Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeks to Reduce Russian Appeals to European Human Rights Court

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 18 – The Duma is considering legislation drafted by the Russian Supreme Court that its backers in Moscow hope will reduce the enormous number of often politically embarrassing appeals by Russian citizens reaching the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg.
Last year, Russian plaintiffs are involved in some 20,000 appeals to that court, more than a fifth of all that body’s case load and a number that both the European Union, for budgetary reasons, and the Russian Federation government, for political ones, would very much like to see cut back substantially.
One reason why Russian citizens form such a large fraction of the European Court’s caseload is that many – and especially Chechens -- view that body as their best chance for justice, not only because they view Russian courts as biased but also because under current law, the country’s highest court to consider suits against the government.
The legislation the Russian parliament is now considering would change that, opening the way for Russian citizens to bring suit against their own government for human rights and other violations and thus limiting the chance that they could appeal decisions against them to Strasbourg. interviewed three members of the Duma about this measure, and while each said he supported it out of a belief that it would improve the justice system in Russia, all indicated that keeping cases out of the glare of European publicity was major concern (
Anatoliy Lyskov, who heads the Federation Council’s Committee on Legal and Judicial Affairs, said that the Russian Supreme Court ought to be able to deal with such issues so that fewer Russian citizens would appeal to Strasbourg and thus harm Russia’s “Image as a democratic and legal state.”
Valeriy Fedorov, the chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Law, said that the Russian Supreme Court is fully capable of deciding such questions and that it was time to get over the notion that “everything foreign is better than ours, including a foreign court being more just.”
“That is not so,” he insisted. Our courts can be just as independent and just as any court in Europe – a position that some may find convincing but that others, including those familiar with the continuing role of “telephone justice” in Russia are certain to dispute.
And Andrei Savelyev, deputy chairman of the Federation Council’s Committee on Constitutional Law, added that an expansion of powers of the Supreme Court was essential because at present “there are no mechanisms in the Russian judicial system which allow for the consideration of appeals of citizens about human rights violations.
He argued that the new arrangement would not overburden the courts and would ensure justice, although he noted that in Russia “one sometimes encounters individual judges who are very independent [not only from the views of other government officials but also] from justice and law [as well].”

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