Boris Altshuler: 'The children's ombudsman is having absolutely no positive impact'

posted 25 May 2015, 09:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 25 May 2015, 10:12 ]
18 May 2015 

Interview with Boris Altshuler by Lina Viskushenko 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

Original publication: Aktualnye kommentarii 

Human rights defender, chair of the board of Right of the Child NGO and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Boris Altshuler, has supported the intitiative by women on the RuNet who have demanded that the children’s ombudsman, Pavel Astakhov, be removed from office. Boris Altshuler says that he has written to the president and prime minister of Russia asking that Pavel Astakhov be dismissed. In conversation with Aktualnye kommentarii, Boris Altshuler explains why he is dissatisfied with the ombudsman's work.

– The women who are dissatisfied with the work of Astakhov focus attention on the issue of the marriage between a young girl and a pensioner in Chechnya. What do you think about that?

– I won’t talk about the issue of the wedding. There is the law of the Russian Federation, the Family Code, that permits marriage before the age of 18 on the condition that the legal representatives of the minor, in other words the parents, agree to the wedding. The law sets certain conditions. In principle the law of our country permits in exceptional circumstances marriage before the age of 18. And this story is of little interest to me. It is after all a private matter.

– And how do you assess the actions of the children’s ombudsman in other ‘high profile’ cases?

– On several occasions in recent years Pavel Alekseevich Astakhov has shown his incompetence, and I would say simply human indifference.

I worked closely with him the first year that he was appointed to this post. That was in 2010, and it was a productive collaboration. On Astakhov’s initiative, a commission for minors’ affairs was set up within the presidential administration, and I also became a member of that commission. Very important proposals were developed, but not one of them was carried out. There was talk of reforming the Commission for Minors’ Affairs. The idea was killed off.

That was when Astakhov asked that the regulations governing oversight boards of children’s boarding schools should be such that the members of the boards were not appointed by the officials in charge of the schools, as is now the case. Because obviously such boards are not able to independently oversee the conditions in which the children live in the schools. In the upshot, this idea was also buried.

The ombudsman proved to be uninterested in the issue of orphans. He was busy going on trips to Finland, getting involved in international scandals, and so forth.

But my main complaint is linked with the indifference to orphans that he showed in 2011.

On 6 December 2011 Patriarch Kirill met with ombudsman Pavel Astakhov to discuss the situation of families and children. One month earlier the Patriarch had given Astakhov a list of 13 families – in the main homeless families that had a large number of children and were in a desperate situation with regard to housing. First of all, they simply had nowhere to live. Secondly, they did not have the required documents.

This had been going on for more than two years in various regions of the country. This list was given to Astakhov. The huge staff that Astakhov has at his disposal wrote many inquiries, and then on the basis of the formal and dismissive responses they received, Astakhov wrote an answer to the Patriarch that began with accusations directed against the parents.

The Patriarch, when he received the list had said: ‘Many of these letters it is impossible to read without tears.’ Theirs was truly a desperate situation, and I continue to fight on their behalf. But Astakhov, in response to the Patriarch, wrote that the parents had not fulfilled their parental duties and had not registered the children at their place of residence. He simply did not want to understand the situation and closed his eyes to the fact that the authorities were refusing to register the children, and in some cases had threatened to have them taken away from the parents.

Instead of trying to understand the problem, the ombudsman wrote that the parents were the guilty party. One more point: there were 13 families in a desperate situation. There is a huge number of officials working for Astakhov. All of the letters they received from the families gave their mobile phone numbers. Not one family received a phone call from a member of Astakhov’s staff.

In my view what we see is the creation of an office that merely handles bits of paper. It receives formal and dismissive replies to its inquiries, and then it forwards these formal replies to those who have complained. In the case at hand, it was Patriarch Kirill who made a complaint. As a result, the parents of these children even went on hunger strike and blamed Astakkhov for his lack of action. But even then Astakhov did nothing about it.

– How do you assess the work of the ombudsman in general?

– In general, his work is having absolutely no positive impact.

His support for the ‘Dima Yakovlev law’ once again confirmed that a person such as Astakhov should not be ombudsmen for children’s rights. This person can act as a politician, he can fight against America, but he cannot defend children.

Every child has the right to a home, and if it is possible for a child to be found a home in a family, especially a child that has a disability, then that child must be given a home. Astakhov supported the ban on children with disabilities leaving the country. At present there remain about 70 children with disabilities in our children’s homes from the list of those who had been found homes in America: they were ready to leave, and basically he locked them up. He answers for each one of them. I even appealed to the President of France – that was in January 2012 – with the request to deprive Astakhov of his Shengen visa. He freely travels to the Cote d’Azure where his family live, one of the children was born in France. But he forbade children with disabilities from leaving the country.

In recent years Astakhov has been busy with the Cold War against the West, against America and other countries, it is all to do with making an image for himself. But we see what he has been doing, instead of working to improve the situation of our children.

Indeed, I agree with the women who want to see him dismissed: this person is not worthy of the post of ombudsmen for children’s rights. And his work is having absolutely no positive impact.