6 July 2020
Kirill Koroteev, head of the international legal practice of the Agora International Human Rights Group, on whether the Russian authorities are implementing the decisions of international courts and how the constitutional amendments affect this.
The amendments made to the Russian Constitution went into force on 4 July. In total, there are more than 200 changes in the text. They include amendments affecting Russia’s implementation of international law.
What was changed in the Constitution
Article 79 was supplemented by a sentence saying that ‘decisions of international bodies approved on the basis of provisions in international agreements with the Russian Federation that in their interpretation contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation shall not be subject to implementation in the Russian Federation.’
Article 125 prescribed that the question of the possibility of implementing decisions by international bodies approved on the basis of provisions of international agreements with the Russian Federation that in their interpretation contradict the Constitution of the Russian Federation, as well as the question of the possibility of implementing decisions of a foreign or international (interstate) court, a foreign or international court of arbitration, that imposes obligations on the Russian Federation, in the event that this decision contradicts the foundations of public law enforcement in the Russian Federation, shall be decided by the Constitutional Court (CC).
At the request of ASI, Kirill Koroteev, head of the international legal practice of the Agora International Human Rights Group, explained whether these amendments will change law enforcement in our country and whether it will become harder for Russia’s citizens to obtain fair judgements at the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR].
The ECtHR: Everything already happened in 2015
“These ‘amendments’ neither add nor change anything compared with 2015, when the Constitutional Court stated outright for the first time that it could decide not to implement ECtHR decisions (on 14 July 2015 the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation recognized the priority of the Constitution of the Russian Federation in the implementation of ECtHR decisions – ASI). Both then and now, it takes a decision by the Constitutional Court in order to refuse to implement a decision by an international body, and the Constitutional Court has done this only twice in the past five years: concerning prisoners’ right to vote and concerning Yukos. New instances are possible, of course, but the practice should not become wide-scale,” Koroteev says.
According to him, the amendments in no way invalidate a single international agreement. “The decisions of that same ECtHR are binding by force of the European convention (on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms — ASI), not by force of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. This will have no effect on payments to petitioners (and if something does, it’s not this). The same applies to UN agreements,” the legal expert explains.
“That said, this does not mean the amendments are admissible. Naturally, they make the text of the Constitution inconsistent and condone violations of international law. However, the failure to implement decisions of that same ECtHR was epidemic with respect to correcting violations even before. This is to say that it does not take decisions of the Constitutional Court or amendments to the Constitution to ignore Strasbourg. The Supreme Court has refused to reconsider all kinds of criminal cases, both political (Yukos, Bolotnaya), and nonpolitical (the Zakharkin case),” Koroteev says.
Certain things Russia implements vigorously
The legal expert also draws attention to the fact that apart from the ECtHR and UN there are many other decisions and laws that continue to be implemented.
“For example, Russia has implemented (without admitting this publicly and, of course, with a delay) decisions of the Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and Arbitration under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Arctic Sunrise and Kerch Strait). And although the authorities’ rhetoric with regard to international law is imbued with the language of sovereignty and nationalism, Russia implements the conventions and decisions of, say, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation with incredible zeal, in particular permitting the special services of foreign states to operate on the country’s territory (while publicly asserting the opposite),” says Koroteev.
Translated by Marian Schwartz