RUSSIAN FEDERATION: Children’s Ombudsman Fired After 4 Months

[11 January 2010] - Children’s ombudsman Alexei Golovan, under fire from Russian Orthodox groups for supporting the creation of a juvenile justice system, has been dismissed after just four months in the post and replaced with Pavel Astakhov, a prominent lawyer with no known experience in human rights.

President Dmitry Medvedev signed an order dismissing Golovan on 29 December and appointing Astakhov on 31 December, the Kremlin said in separate statements on its website. Neither of the brief statements elaborated about the reason for the shuffle, saying only that Golovan had left “at his own will.”

Golovan, who had served as children’s ombudsman for the city of Moscow before being tapped by Medvedev for the newly created federal position in September, celebrated his first 100 days in office on 15 December with a news conference where he harshly criticized the deterioration of children’s rights during Vladimir Putin’s eight-year presidency and backed the creation of a juvenile justice system in Russia.

The appointment of Astakhov, a vocal supporter of Putin and the graduate of the KGB’s top school, surprised human rights activists.

“The news was absolutely unexpected for us, and no one knows the reason for why it happened,” said Boris Altshuler, head of the Right of the Child group. “I spoke with Alexei Ivanovich [Golovan] a couple days before the order was signed, and there was no sign of his resignation.”

Opponents of the juvenile justice system praised Golovan’s dismissal as a victory.

“The first victory of the year was actually the dismissal of Alexei Golovan from the post of children’s ombudsman,” Vladimir Khomyakov, co-chairman of the Russian Orthodox movement Narodny Sobor, said in a statement.

The group lobbies against the system as an “evil” brought from abroad.

Orthodox and nationalistic groups strongly oppose the establishment of a juvenile justice system, saying it will break the institute and independence of Russian families. The groups have intensified their activities recently and organized a public committee to hold demonstrations and public discussions.

Rallies against the juvenile justice system were staged Sunday in several cities, including Moscow, Vladimir, Saratov and Pyatigorsk, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.

Russia does not have a national juvenile justice system, but several juvenile courts dealing with youth under the age of 18 are working as part of a pilot program in several regions.

Asked about his attitude toward taking the juvenile justice system nationwide at last month’s news conference, Golovan said he favored the idea because “it might help children claim their rights.”

Neither Golovan nor Astakhov could be reached for comment Sunday.

Astakhov, 43, has not been linked publicly with human rights in the past. A graduate of the Higher School of the KGB and the Pittsburgh University Law School, he has participated in a number of high-profile cases, and his prominent clients have included the family of Nobel Prize laureate Leo Landau, Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Media-MOST founder Vladimir Gusinsky and convicted U.S. spy Edmund Pope.

Astakhov also hosts a law show on Ren-TV titled, “Chas Suda.”

In 2007, Astakhov led the For Putin movement, which supported then-President Putin by organizing rallies of thousands of people calling for Putin to stay in office for a third term.

In an interview with RIA-Novosti on Jan. 1, Astakhov offered scant details about his vision for this new position, saying only that he would defend children’s rights.

“For a while Russia almost became a paradise for pedophiles and rapists,” Astakhov said.

He said children’s ombudsmen should be appointed in all regions, echoing a statement made by Medvedev when he appointed Golovan as ombudsman in September.

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