Letter to Minister of Interior Affairs
October 5, 2007

We are writing to express our concern over recent reports in the media about the planned use of volunteer citizen’s groups for public policing, and we strongly urge against this and call on you to reconsider.

Dear Minister Nurgaliev:

Human Rights Watch is an independent international nongovernmental human rights organization. We report on human rights developments in more than 70 countries around the world and have maintained a registered representative office in Moscow since 1994.

We are writing to express our concern over recent reports in the media about the planned use of volunteer citizen’s groups for public policing, and we strongly urge against this and call on you to reconsider.

We understand the Moscow city police have recruited volunteers from the youth group “Nashi” (Ours) to conduct policing activities, such as patrolling the streets, and performing police functions during peaceful demonstrations or pickets. Specifically, members of Nashi have stated that they will mobilize Nashi patrols at a public meeting organized by the “Dissenters’ March.” The Moscow mayor’s office issued a permit for the meeting to be held from 13:00 to 14:30 at Pushkin Square in Moscow on 7 October.

Similarly, Federal Migration Service officials have announced that on 15 September, they enlisted members of a youth group called “Mestnye” (Locals) to seek out and detain migrants, whom they alleged were working illegally at Moscow’s Yaroslavskii market.

While it may be compatible with international human rights law to used unpaid and part-time personnel to assist regular police forces for some tasks, there are clear and strict limitations on how such personnel can be used. As you are aware, volunteers used by police, for example to observe events or assist with organizing crowds at public events, have no greater power or exemptions than ordinary citizens. Thus, they do not have the authority to use force in any circumstances, and any use of force by police volunteers could amount to assault. Similarly, volunteers may not exercise the powers of restraint, detention or confiscation, including for example of flags or banners used at a rally.

If any official status is to be granted to volunteer officers and they are to be allowed to use any special powers ordinarily reserved for trained law enforcement, such as the power to use force or detain, these volunteers are bound by the same standards as regular law enforcement officials. As such they should be fully trained in the law and standards applicable, and must be clearly identifiable to third parties so that if they abuse their power they can be held accountable. Under international law applicable to Russia, a state is held responsible for the actions of anyone acting with its consent, approval or acquiescence, including volunteers. Therefore, it is of particular importance that law enforcement officials take every measure to ensure the transparency and accountability of any volunteers acting on their behalf.

Some Nashi members have stated that they will participate in the patrols to protect Russia from potential destabilization from opposition gatherings. As you know, the Basic Principles on the Use of Force by Law Enforcement underscores the principle that “everyone is allowed to participate in lawful and peaceful assemblies,” and requires that in the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials “shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.”

In light of the concerns outlined above, Human Rights Watch respectfully requests further information regarding the safeguards in place to ensure transparency and accountability for the actions of volunteer patrols. Specifically:

  • What training do volunteers receive? Does this training include information on international principles on police conduct, particularly those pertaining to the use of force, such as the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials?
  • What measures have been taken to ensure that volunteers are held accountable for their actions, such as the improper or excessive use of force, or the unjustified disruption of a legally gathered public assembly? Are volunteers required to wear a uniform or insignia that identifies them as police volunteers or provide their names and other identifying information if requested? What is the process for registering and investigating a complaint against a volunteer?
  • What steps have been taken to provide for transparency and responsibility in the use of volunteers? Are volunteers screened or required to fulfill certain eligibility criteria, such as not possessing a criminal record before being enlisted? Do you maintain transparent records of the names of volunteers and assignments for which they are deployed so that any complaints against them can be properly investigated?

With regard to Sunday’s rally, we are also concerned that Nashi’s public stance on political opposition movements may compromise its ability to dispatch law enforcement functions in a neutral manner. We urge you to exercise leadership to ensure that the actions of Nashi do not violate the fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and expression exercised by those who wish to participate in the march.

Thank you for your attention to these concerns.

Sincerely,

Holly Cartner
Executive Director
Europe and Central Asia Division

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