According to Mr Lukin, 50,000 appeals were made to human rights ombudspersons in the regions in 2012, including approximately 30,000 complaints.
Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin presented to Vladimir Putin an annual report on the state of human rights in Russia.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Mr Lukin, you have prepared an annual report on human rights and, in accordance with our routine, you are ready to present it with your comments.
Please go ahead.
Commissioner For Human Rights Vladimir Lukin: Mr President, indeed, in accordance with Federal Constitutional Law, another annual human rights report has been prepared by the Human Rights Commissioner on the state of affairs in this area in 2012, including complaints made by citizens. It is my pleasure to bring it to your attention. And I hope that even with your extremely busy schedule, you will have a chance to look at this report.
Vladimir Putin: And what is in the appendices?
Vladimir Lukin: The appendices include statements by the Human Rights Commissioner, actions, responses and documentation pertaining to our daily work.
Of course it primarily presents complaints from citizens; we are working first and foremost to address those complaints. There were approximately 50,000 such appeals to the Human Rights Commissioner, with 30,000 of them we classified as complaints.
Vladimir Putin: I see that it includes specific issues. An appeal to carry out an inspection in the Moscow Region on the infractions in providing medicines to people who suffer from oncology diseases (I just opened it up randomly), and there is a response from the government of Moscow Region.
Overall, in your opinion, how is cooperation with government agencies being carried out?
Vladimir Lukin: As always, it is erratic. A commissioner rarely encounters a rude answer or a flat “no.” But it is infrequent – rarer than we would like – for our complaints to be given proper attention.
I would like to draw your attention to the following figure. In 2011, out of the total number of complaints we received, only about 10 percent (9.9 per cent) were settled, and this year, that figure was 7.5 percent. Naturally, this may have to do with a variety of circumstances, including temporary fluctuations.
But nevertheless, I feel there is some carelessness in the way people react to what we have to say in connection with peoples’ complaints. And it would be nice if this percentage were to increase. This figure is not lower than the corresponding figures human rights commissioners get in other nations (more than 100 countries have established such institution), but it would be good if it were higher.
Thus, we have long wanted to suggest that we send reports to governors, and you could work through the Presidential Executive Office to recommend that the governors respond to complaints coming from their regions. Then we would get feedback and be able to present more specific information to society, the President, and all government agencies on what is being done regarding the complaints.
Vladimir Putin: I fully agree with you. I hope that the governors will hear us after today’s meeting. And the Presidential Executive Office will send that signal during corresponding meetings, and the governors will get those instructions.
Vladimir Lukin: If I may, I want to say a few words about the regional aspects: the Central and Volga federal districts had the greatest number of complaints, while the North Caucasus and Far East federal districts are at the bottom of the list.
This does not mean that the situation there is better. Perhaps the regional commissioners are simply not working actively enough, or maybe there are other issues related to information about the work of a federal human rights commissioner, for example. But nevertheless, this is something we should pay attention to.
As far as changes are concerned, from year to year, we receive between 24 and 26 thousand complaints. This year, we received 24 thousand complaints – i.e., a figure on the lower side. But, for example, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of complaints concerning access to free education. I think this speaks to the fact that this topic is now being discussed actively in our society and raises concerns among citizens.
Vladimir Putin: Is it reflected here?
Vladimir Lukin: Yes, of course, I am only talking about things included in our annual report.
I feel it is very important that you held a meeting with regional human rights commissioners in August. There, you drew attention to several very important points, including the fact that human rights commissioners’ independence is highly important.
And this is not about any sort of ambitions or rebelliousness; it’s about these people working properly in every region. Because if they are simply cogs in regional administrations, then why do we need them? This is a very important issue.
And in this respect, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that many regions are constantly amending laws to make it easier to fire commissioners. I would like to ask you and the Presidential Executive Office to pay attention to this.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.
Vladimir Lukin: Naturally, we care about what is closest to us, but in this case, the closest thing to us is Russia, rather than specific things and problems of specific people in power. And moreover, I think that our commissioners are working quite reasonably, because on the one hand, they are dealing with concrete, fundamental issues that affect the lives of our people, and on the other hand, they are trying not to engage in politics.
And here, I would like to remind you about something you said in August, that commissioners should not be associated with any political party, regardless of its leanings. Because they are working to protect the rights of the citizens. It’s one thing when they protect the rights of their fellow party members, but another when they defend the rights of all citizens alike. So we are trying to work in that context.
There are two urgent problems in the report I would like to draw your attention to. The problem of reforming the penitentiary system remains quite pressing. It has been announced and is being implemented, and I agree with its main points, which specify the need to ultimately put an end to the legacy of gulags and all those penal colonies, which is the right thing to do.
But unfortunately, we sometimes face difficulties when it comes to implementation. The problem is that in order to resolve this challenge, we need to make major reforms to our system of imprisonment and build many new prisons. This effort requires resources. And current times are not the wealthiest for the world in general and our nation in particular.
Thus, I would suggest the following course of action. When people want to deliver good reports, they want to hit and beat the target, while the funds they need are often insufficient and come from prisoners’ relatives and such. This can lead to various forms of corruption.
I would suggest creating an interdepartmental commission – perhaps it could be headed by one of your aides or deputy prime ministers – in order to look at how to best divide these reforms into stages, what can be done right now to move forward in this direction, and what can be done later, in a few years time, so that it remains realistic.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.
Vladimir Lukin: And secondly, after we met in August, a suggestion was made to create a group jointly with the Presidential Executive Office to develop and clarify several stipulations on the work of the commissioner system. This decision has been carried out, although with a certain delay. And I would like to see momentum from your end, through the Presidential Executive Office, so that our group can begin to work energetically and suggestions can be prepared within specific and foreseeable timeframe.
Vladimir Putin: How much time, in your opinion?
Vladimir Lukin: I think we could do it in three months.
Vladimir Putin: Very well.
Vladimir Lukin: And I would also like to say that, of course, political rights are a very important form of rights; there are very few complaints here, just two percent of the total number. But unfortunately, they are nevertheless very important, because they generally affect an indeterminately large number of citizens. There are precedents behind each of these complaints, forming a long chain.
And in this respect, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this year, we have been concerned by a flare-up of dispute and rhetoric between a wide range of groups – public, governmental and other. You know, civil wars begin with civil disputes and confrontations. I would very much like for these groups to keep within bounds and show respect for each other.
Vladimir Putin: I would like that, too.
Vladimir Lukin: I would like to see more effort put in here.
I would like to bring up a recent event as an example. Human rights organisations are currently being subject to major audits, throughout the entire country. I do not see any specific reason for doing this, but in any case, it would be good to have some kind of explanation and hear the reasons for this.
Whatever the case, we are carefully monitoring what is happening and, of course, we will certainly do everything in our modest power to ensure that all these processes occur in strict accordance with the law. Naturally, it would be good if you were also able to look into all of this, to see what is happening on all sides and how the law is being enforced.
Vladimir Putin: Ok.
Mr Lukin, I do not yet know the details, but naturally, I will obtain the necessary information from the Prosecutor General. The Prosecutor General’s Office is obligated to verify the legality of actions by government agencies at the regional, federal and municipal levels and all NGOs.
I think that in this case, too, the goal of all the audits is to verify to what extent the activities of a particular NGO correspond to its stated goals, and whether their work is in line with Russian legislation on the inadmissibility of financing political activities from abroad.
I repeat, I will certainly obtain all the details and look into them. As you know, these laws are not restrictive; incidentally, there are no repressive sanctions. They all simply need to bring their activities in line with Russian Federation laws.
And naturally, I will ask you, for your part, to monitor this situation, so that I will have a source of additional information about how this is going, to ensure that there are no complications.
Vladimir Lukin: Thank you. I will certainly take your position into account and will monitor the situation carefully. I think that the Justice Ministry also needs to address this matter, because by law, it must conduct occasional audits.
As for the Prosecutor General’s Office, as far as I understand the law, they must react to any evidence on the actual infractions.
Vladimir Putin: As I said, I still need to look into the details. I am assuming this is a routine action related to the law enforcement agencies’ and prosecutors’ desire to ensure that the activities of corresponding organisations are in line with the laws passed in recent years.
Vladimir Lukin: I am very happy that you will look into this problem carefully.
Vladimir Putin: Very well.