European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It’s potential to affect the Russian legal system has yet to be fully realized.

ECHR was established as a permanent court with full-time judges on 1 November 1998, substituting the then existing enforcement mechanisms, which included the European Commission of Human Rights (created in 1954) and the European Court of Human Rights, which had been created in 1959.  27% of the applications to the ECHR come from Russia.  Consequently it has become an important tool for people seeking justice that was not available internally, through the Russian legal system.  Many cases come from Chechnya. They include those who have been shot by Russian troops while wearing white bandanas that clearly identified them as civilians or cases where family members were taken away by Russian troops only to be later declared as having "disappeared."  Other non-Chechnya cases range from rape by the police (militsiya) during interrogation, or complaints that the government did not provide sufficient warning/relief before and after a mudslide in one of the eastern regions, to claims that the Ministry of Justice is not properly enforcing monetary damages owed to plaintiffs.

Many of those who see a brighter future for the Russian legal system suggest that the ECHR is the solution because it is an independent body not influenced by internal corruption.  However, although the actual ECHR decisions are in most of the cases carried out, the same underlying issues persist and come up before ECHR over and over again.  This was the topic of one of the meetings held at the ABA office.   

In attendance were representatives from the Public Interest Law Institute (PILI)[1], the Public Verdict Fund[2], and the Russian Legal Initiative.[3]  They discussed that there is not enough information available on the decisions coming out of ECHR. There is no single source for all of the translated materials.  The Russian equivalents of LexisNexis or Westlaw, called "Garant" and "Konsultant", are prohibitively expensive and are inconsistent in providing this information.  Another point made during the meeting was that parties apply to the ECHR often as a form of blackmail against the local court.  Being handed down a decision from the ECHR understandably makes the local courts look bad.

Public Verdict Fund shared their new publication on the principles and standards of torture investigations. Apparently that is another frequent reason for ECHR applications. First of all, "torture" is defined by the criminal code as suffering caused by a private individual.  Whereas suffering caused by a public official (such a "militsioner" or policeman) is defined by the code as acting outside the scope of his official capacity or inappropriate compulsion of testimony, but not as "torture."  The publication explains that there must be increased punishment for acting outside of this scope and, as a prerequisite, the response to complaints and reports on torture has to become more effective.  Further, the publication includes translations of various international acts (including decisions by ECHR) on torture that outline procedures to be followed when investigation reports.  The Public Verdict Fund hopes to circulate this throughout Russia.

I have been discussing possible topics related to ECHR with the lead specialist on the subject here at ABA. Her name by the way is also Masha, which has become rather confusing around the office.

Do skorova (until soon),