Letter From the Editors

The subtext of human rights runs through many articles in this week’s selection.

First, there’s the right to health. With each new wave of the COVID‑19 pandemic, Russia has consistently put the economy over the population’s physical well-being. As soon as infection rates showed signs of dropping in mid-summer, the authorities eased up on their calls for mass vaccination. Now, amid a record surge of new infections and deaths, most of the country has gone into a rare lockdown. But, as Republic.ru explains, this quarantine is token in nature and has little to do with health concerns: Scheduled for Oct. 30 through Nov. 7, the lockdown falls during a holiday period and actually includes only three days that would have otherwise been regular workdays. So the economy will not suffer a major blow and schools will be able to avoid a return to distance learning. But at what cost?

Then comes the closely related right to a healthy environment. With the UN Climate Change Conference slated to start on Oct. 31, there is still confusion about the approach that the US will take. As Boris Mezhuyev explains in an article about a possible new US-China partnership, Biden’s climate czar, John Kerry, wants to prioritize a foreign policy based on climate change, while the Biden administration is more focused on geopolitics and containment of China. The catch here is that any partnership with China based on a green agenda will require turning a blind eye to human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Next up, we have numerous violations of fundamental human rights in relation to political prisoners. According to Sergei Davidis, director of the Memorial human rights center’s Support for Political Prisoners program, today there are 420 “prisoners of conscience” in Russia, all of whom are being prosecuted for their political or religious beliefs under the guise of spurious charges. Davidis says it is clear that people are being increasingly prosecuted for the “peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of assembly, conscience and expression – the rights provided for by the European Convention.” Explaining that the figure of 420 political prisoners is based on cases where the group can analyze the grounds for conviction, heestimated that the real number of political prisoners is actually several times higher.

But, as usual, the situation is much worse in Belarus, which Memorial believes has around 833 verified political prisoners. With much of civil society locked up in prison, there is little hope that anyone will step up for the migrants amassing on Belarus’s border with Europe. These migrants have sadly become pawns in the standoff between Belarus and the EU, with Belarus using the migrants for what Nezavisimaya gazeta describes as blackmail to resume talks with the EU. Meanwhile, these migrants are left stranded and unable to exercise their right to seek asylum.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s the fundamental right to be president of your own realm. As Meduza explains, in 2010 the Russian federal government passed a law banning regional leaders from using the word “president” in their titles. Regions were given until 2015 to make the change, and almost all complied. The last holdout is Tatarstan, a region that places a high value on its independence. However, a bill currently before the State Duma would make Putin the only “president” in the country and effectively force Tatarstan’s leader to cede his title. Because Tatarstan is unlikely to give in on this one, the most probable solution is that Putin will allow the current leader, Rustam Minnikhanov, to hold on to the title until the end of his term. All of this begs the question: Is the plight of the human race being drowned out by politics? With Putin pledging to pursue a course of traditional values at a recent Valdai meeting and the US seeming to backtrack on its initial criticism of Turkey’s treatment of philanthropist Osman Kavala, all signs point to yes.