Russian History


General Civil Rights Guarantees

The constitution establishes wide-ranging civil and human rights and social guarantees, several of which remained unattainable or unrealized in the mid-1990s. Social guarantees have been difficult to meet because of Russia's persistent economic crisis. Such guarantees include the right to a minimum wage and welfare for the "family, mothers, fathers, children, invalids, and elderly citizens." Protection of unemployed people and the right to a safe and hygienic work environment also are proclaimed. The right to housing is guaranteed, including free or low-cost housing for needy people and others. The right to free health care and secondary-level education is also upheld, in an echo of the promises of Soviet constitutions. Perhaps in recognition of the economic burden of such widely inclusive state social guarantees, the constitution calls for adult children to care for disabled parents, and it safeguards the existence of private charitable and insurance operations, which were forbidden or discouraged under the Soviet system.

Equality before the law is proclaimed regardless of sex, race, nationality, language, national origin, property and position, ideological conviction, membership in public associations, and other attributes and circumstances. Freedom of religion and conscience is upheld, and alternatives to military service are to be accepted, although neither the law in force nor military practice has upheld the latter provision. Individual privacy is protected, including that of correspondence and other communications and of housing. Nationality rights are upheld, including the right to use a language other than Russian in communications and education. The constitution asserts freedom of internal and foreign travel and the right to choose one's place of domicile. No one may be expelled or exiled from Russia. Freedom of the press is upheld, and censorship is prohibited. People have the right to assemble peaceably and to hold peaceful meetings and demonstrations of all types. The right to own, dispose of, and inherit private property, including land, is upheld, and private property may not be expropriated except with full compensation.

Constitutionally guaranteed civil rights may only be restricted upon the legal proclamation of a national or local state of emergency. Even in a state of emergency, however, the constitution prescribes that no one may be tortured or denied judicial rights, although an individual may be held for an unspecified period without being charged. The right of dual citizenship for ethnic Russians residing in the near abroad (the other fourteen former republics of the Soviet Union) is proclaimed. Presumably, such a right also exists for non-Russians residing in Russia. The constitution also includes a pledge that Russia will protect its citizens abroad. However, most member nations of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have resisted Russia's demand that they grant ethnic Russians such dual citizenship, viewing it as an infringement on their sovereignty (see Migration, ch. 3).

Massive civil and human rights violations have been committed in the Republic of Chechnya by Russian military units as well as by Chechen guerrillas, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths and injuries and the displacement of more than 300,000 people. Official human rights monitoring of the conflict was undermined in 1995 when the State Duma dismissed human rights activist Sergey Kovalev as its ombudsman for human rights. Kovalev was removed because of his strident condemnation of Russian military and police atrocities in Chechnya. Kovalev resigned as chairman of the presidential Human Rights Commission in January 1996, accusing Yeltsin of backtracking on human rights in Chechnya and throughout Russia. No figure of similar stature had filled Kovalev's position as of mid-1996.