President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev: I was talking with people from the European and Asian media just before, and I spoke with them about the inalienable human right that is the right to information.
Mr Lukin, I propose that we discuss the situation in the area your mission covers. I would like to hear your proposals. In other words, let’s proceed as we usually do.
Human Rights Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin: Of course, all the more so as this meeting is taking place on the eve of International Human Rights Day, which we will observe tomorrow. This marks the day when the basic convention on human rights was adopted. Our Constitution does not contradict this convention’s provisions in any way, but on the contrary, develops them. As one past politician said, this is just the time to concentrate on outstanding and difficult problems, and I will try to do this in brief.
We are preparing our annual report, as required by the constitutional law on the human rights ombudsman. We already have some of the statistics ready, as we usually do. They show that from December 2008 to December this year – one year, in other words – the number of complaints has increased by a little more than 10 percent – 10.6 percent to be precise.
This situation requires separate serious analysis, of course, but I would guess that this increase is above all related to the crisis. You are no doubt interested to know which subjects come up the most frequently.
The biggest increase concerns children’s rights. The number of complaints in this area rose by 46.7 percent. I think the establishment of a presidential commissioner [for children’s rights] was a timely and correct step, and these latest figures confirm this. There are a number of particular issues in this area that I would like to discuss with you.
Protection of housing rights is in second place with an increase of slightly more than 42 percent. This is obviously related to the crisis.
In third place we have employment rights with an increase of a bit over 20 percent. This is also related to the crisis situation.
What surprised me personally was the substantial increase in complaints regarding freedom of conscience. This is something new and deserves separate analysis. The complaints are above all about local authorities giving too little attention to the question of providing space for different religions’ places of worship…
Dmitry Medvedev: Non-traditional religions’ places of worship?
Vladimir Lukin: Yes, you could put it that way.
Another problem is that people are worried about how the new idea in the education sector, the decision on teaching [basic religious culture and secular ethics] in schools will be carried out in practice. They fear it might cause friction and so on.
These are the two issues raised by the complaints.
Dmitry Medvedev: First of all, I think the increase in complaints is not a bad thing in itself because it points not only to an increase in the number of problems, though this year has indeed been difficult. If we take people’s social rights – the right to employment and education, for example, of course the crisis has certainly made it harder to protect and guarantee these rights.
But I think that this increase also points to the fact that people place hopes in these complaints. People would not lodge complaints if they thought it would be ineffective and a waste of time. There have been periods in our country’s history when dialogue with the government and its officials – and you in this particular case represent the government in one of the most sensitive areas, that of human rights…
Vladimir Lukin: Not the government so much as a state body.
Dmitry Medvedev: I do not separate these things. This is the way I was taught. I think that state bodies are the outward form of government. Of course, we could debate the political science on this subject, but you cannot separate yourself from government. You are an integral part of government, and I think this is good for government.
Vladimir Lukin: Your words warm my heart.
Dmitry Medvedev: If government did not include the institution you provide we would have to be working on these issues in some other way. I met recently with the Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights. They are our colleagues, working on the same issues, only on a different playing field. They are not part of government, not part of any state organisations, but are involved in human rights protection in association with public organisations or as independent bodies.
But coming back to the subject we were discussing – the increase in complaints – I think this points to the fact that people place certain hopes in the ombudsman.
As for the actual subjects of the complaints, they reflect people’s ideas of justice and the problems we face. You said the biggest increase concerned children’s rights?
Vladimir Lukin: Yes, 46 percent.
Dmitry Medvedev: This 46 percent increase reflects our common concern over the number of breaches of the law, the number of crimes against children. This was indeed the motive behind the decision to establish the post of Commissioner for Children’s Rights. It also explains the complaints that you are receiving. This is something we all need to work on.
I submitted several laws over this year setting tougher penalties for crimes against children’s health and lives, and also laws regulating some aspects of marriage and family legislation.
As far as employment and housing rights are concerned, I think you stated the situation very clearly. This is indeed linked to the crisis. It has indeed become more difficult to guarantee these rights. People have less money at their disposal, and the instruments proposed to resolve the housing problem, for example, have encountered difficulties.
Not so long ago we had a high number of housing mortgage loans, but this year the housing mortgage programme has all but died out, and we are trying now to stoke it up again for next year. I say this just for the record.
Vladimir Lukin: What you said about me being part of government pleased me because I kind of provoked you into saying it. It gives me more clout in discussion with the authorities.
Dmitry Medvedev: Very good.
Vladimir Lukin: Given that tomorrow is International Human Rights Day, I wanted to raise another issue, namely, the fact that we have not yet carried out all of our international obligations. You are familiar with the sixth and fourteenth protocols [of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms]. I wanted to draw to your attention not to this, however, but to three other points. We have the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is currently before the Government, but has been there an unacceptably long time. I think we need to get this matter settled. Second, there is the optional protocol. I will leave with you this booklet, if you have no objection.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have no objection.
Vladimir Lukin: This is the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. All of the ministries have approved and ratified it except for the Healthcare and Social Development Ministry, unfortunately. I would like to see the impulse given to get this process completed.
Finally, there is the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We have not yet signed it and some among our state agencies oppose it for reasons you can imagine. I understand that they have their own reasons for this, but I think that given that many countries have already ratified it, including our neighbours, we should also step up this process.
Dmitry Medvedev: I have made special note of this so as to keep my eye on it. I will talk with the agencies concerned about their position.
Incidentally, to come back to protocol 14 and protocol 6 that you did not go into, work is underway on them now and I think that my colleagues in the Government will present a report to me very soon.
As for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, there is nothing to subtract or add here. I think this is an important matter and we need to get the Government moving on it. I will be meeting this week with members of the Paralympics movement and Paralympics athletes. I say this to you because I think it is also one of the elements that will help to create a barrier-free environment enabling people with disabilities to take normal part in life and give them opportunities for active leisure too.