Thursday, May 27, 2010

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Seeks Lawyers to Oppose Human Rights Appeals to Strasbourg

Paul Goble

Vienna, May 27 – Stung by the victories Russian citizens have won against it in the European Court of Human Rights and infuriated by a recent decision of that court against a Soviet Russian soldier who had killed civilians in Latvia during World War II, Moscow is seeking lawyers who will “defend the interests of Russia in Strasbourg.”
The Ministry of Justice is seeking two such lawyers and will select them on the basis of an open competition in which interested legal specialists will prepare a notional “defense memorandum” against appeals by Russians concerning violations of their rights, “Kommersant” reports today (
The ministry is prepared to conclude contracts with the two victors for the period extending to December20, 2010, and to pay each of them as much as 7,500,000 rubles (250,000 US dollars) for their efforts, an indication of just how important Moscow considers the recruitment of such people.
Georgy Matyushkin, who currently serves as the plenipotentiary representative of the Russian Federation to the Strasbourg court, told the Moscow daily that recruiting lawyers to present Moscow’s position in such cases is one of his major responsibilities and that he takes it very seriously indeed..
Matyushkin and his associates face an enormous task. According to court statistics, in 2009, Russia was the leading source of cases brought to the European Court of Human Rights, with more than 13,600 appeals from Russians brought that year alone. At present, because of a backlog, there are 33,500 appeals against Moscow awaiting judgment from Strasbourg.
Moscow’s representative sought to play these numbers down. He acknowledged that “citizens of Russia bring about a third of all complaints” to the Strasbourg court, but he suggested that these “statistics are the result of the fact that we have a large country.” On a per capita basis, he said, Russia is in 15th or 17th place among Council of Europe countries.
Most of the Russian complaints involve actions by Russian law enforcement organs, “the absence or limited amount of medical “ in penal institutions, and “the disappearance of people in the North Caucasus,” cases in which relatives suspect that the force structures are either directly involved or have failed to carry out their responsibilities to find the guilty parties.
That Moscow has a problem in Strasbourg is no surprise. Not only must the representative of the Russian government contest an enormous number of cases, but according to lawyers with whom “Kommersant” talked, the professional preparation of the state’s lawyers is “extremely low.”
According to one of them, Dmitry Agranovsky, “in part, the government loses [at the European Court of Human Rights] not only because it has really violated the rights of citizens but also because it simply cannot present its position to the European court in a professional way.”
Unfortunately, the paper continues, despite the Russian government’s “extremely attractive financial” offer, Moscow is likely to face serious problems in recruiting top attorneys to represent it in Strasbourg. One senior lawyer said that most attorneys “are not too interested in doing so” if from only “a technical point of view.”
Those attorneys who choose to represent the Russian government, he said, “have to work exclusively with documents and the bureaucrats who compose them,” not an easy or welcome task and thus yet another reason why Moscow seems fated to go on losing cases at what many Russians now view as their court of last resort.
And while those government losses may help Russians who do bring suit, at least in gaining financial compensation which Moscow has typically paid, they are certain to infuriate many Russians who see the court as part of a Western challenge to the way things are done in their country.
Reaction in Russia to the Strasbourg Court’s decision in the case of a Soviet soldier convicted of killing Latvian civilians in World War II underscores just how angry some Russians are becoming in that regard, with some saying that the decision was not “against Kononov” but rather “against Russia” (
It is not clear that the justice ministry’s decision came in response to that, but it is certainly an indication that under the guise of employing lawyers to fight appeals against Moscow and thus presenting Russia as a “law-based” state, the powers that be in the Russian capital are responding to or may in fact themselves share such views.

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