Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Extraditing 20 Times More People than Other States Do to It

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 27 – Moscow extradited, at the request of other governments, more than a thousand people last year, while other governments extradited only 57 of the some 1200 citizens of the Russian Federation that prosecutors there have charged with committing serious crimes and seek their return for trial, according to Russian officials.
That pattern, which is described in today’s “Novyye izvestiya,” provides a context for the relatively few high profile cases, such as Moscow’s refusal to extradite the man wanted in Britain for killing Litvinenko or Spain’s willingness to send a Chechen back to Russia, that have received media attention in the past (www.newizv.ru/news/2009-01-27/104807/).
Timur Lakhonin, head of the Interpol bureau in the Russian Interior Ministry, said that 2008 was “a banner year” for extradition cases, as far as Moscow is concerned. At the request of Russian prosecutors, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Germany and France were among the countries that extradited 57 Russian citizens charged with various crimes.
Russian officials, he said, are currently pursuing 1200 other Russian citizens, including “about 80” who have been detained by the governments of other countries at Moscow’s request or as the result of their own actions in these countries and whose extradition to Russia various foreign courts are now considering.
Other Russian officials reported that during the first eleven months of 2008, Russia extradited 1063 people against whom other governments have brought charges and seek to trial. A large but unspecified fraction of these are citizens of Central Asian countries or member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Different countries, “Novyye izvestiya’s” Zoya Svetova points out, have different standards with regard to extradition requests, standards that reflect not only national legislation but the international agreements these countries have signed and, of course, politics, which leads in many cases to charges of “double standards.”
Anna Stavitskaya, a Moscow lawyer who specializes in extradition cases, told her that for European countries, the key international document is the European Convention on Extradition, an accord that the European Court of Human Rights regularly invokes and that people in other countries look to as a model.
The convention, Stavitskaya noted, specifies that a state cannot “extradite one of its own citizens to another country,” that it cannot “extradite those who have asked for and received the status of refugee,” and that “one state must not return a citizen to another state if there is reason to suppose that in [the latter] human rights are violated and anyone extradited might be tortured.”
Those provisions, of course, are why many human rights activists in the West oppose the extradition of Chechens, Ingush and others to Russia and why many human rights activists in the Russian Federation oppose the extradition of Central Asians wanted by their governments in their homelands.
But the unwillingness of Western governments to send people back to Russia is routinely invoked by Moscow as one reason why the Russian government is under no particular obligation to extradite those Western governments seek to question or bring charges against, as in the Litvinenko affair.
And Moscow’s willingness to send Central Asians wanted by their governments home to face trial or worse is not only popular among many Russians who oppose the influx of migrants from those countries but represents a way for Moscow to strengthen its ties with the authoritarian regimes of that region.
At present, Elena Ryabina, who heads a Russian effort to provide assistance to political refugees from Central Asia, says that they have the right on paper at least to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. But unfortunately, Russian officials sometimes block these appeals and sometimes ignore the court’s orders not to send people back to Central Asia.
Russian human rights activists, “Novyye izvestiya” reports, say that they have been able to block more than 15 cases “of illegal extradition of people who have come from the countries of Central Asia.” But that is only a handful compared to the much larger group that Moscow has sent back.
And at a time when there is a widespread willingness to defer to other governments when they suggest that the persons they seek are involved in terrorism, not only are demands for extradition likely to grow, but at least some governments, including that of the Russian Federation, are turning to extra-judicial measures to get at those they want.
While the murder of Chechens abroad by Russian agents has attracted, a scandal this week in Austria highlights yet another troubling development in Russian efforts to attack its opponents abroad: the willingness of police in some countries to work directly with the FSB and SVR and to refuse to provide protection against these bodies to those who request it.
An opposition leader has called for the resignation of the Austria’s interior minister over this, but the arrangements the debate over this have revealed are likely now widespread (www.wienerzeitung.at/DesktopDefault.aspx?TabID=3858&Alias=wzo&cob=393596 and

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