The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Brenda Bowser Soder

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


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.

Read Human Rights First's letter to the President

Read Human Rights First's Fighting Discrimination Program Director, Paul Legendre's written submission

Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.