Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Strasbourg Court Rules for Russian Judge against Russian Government

Paul Goble

Vienna, February 25 – The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg will announce tomorrow that it has found the Russian government to have the rights of Moscow City Judge Olga Kudeshkina when it dismissed her in 2004 for expressing her opinions about the political situation there, Moscow’s “Kommersant” reports today.
Kudeshkina was stripped of her position after she said during the course of her unsuccessful campaign for a Duma seat that the chief judge of the Moscow city court had put pressure on her in a case involving senior interior ministry officials and thus had converted the courts into little more than a place for “settling political scores.”
As a result, she said at that time, “no one can be certain that his case will be resolved according to the law,” a declaration that her colleagues on the bench said violated legislation governing judicial behavior. She was dismissed and then, following unsuccessful appeals in the Russian court system, appealed to the Strasbourg court in 2006.
In her appeal, Kudeshkina argued that the Russian government had violated those paragraphs of the Human Rights Convention requiring the independence of the judiciary and defending the right of people to express their opinions, a position Russia’s representative there dismissed as unfounded (
According to “Kommersant,” the Court had decided last December by a vote of four to three to reject Kudeshkina’s appeal, but on February 5th, the balance shifted in her favor, something that the Moscow paper said its sources linked to a change in the composition of the court occasioned by the absence of one Azerbaijani judge.
The paper noted that a court spokesman said that normally the court puts off taking a decision when one of the judges is absent but “for some reason this did not happen” in the Kudeshkina case. And “Kommersant” adds that the judges who wanted to reject Kudeshkina’s appeals have prepared extensive dissents, which should be posted tomorrow.
What makes this case intriguing is not that it occurred or that the Strasbourg Court ruled against Moscow – there are more cases from Russia before that court than from any other country, and the Russian government in most cases loses – but rather that in this case, Strasbourg found for a Russian judge against the Russian government she had worked for.
On many occasions, the Russian authorities have either ignored the decisions of that court or dragged their feet in implementing them, something Moscow found relatively easy to do with regard to cases involving Chechens, for example. But this case is different because it involves a prominent Moscow judge (
And Kudeshkina, along with others concerned about free speech and the independence of the judiciary, can be expected to demand that Moscow bow to the wishes of the Human Rights Court, even though it is already clear that Russian officialdom and many nationalistically inclined Russians will oppose any concession.
Her case thus sets up a kind of confrontation over the coming weeks and months in which Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s commitment to the rule of law will be tested. And it is indicative of the way things are likely to go that the “Kommersant” article has appeared the day before the decision is announced and provides cannon fodder for those who want to ignore it.

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