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Tatyana Moskalkova: “The ombudsperson has no right to 'bury her head in the sand' ” [Rossiiskaya gazeta]

posted 22 May 2017, 05:27 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 22 May 2017, 05:34 ]
16 May 2017

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Rossiiskaya gazeta

Photo: Wikipedia

The human rights Ombudsman of the Russian Federation, Tatyana Moskalkova, has submitted a report on her activities to the President of the Russian Federation. The Ombudsman told Rossiiskaya gazeta about the most important issues covered in her report.

Tatyana Nikolaevna, you have presented your first report to the President. What particularly caught the President’s attention when you were discussing it?

Tatiana Moskalkova: Meeting with the President always presents an opportunity. It is extremely important not to miss this opportunity. So there is no sense in repeating platitudes. My task was to convey the real picture to the President, highlighting human rights and systemic issues, landmark cases and the outcomes for those individuals who have become the victims of blatant injustice.

Yes, some situations, alas, cannot be resolved without the intervention of the Head of State. Probably, it is wrong in terms of a systematic approach, but for me, as human rights ombudsperson, in this instance, it is important, as they say, "to seize the day." If you can save someone's life or achieve justice, then any means are just fine. And all the more so because the President himself is a useful resource.

So for me the most important thing in the report was that we were able to show the human rights situation through a human dimension. Through the fate of people who asked us for protection. And in 2016 more than 42,000 appeals were received.

A strong Russia cannot be lawless. I always remember the words of the poet and journalist Adam Mickiewicz: "For the country to live, rights must live."

For us, in any case, it is never possible to ignore problems. That is why in my report I highlighted our innovation- the interactive "human rights map". It enables us to see the human rights situation in all the regions of the Russian Federation, including drawing on information gathered nationwide by the regional human rights ombudspersons.

The more so now, as all of the 85 regions of the country have ombudspersons. We are coordinated and work on the basis of mutual assistance. Every six months we go to the Coordinating Council to discuss topical issues and share experiences. The State’s human rights cannot be fragmented, it is a system that should work smoothly and efficiently. You can’t resolve the issue at the regional level? That means you should urgently contact the machinery of the federal ombudsperson. Still no answer? You must engage with all possible structures: the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court. And, finally, the President.

You don’t avoid thorny issues - you intervened extensively and effectively in the case of Ildar Dadin, you spoke with Svetlana Del, you tried to maintain a dialogue with Valeriya Lutkovska, the Ukrainian ombudsperson...

Tatiana Moskalkova: The ombudsperson, I think, has no right to “bury her head in the sand.” If you pretend a problem doesn’t exist, it’s still not going to go away. That’s why we always try to face problems “head on” -- we ask for information, understand the problem in detail, meet with people. We did that not only for the cases you mentioned, but also with many others. And not just with high-profile cases, but also with those the media didn’t talk about at all. There are no “small” cases. Almost every one of them relates to a general issue. For me, it was important not just to help a concrete person, but also to understand: why did this person end up in this situation in the first place? And how should we act so that this situation is not repeated in other cases. Or else the same old story will be repeated time and again.

In particular, when we started to address the situation of the removal of Svetlana Del’s children, it turned out that there are no clearly defined mechanisms in place for removing children, the assessment process is regulated in very approximate terms. In Ildar Dadin’s case, it was necessary to look for non-standard decisions, to make compromises for the sake of the main idea -- helping those who found themselves in a difficult, often dead-end situation in their lives, analyzing, formulating recommendations, and trying to ensure that such situations are not repeated.

And regarding the work with Valeriya Lutkovska, ombudsperson from Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada, I can say that we were able to arrive at a very efficient model for collaboration. After long discussions, we were able to organize the transfer of Ukrainian prisoners to their home country for the duration of their sentences. They had been tried for crimes committed in Ukraine, the sentence had been handed down in a Ukrainian Court, and the punishment was served in Crimea, which was then part of Ukraine. Then, the peninsula returned to being part of Russia, and the imprisoned Ukrainian citizens found themselves in a peculiar legal entanglement. They couldn’t be set free, and transferring them to Ukraine was impossible: Ukraine believes that they are on Ukrainian territory. People found themselves cut off from their home country and loved ones. Reaching the agreement took almost a year, but my Ukrainian colleague and I managed to establish a kind of “humanitarian corridor.” We could not transfer people by law, but we transferred them on the basis of justice, thereby showing that human rights are of the utmost importance. They are more important than political disagreements, economic or media wars, territorial disputes, and the interpretation of the law. It turns out that if you have a clear certainty in the justice of your mission, then the impossible becomes possible.

The observance of human rights is a priority, and even governments that find themselves in what are not, to put it lightly, the best relations with us, are capable of finding a compromise in terms of this priority. For Russia and Ukraine, this was something of a precedent.

In a similar fashion, I was able to visit our kidnapped soldiers, Aleksandr Baranov and Maksim Odintsov, in a detention facility in the city of Nikolaeva in December of last year, entering Ukraine at the Crimean border. Now we giving them all legal support possible. And again - from one particular problem to a general issue: after these precedents are set, it will be much easier to solve many complex problems of cooperation between our countries.

You actively hold meetings with citizens. Has there been an increase in the number of people coming to see you for help? Is it important to you?

Tatyana Moskalkova: Could a human rights ombudsperson really work any other way?! To be honest, I just could not imagine doing my job differently. It’s the only way to feel what people usually conceal or hide behind official statements: pain, hope for justice, outrage... The only way to hear words of gratitude and know that another day has not been wasted.

We have met with 3,826 people at the Ombudsperson’s office (11% more than in 2015), 159 of whom I met with personally. Explanations have been provided for 27,815 written complaints, 10,109 inspections have been carried out, and 784 complaints have resulted in the violated rights of citizens being restored. All of these figures are included in my report. It is not just important, but necessary. To hear peoples’ opinions is to accurately diagnose the social ills of society.

You have taken part in an international symposium in Turkey and you have spoken in Geneva. How is Russia’s international dialogue shaping up in this regard?

Tatyana Moskalkova: When we use the word “dialogue”, we are implying that partners may disagree with each other’s arguments, but that these arguments must be listened to and mutually acceptable compromises must be found. Despite the fact that the subject of human rights is often used to exert pressure on our country, we have managed to build a model of absolutely equal cooperation.

Whatever anyone says, the effectiveness of the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson in Russia is recognised by the international community. It is an ‘A status’ institution, the highest accreditation status available. Last year saw the beginning of a new phase: we joined the European network of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI). It is an international independent organisation that provides its members with a unique negotiating platform. This platform is indispensable should the need arise to protect the rights of one’s own citizens when there is a political confrontation between countries.

In terms of the practical results of the Office of the Ombudsperson’s international activities, agreements have been reached with the ombuds offices of more than ten countries for the first time in the history of cooperation between national human rights bodies. Given the large numbers of Russian tourists who visit Turkish resorts, for example, we have signed a Memorandum on Cooperation with the Ombudsperson of Turkey, Şeref Malkoç, with the aim of assisting Russian citizens in Turkey and Turkish citizens in Russia.

Our goal is to convey truthful information to the international community on the human rights situation in Russia, reinforce the principle of the universality of human rights, and prevent double standards. And we are succeeding in this task.

How are you getting along with the more, let’s say, ‘radical’ – in terms of the politicisation of the issue – wing of Russian human rights activists?

Tatyana Moskalkova: I wouldn’t refer to it as the “radical wing”... It’s true that our views on certain aspects of people’s human rights and freedoms may differ, but we are working together, we regularly keep up to date with each other’s activities and are able to find mutual understanding. Incidentally, Genri Markovich Reznik, the esteemed Liudmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva and Mikhail Yakovlevich Gefter are all members of the Ombudsperson’s Expert Council. I largely trust their judgement and am very grateful to them for their work on the council.

The subject of human rights is indeed often politicised, but I believe that it is actually outside of politics. The most important thing is how effectively people’s rights and freedoms are protected, and to achieve this goal we are willing to cooperate with any constructive forces in civil society. The same goes for those we protect. For me, neither the political affiliations nor the religious beliefs of the people whose rights are being violated play any kind of role. And neither does their sexual orientation. Every citizen of the Russian Federation possesses the same rights. It is my job to protect these rights.

Thanks to Graham Jones and Nicky Brown for their contributions to this translation