The institution of ombudsman (state human rights defender) acting as an advocate of the society in front of the state appeared as one of the essential mechanisms of public control over state compliance with its human rights obligations.
The institution was founded in Sweden, where as far back as in the 13th century a man elected on behalf of the aggrieved party to collect pecuniary compensation – vira – from the criminals having committed murder, was called ombudsman. The term ombudsman could be translated as a ‘representative’ or ‘authorised person’. At first, under the absolute monarchy, ombudsmen were attached to the royal court and were to control the officials and judges on behalf of the crown. As the social order has gradually turned into the constitutional monarchy, the ombudsman adopted the function of supervising the administration on behalf of the parliament, and this was established in the Constitution of Sweden (1809).
Finland was the next country to adopt the institution of ombudsman (Constitution, 1919). From the second half of the 20th century it started to spread throughout the world.
It is after World War II, when the fact that the stable democracy is impossible without observance of human rights became obvious. On the other hand, observance and effective protection of human rights cannot exist outside democracy. These are two relative and mutually dependent notions, and that is why a democratic country needs the institution of ombudsman to be a guarantor of stability and efficient functioning of a democratic system.
A special need in the institution appears when the existing state bodies only imitate implementation of the rights established in the Constitution and the laws. In this case ombudsman functions as an additional mechanism protecting society from administrative power abuse by state bodies.
Today, ombudsmen act in more than a hundred countries all over the world. The experience of their work in the countries of Eastern Europe – Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovenia and etc. – has shown that in most cases the ombudsman office functions as a mediator in the relations between society and government, facilitates the creation of democratic law-governed state and development of legal awareness in the society.
The establishment of the institution of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation is one of the most important democratic reforms in our country. The legal basis for the institution was provided by the Declaration of the Civil and Human Rights and Freedoms adopted on 22 November 1991 by the Supreme Soviet. The next step introducing the human rights commissioner (ombudsman) office was adoption of articles 45 and 103 of the Russian Constitution (1993). Article 45 of the Constitution guarantees state protection of civil and human rights and freedoms in Russia, and Article 103 authorises the parliament to appoint and dismiss the commissioner for human rights. The Opinion issued in Strasbourg on Russia's request for membership of the Council of Europe (1996) became another incentive to formalise the legal status of the commissioner. In particular, Clause V. of the Opinion stated “the Assembly believes that… new laws in line with Council of Europe standards will be introduced: on the role, functioning and administration of the Procurator's Office and of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights…”
But even before the law on the high commissioner for human rights was adopted, the State Duma, acting pursuant to the inter-fraction agreement, assigned a well-known human rights defender Sergey Kovalyov to the post of the High Commissioner. He was appointed on 17 January 1994 and dismissed on 10 March 1995.
After all approval procedures, on 25 December 1996 the State Duma adopted the Federal Constitutional Law On the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation. On 26 February 1997 the President signed the law and on 4 March 1997 it entered into force officially.
The law establishes the High Commissioner’s status, competence, procedures of appointment and dismissal, and provides for independence and non-accountability of the High Commissioner to any state authorities or officials. Foundation of regional commissioners in the territorial entities of Russia is also provided for in the law.
In general, the institution of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia is a bridge connecting state authorities and society, since it facilitates solution to the conflict of interests between the state and an individual, regulates the power balance of the state and the society in the field of human rights. At the same time, the commissioner does not claim to replace the traditional control bodies and mechanisms. The ground of the High Commissioner’s work is a critical cooperation with the authorities of various levels. The High Commissioner stands firm against any attempts to undermine or distort the law-governed nature of the state.
Human rights education is another important objective of the High Commissioner. In many cases, in Russia human rights are violated because people do not know of them. One of the High Commissioner’s strategic aims is to ensure that people in their relations with state authorities know clearly how to protect their rights and are able to defend them with dignity, so that the authorities would not be able to ignore them.
In May 1998, the State Duma elected Oleg Mironov High Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia. Doctor of Law, Professor, Honored Lawyer of the Russian Federation, Mr Mironov became the first lawyer having held the post of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Russia. Within a short time he managed to organise the commissioner’s office work from square one.
Mr Mironov was succeeded by Vladimir Lukin, Doctor of Historical Science, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the U.S., who occupied this office for two five-year terms (2004-2014).
On 18 March 2014 Ella Pamfilova was elected next High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation. Ms Pamfilova is a well-known Russian politician, state and public figure, former Minister of Social Protection of Russia (1991-1994), and former Chairperson of the Russian Presidential Council for Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights (2004 - 2010). Ms Pamfilova resigned her commission on 28 March 2016.
On 22 April 2016, deputies of the State Duma voted for election of Tatiana Moskalkova as High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Russian Federation.