Boris Altshuler: Children don’t know of Astakhov’s existence

posted 11 Jul 2016, 01:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jul 2016, 01:30 ]
1 July 2016

Boris Altshuler in conversation with Kseniya Gulia

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: RFI]

On 30th June RBK, citing two sources in the Kremlin, reported that Pavel Astakhov, the RF Ombudsman for children, is leaving his post after his vacation. Astakhov’s staff has not confirmed that he is leaving. Boris Altshuler, human rights activist, leader of the organization ‘The rights of the Child’ and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group explained, in an interview with RFI, what could change for Russian children if Astakhov leaves, and what could explain the departure of the ‘untouchable’ Ombudsman.

RFI: How would Russian children lose out if Pavel Astakhov leaves his post?

Boris Altshuler: Children don’t know of Astakhov’s existence. Children are not aware of his silly pranks and don’t watch his interviews. I wrote more than once to then President Medvedev and to President Putin asking that he should be dismissed on the grounds of his total unsuitability for such a post. Children, naturally enough, know nothing of him and that’s bad because children need to be defended. [Pavel Astakhov’s office] is a huge filing system which never engages with individuals.

RFI: What do you mean when you say that Pavel Astakhov is wholly unsuitable for the post he occupies?

I can give two very striking examples. In 2010 we were approached by several large families – Russian citizens who had no housing or registration documents. Their situation – outside the law, and with no social support – had lasted, not for a year or two, but for 20 years. Once people in Russia have no housing and registration, they have no access to the social welfare system. We tried and are still trying to help these people. Naturally turning to Astakhov brought no results. Many of the family were Russian orthodox. We arranged, at their request, that Patriarch Kirill raise the matter with Astakhov. Knowing that they were going to meet, we arranged through our contacts in the Patriarch’s department for charities to pass on the appeals from 12 homeless families, the Patriarch personally gave these to Astakhov.

Astakhov’s huge office started to deal with the letters. They sent letters of enquiry to all the regions (Moscow and St Petersburg, to Krasnodar, and Tatarstan…), waited for official replies from the authorities. Astakhov made a summary of the replies and sent it to the Patriarch. From the first to the final word, the summary blamed the parents, and offered not a single word of assistance. Furthermore, not a single member of Astakhov’s huge staff, let alone Astakhov himself, called a single family on their mobile, and their mobile numbers were included in letters.

That’s the first example, and the second is the ‘Dima Yakovlev law’. Because of the adoption of this law there are a number of children, some of whom are very ill, who cannot go to the US for treatment, and are left in our children’s homes. But there’s something else too. In 2011-2012 a great deal of work went on drawing up a Russian-American agreement on adoption. Astakhov was in America several times, and took part in the discussions. And in the autumn of 2012 he announced triumphantly that the agreement had been signed and now we would be better able to monitor the fate of our children, adopted in America.

Then at the end of December 2012 comes the ‘Dima Yakovlev law’ and Astakhov supports it. As a result, the agreement was scrapped. The Russian Federation was deprived of any means of knowing of the fate of its children, or of controlling or influencing their fate.

RFI: How do you explain Astakhov’s possible departure, after being in post since 2009? What started this off?

Astakhov, given his past, education, and connections with highly-placed people belonged to the category of absolutely untouchable officials.

There’re two possible explanations for what has happened. Both are speculative. One is that the department of the Presidential Administration for combating corruption has uncovered something relating to him and his son, something so really scandalous that he cannot any longer remain in his post. How true this is, I cannot say. And the other version, which I offer, really more as a slight hope: Astakhov’s name is closely associated with a Cold War type of anti-western hysteria which certain elements have been promoting over the past four years. My slight hope is that Astakhov’s departure is connected with change in a more sensible direction.

Translated by Mary McAuley