After dragging its feet for four years, the Russian parliament ratified the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECHR) Protocol 14 earlier today. Russia had been the only country out of 47 participating states to refuse to ratify Protocol 14, which improves the efficiency of the Court. The current process has created a backlog of complaints, a third of which are filed against Russia.
Dmitri F. Vyatkin, Russian Parliamentary member mentioned that the impasse was overcome because the ECHR had addressed Russia’s concerns by providing written commitments that Russian judges would be included in reviews of potential cases against Russia, the Court would not begin investigating complaints before cases were formally accepted and the Court would not have new powers to enforce rulings.
Taken together this sounds like Russia wants to transform the ECHR into a Russian court: by hearing complaints against Russia that the Russian government approves of, not delving too much in to the details of complaints filed and if the complaint is accepted for the Court to have no ability to enforce its ruling.
However, Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner of the Leaders of the Council of Europe, presents a different view of Russia’s approval of Protocol 14, that Russia’s concerns where heard but ultimately Russia will be held to the same rules that apply to other members and that no changes to the protocol were made.
Leaving for now, what Russia’s ratification of Protocol 14 actually means for the ECHR, a central question remains, “What propelled Russia to ratify the protocol after all these years?”
“Smoothing over differences” appears to be the official reason media outlets are reporting, however there may be other reasons political and financial reasons why Russia is offering this carrot to the West.
Earlier this week, the $100 billion lawsuit YUKOS v. Russia was postponed for the third time because two Russian representatives were unavailable. Perhaps the Russian authorities feel that ratification of Protocal 14 could pave the way for this case to be dismissed.
Additionally, the Financial Times reported earlier this week that Russian companies would be seeking $90 billion over the next two years to finance debt restructuring and capital improvements and perhaps to rebuild the coffers for politically connected Russian business owners who saw their fortunes collapse during the 2008 financial crisis. As demonstrated with the Rusal IPO, concerns over the management of Russian companies remain and ratifying Protocol 14 may be a signal to the investment community that Russia wants to play nice.
Russia may see ratifying Protocol 14 satifying many goals: to reduce the effectiveness complaints against Russia in the ECHR while reassuring investors that Russia abides by the rule of law. But as the trial against former YUKOS chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and a Russian policeman’s open letter to end authorized corruption demonstrate, Russia remains a feudal state, where
in absence of functional legal or law enforcement systems, people’s only real protection lies in a network of personal and professional relationships with powerful individuals.