ROAR: Presidential council defends rights of human rights ombudsman

As deputies accuse ombudsman Vladimir Lukin of “taking sides” with some opposition figures and missing other issues, human right activists and analysts say he is doing his job properly.

Lukin, who was appointed the human rights commissioner in 2004, came under fire after he urged an inquiry into the brutal activities of the riot police during the dispersal of an unauthorized opposition rally in Moscow.

He visited Triumfalnaya Square on May 31 where protesters demanded “the implementation of the constitutional right for peaceful assembly.” The brutal response from police was not justified, the ombudsman said. He also made his position clear in the report about the results of his activities.

The report drew criticism from many politicians. Federation Council’s commission on the development of institutions of civil society has said the document describes mostly violations of political rights and does not pay much attention to socio-economic ones.

Aleksandr Pochinok, a member of the Federation Council, publicly voiced on July 6 parliamentarians’ complaints about this document. The deputies also complained that the ombudsman did not offer remedies to improve the situation.

The ombudsman’s report misses a social aspect in the sphere of protection of human rights, Pochinok said. The document just touches such important issues as the right for legal defense and “the right for effective state protection,” the commission’s members believe.

The deputies also said the report did not consider the observance of the freedoms of movement and choosing place of residence, the rights for sufficient living standards and favorable environment, education and participation in a cultural life. However, the document often “politicizes” the assessments of the situation, the commission said.

Protecting human rights should not turn “into a political campaign, and the ombudsman should not support people only in cases where his political views coincide with opinions of those whom he protects,” the deputies concluded.

Ombudsmen in several Russian regions have also criticized Lukin for his “selective approach” while evaluating the observance of human rights.

However, the Presidential Council on Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights has supported Lukin’s activities. His work is useful and necessary for many Russians, the council said in a statement on July 5.

The analysis of complaints coming from citizens shows that “the country’s modernization is impossible without real guarantees of the protection of human rights and freedoms,” it stated. The annual commissioner’s report “reflects Russian realities and highlights violations of individual and socio-political rights of citizens,” the statement said.

The presidential council also stressed the need for effective feedback in the relations between society and the state. Although the number of complaints from citizens about the freedom of assembly is relatively small, some of them concern violations made during certain public rallies, the statement reads.

The council also cited Lukin’s words about “a high level of intolerance in society” and expressed support for his “citizen’s position.”

However, many politicians have different views. “Vladimir Lukin could hardly imagine that his report will be the subject of such tough criticism,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said. Members of the Federation Council, the upper house of the parliament, have accused him of defending citizens’ political rights rather than their economic or social ones, the daily said.

At the same time, analysts asked by the paper believe Lukin “rightly understands the task set by the president.” They attribute the criticism “to concerns about increasing political activity of civil society,” the paper said. Lukin advised the authorities “to be more tolerant to radical opposition,” it added.

The ombudsman should protect human rights first of all, stressed Igor Yurgens, director of the Institute of Contemporary Development. “And the state, trade unions and employees should deal with economic and social rights,” he told Nezavisimaya Gazeta. “Lukin cannot replace everyone.”

The institute of the ombudsman was created to protect human rights, but mostly constitutional rights: the freedom of speech, assembly and manifestations, Yurgens aid.

Regional ombudsmen have been active recently in protecting human rights, “not only in the political sphere, but also in the socio-economic one,” Aleksey Makarkin of the Center for Political Technologies told the paper.

At the same time, criticism of ombudsmen’s work, as well as the council on society institutions and human rights has also increased. Makarkin explained it with a response to “a cautious political liberalization.” “Many real human rights defenders have been included into the council,” he added.

“The commissioner should not necessarily take sides with a man whose views he protects,” Makarkin noted. “Lukin tried to find a compromise that would allow [opposition activist Eduard] Limonov to enter the square and the authorities to save the image,” he said.

As for the lack of remedies to improve the situation, the ombudsman is a people’s tribune and he has “no alternative government,” Makarkin said. “He should just translate society’s concerns about the authorities’ policies,” the analyst stressed.

The conclusion of the Federation Council will be prepared later. Despite the complaints of many politicians, Lukin is unlikely to lose his position. He should take into account the criticism for his work in the future, Pochinok said. The parliament is ready for “constructive cooperation with the ombudsman,” the deputy added.

The upper house has postponed the hearings to give deputies more time to study the report. The document could not be amended, but the commission’s conclusion will be strengthened, its chairman Boris Shpigel told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily.

“Our task is to make institutions of civil society work together, not separately,” Spigel said. “And the commissioner should effectively work together with them.”

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT