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Talking points on the Regional Ombudsman's activity in public interest law sphere Anna Demeneva, consultant to the Ombudsman of Sverdlovsk Region Describing the process of formation of public interest law in Russia it is important to start with the activity of NGOs in the middle nineties (1990s) when the Russian Constitution was adopted and it was necessary to bring all these social and political rights into practice and to test them in real life. Brining law suites against the state authorities was the only way to adjust a new legal system to implementation of human rights in practice because every social or political right requires a correspondent obligation of the state. It can require the active role of the state, for example, providing for the system of social benefits, or the passive role of the state for example, to refrain from the interfering to the freedom of association. There was a certain distinction in the process of formation of public interest law in Russia. If the starting point in the US was the disbalance between individual and the strong corporations, Russia had this disbalance between individual and the strong state as there were no corporations those time. The most effective activity of NGOs in public law sphere is the challenging of the law provisions which restrict individual rights and contradict to the federal laws, Constitution and international law standards. The main judicial obstacles in dealing with public interest cases are: 1. The class actions are not allowed by the russian legislation: 2. The continental law system is not flexible enough to operate with the categories of public interest and balance of interests, judges have rather narrow margin of appreciation to refer to the public interest policies; 3. In practice there is a certain resistance from the national courts to apply the international human rights standards. There are some possibilities for the Regional Ombudsman to overcome the mentioned obstacles. 1. The first role of the Ombudsman in dealing with public interest law sphere is to IDENTIFY what the public interest is in every single situation. What is the object of protection and how it will impact the certain category of people? If there is a conflict, how to balance the interests? The main source of information here is a huge amount of written and oral complaints from people to Ombudsman. Also we initiate monitorings on certain topics by the ombudsman's initiative (it concerns for example, conditions of detention) 2. Raising the public awareness on the issue is the second role of the ombudsman 3. The third stage is to choose the strategy including but not limited to litigation: -to provide for LEGAL SUPPORT in public law interest cases when we expect the positive impact to the massive human rights violation (or example, in protecting disabled people's right to accessible environment, in protecting rights to social benefit); -to provide for WRITTEN OPINION of the Ombudsman for the court. We consider this document as so called amicus curiae - third party intervention to assist the court to obtain the relevant information in the human rights context and interests balance. (Migrants cases, freedom of expression cases, right to family life cases, guardianship cases); -to initiate a JOINT INVESTIGATION with other state agency -for example getting many complaints from women about violation of their right to maternity benefit by the employers the Ombudsman initiated the investigation together with the prosecutor' s office and the state social security fund. Another violations were established as a structural problem -the rights were protected and the analytical report with special recommendations to state bodies was prepared; -ANNUAL AND SPECIAL REPORTS of the Ombudsman contain the analytical information on the facts and the sources of human rights violations, and the detailed recommendations to law implementors and legislative bodies how to improve the practice and the law. The recommendations include the international human rights provisions to apply. The reports are sent to state bodies and agencies and they are published in the regional newspaper and the web-site so it is open to public. -LOBBYING THE IMPROVEMENTS to the regional and federal law on public interest issues is also a strategy to handle gaps in legislation. We successfully initiated the improvements to the regional regulations of the employment of disabled people, the regional health care program, regional program of pro bono legal aid and others. The main task of the Regional Ombudsman in the public interest law sphere is the coordination and cooperation between all the actors who are involved to the public interest law development - such as NGOs doing strategic litigation cases, legal clinics, lawyers who take pro bono cases and also the journalists to provide for the media coverage of the cases and changes in social life.
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