Boris Altshuler: The Paralysis of Law Enforcement

posted 18 Dec 2017, 02:39 by Website Service   [ updated 18 Dec 2017, 05:58 by Rights in Russia ]
26 November 2017 

By Boris Altshuler, Board Chairman of the “Children’s Rights” NGO, Member of the Moscow Helsinki Group: Speech at the All-Russian Congress in the Defence of Human Rights 

1. The present situation: a few examples

A single mother of four children lives in an apartment of nine square meters, drafty and full of damp: she cannot get in line to get another, and even in line one waits 30 years. According to the Moscow Region Association of Families with Many Children, those living in the same barbaric conditions wait for eleven years to get a place in communal apartment. A family with four special-needs children, one of whom has a serious medical condition, and a sick grandmother has been in line for 27 years without the slightest chance of succeeding. There are many thousands of such families in Moscow. In addition, many families (aside from those in line) with children and elderly family members have been evicted, as have residents of Moscow dormitories with children and aged relatives. They are standing in line alongside people who may be able to pay in foreign currency and residents of buildings that were repurposed for needs other than residential.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin and the head of the Moscow Region Andrei Vorobev ignore this outrage which, of course, will remain a shameful memory of their time, governing Moscow and the surrounding Region.

Because of this outrage, in the summer of 2016 ten Moscow mothers, members of the Movement “Moscow in Line” went on a 40-day hunger strike in front of the headquarters of the United Russia political party. They are taking part in our Congress today. Sobyanin entirely ignored them even though he was invited to meet with them at the Presidential Administration at a meeting organized by the Presidential Human Rights Council and the Federal Human Rights Ombudsperson.

2. Paralysis of Law Enforcement Agencies

Now to the subject of our report — the paralysis of the official defenders of the law. In autumn 2016 «Moscow in Line» managed to obtain documents from the Department of Domicile Registration showing that Shcherbakov, head of the Department of City Property, with the personal approval of Sobyanin, acquired an apartment that had been designated for those made homeless by the demolition of their apartment buildings, for 4.5 million roubles, which a month later he sold for 21 million roubles. 

As soon as those waiting for apartments distributed these documents on social networks, the Moscow City division of the FSB requested copies of these documents. The documents were also sent to the heads of the Investigative Committee, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Prosecutor-General. On 8 December 2016 at a meeting of the Human Rights Council, Liudmila Alekseeva gave them directly to Putin. The result: in February 2017 everything trickled down to one of the related directorates of the Moscow divisionof the Ministry of Internal Affairs. After nine months of procrastination they refused to take this to court.

The law enforcement agencies, as well as the legal system, are similarly paralyzed with regard to the withholding of wages for more than a year of the mineworkers in the city of Gukovo (Rostov Region). By law, a two-month period of withholding wages is sufficient for a criminal prosecution to be brought. Similarly, law enforcement officers in the Krasnodar Region have upheld the interests of monopolists who, by criminal acts, have seized the lands of farmers. According to Natalya Poklonskaya, in the Crimea similar criminal links between law enforcement agents and big business have resulted in a lawlessness that has seen the illegal seizure of homes and land from the peninsula's residents.

Novaya Gazeta has reported on the barbaric and completely illegal felling of trees in the Siberian and Amur taiga, the products of which Russian bureaucrats then sold to China, thereby breaking all the laws. And so on and so forth. 

3. Punitive price cartels involve government bodies; the Ministry of Internal Affairs takes no action.

Globally speaking, if we are talking about the main reason for the unacceptable level of poverty and the unbearable living conditions of millions of citizens of our country, a country that has more natural resources than any other, then the reason has been recently identified by Igor Artemiev, director of the Federal Antimonopoly Agency – who is also, by the way, a member of the Political Council of the Yabloko party. In March this year he stated that up to 80% of the Russian economy is negatively affected by criminal price-fixing by cartels in which government bodies are involved. Artemiev pointed out that this problem affects the drug and construction industries in particular. It is monopolism that causes the extraordinary rise in prices of the most basic necessities, at the same time destroying small business - that the cartels - and the market economy as a whole. The Federal Antimonopoly Agency has also pointed out the paradoxical lack of action by the Ministry of Internal Affairs which, according to Article 151 of the Criminal Procedural Code (“Investigative Jurisdiction”), is responsible for the investigation of cases under Article 178 of the Criminal Code (“Restricting Competition”).

As can be seen from the examples cited above, the paralysis of the law enforcement agencies allows each of us to be robbed with impunity, and also threatens Russia as a whole. And this is not only my opinion: on 5 March this year, developing further the statements of the Federal Antimonopoly Agency cited above, the President of the Russian Federation instructed the Federal Antimonopoly Agency, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Investigative Committee and the FSB to combine their efforts in the fight against cartels. And at the beginning of September the Security Council of the Russian Federation also expressed the view that cartel agreements threaten the economic security of Russia, and called for international cooperation in the struggle against this evil.

However, I would suggest it is too early to celebrate. In recent months nothing of the kind has been done. And nothing can be done in conditions where law enforcement agencies and the judicial system, instead of defending the law and the Constitution, are themselves an intrinsic part of the oligarchic system that runs the country.

4. What should we do?

As a physicist let me tell you that nobody has rewritten Newton's third law of mechanics. Baron Munchausen was lying when he described how, by pulling on his own hair, he managed to drag himself and his horse out of the swamp. Likewise, in this case, the authorities cannot drag themselves free of the quagmire of corruption. There must be an external reference point. And that reference point should be civil society. Within that society an effective political opposition must be organised.

As human-rights defenders we have no political aims, nor do we crave power. We have always tried and do try to use politics to achieve our goals — to help a particular individual. To congratulate Liudmila Alekseeva on her ninetieth birthday on 20th July, I expanded on this notion in a piece which I called "Human security and politics", and in which I quoted the key thesis of Aleksei Navalny: "We must politicize any problem by every means possible."

We are cooperating with the Russian Union of Construction Workers, who know how to solve the country's housing problem in minimum time and to put an end to the horror that I mentioned at the beginning with the example of Moscow and the Moscow Region. We are cooperating with farmers ' associations, who might soon, perhaps, be able to flood the market with cheap basic foodstuffs, and then there would no longer be millions of chronically malnourished children in Russia. But all their efforts collapse in face of the wall of the monopolies as described by Igor Artemyev, the director of the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service. Indeed, the monopolies thrive because the law enforcement and judicial systems of Russia give them careful protection, instead of mounting opposition to them under federal law. This is a problem that demands, as Navalny says, “politicization by every means possible".

But it is not enough to denounce and declare a battle against corruption, to combat poverty, and so on. Of course, it is gratifying that, at the Russian Civil Forum the day before yesterday, Aleksei Kudrin described poverty as the main challenge facing Russia today and a disgrace to the country. I would like to know how Kudrin plans to fight poverty, however – a particularly interesting subject in view of the enduring "law enforcement" issues to which this communication is devoted.

5. We must join forces and work creatively

So, here is a question: what sort of legislative and organisational measures will lead to a miracle whereby the law enforcement and judicial systems of this country, today a permanent threat to citizens and to Russia, suddenly begin to defend the laws and Constitution of the Russian Federation?

Of course, there is no such special “squaring of the circle” here. The mechanisms that prevent corruption in the police, the investigative bodies, the security services and the courts work successfully in many countries. You don’t have to look far. Neighbouring Finland, the only province of the former Tsarist empire that carried out the reforms of Emperor Alexander II [1855-1881] in the spheres of local self-government, the judicial system, and so on. Today it appears to have one of the highest living standards in the world while having practically no natural resources. And it’s understandable why: the authorities at all levels are accountable to the population and work in the face of strong competition from the Opposition. The Finnish police do not take bribes, let alone run protection rackets.

In conclusion, let me add that former Minister of Internal Affairs, Rashid Nurgaliev, suggested an effective measure of this kind in his lengthy article in Rossiiskaya gazeta in December 2009. I then discussed this proposal with Lev Ponomarev and Igor Kalyapin, and both said that the implementation of such a measure would reduce corruption in the police by 90%. However, the minister’s suggestion to the Ministry of Internal Affairs was not supported by other decision makers there, as a deputy minister explained to me in January 2010 at a meeting in the Public Chamber. This back-pedalling is quite understandable: the system neither wants nor is able to drag itself out of the mire by itself, no matter what high-ranking individuals may propose or authorise.

So, let’s get to work after the Congress and present proposals that are intelligible to both specialists and to the millions of our fellow citizens.

Translated by Rose Glickman, Graham Jones and Frances Robson