No longer being caught in airport limbo, Edward Snowden was temporary asylum for one year in Russia earlier this month. As Putin gave the go-ahead for this operation “Snowfall” (I tried with the Bond reference), President Obama and his crew were not so pleased. Russia already gave Obama a bad diplomatic rash by supporting the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and providing missiles to them. So, for now, the US government cannot extradite Edward Snowden.
We have all heard the term before. Many people hear asylum and think of a psychiatric institution. If you’re like me, you hear the term “asylum” and knew generally what it refers to and that’s it. So what does it actually mean? In the context of Edward Snowden, what exactly are his rights in Russia now and will he ever be able to go back to the United States without being arrested?
Asylum is defined as “the protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a refugee,” but this definition hardly breaks the surface on what it actually means.
People seek asylum in other countries because, much like Edward Snowden, they fear persecution in their own country.
According to Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights:
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations
Although the UN recognizes this right as universal, each country has different criteria for granting asylum. The United States, for example, requires that you be physically present in order to receive asylum. You also must be considered a “refugee.”
In Russia, asylum is not always a field of daisies. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) issued this report in their 2013 regional operations profile about the state of asylum in Eastern Europe, particularly the Russian Federation.
Asylum systems in the sub-region remain fragile and vulnerable to political changes and sensitivities, despite the comparatively low numbers of applicants. UNHCR is concerned about a number of issues including access to territory and asylum procedures; instances of refoulement; an increase in the deportation of persons of concern; low recognition rates; and, in some countries, the use of complementary forms of protection instead of the recognition of refugees. Some improvements in the reception of asylum-seekers and the determination of their claims have been achieved in the Russian Federation.
The high-profile nature of Edward Snowden’s situation could either help or hurt him when it comes to his treatment in Russia. Snowden has already been offered employment by Russian social-network giant VKontakte, and all reports seem to indicate that the transition has been relatively smooth. Since Russia could use this to “poke the bear” with the US, it might incentivize Mr. Putin to take good care of Snowden…for now.
But, not everyone is happy in the motherland.
As Edward Snowden is relieved to be granted asylum by Russia, many of people want asylum in the very country Edward Snowden is trying to avoid. The recent controversy and talk of boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics, due to Russia’s very open anti-gay policies.
President Vladimir Putin in late June signed into law the so-called gay propaganda bill, which punishes those who publicly inform minors that “nontraditional relationships” are OK. Other new laws ban adoptions by same-sex couples and criminalize actions that insult the “religious feelings” of Russian believers.
Many Russians are now seeking asylum in the United States for fear of being persecuted for being gay or endorsing homosexuality. The laws passed in Russia even ban certain forms of public displays of affection by same-sex couples.
The back-and-forth between Russia and the United States may only escalate because of Russia’s discrimination against gays. This “asylum two-step” sets a double-standard for both countries. The United States is endorsing the universal human right to be who you are by allowing gay Russian asylum seekers, but discouraging people like Snowden from blowing the whistle and exposing the true nature of government. Russia is infringing upon the human rights of their citizens by passing laws that discriminate against gays, but at the same time is being sympathetic toward a whistle-blower who exposed the truth. Russia might have ulterior motives for granting asylum, but the fact that Edward Snowden was granted asylum at all may at least demonstrates that Russia is not vehemently against his actions.
If the US boycotts Sochi, one wonders what Russia will do to retaliate.