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Corruption threatens rule of law in former Soviet states: rights group report

[JURIST] Corruption and repression are increasingly threatening legal rights in former Soviet republics like Russia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, according to a Monday report [text; press release] released by rights group Freedom House [advocacy website]. The group said that Russia especially has seen a significant deterioration of the rule of law, finding that the country's court system is controlled by powerful political elites. Defendants face unnecessary pre-trial detention and long trials, and are often denied adequate legal counsel. Although some mechanisms permit defendants to document abuses, the perceived weakness of the Russian judicial system means that large numbers of cases are still appealed to the European Court of Human Rights [official website]. In addition, Bribery and corruption remain a problem in Russia, where official censorship has discouraged an independent press [JURIST reports] from investigating alleged abuses. Giving the country an overall "Democracy Score" near the bottom of the scale, the group said:

Russia does not have a democratic political system. Instead, there is a facade of democracy, with a Constitution, formal elections, political parties, and other attributes typically found in democracies. However, without public accountability, a free media, and independent courts, the incumbent leadership can manipulate the
entire structure to its benefit. Such a system may be able to maintain itself in power for decades, but ultimately it will lose touch with society and become unstable.
The group blamed recent surges in oil and gas prices for enabling former President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin [official website; JURIST news archive] to institute increasingly authoritarian policies. AP has more.

Earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] said he was committed to improving Russia's human rights record, preserving an independent media, and enforcing the rule of law, reiterating the pledges he made during his May inauguration [JURIST reports]. Also this month, Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson [corporate profile] said that there was little international confidence in Russia's judicial system, and that the country needs to make significant improvements [JURIST report] to attract more foreign investment.

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