Russian Press – Behind the Headlines, February 20

Moskovskiye Novosti

Church Calls for Ban on Stem Cell Research

The Russian Orthodox Church has called for recognizing fetuses as human life and for banning medical research that involves biological material procured from abortion procedures.

The church has sent a series of amendments to the cell technology bill, which iscurrently in the works, to Healthcare Minister Tatyana Golikova in the hope that “the ministry will heed its opinion.” “We, in turn, are ready for dialogue and discussion on each proposal,” said Bishop Panteleimon, head of the the Synodal Department for Church Charity and Social Ministry.

Incidentally, the clerics cite “enlightened” European policies on this issue. In October 2011, the European Court of Justice outlawed the patenting of stem cell research that destroys a human embryo as immoral. Russia’s Healthcare Ministry supported that decision and said the cell technology bill they were working on embraced similar ethical principles. Deputy Minister Veronika Skvortsova said the new bill would ban the use of a human fetus, embryo or gamete in preparing cell lines.

According to Bishop Panteleimon, this means that the government is ready to agree that a fertilized ovum constitutes a person. Therefore, it would only remain to legalize this statement. That would make it possible to refer to an embryo as a “child,” which in turn would make the 1959 Children’s Rights declaration applicable to the embryo, thus guaranteeing the “child” legal protection “before and after birth.”

One proposal would include church officials on the ministry’s expert council on biomedical ethics. The church has had a similar council since 1998.

“The ministry’s bill cites advanced cell technology that is not widely used in Russia,” a church official said. “At the same time, there are simpler technologies which also use fetal cells as biological material, and these are quite widespread.”

The letter sent to Minister Golikova mentions valid patents for using fetal cells in anti-aging treatments, mesotherapy and fetal tissue implants.

The bill, drafted by the Ministry of Healthcare, is currently in the public discussion stage, and could be submitted to the lower house this spring. Given current legislative trends, the church may well expect that its proposals will be heeded. However, Russian scientists involved in stem cell research fear that the bill would entirely halt research in this area.

According to Sergei Kiselyov from the Human Stem Cells Institute, very few cell technologies are actually used in medicine. The bill would drastically limit the current research and could affect projects that are already underway. This would lead to Russia’s lagging even further behind Western biotechnology, he said.


Russia Joins OECD Convention Against Bribery

The Russian Foreign Ministry notified the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Friday that Russia has joined the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Experts believe that joining the convention will stimulate the fight against corruption. Russia will be the 39th state party to the convention as of April 17.

The State Duma ratified the convention on January 13, 2012, and President Dmitry Medvedev signed it into law on February 1. Medvedev said at a judiciary meeting, “Accession will harmonize our legal system with international standards in the fight against corruption.”

“We have not joined this convention to please anybody,” First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov clarified. “Joining is important in terms of our internal anti-corruption policy.”

Denisov added that ratifying the convention, a three-year process, is a condition for OECD accession. Russia, he said, will seek to join the organization in 2013, but the country will have to ratify 160 other conventions and instruments in 22 categories, including the introduction of international standards for economic statistics. Joining the anti-bribery convention requires Russia to pay annual dues of about 100,000 euros per year to the OECD Working Group on Bribery in International Business.

The convention was signed in 1997 and entered into force in February 1999. Most European countries are members, as are some Latin American countries and the United States. The main obligation for the states parties is to track and prosecute their citizens for bribery or attempted bribery of foreign officials and to track foreign officials on their territories who take bribes. The convention recommends not only criminalizing these acts, but also blacklisting the companies found guilty of bribing foreign public officials from tenders for government contracts. The convention discourages the practice of allowing income tax deductions for bribes to officials of foreign states: some companies in developing countries having been implicated in this practice. The convention aims to prevent parties from adding to corruption not only within their borders, but also beyond. However, fewer than 20% of participating countries actively apply the convention's provisions, according to a 2011 Transparency International report.

Even before ratifying the convention, Russia adopted a series of measures to fulfill it. In April 2011, Dmitry Medvedev's anti-corruption package introduced amendments to the Criminal Code, including multiple penalties for giving and receiving bribes, as well as mediation. Foreign officials as well as companies that give bribes to foreign officials or officials of international public organizations will be held liable.

Vladimir Yuzhakov, director of the Department for Administrative Reform at the Center for Strategic Studies, said that the practice of applying the convention will provide additional incentives to fight corruption in the country in general. Yuzhakov expects that the convention will require further steps in developing anti-corruption legislation – in particular, the introduction of more stringent procedures for investigating cases of bribery of foreign public officials.

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Russian Press - Behind the Headlines, February 20

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