by Matt Rosenberg June 26th, 2012
Russia is no walk in the park, according to the recently released survey of global human rights conditions in 2011 by the U.S. Department of State. The report’s Russia section details problematic prison conditions, police corruption, the lack of safeguards to protect witnesses, interference with court cases from the government and military, extra-legal electronic surveillance of government critics, bias in state-controlled media and violence against independent journalists. That’s not all, however. The State Department report – drawn from a careful analysis of news from non-governmental organizations, media and other sources determined to be credible – also maintains that gays and lesbians and persons with disabilities suffer significant discrimination and harassment in Russia.
Most LGBT persons hide their sexual orientation because they’re scared of losing their jobs or homes, and being physically attacked, according to the State Department’s survey of the landscape. Reports are that doctors and other medical personnel provided limited or no service to openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered people. Police have ignored skinhead attacks on openly gay men. Officials in Moscow banned a gay pride parade for the sixth straight year, violating a European Commission on Human Rights ruling upholding free assembly without discrimination. The same day, it was reported, the city allowed a rally advocating the criminalization of homosexuality.
Existing laws to protect people with disabilities from discrimination are not enforced in Russia, resulting in denial or diminishment of access to schooling and jobs, according to the State Department report. Less than one in ten people with disabilities had a permanent job. Court-imposed conditions of their guardianships deprive them of “practically all personal rights.” Institutions caring for disabled adults often lacked trained staff, were overcrowded, and emphasized indoor confinement and restricted movement.
Government reports estimated that 200,000 of 450,000 school-age children with disabilities weren’t getting any formal education. They are typically institutionalized at an early age until adulthood. The State Department report on human rights in Russia, noted:
“There appeared to be no legal mechanism by which individuals could contest their assignment to a facility for persons with disabilities. The classification of categories of disability to children with mental disabilities often followed them through their lives. The labels ‘imbecile’ and ‘idiot,’ which were assigned by a commission that assesses children with developmental problems at the age of three and signify that a child is uneducable, were almost always irrevocable. Even the label ‘debil’ (slightly retarded) followed an individual on official documents, creating barriers to employment and housing after graduation from state institutions. This designation was increasingly challenged in the case of children with parents or individual caregivers, but there were few advocates for the rights of institutionalized children.”
Some attempts to improve conditions were evident. Moscow did pass a city law in mid-2011 seen as likely to help ensure education for persons with disabilities. As well, a five-year $1.5 billion federal program began in 2011 to help foster better access for persons with disabilities to “healthcare, culture, transport, information and communications, education, social protection, sports, and housing facilities.”
But laws meant to require physical accessibility of buildings for the disabled are frequently not enforced, although improvements are reported in Moscow. Major metropolitan transit systems across the country lack elevator systems for the wheelchair-bound. St. Petersburg as recently as June of last year barred wheelchair users from using subways. Public pressure forced a change in July. Even then, “the use of the system by persons in wheelchairs remained difficult….wheelchair-bound individuals could use a reserve escalator only if accompanied by two assistants, one of whom could be subway staff (although staff was not obliged to assist). Persons using wheelchairs could also use some city buses, which were equipped with low floors for access. However, persons using wheelchairs found it difficult to travel anywhere in the city unaccompanied, since sidewalks often have high curbs…”
For its part, the Russian government is skeptical of the U.S. record on human rights. RT.com reported on a Russian Foreign Ministry report released last December which criticized the U.S. for questionable espionage and surveillance under the guise of fighting terrorism; and for barriers faced by independent candidates in running for major political posts; political corruption in Illinois; and the forced resignation of White House correspondent Helen Thomas for public remarks seen as demeaning to Israel.