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Russian Duma Approves Law On Human-Rights Commissioner

Moscow, April 17 (RFE/RL) - The Russian State Duma approved a law today laying down the principles for appointing a human rights commissioner.

Itar-tass news agency reports that 303 deputies voted in favor of the law, following a long debate. It said two other deputies voted against and one abstained.

According to the agency, the commissioner is to be appointed by two-thirds of the 450-member Duma for a five years term.

The Duma document says the position will not substitute the work of state agencies, in charge of defending human rights in Russia. But the commissioner will have the right to ask and obtain information and documents from all Russian state organs. He will also have the right to check the activities of state institutions.

The previous human rights commissioner, activist Sergey Kovalyov, was appointed by parliament before any specific legislation existed.

Kovalyov, who sharply criticized the Russian military operation in Chechnya, was dismissed by the previous Duma in 1995. Last January he resigned his position of Presidential Human Rights Representative and strongly criticized President Boris Yeltsin for his role in the conflict.