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Leonid Nikitinsky: "In an acting capacity. On meetings of committees of the Human Rights Council on 11 May" [Novaya gazeta]

posted 28 May 2018, 06:21 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 28 May 2018, 06:36 ]
13 May 2018

By Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya gazeta, member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize for protecting human rights

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novaya gazeta]

On 11 May, a joint meeting was held by three of the committees of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights: the Committee on Civic Engagement in Legal Reform, the Committee on Civic Engagement in Anti-Corruption Measures and in Oversight of Law-Enforcement Agencies and the Committee on Scientific and Technical Expertise. The Presidential Council in its current composition adheres to the principle of transparency, and both the agendas of its meetings and the general thrust of its decisions (which are not always drawn up in a formal document) are publicly available.

Most of the meeting held on 11 May was given over to a review of "precedent-setting” legal cases, in other words cases which reveal not just problems specific to the individuals in question, but aspects of the work of law-enforcement agencies and courts which are problematic in a more general sense. These included the case of Oyub Titiev, which has been investigated in the Chechen Republic. The Council and its chair expressed their dissatisfaction at the action taken in response to Titiev’s claims that drugs had been planted in his car by police officers. Despite the Council’s requests, the disciplinary department of the Ministry of the Interior, the Investigative Committee and the Public Prosecutor’s Office had failed to make use of all the available opportunities to examine the case.

This case also points to a wider problem which can be observed in a number of other cases in Chechnya and elsewhere, namely that individuals who allege similar frame-ups by law-enforcement agencies are not granted any status in the legal proceedings, but are instead regarded merely as “whistleblowers.” This makes it possible to drag out investigations into the allegations (which are artificially declared to be prejudicial in nature) until a sentence has been handed down on the main charges. The Council believes that questions should be asked about the permissibility of evidence concerning the commission of an offence by Titiev, and that the investigation into Titiev’s own statement on the planting of the drugs should not have to wait until charges have been lodged.

If God wills (more on this later), the Council plans to hold a special meeting with representatives of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee on this and other matters, including “pre-investigation checks.” Mikhail Fedotov also repeated his requests for the Prosecutor General and the representative of the Investigative Committee to carry out the proper checks into Titiev’s statement. The Council will ask for a body outside Chechnya to be tasked with performing these checks, and for the Titiev case to be made subject to the jurisdiction of another subject of the Russian Federation. The members of the Council agreed to take it in turns to travel to the court sittings in Grozny if the case were to be heard there, despite the Council’s opposition.

Attendees at the meeting also discussed the cases of the Penza and St Petersburg members of the “Network [Set’] terrorist organisation” and also the New Greatness [Novoe velichie] case. Since both cases are currently at the investigation stage, the only questions which can currently be asked relate to whether the confessions in the first of these cases were obtained using torture, as claimed by members of the Public Monitoring Commission and the lawyers acting on behalf of the suspects. The information available on these cases suggests that it would be at best an exaggeration to describe the alleged offences committed by the young people involved as “terrorist activities” or “extremism.” The Council intends to monitor developments in these cases and to insist that the proceedings take place in an open court, at least at the judicial enquiry stage.

The Council members present also discussed the need to respond rapidly to the events of 5 May on Pushkinskaya Square. The chair of the Presidential Council said that as early as the day after the events he had forwarded requests to this effect to the law-enforcement agencies, including the National Guard. Documents had already started to arrive, and it would be sensible to discuss all related matters together with the leaders of these bodies after examining the information in these documents. A number of Council members suggested that a discussion of this kind could provide an opportunity for drafting a declaration to the effect that police functions had essentially been performed by unidentified officers using non-firearm weapons, and that the authorised law-enforcement agencies on the scene had stood by and done nothing. Some members of the Council expressed their belief that the risk of similar clashes occurring in future was so great that an immediate response was essential. At the same time, however, it is unlikely that a draft of this kind would gain the necessary number of votes to qualify as an official announcement (over half of Council members would need to vote in favour).

It goes without saying that all of these plans are still very much up in the air, since the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights and its chair are carrying out their duties in an acting capacity between 7 May and the date on which the Russian President issues a decree appointing the Council’s new members.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds