Galina Arapova: Rejecting the European Court of Human Rights would be a massive step backwards

posted 6 Nov 2017, 07:12 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 8 Nov 2017, 07:52 ]
27 October 2017

An interview with Galina Arapova, a leading lawyer at the Mass Media Defence Centre, by Mykola Nelyubin 

This is an extract from a longer text published at Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Fontanka.Ru]

Galina Arapova, winner of the Moscow Helsinki Group award and the leading lawyer at the Mass Media Defence Centre, talks about the possible consequences of a rift between Russia on the one hand and the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on the other. She personally handles applications by Russian citizens to the ECtHR. [...]

Why would a split between the Kremlin and the ECtHR be such a bad thing?

A very important factor here is the infantile accusation "You don’t love us. We think that you are taking decisions without taking our opinion into account. We don’t like that. We are proud."

When it comes to meeting our international obligations, such a position is immature. We are talking about the fate of those living in a great country and violations of their human rights. If there is no other means to resolve these disputes, such attitudes appear irresponsible in the extreme.

What started this conflict? 

After the annexation of Crimea, the Russian delegation was expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). It was denied voting rights. This was a political response. Russia was denied speaking rights at PACE for two years after the Crimean annexation. This response acted as a trigger for our politicians, who began to say: "Ah well, then we shall leave the Council of Europe and the ECtHR.”

But one should not confuse the PACE and the ECtHR. They are very different animals. It is irresponsible, on the basis of this situation, to take decisions that will make matters far more complicated for the citizens of our own country. [...]

Who specifically would suffer in our country as a result of a rift between Russia and the ECtHR? 

Everybody has the right to appeal to the ECtHR in Strasbourg. It matters to each one of us. As well as foreigners whose rights may have been violated while they are in the Russian Federation. For example, a citizen of any country whose rights have been violated in Russia but the authorities there have failed to protect them. In other words, all whose rights may have been violated, in one way or another. 

Russia is among the top five countries for the number of applications submitted to the ECtHR and the number of decisions reached. In 2016, according to official statistics, the ECtHR made decisions on 645 Russian cases, 118 cases from Turkey, 116 from Ukraine and 77 from France. Of course, Russia is the largest and most populous country in Europe. These are saddening statistics. Liechtenstein is tiny, and it might send one appeal to Strasbourg. Russia is enormous, and our problems are on a different scale.

What will we lose? 

The possibility of a fair trial. The ECtHR is the last hope for any person living in Russia to find justice in a complex legal dispute about violations of fundamental human rights. These include the right not to be subjected to torture, cruel and degrading treatment, the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly, the right to non-discrimination and other important human rights. 

Unfortunately, Russia’s domestic judicial system does not show the same level of independence. We have a conviction rate of more than 99%. In many criminal cases, where preventative custody is an option, the accused are remanded in custody during the pr-trial investigation. They are unnecessarily put in jail. The Russian courts, as we can see, are not independent as they should be, and often issue judgments with one eye on the interests of the authorities. [...]

Background information:

The Mass Media Defence Centre was founded in 1996 and is based in Voronezh (Central Russia). Galina Arapova is its lead lawyer and founding director; she is also a board member of Article 19.

Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe is the oldest European international organisation. It aims to promote cooperation between states in the field of legal standards, human rights, democratic development and cultural issues. The organization is composed of 47 states, with a total population of more than 800 million. It is not a constituent body of the EU. Russia joined the Council of Europe in February 1996. In May 1998 Russia ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. From this date Russia has been subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. 

Translated by Graham Jones