President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon.
We meet regularly – not as often as we should, but still. I am eager to hear about everything that has been going on recently under your watch. Let us talk about what I can do to support you.
Chairman of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights Mikhail Fedotov: Mr President, actually, I have two topics. One is public oversight, a subject to which you attach great importance, because this is about getting society as a whole involved in running the country at all levels: federal, regional, local and rural. It is very important for us that we were able to organise systemic work in this area through the Presidential Council for Human Rights.
First of all, during the elections, September 18, election day, which coincided with my birthday, we went to various regions, 13 in total. We had a monitoring team working in all the 13 regions. At a meeting with you, which, as I hope, will take place before the end of the year, the Council will present the results of the monitoring team’s work.
There are some interesting observations, interesting conclusions and proposals on ways to improve election laws. We discussed that also with Ms Ella Pamfilova [Chairperson of the Central Election Commission]. She also thinks that the legislation needs amending. This is one area of public oversight.
The second sphere includes our offsite meetings in regions. We have been to various regions. We have travelled virtually all over the North Caucasus Federal District, visiting all administrative areas of the district, where we toured social institutions, children’s homes, psychiatric facilities, prisons and pretrial detention centres. There are plenty of impressions.
And again, when you meet with all Council members, we will tell you about that in detail. There are some concrete proposals, concrete recommendations. In particular, we talked to the heads of the constituent entities in the North Caucasus Federal District and we agreed that they would set up human rights councils, but they should be as proactive and energetic as the Presidential Council, because only that will make them relevant. If they are set up just for show, of course, that will make no sense at all.
We even reviewed the human rights record of army servicemen at Khmeimim Air Base. I flew there with Yelizaveta Glinka to see how our servicemen live and work. We went to a hospital and met with doctors in Latakia.
Vladimir Putin: A Syrian hospital?
Mikhail Fedotov: Yes. It’s a good, new hospital. It was built recently and has good equipment but it is idle.
Mr President, we came to the following conclusion. We must spearhead an international ban on sanctions on medicines, medical equipment and expendable materials for it.
Children should not suffer from political games. This is unacceptable. We saw children there. They are either babies or just several years old. Some of them are seriously ill. Some of them have cancer. What do they have to do with the armed conflict? Nothing at all. Why should they suffer from it?
Vladimir Putin: This idea is absolutely right. You know better how to implement it.
Why isn’t the hospital working properly? For lack of supplies?
Mikhail Fedotov: The hospital has no supplies or the necessary medicines. They wrote a long list of medicines they need. Ms Glinka has already bought many of these medicines through her fund and we are ready to fly there any time to deliver them to the hospital.
Vladimir Putin: Good.
Mikhail Fedotov: This is one issue.
The second one has to do with improving public oversight legislation. We have a law that you supported at one time. The Council drafted this law. It deals with the foundations of public oversight in the Russian Federation.
The law has been adopted and entered in force. It is working but it requires some amendments. It has a small article on the local-level structures of public oversight – public inspections and public oversight groups.
If you’ll recall, even the Soviet Union had people’s oversight groups and they did a good job. But this doesn’t work now for lack of legislation. One small article cannot resolve anything.
So I wrote a letter to you with a request to instruct the Council and the Government to prepare draft amendments to the law on the foundations of public oversight to expand its authority at the local level.
To ensure maximum transparency in public oversight, we propose setting up an online resource centre, something similar to regulation.gov.ru, where people would be able to see how each public oversight component works.
Vladimir Putin: Naturally, some things probably need fine-tuning, but I will certainly support this. What is important is not even that people see how the public oversight system works. It is essential to create the most favourable working conditions for that system so that the results of public oversight activity impact the work of administrative agencies.
Mikhail Fedotov: Absolutely right. A diversified public oversight system is also very important for civil activists, because this creates an opportunity for all those who really want to become active citizens to prove themselves.
In my opinion, this has simply huge potential for our country’s development. This potential can and should be used. At the same time people involved in public oversight are concerned with common interests.
People who are concerned with their private interests – a leaky roof, streets that are not cleared of snow, and so on, there is a great number of problems – these are the people who go to state agencies with letters, complaints, statements and suggestions. We have a law on the procedure for handling citizens’ complaints. Unfortunately, I would say that it is not simply outdated – it is anachronistic, and we propose replacing it. We reworked it once, and now we have reworked it again, taking into account the proposals from various agencies. It is ready now.
We request that the Government be instructed, together with the Council, to finalise it and prepare it for submission to the State Duma. Because the point is to move away from paperwork. A person writes, receives a response, writes again and receives a response again. The procedure should be different. The problem must be resolved – this is the main thing. A great deal can be done here with the help of modern online systems. This kind of system is up and running in Tatarstan. We propose establishing it at the national level.
Vladimir Putin: Ok. Together with the Legal Directorate of the Presidential Executive Office, of course.
Mikhail Fedotov: Of course.
Vladimir Putin: Agreed.