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Andrei Babushkin on the Public Oversight Commission Conference at the Public Chamber (7X7)

posted 14 Nov 2016, 04:35 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Nov 2016, 04:40 ]
4 November 2016 

By Andrei Babushkin, director of the Committee for Civil Rights, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, member of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission [POC] of the third intake, and honorary chair of Moscow’s POC of the fourth intake

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: «7х7»

Photo: Moscow Helsinki Group

While participants in the “Community” Forum were meeting with the Russian President at the Expo Centre and participating in numerous roundtables on topics such as how NGOs are no better off than before and how to make it so that the authorities don’t cut off all connections with representatives of civil society, representatives of the Public Oversight Commissions held their own conference at Russia’s Public Chamber.

Although according to the terms of participation in the conference, each POC was supposed to have only two representatives, conference organizer Maria Kannabikh approached this question democratically and allowed all those who so wanted to take part in the conference. True, when I entered the Chamber building, I saw Boris Panteleev standing all alone with an enormous bag (which held his reports on the work in the Petersburg POC of the third intake); however, after an hour or so even he was finally allowed in after I gave my word that Boris Eremeevich would behave properly (which almost didn't happen, since B. Panteleev pulled a stunt, refusing to speak at the conference).

Speaking to the participants was FSIN [Federal Penitentiary Service] Deputy Director V.A. Maksimenko, who devoted half his speech to Ildar Dadin and then pleased those gathered with the stunning news of the identity of the new advisor to the Russian FSIN director. This advisor turned out to be Anna Georgievna Karetnikova. Well, G.A. Kornienko always seemed to me like a wise person. . . .

Since the chair of the Presidential Human Rights Council, M.A. Fedotov had to leave urgently, Maksimenko was asked to interrupt himself for a couple of minutes so that Mikhail Aleksandrovich could say a few words to the conference participants. His few words and questions asked Fedotov took up a little more than an hour (including all the applause). Mikhail Aleksandrovich took his time going over laws 76-FZ and 212-FZ, comparing this marvelous law with a Christmas tree edited down to a telegraph pole.

As it turned out, before my arrival at the conference, the POC members were addressed by Dmitry Vyatkin, vice-chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Public Associations. Either Dmitry Fedorovich didn’t realize where he’d come, or he went seriously off topic, but he honestly talked about the Committee’s work on amendments to 76-FZ, not forgetting to discuss the amendment that allowed a twenty-two-year-old sergeant made wise by life experience to interrupt an POC member when, in the vigilant sergeant’s opinion, they began to question the prisoner about things that had nothing to do with public oversight.

In the second part of the conference, fifteen public oversight specialists spoke. The new chair of the Omsk POC talked about how for all candidates for Commission member, even before their selection for the POC, trips were organized through a remand centre, a prison colony, and a temporary detention cell, so that they could understand the kinds of problems they would be dealing with. Also interesting was his story about how the POC managed to get the courts to stop refusing convicts parole under the flimsy pretext of unstable behavior by citing a few minor infractions at the beginning of serving their sentence.

Valery Borshchev talked about the history of the passage of the law on public oversight for places of confinement and about new threats to public oversight.

I, among others, also spoke. I proposed that the conference approve an appeal to the Russian President to apportion a separate grant operator for financing the POCs. I talked about the necessity of identifying “lost places of incarceration,” where during the terms of previous POCs no human rights advocate had set foot (or had done so less often than need be) and of contemplating visiting those places first of all. It is essential to arrange for collaboration between POCc of neighboring oblasts, both because places of incarceration of one regional entity might be located in another (for example, some of the Krasnoyarsk colonies are located in Irkutsk Oblast), and also because line departments of the railroad police can be in three or four different entities, while their head office is in only one of those entities. I touched on the Dadin case, saying that although we undoubtedly must help Ildar, we can’t occupy ourselves with his case (like other resonant cases) to the detriment of everything else. We must at least learn to combine what is resonant with what is tedious but very important. After warning the POC members of the danger of conducting inspections on excursion itineraries, I suggested employing in this work the know-how of past years, such as public warnings and the awarding of certificates to those officials who in fact are achieving successes in observing human rights. After touching on the scheming of hypothetical opponents of public oversight, I noted that what corresponded best to their plans would be the model where for the majority of the three years of its term an POC worked according to Krylov’s “Swan, crawfish, and pike” principle, expending most of its powers on internal quarrels rather than inspections.

There were many other interesting speeches.

In the third part of the conference, Anton Tsvetkov introduced department representatives who had come to the conference and said that everything they wanted to say POC members already knew anyway and so suggested asking questions right away. After this we heard about 60 questions and answers that I thought were very important for effective oversight over the Ministry of Railways.

At the very end of the conference, M.V. Kannabikh, now as a member of the Public Council for the Russian FSIN, awarded a number of commission chairs certificates from the director of the Russian FSIN. The last certificate was awarded to Anton Tsvetkov. In accepting the certificate, Anton said that this certificate was being awarded him by no means for the results of forming the POCs of the fourth intake.

The topic of the deception practiced in forming the fourth intake of POCs, the artificial reduction in the Commission's numbers, the pushing out of their membership of the most experienced and active members of the POCs in favour of others who had no experience whatsoever, or else those who in three years of work in the POCs of the third intake had crossed the threshold of places of incarceration two or three times, became the main topic of discussion at the Conference. Despite the good-natured tone of the discussion, the speakers in nearly every third speech touched on the question of infractions in the forming of the POCs of the fourth intake.

Translated by Marian Schwartz