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Rights activists discuss Ombudsperson's annual report [Radio Svoboda]

posted 2 Jun 2017, 12:22 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Jun 2017, 12:29 ]
17 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rаdio Svoboda


Svetlana Gannushkina, Valentin Gefter, and Lev Ponomarev discuss the report of the human rights Ombudsperson.

On 17th May Tatyana Moskalkova, Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation, presented the Duma with a report on her activities for the year 2016.

What the Ombudsperson said, and what she omitted to say, were discussed by human rights defenders Svetlana Gannushkina, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee; Lev Ponomarev, executive director of the All-Russian social movement "For Human Rights" and a member of the Moscow Helsinki group; Valentin Gefter, executive director of the Institute of Human Rights. Vladimir Kara-Murza (Senior) was host.

Vladimir Kara-Murza (Senior)opened the discussion: Today, the human rights Ombudsperson of the Russian Federation, Tatyana Moskalkova, addressed the State Duma with her annual report on her activities in 2016.

Here's what Russian Ombudsperson said and what she did not mention. Today we will discuss human rights with activists Svetlana Gannushkina, Chair of "Civic Assistance", and Lev Ponomarev, Executive Director of the All-Russian social movement "For Human Rights" and a member of the Moscow Helsinki group.

Svetlana Alekseevna, what are the main problems in Russia in the field of human rights?

Svetlana Gannushkina: There are so many! Almost all human rights are violated in Russia, and things are getting worse. And, above all, the very fundamentals of human rights - the right to life, (Article 2 of the European Convention), and the prohibition of torture (Article 3). These violations occur during criminal investigations and in the prison system, but not only there. I think that this is where it all stems from. But then, there are the issues of freedom of expression, freedom of speech ... There are situations when people are detained solely for expressing their views. Sometimes these people can make a successful appeal, but, unfortunately, this basic issue is not resolved.

And now what I myself work on - migration issues, the treatment of asylum-seekers. There is no right to asylum, but one has the right to seek asylum. So I have to say that, unfortunately, even this right is violated too.

Vladimir Kara-Murza Snr: We now speak to Valentin Gefter, human rights activist and executive director of the Institute of Human Rights.

Valentin, which of the rights that are being violated in Russia did Tatiana Moskalkova not mention?

Valentin Gefter: I’m not completely up to speed with her report yet. But I know the preliminary concerns regarding the complaints; I know the attention that she and her staff pay to various violations. I don’t think there’s anything new here. Of course, “social” rights are still leading, but the fairness of the judiciary and violations in places of detention are of considerable importance.

It has to be said that – as far as I know – for the short time she’s been in her role to date, attention has been directed at certain key moments of the two directions which I mentioned.

And they try to not just react to specific complaints, but they tried with some success to change elements of legislation or standardise practice. Attempts have been made with experts and lawyers to work out some decisions. And that has some promise, although the chances probably aren’t too good.

For example, a new bill has been drafted, concerning the release of seriously ill prisoners. At present this issue, like the issue of being released on parole, faces numerous problems – it would be more accurate to say it doesn’t work at all. Of course, some prisoners are released, but very few, and sometimes not until they are very seriously ill – or even after they are dead. Specialists have worked on this quite seriously, and it has to be said that their proposals are vital. In most situations and for most people, if grave illness is confirmed by doctors, the courts are obliged to free them promptly. There aren’t many exceptions. And in comparison with the current legislation, this is a step forward. Of course, this doesn’t affect that many people, but we understand how gravely ill those people are.

Likewise, there are some things related to criminal proceedings. Or at least they are being considered and proposals are being advanced.

However, I would like to emphasize that in my opinion the institution of Ombudsperson continues to be rather weak in Russia. Not with regard to the individual who holds the position, which depends on that individual and the relationship they have with the authorities, which can change, but institutionally. Even if certain proposals are made, decisions in defence of the rights of certain categories of people – citizens –they are still, I would say, rather in the nature of weak recommendations. And neither the legislator nor the executive bodies take this as a guide to action. Obviously, the system can’t be arranged so that whatever the occupant of the office says is acted upon with military efficiency. This is not the case, and it probably shouldn’t be. But such proposals, which the Ombudsperson should ideally develop, are often just ignored.

However, this happens across all areas. Look at the decisions of the Constitutional Court: no matter how controversial they sometimes are, they are often well-founded and targeted at defending the rights of particular people.

Vladimir Kara-Murza Sr: And even these are not carried out.

Lev Aleksandrovich, what problems pertaining to human rights did you hear about in Tatyana Moskalkova’s report?

Lev Ponomarev: I was satisfied with her report. It was a new Ombudsperson’s first report. She’s coming from law enforcement. And I was the one who, prior to her nomination, did everything to ensure she wouldn’t be chosen, I must admit. Human rights activists and I lobbied for Lukin’s return. Since Lukin had the right to return, and he himself was prepared to do this, we were all focused on getting Lukin back. But that didn’t happen. It was assumed that there would definitely be a big conflict between her and traditional human rights activists.

I think that she was truly tempted, considering the extremely contentious relationship with us, to create a quasi-human rights organization around herself, which has been done successfully in many cases. For example, the Public Council is a quasi-Public Council, Russia’s Public Chamber is a quasi-Public Chamber...

Svetlana Gannushkina: That is actually a quasi-structure.

Lev Ponomarev: I think she was tempted. But, overcoming some annoyance, maybe even distrust of us, she established, I wouldn’t say close relations with us, but nevertheless she came into contact with us. She took our proposals and put them in her report.

I want to start with the most serious document. The proposals byf Levinson, who works for the Institute for Human Rights, and I concern drug policy. The issue is that we have a very repressive drug policy. And a third of prisoners (about 200,000 people) are in jail essentially because of the same article - 228 and 228.1. And these are young people. People are put in jail in order to improve the statistics. And it’s very easy to be sent to jail: they plant drugs and they send you to jail. There are all sorts of entrapments.

Svetlana Gannushkina: That’s a very easy way to implement a plan.

Lev Ponomarev: I have always said that this is a crime by the state, that structures like the Federal Drug Control Agency (and its predecessor) are committing crimes. They are all criminals because they all know about this> It is encouraged, and it has been going on for decades.

Svetlana Gannushkina: And very often they have direct ties to the very distribution and acquisition of the drugs. We’ve had it happen that these very agents both purchased and held drugs… I have FSB documents where it’s written that such-and-such a person from the Drug Control Agency acquired a large shipment of drugs with the objective of bribing the investigator. And nothing came of this.

Lev Ponomarev: And there are cases where they distribute it themselves.

I can quote a few phrases. “Especially noteworthy is the request of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s chairwoman Alekseeva to investigate a complaint about planting drugs, beatings, and persuading to give false testimony.” I must say that ombudspersons rarely write so explicitly. They say: “We must establish order. There are complaints…” But she says directly: “We must acknowledge that the current practices of law enforcement agencies, judicial authorities, and the penal system in combating drug crimes can, largely, be reduced to criminal indictment of drug users, since they, in particular, while creating a market of demand for drugs, are simultaneously forming the infrastructure for the sale of drugs.

In light of this, it is extremely important for law enforcement to change their approaches when working with people who fall in the categories of ‘user and seller,’ through the creation of conditions for substituting criminal prosecutions with by medical and social rehabilitation programmes.” This is very clearly articulated.

In addition, she supports the changes in legislation that we proposed to her. […]

Translated by Anna Bowles and Graham Jones