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

May 7, 2021 • Press Release

Statement on Alexei Navalny’s status as Prisoner of Conscience

Following careful evaluation Amnesty International has decided to re-designate Alexei Navalny as a “Prisoner of Conscience”. In February, Amnesty took an internal decision to stop using the “Prisoner of Conscience” …

August 20, 2020 • Press Release

Alleged poisoning of Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny must be thoroughly investigated

Amnesty International demands that the Russian authorities fully investigate the circumstances of the unexpected and critical deterioration of the health of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and allow him to immediately …

May 10, 2020 • Press Release

UN must not cut vital aid lifeline to north-west Syria amid Russian and Syrian war crimes

A new Amnesty International report, 'Nowhere is safe for us': Unlawful attacks and mass displacement in north-west Syria, details 18 cases – the majority in January and February 2020 – where Syrian and/or Russian government forces targeted medical facilities and schools in Idlib, western Aleppo and north-western Hama governorates.

April 20, 2020 • Press Release

Prisoner of conscience Konstantin Kotov will remain in jail in Russia

Following today’s decision by Moscow City Court to uphold the conviction of human rights defender Konstantin Kotov and sentence him to a year-and-a-half in a penal colony, Amnesty International Russia’s …

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.

February 7, 2020 • Press Release

Prominent Investigative Journalist and Lawyer Attacked During Visit to Chechnya

Reacting to news of a mob attack late last night, in the Chechen capital Grozny, on two visiting human rights activists –one of whom is investigative journalist Elena Milashina, who uncovered a vicious campaign of abduction, torture and killings against gay men in Chechnya two years ago, Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Deputy Director, said:

September 7, 2019 • Press Release

Filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and others freed in prisoner swap

Reacting to the news that Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and dozens of other detainees have been released as a part of prisoner exchange between Russia and Ukraine, Marie Struthers, Amnesty …

July 15, 2019 • Press Release

10 Years Since the Killing of Chechen Human Rights Defender Natalia Estemirova, No Justice in Sight

On the tenth anniversary of the murder of prominent Chechen human rights defender Natalia Estemirova, Amnesty International and 12 international and Russian human rights groups are calling on the Russian …

June 12, 2019 • Press Release

Mass arrests in Russia show authorities’ contempt for solidarity and rights

Responding to the arbitrary arrests of over 400 people in Moscow who were peacefully protesting the treatment of journalist Ivan Golunov, Denis Krivosheev, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe …

URGENT: Children seeking asylum in the U.S. are being denied their human rights based on their nationality — help ensure that all girls and boys fleeing violence can seek safety.