The head of the Council on human rights under the President of Russia told DW why he is ashamed of the country, what could and could not get the HRC, and how to deal with unauthorized rallies.
Mikhail Fedotov heads the Council under RF President on development of civil society and human rights (HRC) for nine years. This body was constantly criticizing the arrests of activists, pressure on journalists, the enactment of repressive laws. But his work, Mikhail Fedotov unhappy. In an interview with DW, he explained why.
DW: You are the head of the presidential Council for human rights since 2010 and all this time, watching the development of civil society in Russia. How would you describe it today?
Mikhail Fedotov: the Main objective of the Council to observe and contribute to the development of civil society. And those nine years that I lead the Council, this work goes. Unfortunately, a lot of problems. I feel like a player in “Tetris” fastest: you have to solve one problem, but this time leans the other five. This fight for single issues takes a lot of force and at system task time almost does not remain. And this most terrible for me, because first of all it system solutions.
What system problems are you talking about?
-For example, preventing the acceptance of dangerous laws. Preparation of laws which will promote the development of civil society. This needs to be addressed, and then dispersed a demonstration in St. Petersburg, and the need to rush in there. At the same time in several cities of Russia are the trials of civil society activists held protests associated with landfills, and so on. All at the same time falls. The Council members work on a voluntary basis. Yes, we are 50 people it would seem that a huge force. But everyone is busy.
– With regard to systemic issues: you have developed proposals for reform of the law on rallies, urged the President to send back for revision and not to make laws about insulting the authorities and fake news. But you not listen.
But that doesn’t mean we should be silent. Something of our proposals was taken into account, that there is something we did not. This is the law of the so-called sovereign Internet. Since those Council members who were involved in it are always busy, they prepared an expert conclusion on the draft of the first reading to the moment when it took second. So what to do with it? Only one thing – throw it in the trash. I said, “Okay, let’s quickly prepare a conclusion on the basis of the text adopted in the second reading”. Still will be third reading, the Federation Council, then it will go to the President for signature. Again, not yet.
Sounds uruca capstan…
– Of course. I am very unhappy, for me it is a heavy blow. But I can’t force members of the Council. We have a democracy: one does what one can and wants to. But in other cases, thank God, in time. And on a number of bills our proposals were taken into account and amendments were made.
– Where, for example?
In the same law on foreign agents. We said from the beginning that the law is bad, no good. If you do the act, registered as a foreign agent, it must be part of the civil code. It is quite possible that when a foreign government enters into a contract of Agency with some organization. If it makes the government, and this order has a political meaning – well, call it a foreign agent. For example, the government of Japan enters into a contract with Mr. N. that he will be campaigning for the transfer of the Kuril Islands to Japan. Who is he? A foreign agent, he represents the interests of a foreign state.
But what are human rights, environmental, women’s, AIDS service organizations? They whose order is carried out, what government? And we have explained that in this case the President was referring to the one, and the legislator has done it all differently. The President said: “We should not allow non-profit organizations used by foreign countries for political purposes”. Everything is clear: we don’t want foreign money interfere in our electoral system. I always emphasize that the formal criteria which are set out in the current legislation, under the category of foreign agents can be supplied by any organization. Any.
– And what you listened to?
– I tonili the definition of political activities, it was our initiative. But said badly, and after that practice became even worse. That is, again – we wanted one thing and got quite another. Then we went another way that is made to the Ministry of justice was to deal carefully with each organization. In the end, the list was sharply reduced and, most importantly, decreased the number of organizations that fell into this register annually. Recorded 50 organizations, and in the past year – or 10, or even less (in 2015 registered as a foreign agent was recognized by 35 organizations. At the moment in the registry of NCOs performing the functions of inherent, six organizations submitted in 2018 and eight in 2019. NGOs samolikvidirovalsja after entry in the register or deleted from it, is not taken into account. -.).
But what about registered as foreign agents too, make no mistake: organizations that are recognized as foreign agents in Russia receive government grants – government, presidential. Not all, but the grant system is built.
But some still had to self-destruct. For example, the Committee against torture was forced to register under a different name ( for subsequent registration in the register of registered as a foreign agent self-destructed and the Committee for the prevention of torture. Today, the organization operates without legal entity formation. – Ed. ).
-Yes, but now the Committee against torture continues. And his head (Igor Kalyapin. – Ed.) – not just a member of the presidential Council on human rights. He was one of the keynote speakers at the last meeting with the President, is the Chairman of our standing Commission on civil control over law enforcement. So we cannot say that poor Igor Kalyapin sits in the corner, and everyone is afraid to deal with him. Nothing like Igor Alexandrovich fine and is very active. And everything we do on the subject of eradicating torture, primarily due to him.
– Nevertheless, the facts that at the hearing on civil society in Russia, the work of activists, human rights defenders, discourage people’s desire to butt in. Then someone was arrested, then accused, searched and so on.
-Yes, well. No, absolutely not. The persecution of civil society activists only increases their number and radicalsare their protest. And that is a dangerous thing. Because society is objectively interested in the fact that problems were solved at the round table, and not under the police batons.
–Why the government does not understand this operates counter-productive?
I can’t say that the government does not understand. First, power is not something one. It is the people working in different government agencies. And accuse the police that it disperses unauthorized demonstrations, is meaningless. She takes the order. The order is from who? From the Executive branch, which gives such an order, when refusing to agree to a demonstration.
But when she refuses to agree she’s right or wrong? I think that’s wrong. We have stressed that the best antidote to inconsistent meeting – approval. People have a right to Express their point of view. They speak, hear them. Well, smart leaders hear. Stupid – hard of hearing, they have bad hearing. They don’t understand what people want, and not pay attention to it.
– Is the expression, the fish rots from the head. And if there is no signal…
-Yes, there are top signals! And about the purity of elections, too, there are signals. But in places not accustomed to work. The same in judicial practice. Above is the signal: less arresting to use alternative measures of restraint – house arrest, bail and so on. But no, the courts continue to arrest about 100 thousand people a year. Why? I attend all the meetings of the President of the Supreme court with the heads of courts of constituent entities of the Russian Federation. He sure is talking about it. They can’t hear that? Probably, hear. But continue to operate the old fashioned way. Because the judge to deny the investigator the petition for arrest, you must have great willpower. He understands that tomorrow he himself will have problems, when it will be assign to a higher position, for a new term.
That’s why our advice advocates that the investigator could not directly go to court with the petition for custody, but had to first obtain the consent of the Prosecutor. Because while operated the old system, the Prosecutor was given about two thirds of the cases. The sanction of the court given in 95 percent.
– You say the right things about how it should be, but it is not so. What motivates you when you’ve been trying to reach the mind, but no result?
– What motivates? Shame drives. A shame for the country, which can not solve these problems. Shame that we still can’t deal with the torture, well, what is it? But, of course, and the joy you feel from that could help people. Because in addition to system problems and major conflicts there is still a huge number of small issues. Some of the hostels people are being evicted, on the contrary, at these residence halls may not enter students. These complaints – the sea. According to the regulations on the Board we should not be doing this. Well, we’re not going to do it? All we can do, we do.
So I am ashamed, I stress, I am ashamed of what we did, which was not made, not brought to an end. But everything we did, we did right. Though, perhaps, not sufficiently active, insufficiently organized.
* The interview was recorded at the 9th General meeting of the civil society Forum EU – Russia in Bratislava in may 2019.