Trainings Promote Public Oversight in Russia

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July 2014

In June, the ABA Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) provided a series of eight trainings for journalists, lawyers, bloggers and advocates on conducting effective public oversight and on sharing the results of a public oversight investigation. Held in the Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, Kazan and Novosibirsk regions of Russia, the trainings attracted about 200 participants from 27 regions.

Discussions introduced participants to tools, that can be used to conduct successful and effective public oversight for sharing the results of a public oversight investigation with citizens.

Discussions introduced participants to tools, that can be used to conduct successful and effective public oversight for sharing the results of a public oversight investigation with citizens. 

Krasimir Vranski, founder and leader of a public movement for creating smart and green public spaces in St. Petersburg, Pavel Chikov of the Inter-Regional Association of Human Rights Organizations (AGORA) and Kirill Titaev of the Institute for the Rule of Law at European University of St. Petersburg led the trainings. Discussions introduced participants to tools, such as interviewing and investigative techniques, and other engagement methods, that can be used to conduct successful and effective public oversight, and highlighted several methods, such as media programs, public outreach leaflets and expert reports, for sharing the results of a public oversight investigation with citizens.

Russia’s current legislative landscape—which among other things allows law enforcement bodies to block any website without a judicial decision—limits freedom of expression and renders those seeking to investigate local government activity—including independent journalists, bloggers and social media activists—susceptible to self-censorship. To address these challenges, the trainers used real-world examples of effective engagement methods, including the use of mass media, blogs, expert reports and strategic litigation, for negotiating with and channeling citizen feedback to government. The workshops were enhanced with practical exercises, such as dialogues, group presentations and team-based teaching approaches, which helped participants build their practical skills. Participants were also able to engage in mock oversight activities on such issues as quality of education in local schools, conditions in pre-trial detention centers and transparency of court hearings. Additionally, many participants shared their experiences striving for higher social accountability.

“Many practical aspects that we discussed will help me be more efficient in collaborating with authorities,” said Dmitry Kizyanov, a Maikop city-based journalist for the newspaper Soviet Adygea. “Thanks to the information delivered during the training, I can conduct sound analysis of regulations and standards enacted by the municipal and regional authorities, then publish results in the newspaper, blogs and websites where I contribute as an author.”

To boost ongoing trainings, ABA ROLI is developing a comprehensive toolkit on effective investigative and advocacy strategies for members of public oversight commissions and for those non-governmental and community organizations engaged in monitoring and oversight activities. Twenty-eight of the training participants, including community leaders, have been selected to take part in a special development program that will provide them with hands-on guidance on identifying a significant social issue and on creating and executing a specific public oversight project.

Funded by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, ABA ROLI’s public oversight efforts in Russia are focused on strengthening citizens’ capacity to monitor and engage with state institutions.

To learn more about our work in Russia, contact the ABA Rule of Law Initiative at rol@americanbar.org.

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