The Russian Federation has a highly centralized, authoritarian political system dominated by President Vladimir Putin. The bicameral Federal Assembly consists of a directly elected lower house (State Duma) and an appointed upper house (Federation Council), both of which lacked independence from the executive. State Duma elections in September 2016 and the presidential election in 2012 were marked by accusations of government interference and manipulation of the electoral process.
Security forces generally reported to civilian authorities, except in some areas of the North Caucasus.
The occupation and purported “annexation” of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula continued to affect the human rights situation significantly and negatively. The government continued to arm, train, lead, and fight alongside, forces in eastern Ukraine. Credible observers attributed thousands of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as widespread abuses, to Russian-led forces in Ukraine’s Donbas region and to Russian occupation authorities in Crimea (see the Country Reports on Human Rights for Ukraine). Authorities also conducted politically motivated arrests, detentions, and trials of Ukrainian citizens in Russia, many of whom claimed to have been tortured. Human rights groups asserted that numerous Ukrainian citizens remained in Russia as political prisoners.
The most significant human rights issues included extrajudicial killings, including of LGBTI persons in Chechnya; enforced disappearances; torture that was systematic and sometimes resulted in death and sometimes included punitive psychiatric incarceration; harsh and life-threatening conditions in prisons; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of judicial independence; political prisoners; severe interference with privacy; severe restrictions on freedom of expression and the media, including the use of “antiextremism” and other vague laws to prosecute peaceful dissent; and violence against journalists and bloggers; blocking and filtering of internet content and use of cyberattacks to disrupt peaceful internet discussion; severe restrictions on the rights of peaceful assembly; increasingly severe restriction on freedom of association, including laws on “foreign agents” and “undesirable foreign organization”; restrictions on freedom of movement of those charged with political offenses; refoulement; severe restriction on the right to participate in the political process, including restrictions on opposition candidates’ ability to seek public office and conduct political campaigns, and on the ability of civil society to monitor election processes; widespread corruption at all levels and in all branches of government; thousands of fatal incidents of domestic violence to which the government responded by reducing the penalty for domestic violence, and honor killings and other harmful traditional practices against women in parts of the North Caucasus; thousands of fatal incidents of child abuse; trafficking in persons; institutionalization in harsh conditions of a large percentage of persons with disabilities; and state-sponsored as well as societal violence against LGBTI persons, especially in Chechnya.
The government failed to take adequate steps to prosecute or punish most officials who committed abuses, resulting in a climate of impunity.
Conflict in the North Caucasus between government forces, insurgents, Islamist militants, and criminals led to numerous abuses of human rights, including killings, torture, physical abuse, politically motivated abductions, and a general degradation in the rule of law. Ramzan Kadyrov’s government in Chechnya committed abuses with impunity. Virtually none of these abuses was credibly investigated or prosecuted by either the federal government or local Chechen authorities.
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape is illegal, and the law provides the same punishment for a relative, including the spouse, who commits rape as for a nonrelative. Rape survivors may act as full legal parties in criminal cases brought against their alleged assailants and may seek compensation as part of a court verdict without initiating a separate civil action. While members of the medical profession assisted assault survivors and sometimes helped confirm an assault or rape, doctors were often reluctant to provide testimony in court.
The penalty for rape is three to six years’ imprisonment for a single offender, with additional time imposed for aggravating factors. According to NGOs, many law enforcement personnel and prosecutors did not consider spousal or acquaintance rape a priority and did not encourage reporting or prosecuting such cases. NGOs reported that local police officers sometimes refused to respond to rape or domestic violence calls unless the victim’s life was directly threatened.
Domestic violence remained a major problem. There is no significant domestic violence provision in the criminal code and no legal definition of domestic violence. The laws that address bodily harm are general in nature and do not permit police to initiate a criminal investigation unless the victim files a complaint. The burden of collecting evidence in such cases typically falls on the alleged victims. Federal law prohibits battery, assault, threats, and killing, but most acts of domestic violence did not fall within the jurisdiction of the prosecutor’s office. According to NGOs, police were often unwilling to register complaints of domestic violence and frequently discouraged victims from submitting them.
On February 7, President Putin signed legislation that made beatings by “close relatives” an administrative rather than criminal offense for first-time offenders, provided the beating does not cause serious harm requiring hospital treatment. The law’s sponsor in the State Duma, Yelena Mizulina, noted she believes women “don’t take offense when they see a man beat his wife” and that “a man beating his wife is less offensive than when a woman humiliates a man.” Mizulina also stated the country’s law should support family traditions that are “built on the authority of the parents’ power,” and that parents should be allowed to hit their children
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs statistics cited by NGOs, approximately 12,000 women died annually from domestic violence in the country. The NGO Center for Women’s Support asserted that a majority of domestic violence cases filed with authorities were either dismissed on technical grounds or transferred to a reconciliation process conducted by a justice of the peace whose focus was on preserving the family rather than punishing the perpetrator.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law does not specifically prohibit FGM/C. Local NGOs in Dagestan reported that FGM/C was occasionally practiced in some villages.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Human rights groups reported “honor killings” of women in Chechnya, Dagestan, and elsewhere in the North Caucasus were rarely prosecuted, although there were rare instances in which such killings led to convictions.
In some parts of the North Caucasus, women continued to face bride kidnapping, polygamy, forced marriage (including child marriage), legal discrimination, and enforced adherence to Islamic dress codes. In April a criminal case was initiated against a 20-year-old resident of Ingushetia after he kidnapped a 19-year-old woman to be his wife.
According to Human Rights Watch, in June, Chechnya head Ramzan Kadyrov began an initiative to reunite divorced families. In August media reported the program had reunited 948 families. According to NGOs, many of these reunifications were forced.
Sexual Harassment: The criminal code contains a general provision against compelling a person to perform actions of a sexual character by means of blackmail, threats, or by taking advantage of the victim’s economic or other dependence on the perpetrator.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization, or other coercive population control methods. Estimates on maternal mortality and contraceptive prevalence are available at: www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/monitoring/maternal-mortality-2015/en/ .
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide that men and women enjoy the same legal status and rights, but women often encountered significant restrictions.
Birth Registration: By law, citizenship derives from parents at birth or from birth within the country’s territory if the parents are unknown or if the child cannot claim the parents’ citizenship. Failure to register a birth resulted in the denial of public services.
Education: Education is free and compulsory through grade 11, although regional authorities frequently denied school access to the children of persons who were not registered as residents of the locality, including Roma, asylum seekers, and migrant workers.
Child Abuse: A 2013 estimate by the Ministry of Internal Affairs indicated that one in four children in the country was subjected to abuse by a parent or foster parent. According to a 2011 report published by the NGO Foundation for Assistance to Children in Difficult Life Situations, 2,000 to 2,500 children died annually from domestic violence. According to the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman, there were 8,000 convictions for child abuse in 2015.
Early and Forced Marriage: The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for both men and women. Local authorities may authorize marriage from the age of 16 under certain circumstances, and even earlier in some regions.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits the commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering or procuring for prostitution, and practices related to child pornography. The authorities generally enforced the law. The age of consent is 16. The Investigative Committee reported filing charges in 1,645 cases of rape involving children in 2015 as well as in more than 5,300 cases of sexual assault of children.
The law prohibits the manufacture, distribution, and possession with intent to distribute child pornography, but possession without intent to distribute is not prohibited by law. Manufacture and distribution of pornography involving children under the age of 18 is punishable by two to eight years in prison or to three to 10 years in prison if it involves children under 14. Authorities considered child pornography to be a serious problem.
Roskomnadzor has the power to shut down any website immediately and without due process until its owners prove its content does not include child pornography. In 2014 approximately 15 percent of the 45,700 links Roskomnadzor shut down were related to child pornography.
Displaced Children: Official statistics on the numbers of displaced children in the country were conflicting and of questionable reliability.
Institutionalized Children: There were reports of physical, sexual, and psychological abuse in state institutions for children. Children with disabilities were especially vulnerable.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
The 2010 census estimated the Jewish population at slightly more than 150,000. In 2015, however, the president of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia stated that the actual Jewish population was nearly one million.
A number of leading figures in the Jewish community reported the level of anti-Semitism in the country was decreasing, but that during the year some political and religious figures made anti-Semitic remarks publicly.
In their alternative report on the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) by the Russian Federation for the 93rd Session of the UN CERD Committee (July 31-August 11), the NGOs SOVA Center, Krym SOS, International Federation for Human Rights, and Memorial Antidiscrimination Center noted the continued use of anti-Semitic statements by political figures. The report noted that, to that date, there had been no violent anti-Semitic attacks.
In late November, the Investigative Committee announced that the investigation into the killing of Tsar Nicholas II–reopened in 2015–would review the theory that it may have been a “ritual killing,” referring to the conspiracy theory that Jews engage in “ritual killings” of Christians. Bishop Tikhon of the Russian Orthodox Church also publicly supported the investigation of the theory. Aleksandr Boroda, chairman of the Chabad Lubavitch Federation of Jewish Organizations of Russia, spoke out against the implicit anti-Semitism of Tikhon’s statement.
In February authorities ordered the deportation of Rabbi Ari Edelkopf on the grounds that he posed a risk to national security after he lost an appeal to the Central District Court in Sochi. In March the Krasnodar Regional Court upheld the decision. In December 2016 the Ministry of Internal Affairs canceled Edelkopf’s residency permit in Sochi. Edelkopf was a dual U.S. and Israeli citizen who moved to the country in 2002.
On January 23, State Duma deputy speaker Pyotr Tolstoy used anti-Semitic rhetoric to criticize continuing protests against the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg to the Russian Orthodox Church. He said protesters were “continuing the work” of their ancestors “who destroyed our cathedrals after jumping over the Pale of Settlement with revolvers in 1917.” Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia leaders condemned the statement as an anti-Semitic reference to conspiracy theories that Jews fomented the Bolshevik Revolution. Tolstoy expressed surprise and stated he was “misunderstood.” State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin backed Tolstoy, while the head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, criticized the remarks, expressing surprise at hearing a “respected parliamentarian repeating a favorite thesis of anti-Semites.” The government did not censure or punish Tolstoy.
On February 12, while criticizing opponents of the transfer of St. Isaac’s Cathedral, State Duma deputy Vitaliy Milonov stated, “Christians survived despite the fact that the ancestors of Boris Vishnevskiy and Maksim Reznik boiled us in cauldrons and fed us to animals.” Russian Jewish Congress president Yuriy Kaner told media, “It is clear…that these lawmakers (Vishnevsky and Reznik) are of Jewish descent and that he means ‘Jews’ by his statement.” The spokesman of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, Borukh Gorin, told media, “For a State Duma deputy, it is unacceptable to make such irresponsible statements.”
In July, Gorin condemned a ruling by a Sochi court that labeled as extremist a book penned by a 19th-century rabbi, asserting that part of a judicial policy in Sochi was to limit the growth of Jewish spiritual life there.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
While several laws prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, and mental disabilities, the government generally did not enforce these laws.
The conditions of guardianship imposed by courts on persons with mental disabilities deprived them of almost all personal rights. Under the family code, individuals with mental disabilities were at times prevented from marrying without a guardian’s consent.
Conditions in institutions for adults with disabilities were often poor, with unqualified staff and overcrowding. Institutions rarely attempted to develop the abilities of residents, whom they frequently confined to the premises and whose movements they sometimes restricted within the institutions themselves.
On January 1, a new law for the social protection of persons with disabilities that introduces a federal register of persons with disabilities became effective.
Federal law requires that buildings be accessible to persons with disabilities, but authorities did not enforce the law, and many buildings and modes of public transportation remained inaccessible. According to Moscow Transport, approximately 20 percent of subway stations are equipped with elevators. Disability rights NGOs confirmed, however, that accessibility remained a problem. In February the transport prosecutor’s office brought an administrative violation against Russian Railways for not complying with accessibility requirements at the Domodedovo railway station.
Election laws do not specifically mandate that polling places be accessible to persons with disabilities, and the majority of them were not. Election officials generally brought mobile ballot boxes to the homes of voters with disabilities.
According to Human Rights Watch, although the government began to implement inclusive education, most children with disabilities did not study in mainstream schools due to a lack of reasonable accommodations to facilitate their individual learning needs. The lack of reasonable accommodations left tens of thousands of children with disabilities isolated at home or in specialized schools, often far from their homes. Most children with disabilities in orphanages had at least one living parent, and many faced violence and neglect, including inadequate health care, education, and opportunities to play, according to Human Rights Watch.
According to Ministry of Internal Affairs data, more than 45 percent of the country’s total population of children with disabilities were institutionalized. While the law mandates inclusive education for children with disabilities, authorities generally segregated them from mainstream society through a system that institutionalized them through adulthood. Graduates of such institutions often lacked the social, educational, and vocational skills to function in society.
Most children with disabilities remained isolated from other community members and were unable to attend public schools, since only 3 percent of schools could accommodate them. According to a 2014 Human Rights Watch report, nearly 30 percent of children with disabilities lived in state orphanages, where they faced violence and neglect. Some children interviewed by the NGO reported that orphanage staff beat them, injected them with sedatives, and sent them to psychiatric hospitals for days or weeks at a time to control or punish them.
Human Rights Watch reported that at least 95 percent of children living in orphanages and foster care had at least one living parent, although children with disabilities who entered institutions at a young age were unlikely to return to their birth families, mostly due to the practice of local-level state commissions recommending continued institutionalization of children. Within orphanages, Human Rights Watch documented the segregation of children whom staff deemed to have the most severe disabilities into “lying-down” rooms, where they were confined to cribs and often tied to furniture with rags. Many of these children received little attention except for feeding and diaper changing.
There appeared to be no legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of children with mental disabilities by category of disability often followed them through their lives. The official designations “imbecile” and “idiot,” assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three, signified that authorities considered a child uneducable. These designations were almost always irrevocable. The designation “weak” (having a slight cognitive or intellectual disability) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions.
The law prohibits discrimination based on nationality, but according to a September report by the CERD, government officials discriminated against minorities, including through “de facto racial profiling, targeting in particular migrants and persons from Central Asia, and the Caucasus.”
Some incidents highlighted longstanding discrimination against Roma and tensions between the Romani community and authorities. In 2016 clashes between residents of a Romani settlement in Tula and riot police over access to a gas pipeline led to the demolition of 118 Romani homes that authorities ruled to be illegal settlements. In July residents of a neighboring village signed a petition against relocating 21 affected Romani families to their community. In August local authorities demolished 17 more homes.
In some cases authorities held perpetrators responsible for xenophobic violence, and as of July there were at least six convictions for such acts, resulting in the sentencing of 17 persons to prison. Among those punished were Russian nationalist Maxim Martsinkevich and nine codefendants who were sentenced to prison terms of between three and 10 years for racially motivated violent crimes.
The constitution and various statutes provide support for “small-numbered” indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, permitting them to create self-governing bodies and allowing them to seek compensation if economic development threatened their lands. The government granted the status of “indigenous” and its associated benefits only to those ethnic groups numbering fewer than 50,000 and maintaining their traditional way of life. The majority of small-numbered indigenous communities believed that a combination of overlapping legal codes and authorities’ lack of political will to enforce laws prevented them from fully exercising their rights.
During the year the government introduced fishing restrictions and eliminated special quotas for indigenous peoples throughout the country, endangering some communities in Khabarovsk and Kamchatka that depended on fishing.
Indigenous sources reported an increase in state-sponsored harassment, including interrogations by the security services, as well as employment discrimination (see section 7.d.).
Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice has added several NGOs focusing on indigenous problems to the foreign agents’ list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the Center for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North and Batani, and the International Foundation for the Development of Indigenous and Small Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (Batani Fund), making it difficult for them to operate.
Pavel Sulyandziga, the head of the Batani Fund, told media outlets that his confrontations with officials from the Ministry of Regional Development over the organization’s attempts to enforce the rights of indigenous persons to receive their hunting and fishing quotas were the reason his organization was added to the foreign agents’ list. He criticized the government’s approach to supporting indigenous people as simply providing funding for indigenous festivals and holidays but not allowing them the use of rivers or traditional land sites.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
During the year there were reports of both societal and government violence motivated by the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim. Human rights activists and NGOs reported torture and killings of LGBTI persons in the North Caucasus by security services (see section 1.a. for information on Chechnya).
Openly gay men were particular targets of violence, and police often failed to respond adequately to such incidents. On August 12, attackers used pepper spray against participants of the eighth annual St. Petersburg gay pride march, injuring 10. According to media reports, police did not take steps to stop the attackers. Authorities opened a criminal investigation of the incident on August 15 and, on August 19, detained one of the alleged attackers. On November 11, four young men wearing hoods attacked two LGBTI activists taking part in an inclusive family conference in Moscow.
There were reports police abused and harassed individuals whom they perceived to be LGBTI. A report by the LGBT Network in 2016 documented 21 cases of alleged violations of LGBTI person’s rights by law enforcement officials in 2015.
On May 11, authorities detained five LGBTI activists in Moscow while they attempted to submit to the prosecutor general’s office a petition signed by two million persons calling for an investigation into the torture of gay men in Chechnya. Authorities charged the activists with an administrative violation for holding a public event without permission; they were released later in the day.
LGBTI individuals often declined to report attacks against them due to fears police would subject them to mistreatment or publicize their sexual orientation or gender identity. There continued to be reports of groups and individuals luring gay men on fake dates to beat and rob them.
The law criminalizes the distribution of “propaganda” of nontraditional sexual relations to minors and effectively limits the rights of free expression and assembly for citizens who wished to advocate publicly for rights or express the opinion that homosexuality is normal. Examples of what the government considered LGBTI propaganda included materials that “directly or indirectly approve of persons who are in nontraditional sexual relationships” (see section 2.a.).
Since 2015 the Ministry of Justice added at least three LGBTI organizations to the foreign agents’ list (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association), including the St. Petersburg NGO Sfera, which provided social and legal services to members of the LGBTI community, and Rakurs, an LGBTI advocacy organization in Arkhangelsk.
Many events planned by members of the LGBTI community were officially unsanctioned and conducted in private due to security concerns. Nevertheless, in 2016 the LGBT Network reported that in at least four cases during the year LGBTI-related events were disrupted, sometimes through anonymous calls alleging bomb threats.
Moscow authorities refused to allow a gay pride parade for the 12th consecutive year, notwithstanding a 2010 ECHR ruling that the denial violated the rights to freedom of assembly and freedom from discrimination.
Police stopped as many as 300 persons from participating in an LGBTI pride event called Polar Pride scheduled for January 29 in the town of Salekhard. On September 24, authorities briefly detained three individuals crossing the border back into Russia by bus following participation in a Norwegian gay pride event.
A homophobic campaign continued in state-controlled media in which officials, journalists, and others called LGBTI persons “perverts,” “sodomites,” and “abnormal” and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia.
LGBTI persons reported heightened societal stigma and discrimination, which some attributed to increasing official promotion of intolerance and homophobia. Activists asserted that the majority of LGBTI persons hid their sexual orientation or gender identity due to fear of losing their jobs or homes as well as the threat of violence. Medical practitioners reportedly continued to limit or deny LGBTI persons health services due to intolerance and prejudice. There were reports that high levels of employment discrimination against LGBTI persons persisted (see section 7.d.) and that LGBTI persons continued to seek asylum abroad due to the domestic environment.
During the year a chain of shops called Khleb i Sol (Bread and Salt), hung signs in their shop windows reading, “No Entry for [Slur Referring to LGBTI Persons].” In response to complaints from members of the public in the city of Perm about the sign, local police determined that there was no grounds for an investigation because they considered the slur to be a scientific term and thus inoffensive. According to press reports, on September 25, the Perm regional human rights ombudsman urged the local prosecutor’s office to investigate the matter.
Although the law allows transgender individuals to change their names and gender classifications on government documents, they faced difficulties doing so because the government had not established standard procedures and many civil registry offices denied their requests. When their documents failed to reflect their gender accurately, transgender persons often faced harassment by law enforcement officers and discrimination in accessing health care, education, housing, transportation, and employment.
There were some isolated positive developments during the year for the LGBTI community. In some instances courts found in favor of LGBTI persons seeking to exercise their human rights. According to Human Rights Watch, in December 2016 three men attacked and forced a transgender woman from Uzbekistan into a car where they gang-raped her. The perpetrators filmed it and extorted money from her by threatening to publish the video. In May a court in Murmansk found the men guilty of extortion with the use of violence and sentenced them to four years in prison. They were not charged with rape, but the court did recognize it as a hate crime on the basis of her gender identity.
On August 4, the Pervomayskiy District Court in Omsk ruled that a sport shop should pay Eduard Myra 30,000 rubles ($514) in compensation for denying him employment on the basis of his “feminine manner” and being “too well groomed,” which the company stated suggested he was part of the LGBTI community.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Persons with HIV/AIDS faced significant legal discrimination, growing informal stigma-based barriers, employment discrimination (see section 7.d.), and were prohibited from adopting children.
According to NGO activists, men who have sex with men were discouraged from seeking antiretroviral treatment, since treatment exposed the fact that these individuals had the virus, while sex workers were afraid to appear in the official system due to threats from law enforcement bodies. Economic migrants also concealed their HIV status and avoided treatment due to fear of deportation. By law foreign citizens who are HIV-positive may be deported. The law, however, bars the deportation of HIV-positive foreigners who have a Russian national or permanent resident spouse, child (including adopted children), or parents (including adoptive parents).
Prisoners with HIV/AIDS experienced regular abuse and denial of medical treatment. Prisoners with HIV were excluded from amendments to the criminal code adopted during the year that improved visitation opportunities for incarcerated parents.
Although the law provides for treatment of HIV-positive persons, drug shortages, legal barriers, and lack of funds caused large gaps in treatment. In June the Ministry of Health forbade the Federal AIDS Center in Moscow from dispensing antiretroviral drugs. The center served persons who could not get treatment at Moscow hospitals because they were living in Moscow without permanent registration.
The Ministry of Justice continued to designate HIV-related NGOs as foreign agents; at least two such groups were so designated during the year (see section 2.b., Freedom of Association).
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
The lack of an internal passport often prevented homeless citizens from fully securing their legal rights and social services. Homeless persons faced barriers to obtaining legal documentation.