#7 - JRL 7179
Roundtable Meeting on Human Rights Activity of Russian State Outlined
May 7, 2003
Report by Anna Zakatnova:
"The Authorities Become Human Rights Champions. Justice Institutions Embrace Experience and Ideas of Dissidents"
The profession of human rights champion is becoming unusually popular in the justice community. Judges, prosecutors, police, and even poor State Duma deputies are increasingly vocally emphasizing in the campaign heat the human rights role of their structures. The achievement of state institutions were discussed yesterday [6 May] at a "roundtable" conference "Human Rights in Russia and Human Rights Activity of the State."
For some reason, it is former political prisoners who make the best human rights defenders. Therefore, everything has been pretty clear until now: The judicial branch and law-enforcement agencies stand on one side, while human rights defenders and ordinary people on a completely different one. The other day, however, a monument to one of the most prominent human rights activists, Academician Sakharov, was erected in St. Petersburg. It is certainly a nice event but it the best illustration showing that the era of classic Russian human rights champions is becoming history and that even the very notion of this social duty is fading.
On Monday, 12 May, the Russian General Prosecutor's Office and its research institute of issues relating to strengthening the law and legal order are to conduct a conference devoted to human right activities of the state. Yesterday, shortly before that event, the "roundtable" conference was held. Among those invited to the conference were Vladimir Radchenko, first deputy chairman of the Supreme Court; Vladimir Lopatin, first deputy director of the General Prosecutor's Office's scientific research institute; and retired Police Major General Aleksandr Gurov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security.
It turns out that they have a completely different point of view on human rights protection: Performance of official duties by judges, prosecutors, police officers, and deputies is just the basic method of protecting civil rights. However, it is still not that easy to protect the interests of citizens now that this purely dissident profession has penetrated law-enforcement structures. "The Russian prosecutor's office is permanently focused on searching for new ways of protecting civil rights against callousness, heartlessness, and quite often lawlessness," says a statement by the General Prosecutor's Office's scientific research institute. Meanwhile, Vladimir Radchenko believes that "our prosecutor's office imposes a purely punitive approach" because it permanently demands the most severe punishment for a defendant, forgetting that every article in the Criminal Code contains a "crack." In addition, he remembered (obviously on the eve of the second May holidays) that for centuries "people in Russia drank and got into fistfights, it is just that back then they were not jailed for hooliganism."
Aleksandr Gurov, too, proved to be dissatisfied with the performance of law-enforcement agencies, declaring that they "could not care less about the right of citizens to live and protect their health." According to Gurov's information, in 2002 32,000 individuals were murdered, 19,000 died of severe bodily injuries, 3,000 died of other crimes, 18,000 were killed in criminal traffic accidents, 14,000 burned to death in fires, 38,000 were reported missing, 50,000 committed a suicide, and finally 142,000 corpses were found with reasons of their death never established. "People no longer wish to live here!" the deputy thundered. "One should pressurize the authorities and play the same game, you will not see so many murders in any other country." But when it came to specific duties, it turned out that aspirations of the Duma committee chairman are much more modest in this area: "If laws are developed by the Duma, we will [not] get very far; everywhere else in the world, 80 percent of laws are drafted by the government, and we are ready to help: discuss and introduce amendments." In other words, the government will become a human right activist and the Duma will teach it.
Vladimir Radchenko proposed protecting citizens against the arbitrariness of authorities through a system of administrative justice. The Supreme Court has long touted an idea of creating 21 district courts of appellate jurisdiction to which citizens would go to sort out their relations with authorities. Yet, this draft law has not been approved yet by Presidential Staff Deputy Head Dmitriy Kozak, who supervises judicial reform. At that point, Vladimir Lopatin interfered immediately, reminding that for the time being the interests of ordinary citizens in their standoff with authorities are protected by the prosecutor's office: In 2002, more than 28,000 officials were disciplinarily and administratively prosecuted for violating human and civil rights and freedoms. Yet, opponents of the prosecutor's office suspect that this activity in the sphere of administrative justice was most probably provoked by a tendency to reform the system of prosecution. Liberal lawyers have long been urging to leave only the function of criminal prosecution with the prosecutor's office, which may be just why the scientific research institute decided to demonstrate its usefulness in the field of human rights protection. But all this may be speculation. Looking on the bright side, one can imagine that the citizens' sense of justice grows at such a breathtaking speed that it even penetrates into law-enforcement agencies. And it is good.