SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA, VALENTIN GEFTER, and LEV PONOMAREV discuss the report for 2016 by Russia’s human-rights Ombudswoman
<< No. 22 (255), 5 June 2017 >>
On 17th May TATYANA MOSKALKOVA, Ombudswoman of the Russian Federation, gave the Duma a report on her activities in 2016.
What she said, and what she omitted to say, were discussed by human rights defenders SVETLANA GANNUSHKINA, chair of the Civic Assistance Committee; LEV PONOMAREV, director of the “For Human Rights” movement; and VALENTIN GEFTER, director of the Institute of Human Rights. Their discussion on Radio Svoboda was chaired by VLADIMIR KARA-MURZA Sr.
Vladimir Kara-Murza (Sr): Today, the human rights Ombudwoman of the Russian Federation, Tatyana Moskalkova, addressed the State Duma with her annual report on her activities in 2016.
Svetlana — what are the main problems in Russia in the field of human rights?
Svetlana Gannushkina (SG) — 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.
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 should say that, unfortunately, even this right is violated too.
VKM Snr — Valentin, which of the rights being violated in Russia did Tatiana Moskalkova not mention?
Valentin Gefter (VG) — I haven’t finished reading all her report yet.
I do 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 [education, health, housing] are still given special attention, but the fairness of the judiciary and violations in places of detention are of considerable importance.
It must be said that – as far as I know – for the short time she’s been in the job, attention has been directed at certain key moments of the two directions which I mentioned.
And they are trying to not just react to specific complaints. They have attempted, with some success, to change elements of legislation or standardise practice. Attempts have been made with experts and lawyers to work out some solutions. That is promising, although the chances of succeeding 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 that of release 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, even after they have died. Specialists have worked on this quite seriously, and it must be said that their proposals are vital.
In most situations and for most people, if a 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 so many people, but we understand how gravely ill those people are.
Likewise, there are some aspects of criminal proceedings. At least, they are being considered and proposals are being advanced.
However, in my opinion the institution of Ombudsperson continues to be weak in Russia. It’s not about the individual who holds the position, which depends on that individual and the relationship they have with the authorities. That can change, the problem is institutional. Even if certain proposals are made, decisions in defence of the rights of certain categories of people – citizens –they still, I would say, take the form of weak recommendations.
Neither lawmakers nor executive bodies take this as a guide to action. Obviously, the system can’t be arranged so that whoever has the job these decisions will be 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.
This happens across all areas in Russia. 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 people.
VK-M Sr — And even these are not carried out, Lev Ponomarev?
Lev Ponomarev (LP) — I was satisfied with her report. It was a new Ombudsperson’s first report. Her background is in law enforcement, and I was the one who, prior to her nomination, did everything to ensure she wouldn’t be chosen. Human rights activists and myself lobbied for Lukin’s reappointment. Since he was entitled to serve again was prepared to do so, we were all focused on getting him back. That didn’t happen. It was assumed that there would 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…
SG — It’s a quasi-structure.
LP — I think she was tempted. Yet, overcoming some annoyance — maybe even distrust of us — she has established, I wouldn’t say close relations, but nevertheless she has engaged with us. She took our proposals and put them in her report.
I’d like to start with the most serious document.
The proposals made by Lev Levinson, who works for the Institute for Human Rights, and by myself concern drugs policy. We have a very repressive policy about drugs. A third of prisoners (about 200,000 people) are in jail essentially because of offences committed under the same Article of the Criminal Code: 228 and 228.1. These are young people. People are put in jail to improve the statistics. And it’s very easy to be sentenced to time in the penal colonies: they plant the drugs on you and send you to jail. There are all sorts of traps.
SG — That’s a very easy way to implement a plan.
LP — I have always said that this is a crime by the State, and that structures like the Federal Drug Control Agency (and its predecessor) are committing crimes. They are criminals because they all understand this. It is encouraged, and it has been going on for decades.
SG — And often they have direct ties to the very distribution and acquisition of the drugs. We’ve had experience of these same [government] agents both purchasing and being in possession of 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 there was no reaction it.
LP — There are also cases where they distribute the drugs themselves.
I can quote a few phrases. “Especially noteworthy is the request of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s chairwoman Alexeyeva to investigate complaints about drugs being planted, beatings, and inducement to give false testimony.” I must say that Ombudspersons rarely write so explicitly. They tend to say: “We must establish order. There are complaints…” 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 while creating a market of demand for drugs, are simultaneously forming the infrastructure for the sale of drugs.
“In view of this, it is extremely important for law-enforcement officers to change their approach when working with people who fall in the categories of ‘user and seller’. They must create the of conditions for substituting medical and social rehabilitation programmes for criminal prosecutions.”
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
Tatyana Nikolayevna Moskalkova (b. 1955) became Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights or Ombudswoman in April 2016, succeeding Ella Pamfilova. She is a Major-General (reserves) of the Ministry of Iintrernal Affairs.
Татьяна Николаевна Москалькова; born May 30, 1955, Vitebsk, Byelorussian SSR, USSR) is a Soviet and Russian lawyer, teacher, politician. Russia’s Commissioner for Human Rights since 22 April 2016, succeeding Ella Pamfilova. Deputy of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation V and VI convocations. Doctor of Law, Doctor of Philosophy, Honoured Lawyer of Russia, Major-General retired police.[5