Friday, April 27, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Europe Seeks to Save Money by Reducing Human Rights Cases from Russia

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 27 – The European Court for Human Rights currently spends 22 percent of its budget – some 12.5 million euros -- to review more than 20,000 appeals by Russian citizens against their government, figures the Council of Europe and the European Commission hope to cut by providing additional training to Russian officials.
Hannah Junger, who heads the Council of Europe’s Office for Cooperation on Human Rights, told “Gazeta” that Europeans would like “as much as possible” to cut the number of cases coming from Russia by “resolving these problems at the national level” (
To that end, the paper reported, the Council of Europe and the European Commission plan to spend 1.9 million euros to expand judicial and legal training in Russia, something these two institutions have been actively involved in over the last few year.
Since 2004, they have organized 350 training exercises in Russia for 7500 judges, 100 seminars for 3,000 prosecutors, and 120 lectures for 1800 militia officers. And the Europeans plan to create by this fall a Russian-language computerized database on human rights law.
But despite all that, Junger continued, “the number of cases coming from Russia is constantly growing,” adding that she “thinks that this [increase] is connected with a definite level of knowledge both of Russian jurists and the staff of law enforcement organs.”
Russian human rights officials and lawyers, in contrast, fear that the growth in the number of such appeals to the European court reflects not only the ignorance of Russian judicial officials about international legal norms but also some disturbing trends in Russian jurisprudence.
Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer, told Moscow’s “Gazeta” that the growing number of cases reaching Strasbourg reflects not only “legal illiteracy” on the part of officials but also the fact that the entire Russian “legal system is based on charges made rather than the discovery of truth.”
One indication of that, she continued, is that “fewer than one percent of cases in Russian courts” result in something other than convictions. And as a result,
it is not surprising that absolutely innocent people finding themselves behind bars” are in a position to demonstrate their innocent to the European Court.
Thus, efforts by the Europeans to reduce the number of cases coming from Russia may save money but only at the cost of justice itself. This is especially likely to be the case in cases involving Chechens and other North Caucasians who regularly are abused by the Russian legal system, she said.
But the problems likely to arise from any reduction in possibilities for appealing beyond Moscow to Strasbourg will not be limited to them alone, Moskalenko concluded: It is simply not the case, she said, that “today’s precedents created by the European Court are being considered and fulfilled in Russia.”

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