US Shrugs Off Russian Rights Criticism

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US Shrugs Off Russian Rights Criticism
Published 23-10-2012, 04:04
The United States on Monday shrugged off scathing Russian criticism of its human rights record, with Washington offering no official reaction to the report from Russia’s Foreign Ministry and experts saying it was unlikely to get much notice here.

The US State Department did not respond Monday to several requests for comment on the report, which accuses the United States of a range of alleged rights abuses and "double standards” when assessing the rights records of other countries.

The report, presented in the Russian State Duma on Monday, echoes many of the criticisms of the United States voiced by international rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International—organizations that regularly criticize Russia as well.

It takes the United States to task for its record on capital punishment, secret CIA detention facilities abroad, extrajudicial killings of suspected terrorists, and government surveillance of foreigners’ and Americans’ electronic communications.

The report also condemns the United States for its failure to close the Guantanamo detention facility, for the size of the country’s prison population, which totals 2.2 million, for alleged police brutality, abuse of immigrant workers, and for faults in its electoral system.

But Steven Pifer, a former senior State Department official and White House adviser on the former Soviet Union, said the report is unlikely to earn much attention in Washington.

"Most American officials concede that there are problems here,” Pifer said. "But the idea that the problems here on democracy, for example, equate with the problems that you see in Russia over the last 10 years, I don’t think people are going to take that as a serious suggestion.”

The criticisms in the report are similar to those issued last year in a Russian government report on the state of human rights abroad. That report also singled out the United States for numerous alleged rights violations and was widely seen as Russia’s response to US State Department’s annual report on international human rights, in which Russia is routinely censured.

Last December, a State Department spokesman said in response to the first Russian government human rights report that the United States is "an open book” in terms of its rights record.

"We certainly don’t regard it as interference in our internal affairs when foreign governments, individuals or organizations comment on or criticize U.S. human rights practices,” the spokesman, Scott Toner, told reporters at the time.

Moscow has regularly accused Washington of double standards on rights issues going back to the Soviet era, Pifer noted.

"The Russian government, like the Soviet government, never liked it when the United States commented on democracy or human rights in Russia, and this is just kind of a tit-for-tat report,” said Pifer, who served as US ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000.

Pifer said it is unlikely anyone in Russia’s political elite believes the report will influence US policy with regard to human rights.

It’s more likely, he suggested, that Russian officials will use it later on to fend off outside criticism of Moscow’s own rights record.

"I don’t think it’s going to get a lot of attention here,” Pifer said. 

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