Human Rights and Civil Society In Russia

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Civil society is a necessary part of any free society and is key in ensuring the collective will of citizens is heard. Seeing civil society organizations repressed in any country is cause for alarm. This is the case today in Russia.

Russia has a poor human rights record and though Russia claims to be a free society today, it is considered by experts a country that is only somewhat free. Many believe that this is worsening as the government collapses.

The number of cases of human rights abuses in the European Court of Human Rights has steadily increased since 2002. These cases include discrimination, murder of journalists, and torture of prisoners.

Opposition to the ruling party is routinely met with intimidation, imprisonment and even murder.

Sergei Magnitsky, for example, was an accountant in Russia who attempted to expose government officials for a massive theft. He was subsequently tortured in prison over the course of a year and eventually died without ever being tried.

Most recently opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was murdered in front of the Kremlin. The official story alleges he was killed by Chechan Islamic extremists for his support of Charlie Hebdo. These official stories are incredulous after a number of high-profile journalist murders have taken place under Putin’s watch.

The problem is not with a lack of laws it is a problem with people ignoring the laws and not being punished. Torture, for example, is expressly forbidden in the Russian Constitution but some estimates put the number of prisoners whom have endured torture in interrogations at 50%.

Non-governmental organizations are not able to act freely in the country and face government oversight which effectively renders them useless. Civil society organizations are meant to be separate organizations so by requiring NGOs register as Russian organizations they can no longer represent the will of the people if its against the government. Many NGOs have been suspended from acting in the country.

Many are optimistic however and say Russia has a complicated political history and changes are not made overnight. The collapse of the ruble may threaten the Putin regime but even if he were to be replaced it would hard to completely change the corrupt system quickly.

International Human Rights and Saudi Arabia

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Saudi Arabia and The U.S. have historically had friendly relations. As the world has changed with increasing pace the relationship has remained surprisingly durable and both nations have benefited. Now, however, we are starting to see this slowly deteriorate with the recent death of King Abdullah and increased concern about human rights violations.

Saudi Arabia was started in 1932 as conservative Sunni monarchy and hasn’t had any significant changes to its governing practices.

Many are concerned about human rights violations in the state. Capital punishment and public executions are commonplace in Saudi Arabia and with a globalized world these public executions are coming to light and facing widespread condemnation. One recent case that made international news was the 1,000 lashes punishment that was handed out to Raif Badawi for purportedly insulting Islam and committing apostasy.

Freedom House is an NGO that currently says the country ranks among the lowest countries in the world for human rights violations.

In the interest of productive discourse it is important to understand exactly what is happening in Saudi Arabia and not to be mislead by peoples’ misconceptions.

Purported violations include Saudi citizens’ inability to change the status quo through free speech or use of the internet. Citizens don’t have freedom of religion and even the Shiite Muslim minority are discriminated against. But perhaps most publicized – there is no gender equality.

In Saudi Arabia women are not allowed to drive and are bound by law to cover their heads in public.

One of many Islamic nations in the region, Saudi Arabia’s legal system is based on interpretations of Islamic law. Judges in the country that hand out sentences take into account Sharia Law, current laws and like America, precedent. Many believe that the use of Sharia Law in decision making is the reason for human rights violations.