Russia's Human Rights Cabal

Officially sanctioned human rights activists are a new phenomenon in Russia - but already plans are afoot to boost their numbers

Russia's Human Rights Cabal

Officially sanctioned human rights activists are a new phenomenon in Russia - but already plans are afoot to boost their numbers

Oleg Mironov, Russia's official representative on human rights, has an unenviable job.

While the international community openly accuses Russia of committing war crimes in Chechnya, Mironov maintains a dignified silence.

The question of human rights in the war-zone has been entrusted to a special envoy, Vladimir Kalamanov, and Mironov is obliged to take a back seat.

"Kalamanov and I work together very constructively," says Mironov cautiously. "But of course it's hard to protect human rights when there's a war going on."

But he added, "Just because I don't appear on TV making official statements about Chechnya, it doesn't mean I'm standing back. I've been to Chechnya three times personally and my deputies spend a lot of time there.

"My stance over Chechnya is firm - casualties amongst the civilian population are unacceptable. It's a disgrace when they bomb entire villages to catch just one or two rebel fighters."

However, at present, Mironov is obliged to focus on problems closer to home - for example, complaints that Moscow police have the freedom to stop "people of Caucasian nationality" in the street in order to "establish their identity".

"Any document check has to be carried out in accordance with the law," says the human rights representative. "But I oppose any blanket campaigns."

When Moscow police stormed a football match organised by the Caucasian diaspora and arrested more than 100 fans, Mironov lodged a formal complaint

"They showed the police using their truncheons on almost everyone who came out of the stadium," he said. "Of course that's not normal. A year ago we even prepared a report on human rights abuse by the police. But we didn't have the resources to follow it up. That's where the media should help us."

Mironov dismisses accusations that the work of his office is largely ignored by the authorities - despite its official status within the Russian Constitution.

"[The authorities] do listen," he said. "Our report on human rights abuses by the interior ministry (MVD) was examined by the All-Russian Congress of MVD Workers as well as the Prosecutor General's Office and the Ministry of Justice.

"We didn't put the report together so that it would look good on someone's bookshelf. We're pushing for concrete measures to be taken. The problem is that our institute is still young -- there's never been anyone in charge of human rights in Russia before."

Mironov's office will soon face fresh competition - from a new Institute for the Rights of Ethnic Groups, proposed by the State Duma earlier this year.

But Mironov welcomes the move. "Russia is a multi-national country and each ethnic group has its own characteristics," he said. "Certainly, such an institute would not be superfluous to requirements.

"I've studied the experience of other countries and I've discovered that even small states boast several human rights representatives. There are 11 in Sweden for example, three in Hungary and three in Moldova. Not to mention special envoys on religious affairs or sexual equality."

Mironov added, "For this reason, I supported this idea myself but the bill needs to be seriously reworked. The institute should be integrated into the developing system of human rights representatives.

"We have a representative on the federal level and also in the regions. So it remains to be seen how the ethnic rights officials will work alongside them. Of course these representatives have to be appointed by both houses of parliament. And that could lower the status of the federal office - in itself a direct contradiction of the Constitution."

Erik Batuev is a regular IWPR contributor

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