Leonid Nikitinsky: On draft legislation denouncing a number of European conventions

19 January 2023

The president has proposed that the Duma denounce several European conventions. To what end—no one understands. Except maybe on principle.

by Leonid Nikitinsky, columnist for Novaya gazeta

Source: FreeSpace

On Tuesday, draft legislation submitted by the president appeared on the State Duma website denouncing several European conventions to which the Russian Federation so far remains a participant, presumably, despite its March 2022 declaration about withdrawing from the Council of Europe. 

Being distributed along with the bill and an explanatory memorandum is the text of those conventions from which withdrawal is proposed—about 150 pages in English and an equal number in official Russian translation. Multiplying by the number of Duma deputies (450) and Federation Council members (208), we get 98,700 A4 pages of English text, not counting the packets that will have to be duplicated for the staff of both chambers. An entire grove has been decimated.

The draft’s content is intriguingly incomprehensible. I discussed it with lawyer Karinna Moskalenko, who is an old hand at European conventions, but even she would not make any unambiguous assertions, limiting herself to a general opinion: “If someone takes off his head, he doesn’t weep for his hair.” 

The “proactive” logic, in Moskalenko’s opinion, lies in the president’s proposal to denounce the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption, which ensures Russian officials against being handed over to justice in member-countries within the framework of that convention. But this initiative was submitted to the Duma back on 9 January, and by now it has already passed through the relevant committee. Now the president is proposing denouncing the Council of Europe’s charter, the foundational European Convention on Human Rights, and also several documents that offer “privileges”—that is, special status for members of national delegations, ECtHR [European Court of Human Rights] judges, and employees of the apparatus of Council of Europe institutions.

Why does the basic Convention have to be denounced now, ex post facto? Wasn’t it already denounced by the March (of last year) statement itself about the Russian Federation’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe?

Why do the various conventions have to be denounced in several packets rather than one? Besides those listed above, there are dozens more conventions in which the Russian Federation participated, for example, on extradition of defendants in general criminal cases, on reciprocal recognition of diplomas, drivers licenses, and so on. Are we to understand that Russia is continuing to participate in those conventions which are not in this second packet? It would also be good to know what other countries think about this—the members of the Council of Europe. After all, the conventions are based on reciprocity and are, as O. Bender taught, a product of the parties’ full acquiescence.

Some commentators immediately noticed that the explanatory memorandum tersely points to the necessity of introducing amendments to Russian laws on martial law and on states of emergency. Might this be where the dog is buried?

In fact, Article 15 of the basic Convention demands that “in the event of war or under other emergency circumstances,” when taking “measures that depart from the obligations under the Convention,” a country that is a member of the Council of Europe must “thoroughly inform the General Secretary of the Council of Europe about the measures introduced and the reasons for their adoption.” But in the publication by the Russian president of his decree introducing martial law in several regions in October of last year, this requirement had already not been observed, so what is the point of initiating complex procedures after withdrawal (or expulsion, depending on whose point of view) from the Council of Europe?

Summing up the questions to which we have yet to find answers in the sphere of common sense, we can only conclude that the appearance of this bill is more likely the result of inertia from the exhibition of “sovereignty” that has become an idée fixe for the Kremlin.

When it comes to human rights in the Russian Federation, denouncing this packet will not change a thing. That train left the station last year.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

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