Karinna Moskalenko: “The presumption of innocence and other standards are not in fact being observed in Russian courts.”

31 March 2021

Karinna Moskalenko, lawyer, international legal expert, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, on the “Have Your Say” podcast with Zoya Svetova and Anna Stavitskaya (30 March 2021 and 6 April 2021)

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: MBKh Media]

Twenty-three years ago, on 30 March 1998, Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. Since then, Russian citizens have been able to seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights. Lawyer Karinna Moskalenko was the first Russian defence lawyer to appear before the ECtHR. The podcast “Have Your Say” aired a two-part interview with Karinna. In the first part, she talks about Kalashnikov v. Russian Federation, the first Russian case in the European Court of Human Rights. As well as about the trial of Sergei Ryabov, who won his case in Strasbourg, after which a real drama played out in a Russian jury trial.

According to the defendant’s admission, the need for Russia to join the European Court of Human Rights arose and became obvious “not because life was good.” In the 1990s, “active smothering” of judicial reform began in the country. 

“We are lawyers who believed in certain changes in the 1990s, and all of us who had begun to argue our opinions and positions in the courts successfully and to achieve something suddenly noticed that there was a curtailment of this reform under way. In 1994, we created the International Protection Centre. This is an organization of professional lawyers who cannot reconcile themselves to the fact that the presumption of innocence and other standards are not in fact being observed in Russian courts,” Moskalenko explained.

During those same years, defenders had actively begun to apply the mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, to which Russians could appeal as of 1 January 1992, but in 1994, the instruments of the European Court were still not available to them. 

“At that moment, Russia was trying to become a member of the Council of Europe, but its declarations and appeals to join were rejected,” Moskalenko explained.

Russia did not join the Council of Europe until 1996. At that time, Russians gained the right to officially appeal to the ECtHR and be heard by that court, although they had been submitting written complaints to it as early as 1994 and 1995. 

In 2001, Karinna Moskalenko was the first Russian lawyer to appear at the first public hearing of a Russian citizen’s case in the European Court of Human Rights. At that time they considered the complaint of Magadan banker Valery Kalashnikov about the conditions of confinement at the remand centre being “inhumane and demeaning,” as well as about the unreasonable terms of pre-trial detention. Hearings for his case went on from September 2001 to July 2002. 

“This was such happiness – the opportunity to speak before the European Court and be heard! We had been saying the exact same thing for many years in the national court, but no one heard us,” she said.

As a result, the European Court of Human Rights required Russia to pay Kalashnikov 8,000 euros as compensation for moral damage.

“Since that time and up to the present day, there have been a great many similar cases. We don’t even know about all of them because the authorities, at last, have started offering compensation themselves – as voluntary redress for damages and an extrajudicial amicable settlement of the complaint. That is, without decisions being issued by the European Court. But at the time, this [the ECtHR decision] came like a bolt from the blue,” Moskalenko recalls.

Valery Kalashnikov was the second Russian to obtain justice at the ECtHR. The first such trial, in May 2002, was won by Anatoly Burdov, a first responder at the Chernobyl disaster, and required the Russian authorities to pay him the compensation prescribed by law. But there was no public hearing in his case.

“[It was] a civil case, out of which arose a great many others, so-called ‘Chernobyl cases,’ where the victims of Chernobyl who lost their health continued to lose it but now in the halls of various degrees of jurisdiction. The case had enormous significance,” Moskalenko noted.

In January 2021, the ECtHR denied satisfaction to the parents of a two-year-old boy from St. Petersburg in their suit against Russia. The family insisted that the state purchase Zolgensma, an expensive medication, for the child, who suffered from SMA (spinal muscular atrophy). In part two of the conversation with Karinna Moskalenko, Zoya Svetova and Anna Stavitskaya, the hosts of the “Have Your Say” podcast, discuss why the European Court sometimes refuses to satisfy claims, whether Russia will leave the Council of Europe, and whether a Russian Court of Human Rights will replace the ECtHR.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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