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    Human rights body says West turns blind eye to abuses in Russia

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    MOSCOW, January 31 (RIA Novosti) - Human Rights Watch said on Thursday that Western democracies are failing to put pressure on Russia over what the U.S.-based NGO sees as human rights violations.

    "International criticism of Russia's human rights record remains muted, with the European Union failing to challenge Russia on its human rights record in a consistent and sustained manner," the rights organization said in an annual report, World Report 2008.

    The HRW highlighted flaws in December's parliamentary election in Russia, relations between public organizations and state bodies, as well as the situation in the North Caucasus and Russian nationals' right to fair trials.

    The report highlighted dispersals of opposition rallies and intimidation of opposition activists as major rights violations by Russian authorities last year.

    "Authorities banned or severely restricted a series of opposition demonstrations known as "Dissenters' Marches," which were nonetheless held across Russia," the report said.

    "In November the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe cancelled its mission to observe Russia's December 2 parliamentary elections, citing operational concerns. The Russian government had imposed unprecedented restrictions on the size of the mission and did not issue visas to observers in a timely manner."

    The organization also cited the barring of Russian sexual minorities from holding public gatherings last year.

    "On May 27 several dozen Russian lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, and their supporters, tried to hold a peaceful demonstration outside Moscow's City Hall. Police arrested 21 demonstrators and observers as the event's organizers attempted to deliver a petition to the mayor's office protesting its ban on a gay pride parade," the report said.

    On the situation in the North Caucasus, the HRW pointed to the activities of Chechen security officers, who allegedly torture terrorist suspects.

    "2007 proved a landmark year for international justice on Chechnya. Unable to secure justice domestically, hundreds of victims of abuse have filed applications with the European Court of Human Rights."

    "In 11 rulings to date, the ECtHR found Russia responsible for serious human rights abuses in Chechnya, including torture, extrajudicial executions, and enforced disappearances. In every ruling the court has found a failure by the Russian government to launch a meaningful investigation," the report said.

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