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Meeting with Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova

June 10, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow

Tatyana Moskalkova presented her annual performance report to the President.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Ms Moskalkova, we have established the post of human rights commissioner in all regions of the Russian Federation.

Human Rights Commissioner Tatyana Moskalkova: Yes, except in the Zaporozhye Region.

Vladimir Putin: You will soon present your report at the State Duma. What would you like to talk about today?

Tatyana Moskalkova: Mr President, as per the Federal Constitutional Law, first of all, I am presenting to you the annual report on the activities of the Human Rights Commissioner in the Russian Federation.

Your first visits abroad were to Belarus and Uzbekistan. We maintain close cooperation with our counterparts in Belarus and with the Ombudsman of Uzbekistan through the CIS Human Rights Commission, which was reinstated by you and other leaders of the CIS states. Our inaugural meeting took place last year, during which we developed a roadmap for our collaborative efforts.

Establishing a secure environment and fostering economic opportunities for development are paramount; they ensure the right to life and the right to social advancement. In my report, I meticulously analyse each group of rights for every category of citizens, providing detailed descriptions of their status.

In this regard, we certainly rely on the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), as it is crucial to monitor how individuals evaluate the level of their security. It is noteworthy that the landscape has evolved considerably over the past decade. A decade ago, only 32 percent of people believed their rights were respected, whereas today this figure has substantially increased to 52 percent. Conversely, the proportion of citizens who critically assess and believe that citizen rights are not respected has decreased from 63 percent to 36.

This outcome is the product of the diligent and concerted efforts of all government agencies to fulfil their constitutional duty of safeguarding the rights and freedoms of individuals.

Our contribution to this scenario is achieved through steadfast, diligent efforts in refining the tools provided by the Federal Constitutional Law, which empower me as the Federal Commissioner, along with the law you signed in 2020, known as the law On Commissioners for Human Rights in the Constituent Entities of the Russian Federation.

Over the two years, we have managed to make the results three times better and provide targeted aid to over 17,000 people, or 87,000 together with collective requests. We try to come on site, if we see that a request is collective and pressing but get answers that everything is alright. We will carry on this practice.

However, to be fair, this scheme shows how the number of requests we receive has grown: up to more than 93,000. This dynamic continues, because trust in the institute of the Commissioner for Human Rights is growing.

On the other hand, people’s demand for respect for their rights is also increasing. Today, it is very important to rebuild and sharpen our mechanisms and tools that the law provides. We use our own inspections or file administrative claims in court to protect people with the help of the prosecutor’s office.

A woman contacted us from among the orphans, who had been unable to get housing for ten years, despite the fact that a court decision had been made. We filed an administrative claim in court, the court supported us, and she was not only provided with housing, but also paid for moral damages.

It is very important, of course, that people receive support from our institute. Today, this support is not only related to the violation of rights – the number of humanitarian appeals we receive is growing: they are not related to the fact that officials or administrative bodies have violated the law. People ask us for help due to a special situation: these are evacuees who today remain in temporary accommodation centres on our territory, and, of course, participants in the special military operation and their family members.

We pay special attention to this category, not just because we have created an all-day-round hotline; all our employees take turns responding to signals on night phones. We have a specially created division that deals only with these issues.

However, the main thing is empathy, the ability to establish direct contact and explain to the people what is being done to resolve a certain situation. Today we have a lot of requests about missing people and war prisoners. There are also requests about payments and medical assistance.

We have managed to help several thousand people, working in very close cooperation with the Defence Ministry, the Federal Security Service, and other government agencies. We maintain dialogue with the Ukrainian Commissioner, exchange our lists of missing people, and managed to find out what happened to more than 100 people and help them.

We have agreed to visit in a mirrorlike manner: me – Ukrainian servicemen, who are on our territory, and the Ukrainian human rights commissioner – our POWs. We have visited over 1,700 people, and last year we agreed on mutual delivery to our prisoners of belongings and parcels from home. This is very important today, very important to have our dialogue continued.

We also interact with the International Committee of the Red Cross and insist that they not only visit our prisoners, but also provide them with medical care and do everything necessary to ensure that the Geneva conventions are respected.

We will continue this humanitarian work. Our efforts are much needed here and we will put our hearts into it.

Vladimir Putin: Good.

Tatyana Moskalkova: This determines, as you rightly said and as we all understand, at what reference point in the history of our state’s development we are now.

We kept on working both with the evacuees and, of course in the new territories. In Zaporozhye, we are still establishing the institution of the commissioner; this is why we went there and set up our public reception offices. People can come, turn for help and have their pressing problems resolved.

It is very important that human rights commissioners have proved themselves in extreme situations, not only working as a united team with appeals from the participants in the special military operation and their families, but also during the floods in Orenburg where our commissioner was immediately included in the governor's headquarters. And it is very important that he directly communicated with the people, inspected facilities where they were resettled and living conditions there. We participated in the large humanitarian aid delivery to the people, gave explanations and provided legal advice.

In this respect we stand together with Maria Lvova-Belova, so that in such extreme conditions we should be with the people and be able to help them in resolving complex problems.

Of course, we continued our work on so called traditional requests: social rights, the rights of the people who are kept in detention facilities, and criminal procedure rights.

As for the socioeconomic rights, it should be said that the number of requests has decreased, especially regarding labour rights. The national projects that are currently underway and the state programmes are yielding results. Nevertheless, we can see that there are instances of overdue salaries and absence of indexation. With our assistance over 4,000 people received their delayed salaries.

A lot of families were relocated from dilapidated houses. A large collective complaint came from the Komi Republic that the buildings in which people live are not recognised as dilapidated, and that it is impossible to live in them. We were receiving seemingly reassuring letters. We went there and made sure that these buildings must indeed be included on the list of emergency ones. The head of the republic helped us, and today people received the necessary compensation in order to purchase housing.

We helped collect child support from negligent parents and provide housing for orphans. In this big book, unlike the last report that I presented to you, we have introduced a separate section on categories of citizens whom we consider the most vulnerable: people with disabilities and pensioners.

This year, we will also pay special attention to people living in rural areas. You gave us a boost in your Address to the Federal Assembly, and we have just held a large coordination council in the Republic of Daghestan, where all of the country’s commissioners have gathered.

Of course, there are a lot of problems today, and we appeal to the State Duma, for example, to speed up the adoption of a law on mobile pharmaceutical stations and on expanding the list of organisations authorised to sell medicines in the regions.

We are asking the Government to consider subsidising the delivery of construction materials to hard-to-reach regions. Unfortunately, we do not have a programme for mountain settlements. They have their own, very special characteristics, and we recommend that the Government look at the possibilities of developing such a programme in order to increase guarantees of the rights of people living in rural areas.

We still have the leading number of appeals regarding the quality of investigation in criminal proceedings, compared with other categories, although it has decreased slightly compared to last year. But a large number of complaints are related to refusals to initiate criminal proceedings.

A person reports that a theft or robbery has been committed against them (which is assessed without collecting evidence) and is refused to find the criminal and provide compensation. Only through our requests, and thanks to the law, we have the right to look through the materials of pre-investigation checks, and we can see that they are sometimes formal, or that a person should have been admitted to justice but was denied.

We cancelled 450 appeals, while prosecutors cancel them in hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, which is a big problem. I will appeal to the State Duma with a request to create a special working group and consider the possibility of starting an investigation, at least for obvious crimes, from the moment a crime is registered.

It may appear strange, but we continue to receive numerous petitions concerning placement in custody. Even though you have repeatedly raised these issues at the boards held by the General Prosecutor’s Office, custodial placement continues to be widely used in our country. Occasionally, when the investigation asks for a house arrest, the court rules in favour of a pre-trial restriction in the form of detention. I am particularly concerned about this when the issue is about non-violent crimes, or this judicial restriction is used with regard to women, especially women with children. The court will make its decision, but there is a whole range of other enforcement measures that go before the court.

The situation in the correctional system has improved. The law on opposing and toughening responsibility for torture is in force today, even though we receive such petitions, but the prosecutor’s office, the Ministry of Justice, and the Federal Penitentiary Service respond to them.

Most of the petitions have to do with the conditions of detention. I visit correctional facilities fairly often. I have been to the Rostov Region, the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Kostroma Region. Repairs have been made, and the facilities now look better. But some of them need additional investment, perhaps, not financial investment, but investment that comes from the soul and relies on creative approaches.

Vladimir Putin: Financial investment should not be left out of sight, either. Much remains to be done in that regard. Inmates must be kept in decent, humane conditions.

Tatyana Moskalkova: You are absolutely right. But, strangely enough, the correctional system is moving at a faster pace than detention centres for people subject to deportation, or temporary detention centres for foreign nationals who are sometimes held there for years, and the conditions are rather modest to say the least.

Many pre-trial detention centres need major investment and spending, and we make recommendations to the Government in our report to pay attention to this. There are detention centres that, in violation of the law, have no exercise yard, i.e. the inmates are unable to spend time outdoors.

In addition to working with petitions, we have other areas of focus as well.

Vladimir Putin: Do you have all of that in your report?

Tatyana Moskalkova: Yes, we have an entire section devoted to recommendations to the authorities, and I would like to ask you to instruct the Government to review them.

The report covers other areas that are mandatory for us, such as legal education, lawmaking, and coordinating the activities of human rights commissioners representing the Russian Federation in courts, as well as international cooperation.

Despite the fact that there were attempts to isolate us from integration venues, the world has a great interest in us. Last year, over 40 countries did not hesitate to face travel challenges in order to attend the international conference that we successfully hold every year with your support.

The Eurasian Ombudsman Alliance is going strong. We started out with four member countries six years ago, and today we have ombudsmen from ten countries. We meet annually to discuss a variety of engaging issues and to promote bilateral international cooperation.

In closing, this substantive report – and I think it is substantive – contains detailed information about all areas of the Human Rights Commissioner’s activities.

I would like to thank you for supporting the institution of the human rights commissioners and for the tremendous amount of work that you are doing in this area as the guarantor of human and civil rights and freedoms.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

The scientific and educational centre for human rights is operational, correct?

Tatyana Moskalkova: It was created with your support…

Vladimir Putin: In 2019.

Tatyana Moskalkova: Absolutely right. I reached out to you back then saying we do not have a single centre of high standing in the country that would train young human rights commissioners and staff of the commissioner’s office who must know how to handle petitions, or to train public observation commission members that work in correctional facilities, and how to work with fledging human rights organisations.

For many years now, we were being imposed extraneous perspective on human rights and extraneous understanding of the approaches to protect human rights. Today, we have significantly changed this perspective. Without a doubt, individuals within their rights are all about social well-being, the right to life, and the right to happiness. We are trying to ensure all of the above, not just the rights of individual small groups of people.

Vladimir Putin: Good. Thank you very much.

June 10, 2024, The Kremlin, Moscow