| Moderator: Good day, colleagues, and welcome
to our press conference. Vladimir
Petrovich, we have played host to you many times, albeit in a different
capacity, as deputy speaker of the Duma, co-chairman of the Yabloko Party,
president of the East-West Bridges Foundation. And this is your first time
that you have given a press conference as the chief Russian ombudsman.
Today we will discuss your first month in this new job. We would also like
to hear you speak about the internal and external aspects of your activities
and your trip to Strasbourg.
Lukin: Dear colleagues, I hope you don't mind if I remain
seated, as otherwise I will be further away from the microphones. Yes,
my colleagues, and I call you colleagues, because I have been a member
of the Journalist Union since 1965, and I have been asked to speak to
you because it is interesting to hear how the work of the new ombudsman
begins. I've been told that ombudsman translates as "messenger",
but over here this post is called upolnomochenny (authorized official).
In some places he is called commissioner. For example, Alvaro Gil-Robles
who is the European ombudsman is officially called "Commissioner".
I think that I will break with my usual tradition of immediately taking
questions and answers, I think I should tell you something about the nature
of my job, as you'll ask anyway. Then I can take any of your questions.
I was approved by the State Duma on February 13, but started work a little
later because some time was needed to officially introduce me to the staff.
So I have actually been working for about a month.
What have I managed to find out and do during this month? First, thanks
to the efforts of my predecessors, I discovered that I was in charge of
176 people. Your first reaction is probably that this is quite a lot.
Perhaps, this is so, but not very much so. I have talked with my old Czech
friends, including some parliamentarians -- we had a Senate delegation
over -- and they told me that in the Czech Republic which has a population
of about 9 million the ombudsman has a staff of 60. This is more on per
capita basis than our staff. This is not to say that I am advocating the
idea of having a large staff. I was in fact initially surprised that it
is so large, but when I learned more about the situation I discovered
– and as you know the office of ombudsman gets a lot of complaints
from all over the country, all regions - that the publicity over my appointment
had generated a significant increase in the number of complaints. People
write letters and personally come to the ombudsman's office.
While previously my predecessors got about 1,000 complaints a month, that
figure has jumped to 3,300. I attribute this increase to the considerable
publicity over my election to this job. I would like to hope that the
novelty will wear off a bit and the number of letters will go down, but
I don't think it will drop to the former figure. Indeed, the press has
noted that some of the queries that we launch make a difference. This
is true. During the past week alone I can mention 11 major queries which
have been met. So there is a lot of work to be done and qualified people
are needed to sort all these complaints out. Some of the complaints have
to be sifted, but most of them require additional work. This is not just
about reading them. I insist that every reasonable complaint should get
a clear-cut response.
What is the shape of our staff? It consists of workers in diverse spheres,
primarily former employees of the law enforcement agencies and lawyers.
I think there is a slight preponderance for people from the law and enforcement
agencies. But here is the paradox. On the one hand, the law on the ombudsman
says that he himself recruits his staff and can restructure it as he sees
fit. But, as is often the case with our legislation, it contradicts the
law On the Civil Service. As the Office of Ombudsman is a constitutional
office, members of staff are civil servants and civil servants are heavily
protected against the risk of being fired or transferred to other jobs.
This is a hindrance because every ombudsman, of course, has a different
idea of the kind of people he wants to work with. This was a problem that
arose immediately. And it has to be solved with an
eye to greater efficiency, but on the other hand, without forgetting about
the interests of the people.
So it would be wrong if we started our internal work by disrespecting
the rights of the citizens who work there. So this is a dilemma I have
to resolve. Nevertheless, the top executives have to a large extent been
replaced and this process will continue, not in the sense that everyone
will quit, but in the sense that people will join us who are better equipped
for managing the staff. On the whole, the apparatus is doing a pretty
good job when it comes to ensuring redress of people's violated rights.
But I think there is a bias in this direction and reacting to the complaints
of citizens whose rights have been violated.
But there is a problem with the other aspect of the ombudsman –
developments in society and preemptive reaction of the ombudsman to events.
Some urgent issues crop up, and I must say that in about 80 percent of
the cases I have tried to react to the problems that crop up almost every
day without the help of my staff. This is an area where our collective
work requires improvement, in terms of a rapid reaction.
Links with non-governmental organizations of human rights activists have
existed, but they have been rather loose. We are working vigorously to
restore these links and make them more active. Over this month I have
held regular meetings with our leading human rights champions, with leaders
of human rights organizations. We have agreed to meet in the future not
in our office but somewhere in a more private and simpler place as used
to be the case in the human rights community to pursue quiet discussions
without respect for rank but rather as old friends, of the problems at
Yesterday we had such a meeting, which was primarily devoted to amending
legislation on some important issues, including the law on the ombudsman.
We will continue doing this on a regular basis. I think this will be a
pleasure for the commissioner and the human rights champions themselves.
Relations with the press are also a problem, as it is up to you to judge
whether the performance of my predecessors was good or not. I think that
they made a serious
contribution to this work but that their relations with the press were
incomprehensible. That is why I would like to make the following suggestion
if you are interested. Everybody has to work, and not only the press -
I do not advocate meeting with the press every day and repeating the same
thing five times in a row. But we could meet once or twice a month, including
here, if you don't mind. And I would tell you about the specific things
that we have accomplished, what still
remains to be done and what are the obstacles. I think we would both benefit.
My chief impression from one month of work is that in the country a serious
and logical system should be established for out- of-court legal defense.
I realize that the office of the commissioner and the authorized official
himself is not the only symbol of legal defense. But as regards the out-of-court,
unofficial legal defense - which has to do with the authorities and the
opinion - as the oath of the commissioner says, not only compliance with
legislation but also adherence to one’s conscience and justice are
key. This refers to notions that have on the whole been in short supply.
Such a system of legal defense by the state is perfectly necessary. In
the meantime one observes in this case some chaotic trends, as we have
the federal ombudsman and federal authorized representative. The law on
the authorized representative includes a provision, stipulating that commissioners
can operate in regions. In other words we can have regional commissioners,
but their rights are not clear. The regions should define the rights of
their authorized representatives.
I think this is not right, as this breaches, or even perturbs, the country’s
single legal space. Constitutionally, we have a single legal space in
the country and it is a different matter how we implement it. And it has
to be implemented.
This is also true of other authorities such as the prosecution, among
the tougher power ministries, the Interior Ministry and so on. But these
are law and enforcement agencies. In human rights, strangely enough we
have 27 ombudsmen in 89 or now 88.5 regions, considering the semi-unification
of one region of Perm. That is why this process must be completed somehow.
And it can be completed in two ways: by changing the legislation to replace
the phrase "can be established" - which assumes that they don’t
have to be established - by the phrase "shall be established",
which is about the commissioners and all ensuing consequences.
Moreover the problem of human rights and other issues comes under the
joint jurisdiction of the the Russian Constitution which refers to the
role of both federal and regional ombudsmen, a federal centre and region.
So this has to be done jointly. And we prepared the question and yesterday
discussed it with informal ombudsmen. This involves proposals to change
legislation. Now we will be defending these proposals in the Duma, and
we need to defend them in other places in the current situation in the
country. We have been working hard on this issue.
I adhere to the following idea, which is also held by many other people.
There should be one single system for protecting human rights. It should
be interconnected not in the sense of a hierarchy but interconnected in
terms of joint jurisdiction. I am not opposed to the election of ombudsmen
in the regions. But they should not be completely dependent on the regions.
If a person is dependent on only one agency, he is already dependent.
So he should not depend only on regions, but also on the federal centre.
Legislation should define the proportions of this dependence.
We are working on this problem now, the problem of a single legal space.
Legal education is another key aspect of a single legal space. My predecessors
accomplished something in this area. Our people are working quite well
here. Brochures are being published and lectures are read: so people are
trying to achieve whatever they can.
But these are isolated instances. Frequently, we complain that in Russia
there is a poor level of legal awareness, that people are not aware of
their rights. How can they learn their rights? People have to be educated.
This should be one of the main types of education in school. One can argue
over the usefulness of the education, the justification of teaching people
Christian culture or Muslim. This is important. I think that it will be
good if people know more about these subjects. Most importantly citizens
should be aware of their rights. As citizens they should also know their
duties. So far such education is abstract.
To enable the next generation of Russians to clearly know their rights,
the structure of the country, their role and duties necessitates the inclusion
of such a topic in their studies as social science or another subject,
in other words the introduction of a legal education system.. There is
a sense of hopelessness over legal education, as we are not trying to
overcome that hopelessness ourselves. From generation to generation we
don't have such education. It was clear why this was the case in the past,
but now there is a clear delay in the process.
Now we are working on a program - based on the program we will hold discussions
with the Ministry of Education and all other departments concerned and
actively participate in developing such a program. It is absolutely binding
- it should be one of the first programs. It is the basis of all the rest.
Without this people cannot become citizens.
I said that one could achieve this goal with regional ombudsmen. If this
fails, if a change in legislation is not agreed upon, one could act in
a different way. One could then establish the institution of representatives
of the federal ombudsman in the regions. This is a vertical scheme which
I would say is quite rigid, and I would personally prefer the first one
but in any case a legal framework should be implemented here.
I would say that our rapid response to disturbing developments in St.
Petersburg and Leningrad region represented one of our major specific
achievement this month: a large number of prisoners had gone on a hunger
strike. We sent our representatives there. They met with the prisoners
and their relatives and of course with prison authorities.
In the afternoon we will meet with the GUIN leadership to sum up the results
of our investigation. GUIN authorities conducted their own investigation.
We will compare the results and see where we agree and where we disagree.
And we will certainly inform the press about our conclusions. We are not
going to swing fists or accuse anyone. It's a very serious long-standing
problem. We will cooperate. However, there are two forms of cooperation:
one is joint work, and the other is opposition whenever necessary. We
will use both forms to do our job and ensure the rights of this category
of prisoners as required by law.
Certain changes have been made here. It will soon be possible to achieve
the minimal Council of Europe standards that require 4.5 meters per prisoner.
We are moving toward this goal quite energetically. However there are
very serious problems too, including the treatment of prisoners, including
the use of torture, violence, etc. We have to assume a very clear, coherent
and firm position on this. And we will.
I would also like to speak about some international aspects of our work
in the past months. We held a meeting of regional ombudsmen in Moscow
to discuss all these issues in greater detail. And then we all accepted
European ombudsman Gil Robles' invitation and traveled
to Strasbourg where we spent two and a half days. We attended a seminar
with the European ombudsman and the Council of Europe leaders. We met
with Secretary General Schwimmer, European ombudsman Alvar Gil Robles,
PACE Chairman Schneider, and the Chairman of the European Court of Human
Rights. We discussed the role of ombudsmen in the context of a common
European legal system because we are seeking to build a single legal space
Sometimes we become focused on one or two topics and fail to notice progress
on specific issues: legal, professional, terrorism. We cooperate very
actively on these issues. A whole network of such cooperation has been
created. We also cooperate vigorously in the European Court of Human Rights,
even though there are problems too.
So we discussed all these things. Our opponents focused on such issues
as mass media and their insufficient freedom, room for maneuver, especially
in the context of elections. There were questions about Chechnya, as our
opponents are still as concerned as ever about this issue. I explained
to our partners, and I will explain it to you that the human rights commissioner
does not deal specifically with one region only. But we all want information
about human rights violations in Chechnya to be clear and credible and
objective. And I will seek to ensure that.
Secondly I will seek to ensure that a regional human rights commissioner
is appointed in Chechnya as soon as possible and that he is an authoritative
and respected person. This is very important to me. Actually it's not
very important to me as to Chechens themselves and the whole of Russia,
in view of the fierce confrontation between the separatist mood of some
of the population the emotions of the federal authorities All information
from there, y from one side but from all sides, should be
thoroughly verified because in war as in war.
I think the creation of the post of regional ombudsman would be the best
solution in this case. But that will require an amendment to the Chechen
Constitution. We need a parliament to ensure the passage of such an amendment.
There are plans to elect a parliament. The sooner it is elected by normal
democratic standards, the better for everyone: for Moscow, Grozny and
for our relationship with the rest of the world.
This new parliament will have to point an ombudsman as soon as possible.
It should be a person with authority in all spheres in Chechnya and on
all major points of confrontation. Then we will have an institution that
will constantly respond to violations not in terms of PR or something
else but in terms of substance. And I will be ready to actively cooperate
with this ombudsman.
We also discussed in Strasbourg the program signed in January this year
by the Foreign Ministry on behalf of our executive authorities and European
ombudsman Gill Robles. It's a program of joint work of the Council of
Europe and Russia in Chechnya. It has several provisions. I am sure you
all know this program. If not, you can obtain a copy from the Foreign
This program consists of several practical, and I think normal, provisions.
But it has not been implemented for technical reasons. It was supposed
to be implemented under the auspices of the president's human rights representative
in Chechnya, Mr. Sultygov, but he resigned or was dismissed, whatever.
To cut a long story short, the program was at loose end. Our Foreign Ministry
and European structures asked me to become its coordinator to ensure its
implementation. I agreed. However, this does not mean that I will implement
this program. That is impossible. This must be done by relevant agencies.
But I could coordinate its implementation so that we could not only argue
but also cooperate on issues where have agreed to cooperate.
Therefore I will take some effort shortly to ensure implementation of
this program. I have already reached agreement with Gil Robles and our
ambassador in Strasbourg Orlov to modernize the program, as it has to
start in April and not January. At least implementation should start as
soon as possible. In my opinion, it will help us do practical work, instead
of trading in recriminations behind each other’s backs.
So now you know what has kept me busy. I will tell you about future work
in two months if you don't ask me questions now. I am ready to answer
Moderator: Before we take questions, let me read a message
we received through the Internet. A lawyer from the village Malaya Purga
in Udmurtia, Yuri Nikitin asks: "Where can I regularly get information
about the work of the human rights commissioner in Russia?"
Lukin: We will issue press releases and send them to
regions. We will certainly do that.
Moderator: Will you release them through the Internet?
Lukin: And it will be available on the Internet too.
Thank you for your question. In fact, it is not question but a request.
We will put the system in place and we will let you know.
Q: I would like to know your assessment of the current human
rights situation in the Chechen Republic.
Lukin: Could you introduce yourself?
Q: My name is Pavel Koryashin, political desk at Interfax.
What is your opinion on the plans of the Chechen authorities to dismantle
the two remaining tent camps in Ingushetia in the near future?
Lukin: I told you that I assumed my new duties a month
ago and it is hard for me to draw serious conclusions for individual regions.
Such information that I have on Chechnya is clearly not enough for drawing
conclusions. I have a strong suspicion that the information that I have
is politically biased, from different sides. This is obvious when you
read this information with an experienced eye.hirdly, I have the impression
that there is less violence and human rights abuse than was noted some
time ago -- the mopping-up operations and so on. That is what human rights
activists tell me. I now rely on the opinion of human rights activists
whom I respect.
At the same time, they think that new forms of human rights violations
have emerged on all sides, including a third front. Here I am referring
to new Chechen units created by the current president of the republic,
But all these violations are of a more restricted character and it is
hard to verify them from Moscow.
I think that there must be human rights monitoring in Chechnya. It should
take place on the ground in Chechnya, on a permanent and systematic basis.
And that is why the position of a human rights commissioner for Chechnya
should be created as soon as possible.
Q: My second question concerned the tent camps for refugees
from the Chechen Republic. The Chechen authorities have often spoken lately
about plans to dismantle the two tent camps. What is your comment?
Lukin: You mean the camps where Chechen refugees live?
Q: Yes. Two such camps remain.
Lukin: I haven't got around to these issues. In general,
I don't like talking about issues I don't know well. I didn't have time
to look at them carefully. I know that Ella Alexandrovna Pamfilova was
in charge as chairperson of the Human Rights Commission under the Russian
President. She has visited the Chechen refugee camps. She has drawn some
conclusions. She put these conclusions to the President and her conclusions,
as far as I know, are that certain violations need to be rectified and
the process of the movement of Chechens from the camps back to Chechnya
should be more transparent and voluntary. This is her point of view as
far as I know. But I haven't got around to this issue myself.
Q: Radio Liberty. You said that the conditions for prison
inmates in St. Petersburg was one of the more concrete matters you considered
during the past month. Did you look at other concrete issues? This past
month has brought a big crop of tragic events. Did you look into them?
Lukin: Well, they happen every day and we are talking
not only about tragic events, we are talking about overt human rights
violations that are stipulated in the Constitution. Of course, the ombudsman's
staff cannot replace the Ministry for Emergencies, and it needn't. But
I have told you that I find a certain weakness in the way our staff work
in terms of prompt reaction to such sudden events. We will try to change
that by building a certain structure. We are thinking about it now. In
terms of my own initiatives, I would like to mention the initiative connected
with the conflict in the editorial office of Novoye Vremya, which led
to suspension of the publication of Novoye Vremya. We called on lawyers
to look into this issue. It was a very complicated and confused property
conflict. I put these questions before a court, the court of arbitration,
I think, the Prosecutor General's Office and some other agencies.
I recently got a reply from the prosecutor's office which recognized serious
irregularities. They will be put before a law court. Irregularities, above
all, by people who, unbeknownst to the management of Novoye Vremya, while
nside Novoye Vremya, signed some kind of agreements that led to this conflict.
And these people will be prosecuted.
But my task as an ombudsman is not to punish the culprits in the conflict,
but above all to ensure publication of the magazine that is a trademark
of Moscow, more so than all sorts of upstarts that are nine day wonders.
And I will not desist in my attempts to make sure that the magazine continues
to be published. So that is another example.
I can give you any number of examples. People come and demand to be seen
by the ombudsman. This happens every day. If I received visitors all the
time, I wouldn't have time left for anything else, including this meeting
with you. But I still have to receive some of the more obvious cases.
The day before yesterday I saw several people: each of them told me his
or her story. And we discussed a series of questions. A woman came to
see me, whose son had died in Chechnya and she had problems with apartments
although she is entitled to an apartment in any location she chooses:,
there is a decree to that effect.
They offered her an apartment in Lipetsk and she asked for one in Moscow.
There are many such problems. I would bore you if I started to tell you
about all of them. We take action on all these problems: we try to take
measures within our jurisdiction.
Q: Ekho TV Company. I think the State Duma is going through
the third reading of a law whereby people detained on suspicion of terrorism
could be detained for 30 days. What do you think? It would be interesting
to know your opinion.
Lukin: It's an interesting question and we are looking
into it. I don't want to make any rash statements without looking into
this situation carefully. The situation is not as simple as our press
would have us believe. There was an article in Moskovsky Komsomolets.
You see, there is a provision that a person can be detained for two days
and then charges have to be brought against him before he can be detained
as a suspect for a longer period.
It is a complicated system, and it is only at the next stage that a detained
person becomes an accused person. It is a fairly tricky system. I would
say that this draft law causes questions and at the same time, in my opinion,
it is necessary to find ways of toughening the struggle against terrorism
- and the need to find ways to toughen the struggle against terrorism
is not in doubt in the present circumstances – that preserve basic
human rights. It should be perfectly clear that if a man is not detained
under terrorist articles and is not suspected of terrorism, he should
not be subject to this procedure.
We are now trying to resolve this issue legally and either submit a law,
postpone the draft law at the level of the Federation Council or the President
or supplement it with something that would draw a very clear line of distinction
between toughening the struggle with terrorism and ensuring the validity
of all those guarantees accorded to citizens prosecuted under other provisions.
Q: Vladimir Petrovich, did they discuss the Khodorkovsky
case in Strasbourg? Are his specific rights being violated? What is your
view about the YUKOS affair and Platon Lebedev. Have there been any human
Lukin: In answer to the first part of the question,
nobody asked me these questions in Strasbourg. Secondly, my position is
as follows. The matter is being heard and is to be decided in court. As
far as I am aware, the lawyers of the suspects have submitted an application
to the human rights court in Strasbourg. I did not verify that information
but I know it from the press reports.
The Strasbourg court accepts applications only from people whose rights
have been violated, in other words on procedural grounds. During the judicial
procedures the authorized representative has no right to influence such
cases or intervene. Thus the commissioner can intervene before the judicial
procedures, before they have started if human rights are being violated,
and he can also intervene after the court has been recognized to be wrong
from the procedural standpoint and the legal standpoint that some procedural
things have been seriously violated. There were no complaints to this
effect in the office of the commissioner and that is why the question
must be decided in court, whereupon the question will arise as to whether
it was a fair trial in terms of legal procedural things. This is the substance
of my position. I cannot tell you anything about the merits of the charges,
as I did not delve deep into the substance of the accusation.
Q: You said you intend to develop some regional structures
of the ombudsman. I hope the current apparatus of the ombudsman has already
established relations with the Near Abroad republics, including the Baltics.
Do you think you will continue the work to defend the rights of Russian-speaking
minority in these countries? And this is true of course not only in regard
to the Baltics but also in regard to all other countries, including in
Kosovo where recent developments revealed the serious humiliation to which
Christian minorities have been subjected.
Lukin: That meansRussia's ombudsman must directly
defend the interests of Russian citizens, including those outside Russia.
In addition, he must defend the interests of non-citizens of Russia living
in the Russian Federation, as the complete name of the institution is
"Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation".
I interpret this to mean that this everybody in the Russian Federation,
both Russia's citizens and non-citizens, and Russia's citizens outside
the Russian Federation. Without a
doubt, we will defend the citizens of Russia outside the Russian Federation
with the means at our disposal.
As regards our compatriots, we will doubtless express our opinion on this
question which is what we have been doing in Strasbourg. Incidentally
in Strasbourg they agreed with us, including the European ombudsman, Mr.
Gil Robles. He said that he has been working and will continue to work
actively to defend the rights, especially the rights of our compatriots
in the Baltics to education.
When in the Baltics about one and a half weeks ago there was a big assembly
of teachers of Latvian schools sharply protesting against the curtailment
of education and attempts to close Russian schools in connection with
cuts in the teaching of Russian language, I sent them a message of greetings
where I expressed my point of view on the matter.
Developments in Kosovo do not fall within my direct purview, but I think
I have the right to express my opinion on legal issues, which I did by
making an official statement on that score and you can see that statement.
Q: Russia Journal. In Russia rights are laid down in the
Constitution, such as the right of movement and the right to freely choose
a place of residence. You are probably aware that in Kuban there are such
nationalities as Meskhetian Turks who have for centuries and years been
deprived of a residence permit. Recently the American government gave
them the right to choose American citizenship. Is this a violation of
their right to live in Russia? Does it mean that the Russian leadership
turns a blind eye to their move to another country? What is your attitude
and why are such things happening in Russia?
Lukin: My attitude to this is as follows. Firstly,
the rights of the Meskhetian Turks have been sharply violated in Georgia
which expelled them to Russia, temporarily as they said. This is, of course,
a gross violation committed by the Georgian authorities at that time.
Secondly, I do not regard as good the situation of the Meskhetian Turks
now living in Krasnodar Territory. Of course, one needs to investigate
very carefully all issues related to the violation of their rights.
We have a regional ombudsman in Kuban and we have already discussed the
problem with him and will continue to do so. I plan to visit Krasnodar
Territory to clarify the situation on the spot. But it should be an objective
clarification. Reports are reaching me – I don't know whether they
are correct or not, and I will check them out -- that in effect, when
the question arose that the Meskhetian Turks can go and settle in the
United States, actually only a small number wanted to leave. If this is
indeed so, and I stress that if this indeed is so, it means that they
have certain grounds for this. One should carefully analyze the situation
in an objective way and this is what I intend to do.
Q: Your predecessor gave special priority to the right to
work. It is known that human rights involve a whole block of interrelated
rights. Do you have any priorities in this sense? If yes, what are they?
Lukin: All the rights guaranteed under the constitution
are within the purview of the human rights commissioner. This includes
political rights and social rights and under the Russian Federation Constitution,
Russia is described as a social state and that means that the Russian
citizens have inalienable social rights. Without a doubt citizens of Russia
have the right to life, and that means that the Russian citizens must
in any case live in a way that their income - from work, a pension or
other benefits, lies within the limits of the subsistence minimum. There
is not the slightest doubt about that.
At the same time it would probably be wrong to demand that the human rights
commissioner solve this problem himself. I think the Russian President
and Russian parliament and government of Russia has told us many times
that it will try to bridge the gap between the subsistence level and the
actual life of people. I am ready to work on this actively and I would
like to use this opportunity to ask our authorities and new government
to develop a concrete program for a concrete and short period of time
that will bring the lives of our citizens into line with the Constitution
as far as social issues are concerned. But this does not mean that I will
not deal with the problems of political rights and freedoms during my
tenure. I have already begun doing that and will doing this most energetically.
Q: When will you travel to Chechnya to study human rights
situation on the ground?
Lukin: I have been in Chechnya many times in a different
capacity and I will certainly go there again. But I do not want to travel
to Chechnya to simply walk around for half a day and then say that I know
the situation. I have to prepare for such a trip thoroughly. I may visit
Chechnya together with the European ombudsman who is going to come here
in May and July. He will come here twice. So I will prepare for that trip
and will travel there as soon as I feel that my trip may produce practical
and concrete results.
Q: We know you as a member of Yabloko and as an excellent
foreign affairs expert. Will the human rights commissioner propose any
changes and legislative initiatives in Russia, the Council of Europe and
other international organizations? I just want to know if anything needs
to be changed?
Lukin: A lot of things need to be changed. You know
one Chinese poet said once that everything that was topsy-turvy has to
be turned over. Therefore a lot of things have to be changed. But you
must understand that the human rights commissioner has only those powers
he has been given. He may try to change legislation but, unlike a State
Duma deputy, he is now empowered by the Constitution and the law to put
forth legislative initiatives.
Of course we have ways to influence deputies to encourage them to submit
the laws that we think should be submitted, but we cannot do that on our
own. An ombudsman can initiate Duma hearings on laws, and we will do that.
I mean we will use all the leverage we have to change legislation or prevent
them from being changed if these changes are bad. However, we can only
do that by using the means that are available to us.
Q: And at the international level?
Lukin: I guess you mean our international obligations
with regard to human rights. Do you mean that? Russia does have international
obligations to the UN. Russia signed the UN declaration of human rights.
We have obligations to the Council of Europe because Russia signed the
main Council of Europe documents and must implement them. And we will
certainly watch that. According to our Constitution, Russia's international
obligations have supremacy over internal legislation. Therefore if there
are disagreements, international obligations will apply.
Besides there is a number of obligations that we haven't fulfilled yet.
These include for example several Council of Europe conventions. Take
for instance Protocol No. 6 that bans the death penalty. The death penalty
has not been used in Russia in accordance with a presidential decree and
some other indirect legislative documents. We are the only country among
the Council of Europe members after Turkey to have already ratified Protocol
No. 6 -- Russia is the only country that hasn't done that yet. I think
we shouldn't remain alone in this case for many reasons. First, as the
death penalty on its own does not give positive results in terms of eradicating
crime. Second, because it simply knocks us out of the European system.
This is why I and many sober-minded people insist on this fact. We have
already exchanged our views. Yesterday the interagency commission on the
Council of Europe met at the Foreign Ministry yesterday, and representatives
from different agencies agreed that we should ratify this protocol as
soon as possible.
I must remind you that the government has submitted it to the State Duma
for ratification, but the State Duma has not yet presented it for ratification.
So we have to work with the State Duma and its Foreign Affairs Committee.
I think its current chairman Konstantin Kosachev is a reasonable, professional
and enlightened person. We will work with him and the Duma as a whole.
Q: Could you speak more about legal education in schools?
And will there be any changes in the school curriculum this academic year
because it is very busy as it is?
Lukin: Are you asking how this is going to be done
or how I want it to be done? These are different things?
Q: How you want it to be done?
Lukin: I want it to be done as follows. We will work
out a program, introduce changes into the existing school curriculum,
without adding new hours. This can be done. I won't go into details to
avoid offending anyone. But this can be done. A decision on the grade
at which it should be introduced has yet to be determined. I think this
should be done when a person begins to evolve as an adult, and that is
grades seven through nine. But of course it should be introduced in such
a way that will not add more workload for schoolchildren. And yet there
are many disputable and even exotic questions that have to be resolved
without degrading the intellectual capacities of our young people. That's
how I envision this. But we will have to work with experts and then see
how it will look
Q: If I understand you correctly, one of your tasks is
to watch over freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. How do you
assess the current situation with the freedom of speech in Russia?
Lukin: I cannot say that the press in Russia is absolutely
free or that it is totally unfree. I think the truth is somewhere in between.
If it were totally unfree, we would not be here now, and you could not
print tomorrow what you want to print. I mean members of our Russian press.
The printed press has a rather big degree of freedom, at least in the
center. It differs in regions. But in the center it is quite commensurable
with what many democratic countries have. I can't say that there are no
attempts at muzzling some concrete media outlets, that there are no intrigues,
including by government bodies. All that exists. But on the whole, the
press writes what it wants and sometimes very sharply so. You know that
as well as I do.
As for the electronic media, there is obvious political pressure on the
media, especially the more influential ones. This is also an absolute
fact. I am very glad that Mr. Seslavinsky who has now become the head
of the corresponding agency, says they will move towards privatization,
consequently, toward creating independent television channels. To be more
specific, I think, NTV Channel which is part private, is pursuing a very
different editorial policy. As for such programs as Svoboda Slova (Freedom
of Expression), I simply see a trend, if only a partial trend, of going
back to the old NTV format. I see no restraining factors there. Having
said that, this is not a universal picture.
So, it is a very mixed picture. But on the whole, I am a staunch advocate
of the constitutional provision about the preservation of the free press,
including electronic press. I think it would be very useful to set up
a Russian national television channel either on the basis of the old ones,
or a new one financed under a budget line item and whose editorial policy
would be decided by a public council comprising authoritative people.
I don't know if I meet the description, but if I were invited, I would
gladly accept the invitation.
Q: Regnum news agency. Vladimir Petrovich, a couple of weeks
ago the media reported that you had received a letter signed by former
political prisoners of the Soviet Union, and at the top of the list of
signatories was Yelena Bonner and also those who call themselves the political
prisoners of Putin's Russia. It was essentially an ultimatum and it demanded
that you immediately become involved. My question is: have you seen that
letter? Do you think that political prisoners are a problem in present-day
Lukin: I did receive the letter from the human rights
activists. I am not going to comment on its form because it is a matter
of taste. But as far as content is concerned, it raises many important
issues. Some of them do merit attention. On all these issues we sent queries
to the relevant government bodies seeking true information on the state
of affairs and we will initiate inquiries wherever necessary.
Some facts are less convincing than others. But these are particulars.
On the whole, I replied to my fellow human rights activists and explained
my position. I share their interest in this case and all these facts will
be looked into and I am open to cooperation with them. I think they received
that reply. If they have further questions, we will engage in dialogue.
I must say that this dialogue with human rights campaigners who are in
Moscow and in Russia is already under way, with virtually all of them.
Apart from my colleague Podrobinek who lives in Moscow all the other human
rights activists now live outside Russia. As far as I remember, all of
them. But I would hate to make a mistake. So I sent my reply to Mr. Podrobinek
and he will convey it to the others. But wherever they live I have profound
respect for their activities in the past and I am ready to engage in dialogue
on any issues that are of interest to them. I have already started the
Q: I have just one question. It's about the growing spread
of xenophobia. As you know, a girl was murdered in St. Petersburg recently.
A foreign student was murdered in Voronezh and a boy was thrown under
a train in the metro in St. Petersburg. Is protecting foreign citizens
is within your jurisdiction, how do you view the phenomenon of xenophobia
and other manifestations of extremism and can it be reflected in your
work? Especially, if you take a global look at the issue in terms of attracting
foreign investors to Russia, etc.?
Lukin: Xenophobia and ethnically motivated crimes are
of course hideous crimes. Undoubtedly, these actions are unconstitutional.
And of course this will be and is already within our purview. We will
set up a special body within our apparatus that will monitor these trends
and respond to them timely and properly. For example there have been press
reports, although I haven't verified them, claiming that sometimes our
law enforcement agencies respond to such things very slowly and reluctantly.
So we will be dealing with this very seriously and keep the public informed.
Q: We know from history that human rights in Russia have
always been a weak spot and that the authorities and police always had
a lot of power. I think that as an ombudsman you should act against authorities.
Don't you fear that your mission may turn out to be too difficult or maybe
even useless in future.
Lukin: There is a saying: nothing ventured, nothing
gained. Do you know it? I think that all legal and democratic changes
have never been easy. There is always success and failure on this path.
Unfortunately sometimes there is more failure than success. But we must
move in this direction. Someone has to do this. If you find a better candidate,
tell me and I will vacate the post for him immediately. If you don't find
such a candidate, let me try to do it for some time.
The results of my work will become visible later. I can't tell you now
that I will only work well and I will never work badly. It wouldn't be
serious. Don't you think so? Indeed, it is difficult to deal with these
things in Russia. Nevertheless, at a level, even at the level of the authorities
I noticed there are people who understand that without legal education,
without the legal status of our society there can be no other forms of
progress over the long term.
Over the short term, it is possible, by exploiting the favorable market
situation, to increase GDP over two or three years. But if there is no
free society of people with initiative, if there is no genuine legal status,
there will be no progress in Russia. And I am a patriot of my country.
I am not a kind of patriot who endlessly talks on the topic and tries
to generate some base feelings in people - and we have such people and
they are quite visible – I am instead a patriot keen to help his
country become a modern developed state where people would live a worthy
life and where the state would lead a worthy life. If we Take at least
a few steps forward, if we develop legal education, this will already
be a big achievement. So, we will work and then we will see what happens.
Moderator: I think that I will express the unanimous opinion
that we have had an interesting and lively conversation. The press conference
is over and I thank you, Vladimir Petrovich.
Lukin: Thank you.