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Ekho Moskvi, February 13, 2004-02-16

Interview with Ombudsman Vladimir Lukin

Anchor - Natella Boltyanskaya

Boltyanskaya: It is 15:08 and this is Ekho Moskvi. I am your host Natella Boltyanskaya. Our guest in the studio is Vladimir Lukin. How do you do, Vladimir Petrovich? Are you not a candidate?

Lukin: I am no longer a candidate?

Boltyanskaya: You are an authorized representative for human rights in the Russian Federation. I would like to pose you the first question regarding the extent of our knowledge know about the activities of the authorized representative for human rights. One of the duties of this individual is to step on the painful corns of the authorities. What corn do you plan to begin with?

Lukin: I intend to start with my own corn, a corn of insufficient information about the mechanisms that I will use to discharge the duties I am supposed to discharge. As is known, the institution of the authorized representative for human rights has already evolved. I have considerable respect for the people who began this work -- Sergei Adamovich Kovalev and colleague Mironov. They actually started from zero when they set up the mechanism in place. Now I have to take a good look at this mechanism, consider its advantages and drawbacks. I will familiarize myself with the way work is being done in this sphere. And also consider what needs to be done to improve this work.

Naturally, I am familiar with the law on the authorized representative, which states that the authorized person has the authority to guide his own apparatus and has the right to structure it in a way he deems fit. All this taken together will become my first function. You know, Bismark said: "A Russian muzhik harnesses his horse slowly, but rides fast." It may be bad but it is better than the other way round, I mean the prospect of riding fast without harnessing the horse.

So I will soon try to harness the cart well and when I feel that I already have a good idea of what kind of a cart it is, I will start telling you where it is heading.

Boltyanskaya: But I won't believe you if you say that you have no idea at all how this mechanism is functioning. How do you see it functioning?

Lukin: I have a rough idea about the functioning of the ombudsman mechanism, as I have access to appropriate international experience in the field. I am also roughly familiar with the way my predecessors worked. It goes without saying that I have formulated some issues that I think should be subjected to special control. In the first place, these are the problem of children and child crime. One monstrous manifestation of the problem happened in St. Petersburg several days ago.

It is also the problem of orphans and children from disadvantaged families, that is, children who don't live as children should live in a normal country. These are also the problems of the disabled. I have some experience in this field, as I have been president of the Paralympic Committee for about five years. This committee prepares the disabled for the Paralympic Games. So I am well aware of the problems of the disabled. And there are very many problems.

Boltyanskaya: You mentioned the groups of people whose rights have in your view been violated most often.

Lukin: This is not the end of the list. I merely mentioned the beginning of the list that requires urgent attention. This does not mean, of course, that there are no other problems. They do exist and we will deal with them. But we have yet to see how to deal with them. For example, Russia has regional ombudsmen. But the law on the human rights commissioner says that regional ombudsmen may be appointed, confirmed or elected in regions. But the term "may be elected" does not mean that they are elected. This is why they exist in some regions and not in others.

Boltyanskaya: Do you think that we need regional ombudsmen?

Lukin: We certainly do, as the human rights situation in regions is simpler and more feudal-like, and human rights are violated there in a simpler manner than in the capital. There should be ombudsmen in regions but only if they are real figures. To be a real figure, this individual must not be directly dependent on local authorities. I think they should be elected by local legislative assemblies.

I also think that we must change the law to make sure that regional ombudsmen are nominated by the federal ombudsman. For example, he may propose three candidatures for the local legislative assembly to choose from. But if it rejects all three, in this case he should be appointed by the federal ombudsman. In this case, both principles will be observed: the regional nature of the ombudsman, as the issue is decided by the regional legislative assembly; on the other hand, his independence, which is very important, especially in the regions.

Boltyanskaya: This question came from Mikhail, Moscow. "Do you think that the payment of pensions and salaries below the subsistence level is a violation of human rights?"

Lukin: I certainly do, as the subsistence level is basically the material realization of a person's right to life. And a person's right to life is one of the fundamental human rights: without this right, all other rights, except for the right to burial, simply don't work. I am convinced that salaries and social payments in Russia should be at least at the subsistence level. But of course, the human rights commissioner alone cannot resolve this issue. However, I will constantly raise this question with the legislative and executive authorities, as this represents our right to life.

Boltyanskaya: Larissa Sergeyevna writes the following, "It has been said that your candidature was proposed by the President. Did you have a conversation with him on this subject? I think of you highly, but I don't really know whether I should feel happy or sorry in this situation because it is a very hard job."

Lukin: I am very grateful to you, Larissa Sergeyevna because you are absolutely right, this is a very serious and difficult job, if one takes it seriously, of course. And I am going to take it seriously. I understand that an avalanche of human problems, suffering and injustice will come down upon me. But someone has to do this. In this case the initiative came from the president. I had a meeting and a substantive discussion with him. The president promised to strictly ensure and respect the independence of this institution. By the law it is independent from the authorities. Secondly, he said he would do everything he can -- and actually he can do a lot -- to make this institution an authoritative and serious body respected by citizens and reckoned by the powers that be. We shall work and see how things go.

Boltyanskaya: Is that all the president expects from this institution?

Lukin: I don't know. I don't want the questions that should be addressed to the president to be put to me. By the way, the president holds press conferences, especially now his election campaign has entered an active stage. So, ask the president what he thinks about this. I can say only what we talked about and how I intend to act.

Boltyanskaya: A question from Irina. How accessible will you be in this office?

Lukin: I wish to be as accessible as possible. I am perfectly aware that it is impossible to simultaneously receive everybody, as it is physically impossible. I have not yet been approved by the Duma but requests are already coming, as well as interpellations and all the rest. That is why I will establish very firm rules of reception. I don't know how this was done with my predecessor, and I think that he organized such receptions. The following will constitute firm rules for receiving people: to receive citizens and at the same time allocate some period for work.
Moreover, there is also quite a significant apparatus, there is the council under the President and I will try to involve these bodies actively in the receipt of citizens and in the careful handling of their opinions and requests and so on.

Boltyanskaya: Will you cooperate with your predecessors and use their experience of work somehow?

Lukin: By all means. I have repeatedly spoken about my profound respect for them. In addition, as far as I am aware both predecessors took a positive attitude to my candidacy and I would like them to work in a most vigorous fashion, informally advising me, if they like to and possibly finding some formal ways of consulting and participating within the council or with the authorized representative. This will probably have to be discussed with them. But I am resolved that such cooperation should take place.

Boltyanskaya: A question from Viktor from St. Petersburg. He asks: what was the reaction of Yavlinsky to your appointment?

Lukin: It was very positive. Naturally, I talked with Yavlinsky and Yabloko even before I gave my final consent to take up this post. We also held a meeting of the presidium: everybody backed me to take the job, as everybody felt that this would be useful for the country and consequently for Yabloko and its development. In my conversation with the President, he stressed that he felt it was important for a Yabloko representative to work as the authorized representative for human rights. I took the President's words to mean that his attitude is positive. I will discharge my duties as the authorized representative and will have to suspend my Yabloko membership, as required by the law on the authorized representative. But the suspension will only be effective for the time that I hold that office. I have no conflicts and on the contrary I think and I am even positive that the representatives of Yabloko, who have always been active in human rights, will help me in my work, as will representatives of other public and political organizations.

Boltyanskaya: Vladimir Petrovich, there are very many questions that start in the same way: how will you defend the rights? Many people believe that they need to be helped by the authorized representative for human rights, including the disabled, people who became disabled owing to war, military pensioners. Will you attempt to try to answer all these questions at one stroke?

Lukin: No, I cannot respond to all these questions at one go, because each case is different. I can only say that the authorized representative for human rights under the law has certain possibilities to influence the executive authorities, the legislative authorities, in brief the authorities at all levels. They are obligated to accept him, to talk with him, respond to his initiatives and proposals and so on. Naturally, all these levers exist and I take it that it is possible to initiate even some judicial cases on some of the most complex and flagrant cases.

That is why I will use all these levers prescribed by law. Of course, it is not possible to do anything illegally, so I will be using all that the law says about the authorized representative to deal with those categories of citizens that you mentioned, which are among the priority problems that I listed.

Boltyanskaya: A question from Tatyana: "The President takes quite a painful attitude to each question related to Chechnya, so how do you intend to deal with the question related to human rights violations in Chechnya?

Lukin: Chechnya is part of Russia and there should be one legal space in Russia. Violations of human rights in Chechnya committed by citizens of Russia and violations of human rights in general are of course a pretext for the authorized representative for human rights to concentrate on the question. The issue is of course not a unilateral violation of human rights, not the political aspect of the matter, not who is right or who is wrong -- this is not part of the responsibilities of the authorized representatives. His prerogative is to deal with instances of human rights violations and reacts in apolitically. In this sense I will consider Chechnya and all other regions of Russia.

Boltyanskaya: A question from Boris from Australia from the Internet: "Do you believe that the situation in Russia regarding human rights has substantially deteriorated over the past four years?"

Lukin: It's hard for me to answer this question now, as I do not have sufficient data. When people say that the situation in Russia has worsened or improved, they usually mean several high-profile cases. That is important. And of course, it's very bad that there are cases that evoke a negative response from a considerable part of the population.

But human rights in Russia are more than four or five high-profile cases. It's a much larger area of human relations in concrete places and regions. It's a matter of legal conscience. Or, lack thereof. It's a matter of relationships between local authorities and people who live in a town or a district. I don't know if things have worsened at this level. I only know that legal issues are at a disastrously low level in the country. And this huge bundle of problems must be addressed to make Russia a rule-of-law state, not because some newspaper has been closed or a new scandal involving an oligarch has erupted, but because people should be able to protect their rights better and because authorities must respect these rights. This is the key problem in Russia today.

Boltyanskaya: If the rights of an oligarch, as you put it, have been violated, what should he do?

Lukin: It's very simple. There are courts. I cannot judge the political implications of possible court bias. But there are legal proceedings: one can protect one’s rights in court or out of court. In this sense an oligarch does not differ from any other citizen. The ombudsman has his own levers of influence. If I receive a complaint from a citizen, irrespective of how much money he has in his bank account, I will respond.

Boltyanskaya: Let me return to the question of wages and salaries. What can you do in this situation? I don't think you can do much.

Lukin: We shall see. Of course, if the problems of pensions and salaries could be resolved through ombudsmen, Africa would have the same quality of life as America has. But sometimes ombudsmen help galvanize the authorities into action. You might have noticed that salaries and pensions are usually raised before elections. So why doesn't the ombudsman keep the authorities aware of the fact that these problems will always be in the focus of the ombudsman and human rights organizations that will support him. I think that if this happens, we will be able to move faster and more energetically toward the objective goal of ensuring that people live at least at the subsistence level. I think this may be done quite quickly if there is no bureaucratic inertia and if there is no laziness by the authorities who use various pretexts to do only half, one fourth or maybe even one tenth of what must be done.

Boltyanskaya: Vladimir Lukin and I are asking you, our radio listeners, the following question. "Should the human rights commissioner under the President of the Russian Federation deal with the rights of our compatriots abroad?" If you think he should, dial 995-8121. If you think he shouldn't, dial 995-8122. Besides, you may dial 203-1922 to speak live on Ekho Moskvy.

Q: My name is Yuri. I think he should.

Boltyanskaya: Why?

Q: Because he has been elected the human rights commissioner in Russia and therefore Russian citizens must be protected, too, no matter where they are.

Boltyanskaya: Thank you for your view. Vladimir Petrovich, would you like to comment?

Lukin: In principle, I agree. I only want to point out that the name of my position is human rights commissioner, not a commissioner for the rights of the citizens of Russia. Our compatriots are divided into citizens of Russia and non-citizens of Russia. Some of them still don't have citizenship. Some of them are citizens of other countries even though they are part of Russia culturally.

Besides, the commissioner's prerogatives include foreign citizens in Russia because they are also human beings, rough as it may sound.

Q: First of all, I would like to congratulate Vladimir Petrovich on his appointment. I understand it is not a sinecure for him.

Lukin: Sad as it is, you are right, it's not.

Q: I am very happy that such a good person has been appointed to this job. Second, protecting compatriots abroad is no doubt one of the ombudsman's duties. And I am confident that Vladimir Petrovich, who has significant diplomatic experience, will be able to do this job better than anyone else.

Lukin: Thank you for the congratulations. It is indeed a very difficult job, but I will try to do my best. And if I work badly, call Ekho Moskvy, because I am a frequent guest here, and criticize me. I will try to take your recommendations into account. As for the work with our compatriots, Natella has told me that I should not answer this question directly in order not to influence your voting. But this problem does exist.

Q: My name is Nikolai. I think that only citizens of Russia must be protected and that we have a right to protect only citizens of Russia abroad.

Boltyanskaya: Why?

Q: Because all other people are citizens of other countries.

Boltyanskaya: In other words, they come under the purview of other ombudsmen.

Q: That's right. I also want to say that a real fighter should be appointed to this job but not Vladimir Petrovich, because he is not a fighter.

Lukin: I see. As people may hold that only citizens of Russia must be protected. I'd say that citizens of Russia must be protected by definition because they are citizens of Russia and they fall under the jurisdiction of all Russian authorities, executive, judicial and non-judicial.
As for non-citizens of Russia, there is a problem. So let the voting show what people think.
As regards being combative or not combative, I of course respect your point of view but in my biography certain points would appear to contradict you.

Boltyanskaya: Your assessment.

Lukin: And then we will see what happens.

Boltyanskaya: Let me remind everybody that the voting is ending on the question: "Should the authorized representative for human rights under the President of the Russian Federation occupy himself with the rights of our compatriots abroad as well?" The number is 995-8121 for those who say yes, he must; 995-8122 for those who say no, he must not. The telephone 203-1922 is the telephone to get on the air of Ekho Moskvy.

Boltyanskaya: What is your name?

Q: Nina Yakovlevna. Firstly, I want to congratulate Lukin and secondly I am interested in knowing his attitude to the commission under the President, headed by Ella Pamfilova?

Boltyanskaya: Now, Vladimir Petrovich...

Lukin: Now my attitude to this...

Boltyanskaya: Excuse me, Nina Yakovlevna, but what is the question? So, our listener is gone and I could not get the question from her. Yes, Vladimir Petrovich.

Lukin: I got the question. I highly respect the commission under the President for Human Rights an attitude. In general, I believe that the number of human rights organizations cannot be too big. It can only be small. That is why it is good if a commission is helping the President sort out these things and the President is the guarantor of the Constitution of Russia and thus he is the guarantor of the articles of the Constitution that relate to human rights -- these are very important articles and sections of the Constitution.

In this sense my work and the work of the President on this aspect is compatible which is of course very good that there is a commission that is helping him to understand.

Regarding Ella Pamfilova, we have already met and had a very constructive conversation. I think we will help each other and work in a way that if our opinions coincide, it would be even more authoritative than only her opinion or only mine.

It is good that we have such organizations

Boltyanskaya: Vladimir Petrovich, we are summing up the outcome of our electronic vote. During these minutes 1,400 people called us. How would you forecast the separation of votes?

Lukin: Well, I think that a significant majority want the authorized representative to consider the problem of compatriots.

Boltyanskaya: 76 percent agree that the authorized representative for the human rights under the President should also deal with the rights of our compatriots abroad, and 24 percent do not think so.

Based on telephone calls, the score is two to one. Vladimir Petrovich, a couple of more questions to you after the news. We will then have five minutes. ...

Today we are in mid-February so what time do you give yourself as a point where a summary of progress can be made? What will you consider as indicative of success or failure in your post by the end of your tenure?

Lukin: To tell you honestly I have never thought of it but I don't think of myself as an athlete preparing for the Olympic Games and even some tentative finishing line that I am supposed to cross and say hurrah, we have set a record. There can be no such situation in the protection of human rights, but each case won, each result may still be associated with a huge number of problems, so in this case it would not be serious for me to guarantee some happy finish line.
Regarding the position - I was given only five minutes, so I was short of time, and they gave me five minutes in the State Duma – I want the institute of the authorized representative to gain the respect of all Russia’s citizens, I want them to see that if they contact this institute, something will be done.Not every time but to get something done. So that the powers that be take the existence of this institution into account and think that it is better to do something than not to do that. If this happens, I will think that my mission has been fulfilled quite normally and sufficiently effectively. Towards the end of my five-year term of office, and I have been elected for five years, I would like the citizens to say yes, the legal awareness and legal practice in our country have improved slightly than was the case five years ago. This is my main and sole ambition.

Boltyanskaya: Let me remind you that Vladimir Lukin was our guest, the authorized representative for human rights under the President of the Russian Federation. Thank you, Vladimir Petrovich.


See also:

Human Rights

Ekho Moskvi, February 13, 2004-02-16

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