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Moscow Summit Is Prime Opportunity for President Obama to Address Troubling Rise of Hate Crime in Russia
Human Rights First notes tackling these critical issues will improve U.S.-Russian relations
WASHINGTON - June 23 - Just two weeks before President Barack Obama travels to Moscow to meet with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Human Rights First (HRF) is urging him to ensure that tackling hate crimes is included on the Summit's agenda. In a letter sent today to President Obama, HRF explained that these crimes are on the rise in Russia and its government has inadequately responded to this troubling trend. This, coupled with other rights abuses such as increased harassment of human rights defenders, could make Russia a far less reliable partner in addressing economic, security, and other issues.
In the letter to President Obama, Elisa Massimino, HRF's Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, wrote:
"We appreciate the many facets of the U.S-Russia relationship and the complex agenda of the upcoming Summit in Moscow. But we believe, as you stated in April, that respect for human rights and the rule of law is the bedrock of a more constructive relationship between the United States and Russia. You also said then that ‘it is time to get down to business and translate our warm words into actual achievements of benefit to Russia, the United States, and all those around the world interested in peace and prosperity.' Your attention to Russia's efforts to combat racist, xenophobic and other violent hate crimes and to strengthen and protect human rights organizations and civil society will help the move from words to deeds by making clear that the United States considers progress on these issues essential to building a strong bilateral relationship with Russia in the future."
According to Human Rights First, during the past five years there has been a sharp increase in the number of racist and other bias-motivated attacks in Russia, a rise of about 15 percent per year. In 2008, there were nearly 100 such reported murders in Russia - by far the highest incidence of such serious violence in Europe. This problem has been compounded by a lackluster governmental response to these heinous acts. Russia's deeply-flawed antiextremism legislation has been used to silence government critics, rather than to thoroughly investigate and prosecute the cases of increasingly brutal violent hate crimes. In recent years, human rights activists have also been the targets of aggressive attacks by neo-Nazi and other groups.
The organization called on President Obama to carry out a series of steps during his upcoming meetings with President Medvedev, including:
- Expressing concern about the sharp rise in violent hate crimes in Russia and the so far inadequate response of the Russian authorities to this most pernicious form of discrimination, while making clear the common interest of the United States and Russia in combating violent hate crime throughout Europe and North America through developing shared solutions to the problems.
- Encouraging a regular dialogue between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Russian Interior Ministry and prosecutorial officials to improve responses to hate crime.
- Showing support for Russian human rights and other civil society groups by meeting with them in Moscow.
HRF's letter to President Obama was sent on the same day the organization submitted testimony in conjunction with a United Sates Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) hearing examining the realities of "the Medvedev thaw." In those remarks for the record, HRF called on the Commission to encourage the Obama Administration to set the tone to the new relationship with Russia by welcoming some of the positive steps taken by President Medvedev since he assumed the presidency, while consistently raising continuing human rights concerns.
Elisa Massimino and Paul LeGendre, HRF's Fighting Discrimination Program Director, will travel to Moscow from July 5-8 to take part in a civil society conference on the sidelines of the summit.