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Report of the Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation on 2009

Source: (author), 28/05/10
The Ombudsman for Human Rights in Russia, Vladimir Lukin, has presented a summary of his activities for 2009 . In the introduction, Lukin writes that in 2009 a significant part of human rights violations had a systemic and complex character (during the reporting period he received a total of 54,046 appeals, of which every second one concerned a violation of civil rights).
Lukin says that violations and crimes committed by law enforcement authorities (prosecutors, police and other bodies engaged in investigations and inquiries) could serve as examples of systemic violations. The number of complaints concerning their actions in recent years has been consistently high. “The scale of the phenomenon is such that it is difficult to explain it as a result of mistakes and abuses by individual careless perpetrators”, he says.
The human rights defender says he decided to change the epigraph to the report from “The law is more powerful than the authorities” to the words: “Rights are not given, rights are taken”.
”This was done,” Lukin admits, “under the strong impression left by the opinions prepared for a court hearing by two ‘independent’ experts from Novorossiisk who considered that a poster with a similar slogan ("Freedom is not given, freedom is taken") was a manifestation of extremism and a call for the violent overthrow of the constitutional order." Lukin notes that he considered "this ‘expert opinion’ to be infinitely far from the truth."
One part of the report focuses on violations of political rights and freedoms. Based on the results of his work over the past year, the Ombudsman notes that these violations have a systemic character in Russia.
In particular, he notes, in the year under review there has been a marked tendency for the procedure of notification for the holding of peaceful rallies and demonstrations, which is laid down by the Constitution and current Russian legislation, to be displaced by a need to obtain official permission.
“Most often this approach - based on a need to obtain permission - which is not undisputed in terms of law, has been used to prevent public gatherings by opposition groups that are outside the official political system, the so-called “Dissenters’ Marches”, Lukin writes.
A positive example of interaction between government and the opposition, he believes, has been the Kaliningrad region, where in January 2010 there took place the largest public event not to the liking of the authorities in recent years. This was a rally in which several thousand people participated that obtained the permission of the authorities. A negative example is the January rally in defence of freedom of assembly on Triumphal Square in Moscow, which was broken up by the authorities.
Earlier, the Ombudsman had repeatedly noted a tendency of the authorities at different levels to equate the terms “extremism” and “dissent”, wrote correspondent Sophia Kropotkin.
Lukin considers that in 2009 this trend was evident “especially clearly” in the activity of the so-called ‘E’ Centres – police units dedicated to combating extremism.
Lukin also draws attention to the violation of electoral law, in particular the practice of allowing absentee ballots in elections to the State Assembly of the Republic of Mari El.
There was an increase in the number of complaints about abuse by public bodies and local government bodies of the constitutional right to freedom of conscience.
On problems related to the rights of military service personnel, he notes that most of the violations in this area in 2009 concerned the right to housing and the situation of conscripts.
An important part of the report is taken up by coverage of the issue of prisoners’ rights. The Ombudsman acknowledged that at present prisoners are in “a very difficult situation in terms of the provision of basic civil, social and cultural rights.” This is evidenced, in particular, by a consistently high number (an average of up to 3 thousand a year) of individual and collective complaints about violations of the right to life, personal security, freedom from torture, and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, health care and legal defence.
Lukin names those awarded the Medal of the Ombudsman for Human Rights in the Russian Federation - “Hasten to Do Good” - in 2009. They are the legal scholar Sergei Alekseev, social activist Elena Chukovskaya, civil society activist Nadezhda Levitskaya, and, awarded posthumously, human rights activist Nataliya Estemirova and former leader of the opposition in Ingushetia, Maksharip Aushev.
The Ombudsman concludes that “there is the beginning of a system of feedback between society and the state,” but “this cannot be said with any certainty, since the accumulated burden of mutual misunderstanding is still very high, and, moreover, there are still many examples of demonstrative disregard by the authorities both of the law and of the opinion of the citizens of their own country.”