Is Russia Withdrawing from Rule of Law Principles?

Between 2013 until mid-2015, around 45.000 Russians have turned to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg (Moscow Times, 10.12.2015). The majority of cases was decided against the Russian administration, for the protection of Russian citizens. The ECHR can rule also against a constitution of a signatory state – which was the case e.g. in an equality and nin-discrimination case aganst Germany where the Constitution had ruled that women cannot fight in the army, resp. nit fight in combat troops. A female future helicopter pilot had this examined legally, and won finally. The German Constitution had to be changed. So, the ECHR is a (not only constitutional) watchdog, with many judgments in favour of judicial rights of the citizens. Since Eastern European states are subject of ECHR decisions, there is a certain tendency in favour of a liberal society, abiding to the rule of law. It is good to have international courts in Europe, and the ECHR and its EU counterpart, the Court of European Justice (CEJ) in Luxembourg have all confidence of the citizens. These courts are a guarantee of the sum of all positive legal traditions.

But now Russia has managed to adopt a new law, and this within days:. The Federal Constitutional Law of 14.12.2015 № 7-FKZ: „On Amendments to the Federal Constitutional Law“ – On the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation. The law has been initiated in the parliament on 18.11.2016 and was approved on 4.12.2015 State (Duma) resp. 9.12.2015 (Federation Council), then signed by the president on 14.12.2015. This speed says it all; only  semi-auhoritarian and authoritarian regimes can afford to whip a law through parliament that fast, without gathering any feedback by civil society (which hardly exists in Russia). The law says that its Constitutional Court can exempt Russia of international judgments, if this judgment is against the Russian Constitution. So Russia is, again, alone.

This cannot be compared to the case of the United States who did not want their military staff responsible before an international court. The ECHR concerns civilians. Russia evidently took the Yukos case to trigger its new policy, also to save 1,9 billion EUR compensation to be paid to former Yukos shareholders. This case has to do with arbitrary use of procedural rights, as well as with the case against Michail Khodorkovsky, another example which can show very contestable Russian standards of the rule of law.

Russia should know that this new law is considered by the Rule-of-Law community of the world as being against its own interests, against foreign Investment in the country which would be needed so urgently. But it goes hand in hand with the laws about „foreign agents“. It is the point on the „i“ which should defer all relevant decisions to a post-Putin era, as at present Russia is far away from the rule of law.

Hans-Jürgen Zahorka

Chief Editor, European Union Foreign Affairs Journal

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