Law and Order, Russian-Style

Around the world, people worry that political freedom is disappearing in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Indeed, about the only people who are unconcerned about creeping authoritarianism in Russia are the Russians themselves.

Russians seem to care less about political freedom than they do about social welfare - pensions, domestic violence, children's rights, or police brutality. In fact, most Russians are indifferent to the government's efforts to curtail press freedom and limit the right to protest. Such apathy makes my task as Russia's ombudsman, an office charged by the State Duma (parliament) with protecting political rights in Russia, difficult, if not impossible.

The ombudsman acts as a bridge between the authorities and the people, seeking to resolve conflicts that arise between state bodies and citizens. My office is open not only to Russian citizens, but to foreigners and stateless people who feel their political rights have been compromised. The standards we apply are not only those contained in Russia's constitution, but also international legal principles and human rights norms, even if they sometimes contradict our constitution.

For example, as ombudsman, I was opposed to curtailing the right of Russians to jury trials. Those who wanted to limit the use of juries supposedly feared a risk to state security in some instances. My office worked closely with the state to assure that, in most cases, juries are used.