Karinna Moskalenko: “Sometimes justice and the legal system don’t coincide, sometimes they do.”

13 April 2021

A. Petrovskaya of Ekho Moskvy in conversation with lawyer and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group Karinna Moskalenko

An extract from ‘Милосердие и закон. Справедливость и правосудие. Совпадают ли они?’

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

A. Petrovskaya: The clock has just struck 11:09 in the Ekho Moskvy studios. It’s Aleksandra Petrovskaya at the microphone and today I have with me the lawyer and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group with her own special opinion, Karinna Moskalenko. Today we will probably focus on a particular topic but approach it from many different angles. This is a question I often ask people trained in the law, lawyers and solicitors, and I often start off by asking it. Mercy and the law – are these ideas related at all? To what extent do these two things come together? 

K. Moskalenko: Yes of course, there are times when they intersect with one another and these concepts will even complement one another nicely. But they are separate concepts, and this doesn’t always happen. You are forcing me to think about this and in a way I didn’t expect. We lawyers often ask for mercy for those who are completely in the power of the state. The state is required to care for these people, but they don’t necessarily always do that. Sometimes justice and the legal system don’t coincide, sometimes they do. But let’s discuss the specifics. 

A. Petrovskaya: Father Aleksei Uminsky, by virtue of the position he occupies, appeals in particular for mercy. It must be said he does so without referring to Aleksei Navalny, and this is right and just, because the situation Navalny finds himself in isn’t a unique one, in fact it is a common one for many prisoners. Unfortunately, in the penal colonies and in remand centres people don’t always treat each other with mercy or with justice.

K. Moskalenko: Yes, unfortunately the penal colonies and the remand centres, and well, the penitentiary system in Russia as a whole, are far from being in a good state, neither in relation to an individual, nor taken as a whole, are they just or humane. We often talk about this in our applications to the European Court of Human Rights because Russian courts and law enforcement agencies don’t understand us at all well. There are by all accounts, hundreds, if not thousands, of cases where, without the involvement of the European Court, it would not have been possible to count on either legality or mercy, or even elementary humanity. 

I’m not saying that nothing has been achieved since we started using the mechanisms of the European Court of Human Rights, and that’s already 20 years ago, because some things have changed in a major way. And this is despite the fact we consider the situation to be far from good. We see the problems as primarily systemic, really systemic, because there is no protection from cruel and inhumane treatment, there is no such mechanism, it doesn’t exist, it hasn’t been created yet. But it must be said that prisoners today are afforded more rights. This is in large part thanks to the fact that the European Court accepts our applications, and the European Convention for Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms lays down in Article 3 that inhuman or torturous treatment is impermissible, and this is an absolute right, the prohibition on torture, in other words it is not subject to any doubts or limitations.  [Read more in Russian]

Translated by Fergus Wright

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