President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: Dear Vladimir Petrovich!
We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the appointment of a Human Rights Ombudsman, the first one in Russian history. Let me congratulate you and the whole of Russian society once again. As an institution you have now reached adulthood by modern Russian standards.
Russian Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin: Thank you Dmitry Anatolyevich!
Given the accelerated pace of this century we have almost reached adulthood, but this can be viewed in different ways.
On the one hand, I cannot say that our institution has firmly entrenched itself in the life of the country, in its social, political and community structures. On the other hand, I would say that it is gradually putting down roots.
It seems to me that in recent years our institution has been trying to find itself. It has a great many tasks even though the principal means of protecting citizens include well-known structures such as the judiciary, prosecutors and the Ministry of the Interior, but nevertheless the institution of Ombudsman is a special case.
At his swearing-in, the Ombudsman must promise to be guided, on the one hand, by the Constitution and its laws and, on the other, by the voice of conscience. This combination is what makes the institution unique. We are trying to do what we can and we have results to show for it. About 30 thousand applications were made to us last year.
Dmitry Medvedev: What sort of things are people petitioning you for? From what I understand one of the most difficult problems, including for the intervention of the Human Rights Ombudsman, regards complaints related to judicial acts, the execution of court decisions and obviously corruption.
Vladimir Lukin: Of course, there are a lot of social issues, a lot of other complaints, but you are absolutely right in the sense that the problems associated with the judicial system and with its workings are among the main sources of complaints. Although we cannot directly influence judicial decisions, people write us about the many problems they face as citizens.
First of all, there is the problem of the implementation of judgments. We are in a paradoxical situation: the judiciary has power but its decisions are often not implemented. This is very bad for our citizens. It is also bad for our reputation in that we lead the field in complaints to the European Court of Justice, which would not be the case if our courts acted more in the interests of our citizens.
Dmitry Medvedev: There is another reason for this: a large number of our citizens’ applications to the European Court are caused by the very liberal system we have for the treatment of such complaints. In some states one has to jump through a significant number of hoops before reaching the European Court, whereas in Russia this process is quite rapid. Maybe it’s not so bad, especially given the fact that our system of rights’ protection is only now acquiring a solid footing, as our judicial system develops.
If we already had a fully fledged judicial system that had proven itself over centuries, there would be no need for such ease of access. But now that’s the way it has to be. This is obviously an alarming sign, particularly because you have to oversee this process.
Vladimir Lukin: I think you’re absolutely right. There are some proposals for creating a mechanism by which a compromise could be arrived at to resolve problems before they get to the European Court. The Ombudsman may be called upon to help with this.
We have worked several months on a report that I wish to submit to you. This report treats the problems of protecting the rights of victims of crimes. There is a certain paradox here: the rights of the accused are well protected, which is as it should be, but the rights of victims are not. We have prepared a report which makes some proposals, including amending the law. I would like to submit it to you and at the same time ask you to help move it forward.
I think that if we could organise a serious discussion on this report involving those responsible, we would quickly come up with some genuinely helpful proposals. Of course we understand that it is not written in stone and everything is open for discussion.
Dmitry Medvedev: I absolutely agree with you that there is a problem. The only genuinely fair way to consider criminal cases in court is to guarantee the rights of the victim, making sure that he is not subjected to pressure and not afraid to testify during the investigation and in court. That would guarantee a full, complete and fair review of criminal cases.
Vladimir Lukin: Exactly.
Dmitry Medvedev: In protecting the rights of victims we need to pay attention to issues such as protecting property and those issues in what has come to be called the moral sphere.
Vladimir Lukin: Another problem is the system of enforcement. I absolutely agree with those who say that our prison system has improved in recent years, both in terms of construction and new approaches, but it is still not satisfactory.
I would like to submit to you a list of the complaints that have been made recently. It’s a long one, I’m afraid. And recent events involving victims that have occurred in Chelyabinsk, which, as far as I know have already led to criminal prosecutions, suggest that we should seriously address improving this system. I think there needs to be action taken not just at the institutional but also the educational level, especially in centres for juvenile delinquents.
Dmitry Medvedev: I agree with you. There certainly are problems in the system of enforcement and a lot of the complaints are related to this topic. People are turning to you, going to the courts, approaching me with these same issues. Changes have occurred in the system, as you rightly pointed out, but it requires new legal approaches, new funding, and a general change in the public’s attitude toward the penal system as a whole.
In this sense, we have taken important steps in recent years, but our system is still far from meeting modern standards, the kind used to measure the penal systems of so-called developed nations. Here we still have work to do. Let us think how we can do better.