Work of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights in 2020
Main outcomes: public trust, foreign agents, healthcare and new tasks
According to the Head of the Council for Civil Society and Human Rights (CHR) Valeriy Fadeev, public trust in the Council increased significantly. In 2019 the level of trust was 28%, and in 2020 – 48%. His opinion is that this is linked to the work of the CHR during the pandemic and with the fact that people are now paying more attention to the protection of social and labour rights and freedoms as well as political rights. One of the key themes during 2020 has been risks connected with the foreign agents law. The Head of the Council confirmed that the concerns of members of the Council have broadly been taken into consideration and amendments are expected. (Putin has said that the status of foreign agent need not lead to being banned by the state.) Fadeev also hoped that the requirement to give the account number for fundraising for rallies of fewer than 500 people should not be pursued.
He said also that an important task now is to analyse what is happening in the healthcare sector, as concerns patients with cancer and cardiovascular diseases: these sectors have been starved because of the pandemic, he said, and what is needed is to optimise treatment of COVID and other diseases as well, something that has not been possible so far. Following a meeting with members of the CHR on 10 December, new presidential decrees are being drafted. Fadeev said he was generally very satisfied with the Council’s work this year with the Duma and other government authorities: most of its requests had had a response and there was little to complain about.
Boris Kravchenko, a member of the Council, reported that from the beginning of the pandemic the Council opened a hot line jointly with the Bar Association, so as to assess the extent of problems affecting workers’ rights. Many labour migrants found themselves without money, accommodation or the means to return home, but thanks to a major effort many thousands of people were helped.
The CHR processed many requests connected with moving to on-line services and resulting illegal dismissals or reductions in pay. The efforts of the Council helped to reduce the gap between “office” workers and those working remotely, and as a result, there were amendments to the Labour Code.
Surveys showed that the third greatest concern among citizens was privacy of personal information, according to CHR expert Igor Ashmanov. “Digitisation has proceeded very fast, and the amount of data collected has grown hugely, while legislators have been left behind, not really understanding what is happening. Data are collected on large digital platforms and by mobile phone operators, and they are barely regulated at all.” Ashmanov said that there is a risk of digital discrimination and “social rating” of individuals. There is a need for legal regulation of digital data, and he said that the CHR planned to look into the issue in the coming year.
Judges and investigations
Rights defender and member of the Council Eva Merkacheva said that the CHR had received numerous complaints from people that they had not been allowed into court for their hearings and had to participate via a video link. She said a way had to be found to enable people to attend court, or in cases of minor offences, simply stop the investigation. But so far this had not been accepted. She also said that the Council had frequently raised the issue of allowing journalists to attend trials, or to hear them via a link. Many judges had agreed to this, she had heard from rights defenders. The relevant commission of the Council would continue to press for more open trials.