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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights training seminar in Geneva

    The High Commissioner for Human Rights lead a training seminar in Geneva, entitled �Strengthening the implementation of the human rights treaty recommendations through the enhancement of national measures� from the 3rd to the 7th of November.

    At the opening of the training, Maria Fransisco Iza-Charin, director of Support Services, emphasized that this is the first similar training, which will be continued at the national level. The main task of the training was to acquaint participants with the UN Treaty Bodies, their goals, tasks, the fulfillment of international standards at the national level, how the UN bodies can assist in the development and fulfillment of the plan of actions at the national level.

    Delegations from five countries took part in the training � Columbia, Guatemala, Latvia, Sri-Lanka and Russia. Hearings on these countries were expected to take place in the following weeks during the Session of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The Russian team consisted of three NGO representatives from Moscow (Center of Democracy Development and Human rights, Center for Interethnic Protection and the Center for Interethnic Cooperation), press members from Irkutsk, �Izvestiya�, �Novaya Gazeta� (from Moscow and Petersburg) and three representatives from the Commission on Human Rights. During the five days, we became acquainted with the structure of national institutes on human rights, their interaction with the UN Treaty Bodies and work methods. There were also government reports on how NGOs and the mass media are able to influence the contents of state reports. Like the alternative reports and the presentation of them in the appropriate UN Committee, there were also many other substantial and technical details of the process for protecting human rights. During the practical training, for example, the Russian team made remarks and suggestions for the improvement of the human rights situation in Guatemala based on examples of two Guatemalan periodic reports under the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural rights since July 26, 2002. At the same time, the Guatemalan team offered their suggestions on the basis of four Russian Federation periodic reports in their address to the Russian Federation.

    We also became acquainted with the Treaty Bodies� monitoring mechanisms, the place and role of the NGOs in this process. In one of the practical trainings, a list of the NGOs� direction and activities on the fulfillment of the treaty bodies� recommendations in each country was developed. The final chord of the week were presentations made by all teams, which were jointly developed by all of the training participants- NGO, mass media, and ombudsmen representatives from each country.

    On Monday, before the start of the Russian Federation hearings by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights, a briefing was held, where Russian NGOs represented their alternative report. Yuri Dzhibladze, Elena Mashkova, Zainap Geshaeva, Imran Izhiev and others presented the report. At the time of the briefing, a small problem arose connected to the independent expert�s behavior from the Russian Federation in the Committee from the city Kolosov, which his aggressive behavior conflicted with the briefing�s protocol. However, the moderator Sasha Kulaevaya was able to return the situation back to a normal course. The independent expert�s behavior from the Russian Federation was surprising, but it was not the first time nor do I think it will be the last time [to witness such behavior]. Nevertheless, the NGOs managed to deliver the alternative report to the members of the Committee and also to answer the Committee members� questions about the Russian state delegation, citing the information presented by the NGOs at the same session.

    The Russian Federation state reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights presented an extremely solid delegation led by the Minister of Labor, Mr. Pochinok. From his statements we learned that we all live in a common, rich country, where everything is great, that we do not have a million homeless children, as several especially harmful NGOs alleged, but only around 130,000. That in the past several years the budget has increased three times, that the 40 million people living below the poverty line, in the first place, is not that high and secondly, there are no such beggars, as the statistics the malicious NGOs represent, and in Chechen there are more than 600 schools functioning, in which 140 already have computer classes. Where he found [this information] no one knows. Mr. Pochinok�s ardent speech declared, that in Russia passports are practically not necessary, that is for identification papers and even for work. For example, one is able to settle with his certificate of employment: Apparently Mr. Pochinok has not glanced at the Russian Federation�s Constitution in a while, where it is written in black and white that the passport of the Russian Federation citizen is the only document that grants the possibility to have any kind of economic, social, cultural, political and other rights. Without a passport you are nothing.

    In general, listening to Mr. Pochinok�s the speech was quite inspirational. If only it were true, each one of the representatives from our team would want to live in that Russia, which Mr. Pochinok so beautifully depicted, and not in that [Russia], which we unfortunately knew. We came to the conclusion that the wonderful country �the �Pochinkovsk� Russia, where the state displays touching care about its citizens, especially the pensioners, children and the poor, was a place that we would sincerely want to live. True, the members of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights did not share in our happiness. Judging by the questions of the Russian delegation, they [the Committee] were not very moved by the speech about the fairytale life in modern-day Russia. Besides this, the Committee members expressed discontent with Pochinok�s monopolistic right to answer for all concrete questions, where the specialists� answers were demanded. Several members of our team could not endure Pochinok�s fairytales and on the second day of the Russian Federation hearings, they simply left the session. I think they were in a hurry to go home to that Russia, which the report portrayed, and in which we all would have liked to live.

    We shall soon see the results of this session in the final recommendations of the Russian Federation and whether the eloquence of Mr. Pochinok is able close the eyes and ears of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Human Rights to that Russia, which we know.

Larissa Bitkaeva