New Report on Corruption and Human Rights in Russia

Corruption and Human Rights in Contemporary Russia

Analysis of the correlation between corruption and violations of human rights and freedoms 

'Corruption and Human Rights in Contemporary Russia' is an independent report by the Center for the Development of Democracy and Human RightsINDEM FoundationTransparency International – Russia, and the Institute for Human Rights



Russia is deeply affected by numerous violations of human rights, while the existing remedies designed to protect and restore rights are weak and often ineffective. Corruption is a systemic problem and negatively affects the country's economy and governance. Corruption not only undermines democratic institutions, but also destroys – directly and brutally – the mechanisms designed to ensure respect for human rights and the government’s accountability for human rights violations, thus making people vulnerable to the arbitrariness of bureaucrats and law enforcement bodies and to the lack of justice in the judicial system. On the other hand, there is a reverse connection: to combat corruption effectively, Russia must restore fundamental rights and democratic liberties such as freedom of expression and assembly, independence of the judiciary, free and fair elections, and others. 

The idea to research the link between Russia's poor human rights record and the high level of corruption was proposed by members of the CDDHR in 2008 after many years of human rights work, in particular in the area of human rights violations in the army. The experience of Russian organizations working in this sphere reveals that human rights violations and crimes against the person in the armed forces are often enabled by corruption. Moreover, effective and fair investigation of human rights violations and restoration of rights have often been made impossible due to the corrupt interests of Russian officials. 

Organizations working in other specific areas of human rights have observed similar manifestations of this problem. Corruption in the uniformed services (army, police, etc.) has been the cause of numerous and systematic violations of the right to life, physical integrity and freedom from torture. Judicial corruption impedes the realization of the right to effective remedy, fair investigation and trial. Corruption in health and education systems limits the right to adequate health care and equal access to education. Corruption involved in the processing of official paperwork violates, among other things, the rights to privacy and protection from discrimination, etc. 

Corruption tends to create artificial and unnecessary legal barriers, so that a bribe is seen as the easiest and sometimes the only way to solve the problem. For example, the procedure for obtaining a permit to hire immigrant workers is so cumbersome as to render meaningless any attempt to get the permit lawfully, and forces both the workers and the employers to pay bribes to the officials concerned. In 2008, cancellation of a number of important "socially-oriented" deferments from military conscription led to a sharp increase in corruption in the military draft committees. 

Over the past 10 years, the Russian authorities have made repeated attempts to combat corruption. However, these efforts have been largely limited to high-profile declarations and equally high-profile arrests of individual officials without tackling the problem at the systemic level. 

The most effective attempts to address corruption were made in the first years of Dmitry Medvedev's presidency (2008-2012). As president, Medvedev said that fighting corruption was his priority as head of state. Within a few months – between July 2008 and February 2009 – Russia adopted a series of anti-corruption laws. They included the National Anti-Corruption Plan, the Federal Law of 25.12.2008 on Combating Corruption, the Federal Law of 09.02.2009 on Access to Information about the Activities of Government and Local Self-government Bodies, and other important legislation. 

In 2011, the government, largely in response to pressure from civil society and criticism by the general public and the media, took the following measures: draft amendments on income and property declarations by public servants; decree by the Ministry of Justice on mandatory anti-corruption expert assessment of draft legislation; and adoption of amendments on criminal responsibility for bribing officials of foreign countries. By taking these steps Russia has become closer to joining the OECD Convention on combating bribery. 

However, these measures were not enough to make tangible progress in combating corruption. The decrees and laws are not meant to bring about significant changes in state institutions or to reform the legislation. As noted above, the level of corruption in recent years has not decreased, but has increased significantly; corruption is increasingly becoming an integral part of the system and continues to affect citizens, businesses, and NGOs. But it also affects government, undermining its power and authority. 

This research undertaken by Russian NGOs and think tanks is aimed at studying and analyzing the influence and impact of corruption on human rights in Russia. We not only see this study as an opportunity to contribute to reducing the level of corruption and, consequently, improving conditions for the protection of human rights; we also see it as a chance to consolidate the efforts of a whole range of civil society institutions. The study serves as a unique discussion forum for human rights defenders and experts in searching for solutions of urgent problems faced by the country today. 


The motives for human rights violations are very often related to corrupt interests. Human rights activists affirm the intensive intervention of corruption in human rights: according to activists corruption plays a part in the majority of cases – directly or indirectly. 

In order to prove this hypothesis, a special research programme was organized. In the course of 2011-2012, the methodology for gathering and analyzing cases was developed by the working group. We contacted experts in different areas of human rights and representatives of the legal advice clinic of Transparency International – Russia and asked them to take part in the research, identifying cases where, in their own judgment, rights were violated for reasons of corruption. In the end, we received more than one hundred such case descriptions. 

Next, the cases were analyzed and a possible correlation between corruption and human rights in particular cases was studied by the experts of the working group. 

Finally, we asked external experts to write articles based on the research and analysis. Field interviews were also conducted with human rights activists and experts. 


How does corruption contribute to human rights violations? First of all, it violates the key principal of equality: people will be deprived of access to social services and welfare if they are not able or do not want to pay bribes. Indirect evidence of this is the fact that the most corrupt areas in Russia are not the police or army, as many people are convinced, but healthcare and education. 

Corruption makes possible increased social injustice and deepens the gap between the poor and the rich. While members of the upper class pay bribes in order to secure their sources of income and benefit from the special position they achieve, people from vulnerable groups bribe officials in order to neutralize threats to their rights, and to receive something which is provided to them by law, but which they are not able to receive without resorting to bribery. Social discrimination becomes apparent also in that fact that the poor are forced to pay bribes more often than the rich. Corruption contributes also to deepening race, ethnic, language, social, gender, etc. discrimination. For instance, women are more often forced to pay bribes in order to receive social benefits than men. An example of ethnic discrimination is that migrants and workers from Central Asia and the Caucasus are much more often coerced to bribe than other nationals. 

Cases of human rights violations on the grounds of corruption are described in the report with regard to the military, police, medicine (drug policy), migration, labor rights, trade unions, elections, and other areas of public life. 


The research proved the link identified by human rights activists between corruption and the violation of human rights and freedoms in Russia. This dependence is confirmed by the great majority of cases of human rights violations analyzed by the working group, a part of which is described in the report. 

There are similar factors influencing the rise in corruption and the poor human rights record: lack of public oversight, unaccountability and non-transparency of state bodies, the principles of nepotism and mutual obligations rooted in social behavior, social egoism, neglect of the law by state representatives, citizens’ low level of legal literacy, etc. 

Corruption leads to an increase in human rights violations which, in return, leads to a rise in corruption. 

In particular, common social patterns of corrupt activities and human rights abuses were identified: 

- Neglect of, and disinclination to use, the universal norms of law; 

- Use of corruption by citizens in order to protect and restore their rights; 

- Violation of generally accepted ethical norms; 

- Manifestation of social egoism in Russian society; 

- Manifestation of the Russian bureaucracy’s profit-driven behavior; 

- Following cultural traditions, common practices and implanted stereotypes; 

- Commercialization of non-market relations and values. 

Correlation between corruption and human rights and freedoms in different areas of public life 


Electoral corruption violates the right to free voting. It refers, above all, to the use of the so-called “administrative resource” (by a state official in power) and vote buying. According to independent monitoring organizations, the violation of the right to free voting through corruption was mass practice in the course of the parliamentary (December 2011) and presidential (March 2012) elections. 

Employment and social rights 

Corruption violates the right to labor, to fair access to services and social benefits. Cases are described of the persecution of trade unions and their leaders because of their anti-corruption and human rights activities. 


The law On the Legal Situation of Foreign Citizens in the Russian Federation creates broad opportunities for corruption. While Russia enjoys visa free relations with the “labor-abundant” countries of Central Asia and Caucasus, it sets quotas for employment and hiring which lead to increases in corruption and the number of illegal workers. 

Companies and enterprises are interested in hiring illegal workers because of their extra-legal status, which allows commission of violations against them. Obviously, slavery is forbidden, but it exists as a result of bribes and other forms of corruption in the migration service, army, police and other uniformed agencies. In the area of migration, corruption provokes mass human rights abuses. 

Military service 

Corruption and violations of human rights in the Russian military, internal troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and other agencies with military service have become endemic. In the great majority of cases, corruption is related to the military call up, which is characterized by legally fixed limitations on the rights of soldiers and the unlimited power of commanders, which create the conditions for abuse of power. 

Widespread bribery connected to the military draft leads to social injustice: in the first place, it is youngsters from poor families who are called up. Corruption and extortion often violate fundamental rights to life, freedom from torture and abasement of human dignity. 


Corruption in the police often causes violations of the right to life, physical integrity and freedom from torture. In many cases citizens are able to protect their life and rights only by resorting to bribery. Moreover, the police often violate human rights by acting in pursuit of corrupt interests. 

Social rights 

Officials are often oriented to profit through the implementation of their duties. Corruption in state services (issuing papers, documents, recognition of rights, certification, licensing, etc.) leads to the restrictions on access to state services, increasing social gaps between the poor and wealthy. 

Education and Healthcare 

According to Russian expert assessments, education and healthcare are the two most corrupt institutions of public life in Russia. Corruption restricts access to education and proper medical service for poor families. 



a) Human rights defenders shall take on board an anti-corruption agenda in their work to protect rights and combat injustice and the impunity of those state officials who commit crimes and violations of human rights; 

b) On the other side, independent anti-corruption activists have to take into account the impact of corruption on human rights and include this issue in their anti-corruption policies; 

This bilateral cooperation can make the efforts of both sides more effective. 


The following measures could contribute to the destruction of the linkage between corruption and human rights violations: 

a) Active participation of citizens in the decision making process, discussions and development of law amendments, expert conclusions on draft legislation and recommendations for state bodies in a wide range of areas of public life; 

b) Implementation as a priority of the legal norms developed through public discussions and with citizens’ participation, as well as the provisions of the universal legal norms; 

c) Continuous independent public anti-corruption assessment of legislation; 

d) Advocating reforms of government and municipal services; insistence on the full rejection by the bureaucracy of patrimonial principles of management; 

e) Full abolition of benefits and privileges of state and municipal officials in government service. 

For NGOs: 

a) Active participation in and promotion of independent public oversight over state bodies in relation to corruption, transparency and access to information; 

b) Raising public awareness on human rights abuses, especially those cases based on corruption and the failure by state representatives to comply with legal norms; 

c) Promotion and support for whistleblowers, advocacy campaigns for transparency of the electoral process, state institutions, and other areas where human rights violations occur because of corruption in the most vicious and widespread manner: police, army and other law enforcement and uniformed agencies, education, healthcare, migration, etc. 

Follow up 

Cooperation between human rights groups and anti-corruption initiatives could bring a doubly positive effect, in terms of both society and the state. But real collaboration between human rights activists and anti-corruption experts does not appear to happen very often. The reason is ahe lack in mutual understanding: both parties remain independent, but anti-corruption activists must often collaborate with the state authorities in order to achieve better outcomes, while human rights defenders tend to take critical and at times oppositional positions towards the authorities. Moreover, many anti-corruption experts consider human rights values to be abstract, while human rights experts at times blame anti-corruption practices for violating the principles of human rights. This tension reflects the continuing divergence of views regarding law enforcement and realization of human rights. 

Corruption and Human Rights in Modern Russia 

Analysis of the correlation between corruption and violations of human rights and freedoms

An independent analytical report 2012 

Research Working Group: Valentin Gefter (Institute for Human Rights), Yuri Dzhibladze (Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights), Andrey Kalikh (Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights), Natella Kolosova (Higher School of Economics), Elena Panfilova (Transparency International – Russia), Vladimir Rimsky (INDEM Foundation). 

Editors/compliers of the report: Vladimir Rimsky (INDEM Foundation) and Andrey Kalikh (Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights). 

Articles / interviews: Lyudmila Vakhnina (Human rights centre “Memorial”), Svetlana Gannushkina (Committee “Civil Assistance”), Natalya Zvyagina (Youth Human Rights Movements), Lev Levinson (Institute for Human Rights), Yuli Nisnevich (Higher School of Economics – Moscow), and Elena Vandysheva (Higher School of Economics – St. Petersburg). 

Full text of the report in Russian:

We thank Andrei Kalikh for providing this English-language summary of the report for publication on Rights in Russia. 

Andrei Kalikh, human rights researcher, journalist and activist, is program director at the Centre for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights. He is also a member of the Board of the Perm Memorial society.