Russia Poised to Ratify New Adoption Agreement with America
A number of scandals involving Russian adoptive children in the U.S. impelled the authorities in certain regions (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Belgorod and others) to ban what is known as “Transatlantic adoption” pending the ratification by the State Duma of a new Russian-American agreement in that area scheduled for July 6.
The latest case in point is the Kemerovo Region, where Governor Aman Tuleyev imposed a moratorium on American adoptions in an effort to protect the rights and interests of orphans. He imposed the moratorium after the accidental death of two Kemerovo children and the court case of one, Xenia Antonova, 16, who testified in 2011 that she had been raped by her adoptive American father.
Aman Tuleyev’s deputy, Yelena Rudneva, went on record as saying that the practice of adoption would resume only after the bilateral agreement becomes law. Kemerovo officials are so far afraid to hand orphans over to Americans unless they are their close relatives. These apprehensions are shared by Dmitry Kislitsyn, the local Commissioner for Children’s Rights.
Signed last summer, the new agreement is due to be considered by the legislature on July 6, 2012. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights Commissioner, Konstantin Dolgov, said yesterday that U.S. authorities should tighten legislation and practise stricter oversight with regard to American adoptive parents: “Both the State Department and the Department of Justice should play a more active role in enforcing compliance with the rights and interests of adopted Russian children.”
The agreement bans independent adoptions carried out through entities other than specialized agencies with accreditation in Russia. The document also makes it incumbent upon the adoptive parents to provide information on the children to guardianship and custodianship authorities at their request and to allow inspectors, including Russian inspectors, to enter their homes. Before coming of age, children from Russia will have dual nationality. In addition, Russia will have the right to sue unscrupulous adoptive parents independently.
There are differing opinions as to whether the agreement will work. Chairwoman of the Duma Committee for Family, Women and Child Affairs, Yelena Mizulina, believes that the number of adoptions will drop off. Conversely, Alyona Sinkevich of Hand-in-Hand adoption agency in Arizona said that both adoptive parents and children are looking forward to the ratification. “Without an agreement, the officials in many areas, in addition to the Kemerovo Region, are afraid to work with Americans,” she said.
Human Rights Campaigner Defies Guards, Attends Anti-NGO Bill Debate
Veteran human rights champion, Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who had not been invited to a public hearing on a controversial NGO bill, slipped into a guarded building to take part anyway.
The United Russia party initiated the practice of public hearings where the government listens to invited representatives of non-parliamentary parties, public activists and political analysts, and then makes its decision. Alexeyeva, head of Moscow Helsinki Group, decided to go nonetheless.
Reporters expected a scandal, knowing that State Duma speaker Sergei Naryshnkin, the hearing’s mediator, would not appreciate an intruder, but he was courteous and reserved.
The first speaker, United Russia’s Irina Yarovaya, head of the Duma security committee, declared that “the public has a right to know where non-profit organizations receive funding from.” She then tried to temper her harsh statement by saying that registration as a “foreign agent” will be voluntary and that the phrase had “no negative implication.” Besides, the requirement will only apply to NGOs engaged in “political activity.”
Lilia Shibanova, head of Russia’s only independent election watchdog Golos, was not to be soothed. She said “political activity” is an ambiguous concept which can well accommodate the monitoring of elections. The law appears to have been written with Golos in mind, having long annoyed the government.
Sergei Mironov said A Just Russia will not vote for the bill because it is wrong to stigmatize a civil rights effort. This could stop any rights activity, which is poorly financed in Russia.
The Public Chamber said in a statement that the phrase “foreign agent” was explicitly negative according to the Dmitry Ushakov dictionary. “Ushakov lived in a difficult era!” said United Russia’s Andrei Vorobyov arguing that the term was neutral today.
Alexeyeva said she has no illusions and is certain that the outrageous bill will pass. She said MHG would never register as a “foreign agent” and will continue without foreign grants if it has to. “We only accept foreign grants because the Russian government does not finance human rights activity, and Russian businesses are too scared to do so,” she said.
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov believes the law’s ulterior motive is to incite spy fever to distract the public from the protests, but that it will probably result in the opposite. He also said that most NGOs have nothing to fear because it is clearly aimed at only three groups: Golos, Amnesty International, which fights police abuse, and anti-corruption group Transparency International.
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the presidential council on civil society, admitted that the bill is “conceptually flawed.” Technically, the Defense Ministry would be an agent because it “accepts” Western money for weapons utilization while, as a federal ministry, it is a “non-profit organization,” he said.
LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky supported the bill. The Communist Party said it would vote for it, while the Yabloko party appeared strongly opposed because it used medical terms such as “schizoid spy hysteria” and “paranoia complex” in its opinion statement.
Medvedev’s “Shadow Cabinet”
Prime Minister Medvedev’s Expert Council will become an official agency in the fall. It will have broad powers, and economists fear it could become a lobbying center.
The council will actually form the cabinet’s agenda, a source in the government said. A draft of the council’s regulations is almost finished. Minister Mikhail Abyzov, who is responsible for cooperation with Open Government, is to present it to the prime minister soon.
“The regulations will include the member selection rules and the procedure for forming the council’s agenda,” the source said.
The government has urged the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, Business Russia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Opora Russia, the Russian Academy of Sciences and other agencies to nominate candidates, said Raf Shakirov, chief editor of the большоеправительство.рф online resource for Open Government.
“About 1,500 experts will be nominated and then they will select 200 from among themselves for the Expert Council. Medvedev will choose 15 for the council’s core,” Shakirov said.
Preference will be given to those who helped Medvedev create Open Government, namely Higher School of Economics Rector Yaroslav Kuzminov, president of Sistema A3 (remote payments) Alexei Volin, New Economic School Rector Sergei Guriyev, head of the Skolkovo Foundation Viktor Vekselberg, and several others.
Government agencies and ministries are to submit legislative initiatives to the Expert Council, which would suggest amendments for the second hearing in parliament. Council members will meet with the prime minister a week before government meetings, enough time to add their proposals to the agenda.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich earlier told Izvestia that the council would be given official status.
“The decision to institutionalize the council was made to ease cooperation with officials who will have to work with the council as a federal agency,” Dvorkovich said.
But political analysts fear it could become a shadow cabinet. The vague scheme for selecting council members could lead to a conflict of interest, and the institutional risks will be high, said Iosif Diskin, co-chairman of the Council for National Strategy and a member of the Public Chamber.
“After the top 15 are selected, the rest will become supporting cast who will bear no responsibility at all,” Diskin said. “And the risks for these 15 will be huge. It would be easier to make them advisors to the prime minister. Instead, we’ll have a shadow government without any responsibility.”
He said the council could become a lobbying center instead of a source of “independent opinion free from departmental influence.”
Medvedev needs experts who can take an independent stand on anything, said Yaroslav Kuzminov.
“The council’s viability will depend on finding these experts. Assuming we do, this will be a very important agency,” he said.
On June 14, the Expert Council tore to pieces a report on competition by Igor Artemyev, head of the Antimonopoly Service. The next day the government returned the report for revision.
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