Medvedev picks surprise candidate to head Presidential Human Rights Council

Publish date: October 19, 2010

President Dmitry Medvedev last week tapped an unexpected member from his human rights council to take over as chairman, surprising some members who had expected the body's acting head, Alexander Auzan, to be given the influential post.

Mikhail Fedotov, a secretary of the Union of Journalists and a noted lawyer, has succeeded the council’s founder and first leader, Ella Pamfilova, who resigned in late July after months of pressure from the Kremlin supported United Russia party and pro-Kremlin youth groups.

The choice came as a surprise to the council’s members, who had expected Auzan to win the nod after more than two months as acting chairman.

But Medvedev decided on Fedotov, who was named to the council last year and was an author of the current law on mass media. Colleagues welcomed Fedotov as a current council member, and tried to assuage concerns that Medvedev had passed over Auzan in his choice for the council’s chairmanship.

“Fedotov has taken a most active role in forming the strategy of the council. We didn’t expect he would become chairman – and Fedotov himself supported Auzan – but we consider this to be a reasonable choice on the president’s behalf, and a good compromise.” Boris Pustyntsev, a member of the presidential council and co-chairman of St. Petersburg’s Citizen’s Watch rights group told Bellona Web.

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a council member, praised Medvedev’s choice as “good.”

“Fedotov has experience with both state and nongovernmental work,” Alexeyeva told The Moscow Times. “I am personally satisfied with the choice.”

“I have known Fedotov for a long time as a lawyer, as a journalist,  a diplomat, as a government minister, I have nothing against him and he has our full confidence,” said Pustyntsev, who is also a founder of the Environmental Rights Centre (ERC) Bellona.

Pustyntsev added, however, that the “one this the is slightly troubling is that Fedotov has also been named as the President’s human rights advisor, which is to say a government servant. How  compatible that is with the level of independence displayed by all members of the council is still a question mark, but I hope that (Fedotov) will be able to deal with it.”

Svetlana Gannushkina, chairwoman of the Moscow-based Citizens Aid Foundation and another council member, called Fedotov “a democratic person,” under whose leadership the council will be able to continue its work.

Fedotov, a 61-year-old lawyer, has been a secretary with the Union of Journalists since 1998. Prior to that, Fedotov was a deputy mass media minister from 1990-92 and then press and information minister in 1993.

He then served as Russia’s representative to United Nations cultural organization UNESCO from September 1993 to January 1998. Since then, he has been in private practice and headed several public organizations, including one to defend copyright protections.

In October 2009, the Foreign Ministry nominated Fedotov as Russia’s candidate to become the media representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, though he wasn’t elected.    

A former member of the liberal, pro-business Union of Right Forces, Fedotov was also a part of the 2008 Free Choice Committee. The group, led by Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, formed in 2004 to oppose then-President Vladimir Putin after he was re-elected to a second term.

Both Alexeyeva and Gannushkina said they had expected Auzan to get the post.

Auzan, president of the Association of Independent Centers of Economic Analysis, was also proposed by Pamfilova as her replacement. Auzan, 56, a Norilsk native and 1979 graduate of Moscow State University, is a member of the business lobbying groups Opora and Delovaya Rossia. He is also a senior professor in Moscow State University’s economics department.

“If the council members were electing their leader on their own, then [Auzan] would have been chosen,” Alexeyeva told the Moscow Times.

Gannushkina said Auzan had already become the council’s de facto leader over the past few months, while the appointment of Fedotov showed the Kremlin’s concern about the group’s growing autonomy.

Auzan welcomed Fedotov’s appointment, saying their “views are close in many ways.”

“The appointment of Fedotov is a good decision,” Auzan said, Interfax reported. “He is a person with a large working experience.”

He added that the council’s main concern had been whether the Kremlin would tap an outside official to head the body.

Fedotov said lat week that he was not planning to quit his post at the Union of Journalists.

“There are three major issues (to work on in the council): ‘de-Stalinization’ of the public conscience, judicial and police reforms, as well as the supervision of children’s and families’ rights,” Fedotov said in remarks reported by Interfax.

He also said that another question that will be dealt with by the council are the loggerheads between environmentalists and government over the building of a highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg that would run through the Khimki Forest north of Moscow, an issue that became a flashpoint over the summer.

In an interview with Interfax, Pamfilova called her successor “an acceptable candidacy.”

“It’s good that the president appointed a new chairman from the council’s members, not from outside,” Pamfilova was quoted as saying.

She was appointed as head of the Kremlin’s human rights commission in 2002 by then-President Vladimir Putin. The commission was renamed a council in 2004.

Pamfilova has never explained her decision to resign, although her colleagues linked it to an escalating conflict with Nashi, a pro-Kremlin youth group.

Maria Kislitsyna, a spokeswoman of Nashi, expressed hopes to the Moscow Times that Fedotov would have a more cooperative relationship with the movement, unlike Pamfilova, whom she accused of supporting oppositional political views.

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