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30 Jul, 2010 13:55

Russia’s top human rights official resigns

Ella Pamfilova, the chairwoman of the Presidential Council for the Promotion of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, is quitting. She has not clarified the reasons for her decision.

President Dmitry Medvedev has accepted Pamfilova’s resignation, his press secretary Natalya Timakova said. Currently the head of state is considering several candidates for the now-vacant post, she told Itar-Tass agency.

"This issue [of resignation] was raised unfortunately more than once," the spokeswoman said. "The president thanked Pamfilova for the work which she had done for a long time to shape the civil society and to protect the human rights," Timakova added.

Pamfilova, 56, said that she filed a resignation letter as the chairperson of the council, which she has headed since 2004.

"This is my personal decision. No one coerced me, it was not made all of a sudden," Pamfilova told Interfax agency on Friday. "For now, I am not going to talk about the departure reasons. I can only say that I am planning to change the area of my activity drastically, and it will definitely be neither politics nor public service," she added.

Pamfilova said that she is not ashamed of what has been done by the council, adding that "We have managed to do even more than was possible.”

She expressed her gratitude to President Dmitry Medvedev "for his constant interest in the council’s activity in general and its specific proposals." That is why, she said, she believes the body will continue its work.

Meanwhile, Pamfilova has already recommended a person who could become her successor as the chair of the council.

“I would like to see Aleksandr Auzan in the post. I believe he is a worthy candidate,” she told RIA Novosti on Friday.

However, Auzan – the President of the Association of Independent Centers of Economic Analysis – said that he is not sure yet that he will take up the post.

"I had totally different plans but I understand that the council has to be preserved. So far I am not prepared to say either "yes" or "no," he told Interfax agency. "Pamfilova sent a proposal about me without getting my consent and notifying that I have not given consent yet. I will think about it," Auzan added.

The unexpected resignation of the human rights official has prompted a heated public reaction, with many expressing hope that Pamfilova will change her mind. But what really puzzles the community is the question what was behind the decision.

Pamfilova’s resignation – reaction to expanding FSB powers

The decision to step down is Ella Pamfilova’s reaction to the law on broadening the powers of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) that was signed by President Medvedev just a day before, on Thursday, believes the leader of the Russian United Democratic party “Yabloko” (Apple) Sergey Mitrokhin.

“The adoption of this law is a disgraceful action and Pamfilova’s council was opposed to the amendments. It [the resignation] is a protest against the amendments,” he told Interfax. Every more-or-less democratic person is against the legislation, he added.

Leonid Gozman, the co-chairman of the liberal party “Right Cause”, maintains a similar opinion. “It very much looks like [Pamfilova’s resignation] is her protest against outrages that have been happening in our country lately,” he told the agency. He added that it would be a great pity if Pamfilova leaves her post at the council, since “she was one of the very few people in power whose sincerity could be trusted.”

The Communists’ leader, Gennady Zyuganov, noted that Pamfilova’s move came as no surprise for him. A “devoted democrat,” she had her views and values which one could agree or disagree with. “But she has always upheld her position on human rights in our ‘rightless’ country.”

“Council ignored its direct duties, got politicized”

According to Aleksey Chadaev of the ruling United Russia faction, Pamfilova quit because the council “did not deal with its direct responsibility, which is to control the observation of human rights.” Instead, he said “they were busy with their favorite action: war with ideologists who teach young people the wrong things.”

“What we have is an imbalance between the body and its actual role,” Chadaev said, as quoted on the party’s official website. “Ella Pamfilova, as a clever person and experienced official, decided to step down…after making an objective assessment of the situation she got into.”

Just a day earlier, the politician stated that it was necessary to draw President Medvedev’s attention to “the politicization of the Council on human rights.”

“I believe if …Ella Pamfilova is keen on being involved in politics, she should resign and join a political party she likes and fight for voters’ support,” he told ER.RU. “But I believe it is totally unethical to replace human rights protection with political activities using the Council… as a scene for that,” he said.

According to the secretary of United Russia's General Council Presidium, Vyacheslav Volodin, Pamfilova did not act appropriately in some conflicts and used to support one side of a dispute instead of trying to examine the situation objectively, “which is unacceptable.”

Human rights activists hoped Medvedev would reject the resignation

Earlier on Friday, prominent Russian human rights activist and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva said, “I hope the president will not accept the resignation, since Ella Pamfilova is an irreplaceable person for this job.”

“I would say that she has been doing this job – very important for all of us – selflessly and heroically,” she told RIA Novosti. She added that she hopes Medvedev will obviate the causes that made Pamfilova resign from the post which “is the meaning of life for her.”

Russia’s human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, shared this opinion and also hoped Pamfilova would stay in office.

“Indeed, it is everyone’s right to decide on their fate, but I believe the fact she filed a resignation letter does not mean she is leaving,” he told Interfax. He had also expressed hope that the president would make a wise decision and not accept the resignation.

According to Lukin, Ella Pamfilova has played a significant role in teaching tolerance to the community. “She has always stood for observation of all the constitutional principles,” he said.