Vladimir Putin Forms His Own Human Rights Council

By Tom Balmforth.Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.Nov 13, 2012

 …and the results are about what you would expect them to be.

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Russian President Putin uses a pair of binoculars to observe troops in action during a training exercise named Kavkaz 2012 in Krasnodar region, on September 17th, 2012. (Reuters)


Russian President Vladimir Putin has  approved new members for an expanded Presidential Council for Civil  Society and Human Rights. The appointments follow a walk-out by some of the fiercest critics on the advisory body earlier this year.

The new 62-member council includes liberal journalists and prominent  rights activists. But also noteworthy are the names that are missing,  including Lyudmila Alekseyeva, the 85-year-old figurehead of Russia’s  human rights movement. Alekseyeva is one of 15 prominent figures who left the presidential  council in the wake of the disputed December parliamentary elections  that were criticized for being skewed to favor the United Russia ruling  party.

In a presidential decree on November 12, Putin officially struck  Alekseyeva from the roster, along with commentator Dmitry Oreshkin,  Yelena Panfilova of Transparency International Moscow, and Svetlana  Gannushkina, head of the Civic Assistance organization, as well as a  handful of others who tended their resignations this year.

Those members were replaced by mostly lesser known appointees — including pro-Kremlin figures and staunch critics of the Kremlin like  Liliya Shibanova, head of the Golos election monitor, Pavel Chikov of  the Agora Center, journalist Leonid Parfyonov, and Aleksandr Verkhovsky  of the Sova Center. The council is an advisory panel established to assist the president in  fulfilling his constitutional responsibilities to guarantee and protect  human rights. Its tasks also include helping the development of civil  society institutions in Russia.

The human rights council is traditionally comprised of fierce critics of Putin, but it has been criticized as little more than a talking shop. Alekseyeva has said Russia needs a nongovernmental civil and human rights council. Vladimir Pribylovsky, a political analyst and director of the Panorama  think tank, says the change in the composition of the council is  unlikely to have a large impact. “The point is that [the council] is a purely decorative body. It doesn’t even have the right to initiate a draft bill,” Pribylovsky says. “It  can advise the president, but it can’t even make legal initiatives. It  can advise the president — if the president asks for counsel. So the  council itself can simply speak its mind in the Internet media and  press. I don’t think that Lyudmila Alekseyeva and [Dmitry] Oreshkin have any problem speaking their mind about anything [without the council].”

The presidential decree increases the number of members in the council  by at least half, to more than 60. The additions were selected via  public debates and online voting involving more than 100,000 people,  according to Mikhail Fedotov, the council’s chairman. Pribylovsky, however, says that the decision to conduct the voting  online paved the way for falsifications using computer technology.

Pavel Salin, a Moscow-based political analyst, says that the expansion  of the council could be a trick to dilute staunch criticism from the  council’s remaining tough critics with mild, Kremlin-friendly rhetoric. “The role of this council has increased recently, because within the  political system of the country, there has taken shape an opinion that  sharply diverges from the outlook of the authorities and that wants to  strike down at the political system,” Salin says. “If the council before was effectively technical, then now it can it play a fairly serious  political role.” He says some United Russia and Kremlin officials are pushing Vladimir  Putin to weaken the council in light of the anti-Kremlin discontent that has crystalized over the course of this year.


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