News‎ > ‎

Ludmila Alekseeva: In Russia the best thing an Ombudsman can do is act as an intermediary between Government and society

posted 24 Feb 2014, 05:33 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 24 Feb 2014, 05:37 ]
18 February 2014

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group

Today, 18th February, sees the conclusion of the period of office of Vladimir Lukin as federal Human Rights Ombudsman. Within a month the State Duma will vote for his replacement. The most likely successor to Lukin is the former head of the Presidential Human Rights Council, Ella Pamfilova, whose candidacy was proposed in the State Duma by Vladimir Putin.

The Centre for Political Analysis asked a couple of questions of Liudmila Alekseeva, the chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group: What, in your view, were the main achievements of Lukin in the post of Human Rights Ombudsman? What does Pamfilova need to do?

We should have a full report on this, not from me, but from Lukin himself, because I know far from everything about what he was doing. And he should make such a report when he returns from the Paralympic Games. I haven't seen this report, the president will see it first. Then it will be posted on the Ombudsman’s website.

In my opinion, one of the most important achievements of Vladimir Lukin was that he gave the post its intrinsic significance. In Sweden, for example, this office has existed for more than fifty years, but it is a new development for us. And holding this office does not imply any governmental authority.

The Ombudsman can write a report about what he has done or what he needs to do, what issues he could address, what he might refer to the Constitutional Court and what requests he might like to make, but he cannot demand respect for human rights, based on any kind of governmental authority.

So this post rests basically on the authority of the person who holds it. If the Government listens to his voice, it is only because, by listening to it, they recognise the justice of his argument. If society maintains the Ombudsman and addresses their problems to him, it is not for nothing that he holds office.

Of course, there were teething problems as usual. Oleg Orestovich Mironov (predecessor to Ombudsman Lukin. Ed.) tried very hard and wanted to be a real Ombudsman. But he did not have enough support from Government or society.

This was a new position, and neither the authorities nor society realised its importance. To be honest, I thought at the time that maybe only the fourth or fifth Ombudsman would make this post more significant. But Vladimir Petrovich Lukin, the second holder of the post, has succeeded in doing so.

Now the work of the Ombudsman is covered by the press; the authorities and society (especially the human rights community, who are those most aware of the problems connected with current issues around human rights) treat the post with respect, take his views into account, and, due to this, he is able to achieve a great deal.

In Russia the best that an Ombudsman can do is to be a mediator between Government and society. In our country there is a traditional gulf between them. Therefore it is very difficult to be someone respected by both the authorities and society. I believe that Vladimir Petrovich managed this difficult task brilliantly.

In your opinion, what drives Ella Pamfilova’s willingness to become the Ombudsman, given that in 2010 she left a similar position as head of the Human Rights Council because she had become disillusioned?

She had problems with the presidential administration. In her contacts with the President and other Government officials she faced a barrier. And she felt that, in those circumstances, she was unable to perform her duties. And as an honest person, she chose to stand down. Now there are no longer obstacles in her way. 

Translated by Graham Jones