Russian Federation


Russian Federation Human Rights

General Overview

The Russian Federation has more territory than any other country in the world, spanning two continents and northern Eurasia. It has a population of 142 million people, 80% of whom are ethnic Russians. Russia remains a diverse country, however, with populations of over 150 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples living within its boundaries. Its political structures are governed by the constitution adopted in 1993 under Boris Yeltsin. Though nominally a democracy with periodic elections, this constitution granted to the Presidency extensive power over both the legislative process and the state's executive functions. In the 2000s, President Vladimir Putin exploited these institutional levers to gain the kind of authority usually associated with authoritarianism.

To understand many Russians' enthusiasm for Putin's heavy-handed rule, one must understand that most Russians experienced the collapse of Soviet power as a time of political chaos and economic hardship. Under Yeltsin's rule, Russian political institutions became quite weak, undermined by a lack of resources, widespread corruption and competing jurisdictions between governments at the central, regional and local levels. Fortunately, the figurative "war of sovereignties" escalated to genuine armed conflict only in Chechnya, but in the ensuing years the conflict has expanded increasingly into the North Caucasus and provoked terrorist actions within Moscow's city limits. Meanwhile, the Russian economy suffered a systemic collapse. Despite substantial immigration from former Soviet republics, Russia's population has declined by about six million since 1991. The life expectancy fell to about 63 years for a Russian man, and 74 years for a Russian women, and the birth rate declined to record lows for peacetime.

In this context, Putin's promise in 2000 to restore economic and political order was hugely popular. By the time he stepped down in 2008, the Putin administration had established control over most of the mass media, the regional leadership, the political parties and even civil society. His economic success, however, could be attributed in large part to the high price of oil. The economic crisis of 2008 hit Russia hard, and one is beginning to see some dissatisfaction among the Russian populatioin. Earlier in 2008, Putin stepped down from the Presidency in favor of his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, and accepted the position of Prime Minister instead. Since then, official rhetoric between the government and human rights workers and other activists has softened somewhat, but the general lines of policy remain the same. Meanwhile, it remains unclear precisely how power is shared in the "tandemocracy" of Putin and Medvedev, and whether or not the current relations between the two will remain as they are.


2008 Russia – Georgia Conflict

During the Russian-Georgian conflict in August 2008, Amnesty International USA acquired satellite imagery to analyze and document the destruction to Tskhinvali and 24 of its surrounding villages. Much of the observed damage occurred after the major hostilities of the first two days of the conflict.

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Human Rights Issues

The greatest concerns for human rights in the Russian Federation concern the ongoing conflicts in the North Caucasus, where reports of enforced disappearances, the killings of civilians and torture remain commonplace. Related to this violence have been ongoing efforts to silence voices of dissent. Most famously, the outspoken advocate of human rights in Chechnya, Anna Politikovskaya, was murdered in her Moscow apartment building in 2006. But in 2009 alone, under President Medvedev, four other prominent human rights activists were assassinated, including Natalia Estemirova, Stanislav Markelov Marksharip Aushev and Ivan Khutorskii. It remains unclear who ordered these murders and for what reasons, as none of the perpetrators in these four cases have been brought to justice. Less dramatically, the regime has continued its harass oppositional leaders, human rights activists, and environmental activists, among others, under the guise of the struggle against extremism. Meanwhile, the exercise of justince continues to be selective and even arbitrary in many cases.

In addition to these concerns, other human rights issues in Russia include the treatment of prisoners in the Russian criminal justice system, incidents of racial violence against ethnic minorities and other foreigners living in Russia, the treatment of migrant workers, and domestic violence.

Russian Federation Newsroom

April 16, 2020 • Report

Mass protests in Europe provide hope as rights and judicial independence eroded

People’s rights are being violated by governments in Europe and Central Asia, who are cracking down on protests and seeking to erode the independence of the judiciary to avoid accountability, …

March 31, 2020 • Report

Authorities in Russia Urged to Protect Half a Million Prison Population in Face of COVID-19

Russian authorities should take urgent measures to address the potentially devastating consequences should COVID-19 begin spreading among prisoners and detainees, Amnesty International said in a letter to Russian government agencies. At least 9,000 of Russia’s 519,600-strong prison population are over 60-years-old and many more in poor health.

November 17, 2016 • Report

Agents of the people: Four years of foreign agents law in Russia

More than a hundred organizations have seen their funding shrink, their reputations tarnished, and their staff intimidated under Russia’s draconian “foreign agents” law, said Amnesty International ahead of the fourth anniversary of its coming into force on November 21, 2012.

April 20, 2016 • Report

Uzbekistan: Russian authorities complicit in forcibly returning hundreds of asylum-seekers and migrants to face torture

Hundreds of asylum-seekers, refugees and migrant workers have been deported and even abducted in forced returns from Russia to Uzbekistan, where they have been subjected to torture, said Amnesty International in a briefing released today.

February 18, 2016 • Report

Amnesty International State of the World 2015-2016

International protection of human rights is in danger of unravelling as short-term national self-interest and draconian security crackdowns have led to a wholesale assault on basic freedoms and rights, warned Amnesty International as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world. “Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International.

March 18, 2015 • Report

Violations of the Rights to Freedom of Expression, Assembly and Association in Crimea

The de facto authorities in Crimea have failed to investigate a series of abductions and torture of their critics, and resorted to an unrelenting campaign of intimidation to silence dissent.

February 25, 2015 • Report

State of the World 2014/2015

This has been a devastating year for those seeking to stand up for human rights and for those caught up in the suffering of war zones. Governments pay lip service to the importance of protecting civilians. And yet the world's politicians have miserably failed to protect those in greatest need. Amnesty International believes that this can and must finally change.

July 19, 2013 • Report

Approaching the 2014 Sochi Olympics: Human Rights in Russia

As the 2014 Sochi Olympics approach, the space for human rights in the Russian Federation is rapidly shrinking.

May 23, 2013 • Report

Annual Report: Russian Federation 2013

RUSSIAN FEDERATION Head of state Vladimir Putin (replaced Dmitry Medvedev) Head of government Dmitry Medvedev (replaced Vladimir Putin) Increasing peaceful political protest was met with repression. New laws restricting the …

April 24, 2013 • Report

Freedom under threat: The clampdown against freedoms of expression, assembly and association in Russia

One year after Vladimir Putin's third inauguration as Russia's President, the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly have come under increasing attack.