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Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists Visits Lipetsk

Vera Vasilieva, 09/03/11

· Human Rights Defenders · Lipetsk Region

On 2-3 March 2011 prominent lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, founder of the Centre for International Protection and Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, made a working visit to Lipetsk.

During the visit she met Aleksandr Shishkin, director of the Lipetsk Region Federal Penitentiary Agency, the heads of the justice system, the region’s Human Rights Ombudsman Nikolai Zagnoiko, and students and faculty from Ivan Bunin Elets State University, Lipetsk State Technical University and other institutes of higher education.

Karinna Moskalenko told’s correspondent that she had also planned to acquaint herself with conditions in local pre-trial detention facilities, however representatives of the Lipetsk region penitentiary agency did not allow her to do so. They had not allowed her on the grounds that it was necessary to obtain consent for her visit ‘from Moscow’.

Karinna Moskalenko expressed her puzzlement at this situation and regret, since ‘objective reports, reflecting the pluses and the minuses, are useful for those who work in the penitentiary system themselves.’

As examples of such pluses the Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists noted in particular the work taking place in Lipetsk region on the social adaptation of former prisoners, and the higher percentage of acquittals in the region’s courts, in comparison with the average for Russia. In Lipetsk on average there are acquittals in three percent of court cases, while in Russia as a whole the figure is less than one percent.

Head of the Federal Penitentiary Agency Aleksandr Shishkin, Karinna Moskalenko said, was convinced of the need to help ex-prisoners adapt to life after release. Measures of this kind reduce recidivism and should become an essential element in the reform of Russia’s prison system.

To this end, Lipetsk region is running an extensive experimental programme developing a centre for social and psychological rehabilitation, and the preparation of prisoners for release. Karinna Moskalenko gave a very high estimation to this programme. She said that it was especially important that under the programme the personality of the ex-prisoner and the solution of their personal problems have priority.

Those who have been behind bars, especially for a long period, need assistance in re-establishing basic life habits, such as caring for clothes, food and housing, and developing psychological and emotional stability in face of difficulties in finding work, and in relation to family, friends and neighbours. The list can be extended.

In addition, the programme provides, for a period of one year, for the observation of the behaviour of those who have attended the rehabilitation centre and are now at liberty. This kind of observation is possible through correspondence and telephone contacts with those who have been released and their family, by staff of the prison inspectorate.

‘This man wants to work so that he can see the results of his work,’ Karinna Moskalenko said about her meeting with Aleksandr Shishkin.

An interesting aspect of the visit, according to the lawyer, was her visit to Lipetsk regional court. Karinna Mosklaenko was shown the recently finished court house building, the court rooms, the facilities for those on remand when brought to court, and the museum about the court’s history. But the most important thing was the opportunity to meet the court’s judges.

‘At first they looked at me warily,’ Karinna Moskalenko admitted. However, at the end it was possible to start a dialogue, and there was a full exchange of views. The judges expressed their concerns about the problems of implementing court decisions and the issue of the independence of the judges.

In connection with the latter, the discussion turned to the case of the former Moscow City Court judge, Olga Kudeshkina. As is well-known, in May 2004 Kudeshkina was deprived of the status of a judge because of public statements she had made. In February 2009 the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favour of an application made by Olga Kudeshkina. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that in depriving her of the status of a judge the authorities had violated her rights under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (‘freedom of expression’).

Olga Kudeshkina had been represented at the European Court of Human Rights by lawyers from the Centre for International Protection.

On international law, Karinna Moskalenko more than once expressed the thought that ‘the European Convention is a friend and not an enemy’ and that ‘it is easier to observe the Convention than to violate it’.

Karinna Moskalenko had two meetings with students: at the Ivan Bunin Elets State University and, with students from all of Lipetsk’s higher education institutions, in the meeting hall of the Academic Council of Lipetsk State Technical University. Despite the fact that Karinna Moskalenko was visiting Lipetsk in the capacity of a commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists, the students asked her about Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose lawyer she is, and the Yukos case. Moskalenko said that her replies to these questions brought applause from the audience, something she took to indicate support for Mikhail Khodorkovsky among students.