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Human rights activists criticize the new Ombudsman, Tatyana Moskalkova, for her speech in the Duma (Deutsche Welle)

posted 3 May 2016, 03:37 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 3 May 2016, 03:49 ]
25 April 2016 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: 'Что думают правозащитники об омбудсмене Москальковой,' Deutsche Welle, 25 April 2016]

On 25 April Tatyana Moskalkova, a major-general in the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the Duma’s chosen candidate, took up office as Russia’s human rights ombudsman. Well-known Russian human rights activists, interviewed by Deutsche Welle, expressed concern over the deputies’ choice but called for the new ombudsman to be given a chance. 

Liudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, commented that Tatyana Moskalenko’s successful career in the ministry could have a negative impact on her new activities: ‘Our police is known for many of its members finding it difficult to understand what are human rights’. 

Zoya Svetova, a journalist and member of Moscow’s Public Oversight Commission, suggested that the appointment of a major-general in the Ministry of Internal Affairs to the post of ombudsman was a sign of today’s Russian reality ‘Wherever you look, today everyone is wearing epaulettes’. 

At the same time Igor Kalyapin, head of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture does not think that Moskalkova’s epaulettes are the problem: ‘I know of many cases where a career in the Ministry of Internal Affairs was not an obstacle to an individual’s becoming a human rights defender. I am more concerned by what the new ombudsman has said,’ he commented. 

In her speech in the Duma on 22 April, Tatyana Moskalkova, said, in particular, that as ombudsman she will ‘oppose attempts by the USA to use the human rights system as a weapon to blackmail and put pressure on Russia’ and she will take up the defence of the rights of Russian citizens abroad: in the Baltic states, Pridnestrovye and in Ukraine. 

‘Judging by these statements, the new ombudsman is intending to defend the state against human rights, rather than defending citizens,’ said Igor Kalyapin. And Liudmila Alekseeva added: ‘Moskalenko will defend the rights of Russians abroad, but does not want to do that inside Russia? She does not understand that the ombudsman should be doing precisely that’. 

‘Such a statement shows a lack of understanding of the office of ombudsman. Defending the human rights of our citizens in other countries is the job of the consul. I was also very dismayed by her anti-western stance, which actually is not relevant for the job’ said Zoya Svetova. 

In addition, in her speech, Tatyana Moskalenko said that she intends to start with defending socio-economic rights. For example, to deal with problems relating to housing and delays in paying wages. 

‘Because of the crisis this is a very important topic, the population is becoming impoverished. Let’s see what she can do. But, in any event, to focus only on housing issues is not enough’ insisted Liudmila Alekseeva. 

Zoya Svetova is convinced that the ombudsman has raised the topic of social issues because it is a priority for the Presidential Administration. 

Igor Kalyapin thinks that Moskalkova is adopting a populist stance: ‘It is known that the majority of the cases that come to the ombudsman are of this sort. And it is also known that issues of housing and wages do not irritate the authorities, whereas many others do’. 

However, Kalyapin emphasized it is far more important, at the start, to defend basic human rights in the courts, in the prisons, and by working together with the police to resolve the problems of political prisoners: ‘Economic well-being won’t come about unless human rights are observed’. 

In addition, the human rights activists were critical of Tatyana Moskalkova’s work as a Duma deputy. They pointed out that the ombudsman had voted for a number of ‘anti-human rights’ laws, including the ‘Dima Yakovlev law,’ which forbids the adoption of children by American citizens, and the ‘foreign agents’ law on NGOs. 

However, Zoya Svetova pointed out that Moskalenko was one of those who proposed the legislation according to which a day spent in detention in a pre-trial detention facility counts for two days in a penal colony. Svetova sees this as something positive in the new ombudsman’s biography: ‘There are grounds for hope that Moskalkova will become a good ombudsman’. 

In her turn, Liudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, regrets that Vladimir Putin did not listen to the human rights activists’ request and propose the former ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, for a new term. However, she considers that the new ombudsman deserves to be judged by results: ‘If she shows herself to be a real defender of human rights, I shall work with her. If she does not, then we shall take the view that we do not have an ombudsman’.

Translated by Mary McAuley