself, Kovalyov said he was "worried to see a revival of some secrecy in the government."

One example, Kovalyov said, was the fate of his own report, prepared for release in early July but held back until the end of the month by officials in Yeltsin's administration.

Worried that the report would be used by opponents of Yeltsin to attack the government, some officials even wanted the report declared "for internal use only," he said.

An American writer, Abraham Brumberg, in an essay in The Moscow Times, blamed Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, for the delay, but Kovalyov said he believed a lower-placed official was behind it.

Speaking in his bare office, located ironically at the heart of the former Communist Party headquarters on Staraya Ploshchad, Kovalyov said the police were among the main culprits of human rights abuse.

"Law enforcement is a misnomer for these agencies," Kovalyov said. "They have kept the traits of repressive organs."

"There are an enormous number of reports of illegal actions by the police, and that is an understatement," he said. "In some cases, you can only use the term criminal actions."

Russia's laws do little to restrain

police and sometimes even encourage abuse, Kovalyov said.

One example is a clause in the Law on Police, adopted by Russia's first parliament, which allows police to shoot at crime suspects who try to escape. Any policeman can say afterward that his victim was a suspect and was trying to escape, Kovalyov said.

As investigations into such incidents are left to the police, Kovalyov said, "that clause simply allows the police to kill anyone they like."

In recent weeks, Kovalyov said, complaints have been flowing in that a recent anti-crime decree, signed by Yeltsin despite protests by Kovalyov and other human rights activists, is being used by police as a free license for the use of violence, random searches and arrests.

Similarly, prison wardens go largely unchecked when they abuse prisoners, Kovalyov said, as people who complain are often forced to repeal their complaint. Death rates in Russia's prisons are 10 times higher than outside, according to the report.

Kovalyov's report also criticizes hazing practices in the army, which lost 2,572 soldiers in peacetime in 1993, of which 462 were listed as suicides.

It lambastes police and army for killing innocent bystanders in the October coup attempt last year, for arresting people without charges and deporting Caucasians from the capital.

Although intent on protesting abuses, Kovalyov is neither surprised nor bitter about what he sees as Russia's failure to make much progress on human rights.

"What else could be expected?" he said. "We may very honestly want to behave differently, but we can't. It's inside ourselves. We are still the same."