As per tradition, Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova presented her 2020 performance report to the President and informed him about the main results of her activities since taking office in 2016. A number of topical issues on the entire range of human rights were discussed.
The President noted the growing trust to the institute of Human Rights Commissioner, as shown by the number of requests, among other things (more than 205,000 over a period of five years), and focused on Tatyana Moskalkova’s active work on human rights protection during the coronavirus pandemic as well as her contribution to protecting Russian citizens abroad.
Following the meeting, Vladimir Putin nominated Tatyana Moskalkova for the State Duma to appoint her as Human Rights Commissioner of the Russian Federation for another five-year term.
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Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova: Mr President, in line with to federal constitutional law, I would like to present my 2020 performance report and I am ready to inform you on my results over the five years. How time flies, and next month marks five years since I assumed office.
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good.
Tatyana Moskalkova: Mr President, here is my 2020 performance report. Allow me to get down to the results.
Vladimir Putin: Of course, please.
Tatyana Moskalkova: We have considered increasing the efficiency of using the tools provided for by the federal constitutional law, increasing the level of interaction with state authorities and helping as many people as possible in protecting human rights and in restoring their rights as our main task during this period, since the Commissioner cannot make a decision or overturn it, but can convince the authorities to address these issues.
Over the past five years, we have received more than 205,000 requests. Of course, for legal reasons, we could not accept them all. However, based on the requests we did accept, we managed to help a great number of people. There was a six-fold increase in the number of rights violation cases where we could help by enlisting the help of other government authorities, the Prosecutor General’s Office, supervisory and oversight authorities. Almost 5,900 decisions of government bodies were cancelled, modified or replaced by new decisions. As a result, the rights of more than 15,000 citizens were restored, which is more than 1.5 million people if we consider the public at large. One example was that of foreign currency mortgage borrowers. I am referring to cases affecting several thousands of people.
The most acute problems remain the same though: overdue wages, violence in penitentiary facilities, housing and utilities problems and a long waiting list for social housing. Recently, there have been more incidents of preventing access for lawyers to detainees on administrative charges. COVID-19 is not the only reason. I am currently looking into this problem.
I believe over these past five years we have managed to resolve some very important issues concerning the institution of regional human rights ombudsmen. Today every Russian region has a respective law and a human rights ombudsman appointed by law.
Last year, you signed the first Federal Law in history concerning human rights ombudsmen in the Russian regions. The law determines common approaches to forming this institution in the regions and commissioners’ powers. This measure contributed greatly to strengthening the institute of Russian human rights ombudsmen as a single structure.
It was with your support that the National Human Rights Research and Education Centre was established. It is the first education structure that can provide professional development to human rights commissioners, their subordinates, young human rights activists, and members of public supervisory commissions.
When it comes to international initiatives, we started a Eurasian Alliance of Ombudsmen. Initially, the alliance was established by Russia, Armenia, and the Kyrgyz Republic. Now it includes eight ombudsmen from foreign countries, including Iran, Mongolia, Serbia, and Kazakhstan joined last year. This means that the international platform is developing and there are opportunities for helping people without unnecessary red tape and without involving government authorities.
It is very important that you backed the idea of creating a new international platform in the form of a permanent annual international forum where ombudsmen can exchange their views.
Vladimir Putin: How is that coming along?
Tatyana Moskalkova: Last year, despite the pandemic, it was attended by representatives from nearly all international bodies, including the UN, the Council of Europe and PACE, as well as 18 foreign ombudsmen. Altogether, over 20 countries take part in these international events. Following them, we formulate our recommendations and publish a bulletin. Most importantly, it is a platform where we can talk about the values we cherish and exchange experience in the protection of citizens’ rights and interests.
Over the past five years, we have resolved, with your support, a number of major systemic problems. In 2017, I informed you about the problems concerning foreign currency mortgage holders, and a state programme was formulated based on your instructions. Over 21,000 people have not been required to give up their mortgaged flats, the only ones they owned, thanks to the state programme for assistance to those who could not repay their mortgages.
For almost three years we held meetings to discuss the case of every such individual. I would like to thank you on behalf of these people and personally for helping them retain their only home.
One more programme that is also very important concerned the resettlement of Russian citizens from Baikonur [a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan] back in Russia after the space programme was terminated. These people could not return to Russia because they had nowhere to live. Since then, 1,200 of these families have received housing.
Regrettably, the Presidential Executive Order does not include all the groups that need support. I would like to draw your attention to three more groups: teachers, medical personnel and social workers. Today I will deliver a special letter on this topic to you.
Vladimir Putin: All right.
Tatiana Moskalkova: Of the 205,000 appeals we received last year, 11,000 were collective appeals. As a rule, they deal with the most alarming matters, including labour disputes and major wage arrears. In my opinion, we scored good results in this field. We visited various areas and listened to people. Our officials received almost 20,000 people, including 1,500 received by me, in 40 regions.
The most impressive results include 25,000 people whose housing and utility rights were reinstated. In all, 2,500 people obtained flats and social benefits for buying housing. The rights of 70,000 employees were reinstated, and these people received 1.3 billion rubles.
We helped exchange Russian and Ukrainian inmates. Thank you for this opportunity that allowed us to complete this job.
We were also involved in Russian-Ukrainian sailor exchanges. Russian sailors were unable to return to Crimea for almost six months because they had Russian passports.
Vladimir Putin: Fishermen.
Tatiana Moskalkova: You are absolutely right, fishermen from the vessel Nord and a Ukrainian vessel. I believe that this experience will someday go down in history as a model exchange.
Today, we continue to cooperate with other commissioners, while assisting compatriots living abroad. I have contacted international agencies on over 30 occasions, asking their officials to protect Russian citizens who face problems in life, including Kirill Vyshinsky, now a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, Maria Butina and Alexander Vinnik who, unfortunately, remains in custody, but we are working in this direction. To my mind, this also played a positive role.
With your backing, we have completed the construction of the Human Rights House. Those who have visited this amazing building, including foreign commissioners, the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, and the Ambassador of the European Union to Russia, were surprised to see its facilities for receiving people and for holding videoconferences with any part of Russia, as well as foreign events. This aspect is highly important during the pandemic. Of course, this is a major breakthrough. Mr President, we are inviting you to visit our Human Rights House.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you.
Tatyana Moskalkova: It is very important that we ensured the adoption of a law to allow prisoners to be moved closer to where their families live. You supported the drafting of that law as well.
Resocialisation is a vital part of the work of absolutely all agencies, including regional bodies of power, the Federal Penitentiary Service and, of course, human rights commissioners. We are often thanked by the families who no longer have to spend lots of time and money on visiting their relatives in prison camps located far away from them.
I believe that one of the results of this project is increased public trust in public institutions. It is extremely important that the law is being applied consistently in all the constituent entities of Russia.
We convene the Coordinating Council every six months. This year it will certainly be held again in Krasnoyarsk and it will be devoted to resocialisation. It has become more effective. I would like to thank you personally and on behalf of all human rights ombudsmen for your assistance, support and promotion of this unique institution.
Of course, the 2020 performance report was quite unusual, because last year will go down in history not only as the year of the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War and the fundamental reform of the Russian Constitution. We took part in discussing and drafting the amendments and today we are involved in the realisation of the fundamental norms of the Constitution. But this year will be also remembered as the year of the coronavirus pandemic and the battle for human lives.
We did not become confused in the first days when it all began; we regrouped and launched a hotline, holding receptions via videoconference and online, which allowed us to keep working and helping people.
Vladimir Putin: This probably means a lot more work?
Tatyana Moskalkova: Last year we received the largest ever number of requests, over 44,000, including over 3,000 via the hotline. The people who addressed us were desperate because they could not return home – the borders were closed. And foreigners in Russia could not return home or extend their work permits.
It is notable that our authorities took unprecedented measures to settle these problems. I had to appeal to the Government many times, to the emergency response centre Ms Golikova chairs and also to Ms Popova, and they always helped me.
Especially difficult problems developed on the labour market: people were forced to work offline, or to take unpaid leave, or to resign. We had to deal with all these problems, which were complex and large-scale.
Vladimir Putin: These problems persist to this very day in places where they were simply brushed aside as unimportant.
Tatyana Moskalkova: But today we receive fewer requests regarding employment.
Vladimir Putin: I was not referring to Russia, but to other countries.
Tatyana Moskalkova: Yes, quite so. Foreign ombudsmen ask me to share our experience on how we got around these ‘bottlenecks’.
Vladimir Putin: We have not yet solved all of them, but we did focus on them and worked to solve the most painful ones, thanks to you, among other people.
Tatyana Moskalkova: Thank you for your support. Based on the experience we accumulated during the pandemic, we believe that the hotline and videoconferences must remain on our set of tools. They are convenient for people and help us to expedite problem resolution.
Vladimir Putin: Thank you very much. It is a very important tool for direct communication with the people, for support and feedback when it comes to the efficiency of government agencies.