Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin: I came here, above all, to give you this fat report.
President Vladimir Putin: The annual report?
Vladimir Lukin: This is the annual report not so much on my activities as a report about the attention paid to the state of human rights in Russia, a report on some of the results, some big problems and what I think we could do next.
What I would like to say above all is that this report is, as it were, an x-ray of the real situation in the country because it is built on people’s letters, appeals and complaints which, in turn, reflect to a great extent people’s mood, their problems, and where the sore points are to be found. In this regard, what I can say is that, whatever my own personal system of priorities, social issues, in the broadest sense of the term, account for almost half of the priorities reflected in these appeals.
Vladimir Putin: It seems to me it was always that way.
Vladimir Lukin: Yes, of course. It is quite clear and understandable that it should be this way in Russia given that, for various objective reasons, social problems are most acute.
Vladimir Putin: You recall our meeting with your colleague from the United Nations?
Vladimir Lukin: Yes, with Louise Arbour.
Vladimir Putin: She pointed out that all around the world, the biggest problems also lie in the area of people’s social rights. She also said that this is the area that gets the most attention.
Vladimir Lukin: That is true. There are some human rights campaigners, what I would call purists, who feel that they should fight only for the traditional human rights and liberties, the political rights, and this is fair enough, but it is clearly insufficient. Most people today, including people involved in human rights, think that social rights are equally important. There are a lot of different social rights, and these have been getting attention of late in connection with law 122, which we all know well. This law has led to a new share of problems, mostly arising from the way it is being implemented.
I won’t go into all the details because that would take a long time, but I would like to draw your attention to three points. First is that there are still problems with supplies of medicines in some regions. My office has made some investigations and we have found that there are still some problems with insufficient supply of medicines on the established list. The second point is monopoly prices, which are on the increase. It would be good for the people in charge of this area to take a look at the situation here.
Vladimir Putin: I passed on the relevant letter and instruction to the Public Health and Social Development Minister just yesterday.
Vladimir Lukin: That’s good. I hope it will get through all the many layers of our bureaucracy. The second problem is an issue that I think needs particular attention – the problems of the people who took part in the Chernobyl cleanup operations. I have already turned to the Prime Minister but the government is dragging its feet on this issue.
Vladimir Putin: There is a problem and I certainly will speak to the government about it.
Vladimir Lukin: The last thing I felt I had to draw your attention to is that a reaction has been coming from some regions in the run up to the new Housing Code coming into force today. Housing and utilities costs have jumped up sharply in a whole number of regions. Not everywhere, but in a good number.
Vladimir Putin: This is not linked to the Housing Code. It is linked to the policies followed by regional authorities and has no direct relation to the Housing Code.
Vladimir Lukin: I am simply giving you an x-ray picture of what issues should be getting some attention.
Vladimir Putin: The government is currently working on this issue. This is really something that falls within the competence of the regional authorities, but I have given the government instructions and they are working on this actively.
Vladimir Lukin: Well, let us hope they can do some effective work in this area.
Vladimir Putin: We will keep a check on this work.
Vladimir Lukin: The other big problem aside from social issues, a problem that accounts for around a third of all complaints, is the problem of arbitrary action and, shall we say, unfitting behaviour on the part of the law enforcement agencies.
I would like to point out here that I have established good working relations with the new leadership in the Interior Ministry, especially with the minister. On their initiative we carry out parallel inspections that we then examine together in order to resolve the problems that arise in the various regions. True, I must say that beyond this level things start to get held up, get stuck in a rut and, shall we say, there is a reluctance to move away from the old ways of working. I think we need do something about clearing up this atmosphere.
In this context I have to say a few words about the gross, mass-scale violations that took place in Blagoveshchensk. I think that the responsible officials should bear responsibility for this – they are not called responsible officials for nothing, after all – and not people further down the ranks who often end up being designated scapegoats. This is necessary because these kinds of violations are unacceptable for our people. It is not a matter of someone somewhere in the West speaking out, it is a problem here, for us. In this respect I want to say that the authorities at every level should feel the need every single day to ensure their actions are in line with the Constitution, in line with people’s rights and liberties, and not just because they hear something on the radio or the television.
The final problem among the most frequently cited issues I wanted to draw your attention to is that complaints are coming in about violations of the media’s rights, above all the rights of regional media outlets. This is a real problem. Regional governors call all the heads of the regional media outlets together, for example, and say, “well, guys, you didn’t vote for the right person, didn’t take the right line, and so now I need my own team”. Bryansk is one example of a region where this is the case. And so I would like to draw your attention to the fact that we need to support the regional media outlets because it is really with them that a real civil society, real debate and public dialogue begins and ends. This problem exists.
Vladimir Putin: Vladimir Petrovich [Lukin], regarding Blagoveshchensk, the prosecutors and the ministry still have to complete their investigation. After this we will take the appropriate decisions. As for the media, the government has already received my instructions to develop a system for supporting the regional media outlets.
Vladimir Lukin: I think this is correct and it seems to me that the kinds of parallel inspections we are carrying out, the ombudsman’s office and the Interior Ministry officials are useful.
Vladimir Putin: And I would ask you to also take part in overseeing how this instruction is carried out and examine the measures the government proposes for supporting regional media outlets.
Vladimir Lukin: I will get in touch with the relevant people today…
Vladimir Putin: Get in touch with the Prime Minister because he is the one I gave the instruction to …
Vladimir Lukin: Very good. I will get in touch with [Prime Minister] Mikhail Yefimovich [Fradkov] about this.
Vladimir Putin: That’s agreed then.