#4 - JRL 7213
June 6, 2003
HR commissioner says even his rights are violated
By Viktoria Malutina
2002 was not a good year for the rights of Russian citizens – they were violated by the police, the courts, social aid bodies, parliamentarians who approved the new law on citizenship, and officials from the Culture Ministry. The State Duma also violated the rights of Russia’s top human rights ombudsman, Oleg Mironov, who presented his annual report this week.
On Thursday, the human rights commissioner Oleg Mironov reported on his work in 2002, possibly the last report in his career as an ombudsman. The text of the report was larger than the previous works (this being Mironov’s fifth annual report). According to the official, the rights of Russian citizens are being breached more regularly but those whose rights are being infringed are becoming more active in addressing the commissioner – in 2002 he received 33,000 complaints (with the total number in five years being 125,000).
The report reads that the most typical violations in 2002 were linked with the work of law enforcement bodies. Mironov said that in 2002 the number of complaints connected with the criminal, criminal-executive and criminal procedural law grew to 51 percent of the total number of appeals. The report mentions complaints about the police’s arbitrariness, passiveness (they hold back reports of crimes to improve statistics) and also unjust sentences.
''I personally released a woman from prison – the mother of four children who had been sentenced to four years for stealing a watch. She got a suspended sentence instead,'' the ombudsman said proudly.
Mass violations of citizens’ rights also continued in Chechnya – locals still went missing during so-called ‘clean-up’ operations. Last year 834 residents of Chechnya addressed the Russian president’s commissioners with requests to help them find their relatives. In August, Mironov even had to send the president a telegram asking to free 100 Chechen residents who had been unjustly held by federal forces.
The rights commissioner has not been involved with the Nord-Ost hostage taking, however. ''None of the Nord-Ost victims has addressed me,'' Mironov said in his report.
The rights of the citizens of the so-called “near abroad” – former Soviet republics – were violated by the adoption of the new law on citizenship. The exchange period of Soviet passports for Russian ones expired and two laws – on citizenship and on foreign citizens’ residing in the Russian Federation were adopted by which the authorities stripped ethnic Russians of Russian citizenship, Mironov said. He also added that the Russian military continues to draft non-citizens, although citizenship is not granted to such people afterwards.
However, the ombudsman has failed to render any help in these cases – he said that he had tried to submit an amendment to the law on citizenship to the State Duma calling for non-citizens to be automatically granted Russian citizenship after being drafted into the ranks of the Russian military, but both the Defence Ministry and the Presidential Administration turned it down.
Citizens’ rights to culture was also violated in 2002. In particular, Russians had no money to visit cinemas and theatres. ''For example, the cheapest ticket to the Bolshoi Theatre, costs 600 roubles – a student can’t afford it. But students need spiritual development,'' the commissioner said.
Also, the report reads that Russian historical monuments were being destroyed by time and by people alike – in Moscow the authorities tried to raze some historical parts of Tverskaya Street and the Patriarch’s Ponds district. Mironov reported that he nearly restored the rights of Muscovites by agreeing with the Moscow mayor that the building plans had to be returned and re-worked. He also asked UNESCO to include the New Jerusalem Monastery in Moscow Region into the list of the World’s historical sites and to allocate money for its preservation (as is already done with the Solovki Monastery in North Russia).
Mironov also demanded that the Ministry of Culture keep better watch on the historical monuments under its supervision. The government will also be advised to allocate money for those Chechens who want, but cannot afford to make a spiritual pilgrimage to Mecca.
Mironov noted that the abuse of prisoners’ rights had taken place on a huge scale, with people being kept in pre-trial detention centres longer than is allowed by law. The specialists who took part in the Chernobyl operation, the military men who served in conflict ‘hot spots’ and residents of the cities with disastrous ecological conditions did not receive compensation. The ombudsman said his department had helped many of them – the courts fulfilled 20 percent of the claims supported by the ombudsman and 70 percent of the cases started by the rights commissioner himself.
It turned out that the ombudsman’s rights were grossly infringed as well. A new law stipulates that I cannot appeal directly to court – including the Supreme Court – I can only appeal to the Prosecutor’s Office, Mironov said. It also turned out that the newly approved law codes also restrict the commissioner’s activities. Firstly, after the new Criminal Executive Code comes into force, he will be able to visit detention facilities only upon receiving a prisoner’s complaint. ''But if I know that the prisoners are on [hunger] strike, I still cannot personally check this,'' the commissioner said.
Secondly, the new Criminal Procedure Code deprived the ombudsman of the right to take part in legal processes and to study case materials. And thirdly, under the new Criminal Procedure Code, prosecutors can instigate a criminal case against the human rights commissioner. ''This contradicts the federal law reading that only the State Duma can decide to impose any sanctions on me,'' Mironov said.
''I met the head of the Duma’s lawmaking committee Pavel Krasheninnikov in a lift (Krasheninnikov is one of Mironov’s prospective successors as HR commissioner – Gazeta.Ru), and I said to him, ‘In the whole world, the ombudsman’s fate is decided by parliament, so what is it that you are doing?’ – ‘Are you having problems?’ he asked. ‘I have no problems, but my successor will,’ I replied.''
The appointment of a new human rights commissioner in the State Duma will take place in about two weeks. Mironov still hopes to retain his post. While presenting the annual report, he even mentioned some arguments in his favour.
Apart from restoring infringed rights, Mironov was the first to organize public events devoted to Human Rights Day. In 2002 he organized a TV-bridge for schoolchildren, created the Youth for Human Rights movement, issued the calendar ''Human Rights as Seen by Children'' (in which children illustrated his work in a picture of an old man saving hares in a flood), submitted an additional article to the International Human Rights Convention (which was not adopted) and also became the only ombudsman from a CIS country in the European Council of Ombudsmen. ''This is international recognition, and the new commissioner will not be accepted there automatically,'' Mironov said.
Mironov also refuted possible accusations of spending too much time abroad by saying that this is the only way he can work: ''If the Russian ombudsman is not present at an HR event, they start to worry – ‘What, Russia shows no interest in Human Rights?’ And the Interior Ministry sometimes really begs me to go there…''
Also it turned out that Mironov intends to deal closely with the Chechen problem: ''Some people fly over Chechnya in a helicopter for half an hour and then they think they know everything. And I always visit the hospital in Mozdok, in Grozny and the refugee camps.''
The ombudsman also said he already had plans for the future. ''I already see the strategy,'' he said in a conversation with our correspondent. ''If I remain in the post, I will, for example press upon the power structures to make them react to my addresses in less time.'' Apart from that, the commissioner intends to develop active legislative work.
''If the Duma decides differently, I will hold no grudge, I will shake my successor’s hand and introduce him to the staff, I will give him advice and recommendations and then I will take a professor’s chair,'' Mironov said in conclusion.