Putin’s Human Rights Council Increases by 39

Putin’s Human Rights Council Increases by 39

Published: November 14, 2012 (Issue # 1735)

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin’s human rights council gained 39 new members on Monday as its total membership count rose from 40 to 62 in a reshuffle that saw more than a dozen leave.

A longtime head of the council told The St. Petersburg Times that, in its expanded form, the panel would have a hard time coming to “consolidated decisions linked by a single logic.”

Ella Pamfilova, who headed the presidential human rights panel from 2002 to 2010, said by phone that it was “no longer a community of likeminded people but a motley crew. Allowing more people into the council makes it unclear whose voice will be taken into account and whose will not.”

She added, “There are very professional and profound rights defendants, like Igor Kalyapin, Pavel Chikov and Yelena Topolyova-Soldunova, but there are also many controversial individuals whose names I don’t want to mention.”

Topolyova-Soldunova, who heads the Agency for Social Information and attended a Monday council meeting chaired by Putin, said by phone that “it became clear that such a large council cannot work effectively without a clear structure, as all members are very different.”

Another newly elected member, however, said by phone that “increasing the number of members in the council was the right decision because the council is not a closed organization but rather a public institution, where everyone can be represented.”

Maxim Shevchenko, who heads the Center for Strategic Studies of Religions and Politics of the Modern World, added that “the council will enable more people to accomplish their ideas, a unified position is not necessary.”

A presidential order Monday also confirmed the release of more than a dozen human rights defenders from the council who had resigned earlier this year.

A wave of members, including Moscow Helsinki Group’s Lyudmila Alexeyeva and Transparency International’s Yelena Panfilova, exited the panel after Putin regained the presidency then proposed that new members be decided by an online vote.

Their departure nearly halved the council’s membership count. The panel’s head, Mikhail Fedotov, said at the time that, if 20 members left, he would leave.

Despite the controversy, the council’s new makeup was selected by online voting. A popular vote was held in early September, with more than 100,000 candidates registered.

Eighty-six candidates were chosen by that vote, then they competed for 13 places, each one dedicated to a human rights issue in Russia, such as the rights of prisoners and the disabled, as well as public monitoring of the judicial system.

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