Boris Altshuler: Are we men or beasts?

posted 4 Jan 2014, 02:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 4 Jan 2014, 02:57 ]
23 December 2013

Boris Altshuler

Below is Boris Altshuler's speech made on 20 December 2013 at the plenary session of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, dedicated to a discussion of the annual Public Chamber reports “On the status of civil society” and “On the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures…”

1.I wish everyone a Happy New Year! Yet I cannot ignore those for whom the coming year will once again bring unhappiness. The architect Viktor Astapenko with his eight-child family who will live in Moscow just as they have lived for the last twenty years, in rented apartments without registration and without any prospects of improvement in their living conditions. Instead of a residence stamp, there is only an empty space in the eldest children’s passports, carrying with it a string of negative social and legal consequences. And the Sochi resident Anna Ermakova with her four children, living for the fifth year in a rented garage - to the complete indifference of city and regional authorities, now immersed in their overpriced and overhyped Olympics.

This issue echoes Elena Topoleva-Soldunova’s speech that it is vital to put an end to the social divisions of Russian society in terms of regions, and that the Russian Federation should shoulder its share of responsibility for the social welfare of Russian citizens, including the provision of guaranteed social housing. Working with the Presidential Human Rights Council, we are currently tackling the problem of social exclusion faced by citizens who have no residence registration in any Russian region. The paradox is that all of these problems, unbearable for families with children, have simple and low-cost solutions, if only the state would assist with provision of rentable housing. It was precisely this that was at the centre of the “Housing Lifebelt” Programme proposed by the Public Chamber in September 2012. But, alas, no one listened. I believe that the Programme “Housing Lifebelt” and the problem of social exclusion encountered by those without residence permits must be mentioned in section 3.3 of the draft report, “the role of civil society in the solution of social problems”.

2.And I have still another grievance. I could not forgive myself, if I neglected to mention the dozens of orphans with disabilities, who a year ago were ready to be adopted by Americans, but who now still remain in our orphanages because of the Dima Yakovlev Law. Really, are we men or beasts? The adoption of a child with disabilities is always a miraculous and rare event. I appeal to President Vladimir Putin to put forward a legislative initiative exempting children with disabilities from the Dima Yakovlev Law.

It should also be noted that, as concerns section 3.9 of the report “…the Protection of Russian citizen’s rights abroad,” the Dima Yakovlev law overrules the Russian-American agreement on adoption and thereby thousands of Russian children previously adopted by Americans and remaining Russian citizens until their 18th birthday, are now denied legal protection by the Russian Federation.

3.The President is none the less far ahead of us, speaking in the Presidential Address to the Federal Assembly on the 12th December this year about the necessity of the broad implementation of public oversight, remarking that the mechanisms for this oversight are public councils and public chambers, which “should not be formal or decorative structures. On the contrary, they should act as expert groups, and sometimes as the government’s constructive opponents, and be active participants in anti-corruption efforts.”

Meanwhile, in the overwhelming majority of cases, as was justly pointed out in the draft report, public chambers in the Russian regions and municipal public councils are formed by regional, if not municipal, executive and legislative authorities; in other words, they are, to quote the President, “decorative” appendages to the authorities. And not one annual report, including this year’s, commits to finishing with this nonsense. I believe that in the draft report, in sections 1.4 (“Development of local self-government”) and 2.2 (“Platforms for society-state dialogue”) where the need to legitimize by Federal Law municipal public councils and public chambers across Russia is discussed, it should be stated that, when concerning their own territories, executive and legislative authorities should not be allowed to participate in the formation of public chambers and municipal public councils.

4. Everyone, including the President, says that corruption is the principal enemy of Russia. It is impossible to overcome corruption, if the key bodies in the fight against corruption - law enforcement and intelligence agencies - are infected by this very “disease”. And not one of the “anti-corruption” reports, including that of 2013, discusses the main reason for this distinctly Russian problem - the ineffectiveness of the internal security departments of the Ministry of the Interior, the FSB, of the Federal Drug Agency… “Kushchevka” is the best known manifestation of this dismal ineffectiveness, but after all “Kushchevka” is not an exception, but, alas, the “state standard”.

However, in the last few years, human rights defenders have proposed (and in December 2009 these proposals received the support of the former minister of the interior, Rashid Nurgaliev) to remove control of the regional internal security departments from regional structures of the ministry of the interior, transferring them to the federal ministry. This is the minimum programme for change. When all is said and done, the body that is conducting oversight must be independent of the body it is monitoring. In the same vein, law enforcement bodies and intelligence agencies should each be able to conduct investigations regarding the activities of the other. This is how the whole world works - only in the Russian Federation are the monitors subordinate to those being monitored.

I propose that we include in the report “On the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures in Russia and the participation of civil society organisations in anti-corruption policy in 2013” a point on the necessity of fundamental reforms to the internal security departments of the Ministry of the Interior, the FSB, the Federal Drug Agency, and others.

Boris Altshuler,
Member of the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation,
Chair of the board of the NGO, Child’s Right