Why I left the Presidential Human Rights Council

17 September 2012

By Ludmila Alekseeva

Source: LiveJournal

I had not planned to write about this in LiveJournal because it seemed to me that compared to other events taking place in Russia and across the world, this particular topic didn’t merit discussion. But my colleagues in the human rights community asked me to explain my decision publicly. So I will grant their request.

I didn’t leave the Council in tandem with those of its members who claimed it would be impossible to remain in the Council after Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin returned to the presidency. What I have repeated multiple times, and what I firmly believe to this day, is that a human rights activist must work with the authorities that exist here and now. Our function is to protect citizens whose rights are violated by the government and its representatives. It is impossible to do this without having contact with government representatives, and the Presidential Council provides an opportunity for that kind of contact at the highest level. Naturally, a human rights activist should take advantage of such an opportunity.

Nonetheless, I decided to leave the Council. Why?

I couldn’t bear the nasty atmosphere that was created by the new process of the Council’s formation, which was supposed to be democratic. I can safely say that the working group tasked with compiling the list of candidates for the future Presidential Council was constantly surrounded by an aura of built-up intrigues and squabbles. I won’t delve into the details—to do so would mean to take part in the nasty affair. Perhaps, I turned out to be so sensitive to the conflict because I found myself at its epicenter.

It’s the same situation as the one that caused human rights advocate Ella Aleksandrovna Pamfilova to resign from the Council. An unbearably disgusting atmosphere was created by the state-controlled media concentrating all its attention on the process of the Council’s formation. They savoured, and rendered scandalous, the minutest details of the process, complaining constantly about the supposed attempts of existing Council members to push “their” people through. At the same time, they conducted an internet campaign that blatantly falsified the approval ratings of multiple candidates. Once, for example, during the course of a few minutes in the middle of the night, the approval ratings for one candidate jumped to levels that would have required more than 1,000 people to have voted for him each minute. I became firmly convinced that the Council was intentionally being made into a laughingstock, and that Council members were being intentionally discredited.

I spent 10 years on the Presidential Council on Human Rights, starting from the year 2002. During that time, we had several successes. For me, one of the Council’s most significant achievements was to enforce a two-year delay on the liquidation of Chechen refugee camps in Ingushetia. The war in Chechnya continued, and the refugees resisted the idea of being sent back to Chechnya—the position advocated by Chechnya’s leader at the time, Akhmat Kadyrov, who believed their return would signal the end of the war.

The Council was able to bring about significant changes to the Russian Law on Citizenship. This helped a large number of our fellow countrymen—former citizens of the USSR—to receive Russian citizenship. In several instances, we were able to save individuals who were kidnapped in Chechnya. Several people who were wrongly convicted under Russia’s judicial system were helped to walk free. The Council’s working group on the commemoration of the victims of Soviet repression also made progress.

I credit the Council with the wonderfully developed opinion on the second indictment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev. I consider the efforts of the Council’s working group on the Magnitsky case to have been a success. There have been no concrete results in these last two instances, but we did succeed in exerting a noticeable influence on public opinion.

Of course, for a period of 10 years, the number of our achievements is not high. But in the sphere of human rights, there exists no single institution that could be highly effective—such is the nature of our work. To this end, the Council provides opportunities that do not exist for any other organization accessible to the average citizen. That’s why I would like to ask my fellow human rights activists to not follow my example, and to participate in the Council if presented with the opportunity. And I would like them to forgive me for not being able to take it, for bowing out of the game. It was just too unpleasant.