Open Letter to President Obama on Russian Human Rights Abuses

August 11, 2010

View this letter in PDF format

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

In recent weeks, attempts by Russian citizens to stage peaceful demonstrations were met with force and arrests.  Newspaper accounts report dozens of arrests.  In Moscow, the authorities arrested Boris Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and leader of the opposition Solidarity Russia movement whom you met during your July 2009 visit to Russia.  Video of the July 31 demonstration shows that authorities targeted Mr. Nemtsov while he calmly attempted to proceed to the demonstration.  Mr. Nemtsov was released but charged with obstructing the police in the course of their duties.

Mr. Nemtsov was attempting to take part in an opposition demonstration designed to exercise the Russian people’s right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution.  Previous rallies have also been broken up by militia who brutally beat participants, and harassed representatives of the opposition and human rights organizations, including the longtime human rights champion, Lyudmila Alexeyeva.   It is imperative that future demonstrations be allowed, and that this pattern of abuse, harassment and arrests ends.

Mr. President, you have noted the connection between democracy and security, asserting that “governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure."  Mr. Nemtsov has argued that the problem in U.S.-Russia relations was one of values and that “to ignore the problem of human rights and democracy means to fail ... strategically."  The signatories of this letter support your efforts to improve relations with Moscow.  We are also unified in agreement that improved relations must not be achieved at the expense of democracy and human rights.

We believe that these arrests, the passage of a new law expanding the powers of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and other anti-democratic steps constitute an alarming trend.  American policy should proceed from the premise that productive and successful relations require respect for human rights and democratic freedoms by the Russian government.   Nor can the Russian government hope to achieve its goal of modernization while it oppresses its people.

Continued abuses of Russia’s democracy and human rights should lead to greater U.S. support for the brave Russians attempting to exercise their freedoms.  We commend your administration for expressing concern about last week’s arrests and reiterating the importance of respecting the rights to freedom of expression and assembly.  We urge you to continue to convey to the Russian government the American people's condemnation of these assaults on universal human values in Russia today and make clear that their continuation cannot help but have a deleterious effect on the relationship between our two nations.

Sincerely,

Elliott Abrams
Leon Aron
Ellen Bork
William Courtney
Larry Cox
Eric Edelman
Jamie M. Fly
Carl Gershman
Morton Halperin
Michael Haltzel
Robert Herman
Bruce Pitcairn Jackson
Robert Kagan
Rachel Kleinfeld
David Kramer
Irina Krasovskaya
William Kristol
Tod Lindberg
Elisa Massimino
Clifford D. May
A. Wess Mitchell
Joshua Muravchik
Sam Patten
Danielle Pletka
Arch Puddington
Stephen Rademaker
David Satter
Randy Scheunemann
Richard Schifter
Gary Schmitt
John Shattuck
Dan Senor
Paula Schriefer
Gare A. Smith
Kenneth R. Weinstein
Leon Wieseltier
Damon Wilson
R. James Woolsey

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The Foreign Policy Initiative seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and strengthening America’s global economic competitiveness.
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