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Medvedev Stresses Importance of Civil Society, Government Cooperation


Russian President Dmitri Medvedev has issued a call for greater cooperation with non-governmental organizations, saying civil society is the human element of any state. He made the call in a meeting with his new Human Rights Council, reinforcing a message he made in an interview published Wednesday by an opposition newspaper that frequently criticizes the Kremlin.

President Medvedev told members of his Human Rights Council in Moscow that Russia's current economic crisis will not be resolved without greater understanding and trust between the government and civil society.

Mr. Medvedev says the objective need for such cooperation is evident; adding it is important for NGOs to assume part of the burden for education, upbringing, health care and enlightenment.

Reason behind restrictions

The Russian president said there are numerous cases where the activities of NGOs are limited without proper cause. He says the reason for such limitations is because some government officials feel that NGOs threaten what Mr. Medvedev calls their total rule.

Addressing the Human Rights Council meeting, Ella Pamfilova, the head of the President's Civil Society and Human Rights Development Council called for state security forces to stop what she called the infamous and primitive witch hunt against human rights activists and opposition forces.

Rights activists serve higher purpose

Pamfilova says human rights activists can be excellent partners for exposing the patrons of criminal networks involved in the sexual abuse of children, child pornography, human trafficking, gun and drug trade, and other crimes that constitute a threat to national security. She also calls for legislators to act firmly in these areas instead of fighting dissidents, human rights activists and others who defend their lawful positions.

The meeting of Mr. Medvedev's Human Rights Council was preceded by his interview with Novaya Gazeta, one of the country's most Kremlin-critical publications. It was his first Russian newspaper interview since taking office, a move that could boost his image of being a cautious liberal.

Tackling skepticism

Activist Lev Ponomarev was recently hospitalized in an attack widely attributed to his work in the independent For Human Rights organization. Ponomarev told VOA he is skeptical of Mr. Medvedev's call, saying it would be more credible if the president admitted that police follow human rights activists and that such surveillance would be prohibited. Nonetheless, he says a signal from the top could help improve civil society in Russia.

If the authorities gave such a signal, says Ponomarev, then clearly they would divide into two fronts, because we know there are many officials who are against freedom and democracy and who violate human rights, but the number of people who support the ideas of liberalism and democracy might increase.

Mr. Medvedev's predecessor and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a 2006 law criticized by human rights groups for limiting the activities of NGOs in Russia. Mr. Putin is also Russia's only post-Soviet leader not to give an interview to Novaya Gazeta.