The meeting took place on Human Rights Day, which is celebrated on December 10.
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President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon, colleagues,
My day today is in large part devoted to defenders of the Fatherland. I have just arrived from the Defence Ministry, where I met with military defenders of the Fatherland, and my second meeting is with you, with civilians directly involved in protecting human rights.
Incidentally, I say this seriously, without any irony whatsoever. Of course, in the first case there is purely state representation, and in the second much more civilian representation. Naturally, I believe that these should supplement and complement each other.
Today there is another good reason to meet: 65 years ago, on December 10, 1948, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Today we celebrate International Human Rights Day, and I would like to sincerely congratulate you all on this occasion.
I would recall that in the near future we will celebrate one more date, the 20th anniversary of Russia’s Constitution. And in this connection I would like to draw attention to the fact that a key part of that document deals with human rights and freedoms, and that they hold a particularly sacred value in the Constitution, in our country’s basic law.
In this regard, I would like to immediately thank those colleagues who spent a long time preparing this law, not only for the fact that they themselves engaged with its text, but also for the way their work had made society more receptive to the norms it contains. First of all I am referring to one of the oldest fighters on this front: our colleague Lyudmila Alekseyeva [chairperson of the regional NGO Moscow Helsinki Group].
There are also those who were directly involved in the text itself. [Human Rights Ombudsman] Vladimir Lukin was directly involved in drawing up the Constitution; in any case, you were part of the relevant Council, and you did a lot in this sense too. Thank you very much to all of you.
This work certainly remains relevant today, and for us it is as important as work to protect citizens’ political rights and freedoms, such as voting rights and their derivatives, as well as social rights, which are equally important. This concerns the right to health, education, labour market protection and so on. All of these are equally important, and I hope that we can continue this work together.
Incidentally, I have already said many times and emphasised that the authorities and the human rights movement have exactly the same tasks. They consist in improving our citizens' lives, making them feel like full-fledged members of society, making them respect society, and ensuring that society and the state treat each of our citizens with respect.
You know that just recently a prominent human rights activist and a fighter against apartheid, Nelson Mandela, passed away. Without a doubt he was an outstanding humanist and one of the most important figures of the 20th and 21st centuries. He did a great deal to introduce humanistic principles not only to Africa, not only to his own country, but throughout the world.
I’m not going to quote his words verbatim, but he formulated one thought very well: to be free, it is not enough to merely throw off one’s chains; you also need to respect the freedom of others. This is a very profound thought and I believe that we all can and should follow these rules to the letter.
We have created relevant instruments in this field. Mr Lukin, as you know, is our Human Rights Ombudsman. But we also have two other institutions: the Commissioner for Children’s Rights and the Commissioner for Entrepreneurs’ Rights. I hope that this, as well as our other activities in this sphere, was what enabled Russia to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council.
This election took place just recently, on November 12, 2013. We would like to benefit from your support in this respect, bearing in mind that the work of our delegation to the UN’s Human Rights Council can and should be supported not only by career diplomats, but also by your moral and organisational support.
Colleagues, this is what I wanted to say at the outset. Perhaps we should add that this year – and you know this very well – we have more than tripled our financial support for non-profit organisations. If I remember correctly, a significant portion of these funds – 250 million rubles [$7.5 million] out of 3.2 billion rubles [$97 million] – were allocated specifically to support human rights defenders working in the political sphere.
Moreover, we organised this exactly as you suggested. We discussed this at a meting of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, and decided that these funds will be distributed by the human rights community itself, through one of its organisations. I hope that you are satisfied with how this work has gone.
Let me congratulate you on this occasion.