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Attorney General Suthers Lectures in Russia on Hate Crimes

Chris Toth, Acting Executive Director

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers had the opportunity to lecture Oct. 28 in St. Petersburg, Russia on behalf of NAAG and its National Attorneys General Training and Research Institute (NAGTRI). Addressing approximately 40 Russian prosecutors, judges, professors and court personnel, Attorney General Suthers spoke on the American legal experience with hate crimes.

This training came about after NAGTRI was contacted by the U.S. Embassy in Moscow and asked to provide support and expertise to the human rights non-governmental organization (NGO) Citizens’ Watch. Citizens’ Watch is headed by long-time human rights activist Boris Pustyntsev. Mr. Pustyntsev’s record of human rights advocacy dates back to the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, when he helped lead protests in Russia objecting to the Soviet invasion of Hungary. For his efforts, he was punished by the Soviet government with prison time. He later founded Citizens’ Watch, which is dedicated to promoting democracy and transparency in Russia.

Citizens’ Watch requested assistance with the subject of hate crimes because of a high and increasing level of such incidents in Russia. In particular, there has emerged a serious hate crime problem with skinhead and other groups attacking and even killing immigrants. At present, Russian judges retain experts to advise on whether a crime was motivated by racial or ethnic factors and thus qualifies as a hate crime under Russian law. These same hate groups have engaged in intimidation of judges, and are believed to be responsible for the murder of a hate crimes expert. Citizens’ Watch’s goal with this training was to introduce Russian jurists to various approaches to tackling hate crime problems in Europe and the United States. In so doing, Citizens’ Watch seeks to make Russian legal officials more receptive to international human rights standards that govern the protection of diverse peoples and viewpoints.

Attorney General Suthers provided a lecture on his perspective as to how hate crime legislation can most effectively address and reduce incidents of hate motivated offenses. He provided a brief history of hate crimes legislation in the United States,gave a description of how U.S. courts have balanced hate crimes legislation with free speech, and suggested prosecutorial considerations in charging under hate crimes laws. Attorney General Suthers was joined by a German prosecutor who provided his country’s experience in battling hate crimes. Those legal officials in attendance represented a broad range of views from across the Russian political spectrum. “The debate that followed our lectures was both contentious and spirited,” Attorney General Suthers reported. He added, “It was very gratifying to assist our Russian colleagues as they seek to develop a culture that cherishes human rights, and it was a pleasure to form a relationship with the dedicated and courageous people of Citizens’ Watch.” The text of Attorney General Suthers’ lecture can be found here. All costs of Attorney General Suthers’ trip were paid for by the gracious assistance of Citizens’ Watch and foundational support it receives from the United States.

The St. Petersburg training continues the international outreach efforts by NAAG and NAGTRI. Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden lectured this past year on public integrity and the need for transparency to eastern European prosecutors at a conference in Zagreb, Croatia. Additionally, the second iteration of the NAGTRI International Fellows Program will be held in June 2012. The first class of the International Fellows program in 2011 included participants from 10 different nations. Information on the International Fellows program can be found here,

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