11 July 2022
At an extraordinary meeting of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, a resolution was adopted, according to which Russia ceases to be a member of it from March 16, 2022. From now on, Russians will no longer be able to apply to the European Court of Human Rights for the protection of their rights, while this was for many citizens the last opportunity to defend themselves in cases where Russian courts sided with the state. According to the number of applications filed with the Strasbourg Court, Russia took the leading place.
For 22 years NGO “Man and Law” and our partners in other regions have worked on many cases when the European Court of Human Rights helped people achieve justice. Until this turning point, the Convention and the European Court of Human Rights were effective mechanisms that allowed restraining the illegal actions of officials.
The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and is the oldest international human rights organization in Europe. At the moment, it includes 47 states. Russia joined it in 1996, and in 1998 ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. In accordance with this international document, the human being, his rights and freedoms are recognized as the main value, and torture, slavery, forced labour, discrimination and the death penalty are considered unacceptable.
EU membership gave Russians the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights when domestic remedies at the national level were exhausted. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights does not have the right to overturn decisions made by Russian state authorities or a national court. The European Court of Human Rights is an international judicial body that examines specific applications in order to establish whether the requirements of the Convention have really been violated, and then awards financial compensation to the winning party.
The main purpose of the Convention is to establish inalienable human rights and freedoms, which must be strictly observed by the participating countries. Fundamental among them is the right to life and personal integrity. The European Court of Human Rights considered applications related to the death of people from the actions or omissions of the authorities in places of deprivation of liberty and places of forced detention, police stations, medical institutions, etc.; complaints of torture and degrading treatment; if a person did not receive reliable information or, on the contrary, he was punished for truthful statements; if a person was prosecuted for actively expressing his opinion at rallies, unreasonably invaded privacy or property was taken away, and, finally, if the trial against the person took place in violation of the law.
The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was adopted by Russia, since none of its clauses contradicts the fundamental document of the Russian Federation – the Constitution. At the same time, in recent years, laws on the territory of the Russian Federation have undergone positive changes in the direction of respect for the human rights of even the most vulnerable categories of citizens. Various human rights organizations talked about changing attitudes towards ordinary people in police stations, in colonies, about improving the situation of people with disabilities – all this is largely due to membership in the Council of Europe. Denouncing the Convention will set Russia back on the path of its development and make it impossible to have a civilized dialogue with the world community.
It took a resident of Mari El Republic Elvira Kislitsyna more than seven years and an application to the European Court of Human Rights to prove an ineffective investigation into the suicide of her son and two of his friends. The events took place in 2005: three teenagers were taken to the Sernur district police department on charges of stealing rabbits. They were interrogated there. None of the legal representatives were present. As a result of a “conversation” with police officers, the boys confessed to the theft, and six days later, instead of coming for re-interrogation, all three committed group suicide. As a result, the European Court of Human Rights found a violation of Article 2.3.13 of the Convention in this case and ordered the Russian Federation to pay compensation in the amount of 50,000 euros to the woman who had lost her son.
The circumstances of the case “Rzhavin v. Russia” happened in 2001. The pensioner was taken in his underwear and barefoot to the Zarechny police department in December frost. The basis was the complaint of his relative, who accused him of breaking a window in her apartment. The total term of the prosecutor’s inspections in this case was more than six years. After domestic remedies were exhausted, the application was sent to the European Court of Human Rights. In 2010, the Court began considering the application on the merits and asked the Russian authorities a number of questions. Russia recognized the fact of violation of three articles of the Convention at once and offered the applicant to conclude a settlement agreement, paying him compensation in the amount of 12,000 euros. The European Court of Human Rights recognized that inhumane treatment had been applied to the pensioner, he had been unlawfully deprived of his liberty, and the investigative authorities had not conducted a proper investigation into the case.
In 2020, German Pirogov, a journalist and civil activist from Mari El Republic, with the help of the European Court of Human Rights, obtained compensation in the amount of 10,500 euros. Previously, he had been accused for critical statements at a rally of the public movement “Mari Ushem” against the policy pursued by acting at that time the head of the republic Leonid Markelov. The European Court of Human Rights found a violation of article 10 of the European Convention.
In 2021, the European Court of Human Rights recognized that the Russian authorities had violated the right to freedom of expression in the case of Evgeny Shevelev and ordered to pay him compensation in the amount of 9,480 euros. Before applying to the Court, he had been accused for criticizing the head of Mari El Republic Leonid Markelov at a rally held in Yoshkar-Ola more than seven years ago.
It is possible to assume a significant deterioration of the situation with respect for human rights in the country. It will be much more difficult to restrict human rights violations by officials and authorities, with which Russian human rights organizations have been fighting all this time. Discriminatory norms of laws against various vulnerable groups and people may return, and there will be no mechanisms of influence that would allow these laws to be changed.
Since leaving the Council of Europe, the Russian political and judicial machinery will have complete freedom of action, and it is very difficult to say unequivocally how this freedom will affect ordinary citizens, our society as a whole. Amid reports of a possible withdrawal from the Council of Europe, Dmitry Medvedev has already made a proposal to return the death penalty to the country for the most dangerous criminals.
The European Court of Human Rights has always been an additional instance to protect human rights. There is also a UN system, which the government has announced in case of withdrawal from the Council of Europe, but this right is considered “soft”, since it is exclusively advisory in nature and is not so effective for ordinary citizens.
Today, the Council of Europe, for its part, should report on what will happen to applications from the Russian Federation that were received by the European Court of Human Rights before the exclusion. At the moment, their consideration has been suspended in Strasbourg, the flag of the Russian Federation has been lowered…
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