Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Mothers Organize to Combat Police Illegality

Paul Goble

Baku, May 14 – At a time when many segments of the Russian population are being less and less active, mothers concerned about the fate of their children are becoming more so, a development certain to have a growing impact on the future of Russian politics and Russian society more generally.
First, there were the Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers who struggled to force the Russian military to live according to the law in the way it treated their children in uniform. Then, there were the mothers of NORD-OST and Beslan who have demanded that the authorities provide more and more reliable information about those tragedies than Moscow has been willing to do.
Now, according to an article in Monday’s “Novyye izvestiya,” Russian mothers in various parts of their country whose children have suffered at the hands of the militia, are spontaneously uniting to combat such malfeasance and to demand that the Russian government force the militia to act within the law (www.newizv.ru/news/2008-05-12/89711/).
The reason Russia’s mothers are doing so, the paper said, is that Russia’s militia officers have long been accustomed to ignore any complaints, and “parents who attempt on their own to show the innocence of their children are almost always condemned to defeat.” Consequently, it continued, “they have no other choice left but to form ranks.”
After recounting three egregious cases in which the Russian militia falsely accused a young man in Ulyanovsk of murder, came up with a willing confessor to protect the person who committed the crime from being brough to justice, and convicted a young woman of a murder she did not commit, “Novyye Izvestiya” recounted the history of this movement.
The story begins in Krasnodar in 2000 when the son of Tatyana Rudakova, on his return from Chechnya, “was unjustly charged with theft, arrested, and beaten by militia personnel.” Rudakova was able to secure his release, but in the course of her efforts, she saw so many other cases of injustice that she decided to form a mothers’ group to help them as well.
She told the paper that in her view, “the government cannot change the situation that exists in the country without social control,” and consequently, her group seeks to identify cases of the violation of the rights of those arrested, charged or convicted, and to shine the bright light of “glasnost’” on them.
In the last eight years, she said, her organization has identified “hundreds of cases of illegal arrests, beatings, tortures, and threats,” prompting the group to picket one corrective labor colony in 2004 in addition to its normal work of filing petitions, meeting with officials and talking to journalists.
And in 2006, the group achieved what Rudakova described as a breakthrough: it succeeded in bringing militia officers to trial for their crimes on the basis of testimony collected by the human rights activists themselves, a success that may have been behind her own elevation to the Social Council on Human Rights in the Krasnodar governor’s office.
At least sometimes, these groups are able to enlist the support of deputies in local government offices. Their signatures on the appeals of the groups are important because the militia almost always responds to queries from elected officials even if it still feels relatively free to ignore citizens’ complaints.
Such efforts seldom get much attention, but they may ultimately prove to be more important than other, more high-profile activities. All Russian citizens can immediately identify with the problems that these groups are fighting, and consequently, they could prove to be among the first true flowers of civil society in a country with too little of that.

No comments: