European Court of Human Rights in 2011

The eve of 2012 was marked by simultaneous adoption of two decisions on Russia taken by the European Court of Human Rights. The both of them quite remarkable going far beyond ordinary complaints. The first applies to Georgia versus Russia – 2 case. Shouldn’t be confused with the similar case lodged by a number of Georgian citizens against Russia (so called Georgia vs. Russia – 1). The new case was lodged not by citizens but by the government of Georgia. This is a real rare occasion in the European Court of Human Rights practice. There have been only three interstate complaints in the Court’s history, two of them coming from Georgia versus Russia. Georgia contends that Russia violated a number of the European convention provisions at the time of military operation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in August 2008.

As in the Ilushku case of 2004 (Russia was found guilty carrying responsibility for the events taking place outside of its territory) the Court accepted the complaint for review, though the issue of responsibility for events outside national territory was not resolved in a satisfactory manner. By the way there are 900 complaints more submitted by Georgian citizens versus Russia expecting the Court’s judgement.

The second Court’s decision was delivered on the case under the unobtrusive name Finogenov and others versus Russia concerning the Dubrovka tragic events of October 2002. A number of citizens who suffered during those developments launched a complaint to the European Court, saying their rights were breached according to the European human rights convention provisions, a right to life in particular.

The European Court’s right to life practice is rather interesting and ambiguous enough. If death sentence is a long ago settled issue, the use of lethal force by state in other cases, including fight against terrorism, is addressed in rather uncertain terms. In a well known case McCann and others versus Britain the judgement was that eliminating people who were erroneously suspected in involvement in a terrorist act presented a violation of their rights but the decision was approved by one voice margin majority only. Twenty four judges spoke out against the qualification of the court decision! In the Finogenov and others versus Russia case the European Court found a violation of the complainants right to life and awarded them a € 1 million compensation. It’s important to note the justification of such decision was not the very operation to free hostages but inadequate medical aid the victims received after being freed.

Talking about the European Court activities it was a rather tense year for the Russian Federation in general. Yukos versus Russia, Khodorkovsky versus Russia, The Katyn, Ceorgian and Chechen complaints were among the most significant cases the decisions were taken on. 

The Convention violations were established in 94% Court’s decisions. Only 4% established no violations on the part of state and 1% ended up in “friendly decisions”.

In 2011 the major part of cases concerning rights violations by Russia were relevant to the article 6 of the European Convention (a right to a fair trial) over 20% of all decisions) followed by property (17%), torture and inhuman treatment (15%), freedom and security (14%). Compared to the 47 members of Council of Europe statistics the picture is by and large the same, the major part of violations are typical for all: (right to a fair trial – 20%), property rights (14%), freedom and security (11%). In the whole the Russian situation is similar to the all European one.

There were over 46 thousand complaints from Russia expecting the European Court decision by the end of the last year. 2011 became a year if changing procedures according to the Protocol 14. Now only the most important complaints are subject to collegial decision-making. Only four and a half thousand are considered as such (they will be taken on by 3 judges committees or 7 judges chambers). Under the circumstances the nationality of the one who tries a case is decisive. The nationality defines who or, more exactly, what state is to pass a judgement on Russia.

It hadn’t been the case before: the composition of a panel had always been the same with representation of all member-countries of the Council of Europe. At present only four cases are being considered by the Grant chamber or the full Court.

The Russia’s financial contribution was approximately € 25 million. The whole European Court budget was about € 60 million. So Russia’s financial contribution is about half of the total European Court budget. Still it is represented by only one judge and about 7% of the Secretariat positions.

The further Russian participation in the European legal entity has become an acute issue in 2012. Thus, V.Zorkin, the chairman of the Russian Federation Constitutional Court and V. Torshin, deputy speaker of Federal Council, came up with a number of proposals to significantly reconsider the European Court influence on the Russian legal system. These proposals have some definite substantiations. And an answer pops up: what’s more effective – delivering abundant funds to European bureaucracy or investing the very same money into the Russian legal system? 

At that the Court itself – even after the reform – doesn’t function very effectively. There were only 149 decisions in 2011. Taking into account that financial compensations are involved, the matter looks more serious (The Yukos decision envisages $ billion compensation, the Nord-Ost perished case presupposes a payment of € 1 million, the Court’s decisions implementation requires paying significant compensations to such “victims” as Khodorkovsky).

The common trends concerning Russia in recent years should be taken into account. A number of the European Court decisions impedes Russia in its efforts to defend its citizens from religious sects, organized crime, protect state secrets.

Russia is made responsible for the crimes committed on the territory of other states “having established” the fact of Russia’s temporary control over it. The Soviet partisans, who fought fascism, are made responsible for committing international crimes…It’s all substantiated by arguments far from having anything to do with law. Thus, raising questions concerning quality and effectiveness of Russian legal system, it’s appropriate to ask the very same things about the European Court of Human Rights…


Alexander Mezyaev, Strategic Culture Foundation

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