Moscow to Leave the ECHR: Pursuing a ‘Russia First’ Policy
Peter KORZUN | 04.03.2018 | WORLD / Europe

Moscow to Leave the ECHR: Pursuing a ‘Russia First’ Policy

Russia is leaving the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the Russian media reported on March 1 that ending its cooperation with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was yet another option under consideration. The idea is in the air. The withdrawal may be imminent.

The Russian Federation (Russian Federation) joined the Council of Europe (CE) in 1996 and ratified the ECHR in 1998. The ECHR established the European Court of Human Rights in 1959. These mechanisms to protect human rights are binding on all 47 CE member states.

After Crimea became part of Russia in 2014, Russia’s voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) were suspended. Moscow responded in 2017 by reducing its payments to that organization by one-third, a decision that will not be reversed until its delegation has its voting rights back. Russia is one of the largest donors to the CE with an annual membership fee amounting to €33 million ($37.5 million), or about 7% of the Council’s overall budget.

In 2016, the PACE was not invited to monitor Russia’s parliamentary elections. Obviously this was a sign of a deteriorating relationship. In late 2017, the RF warned it could withdraw from the PACE altogether if its right to vote was not restored. More than 20 ECHR judges have been elected without Russia’s input. Why should the RF respect their rulings? Top CE officials are also elected without Moscow’s vote. Why should it trust them? Is it legitimate to hold such elections without Russia? Certainly not. Then why should the RF comply with rules that were established without its input or with court verdicts that are obviously politicized? And why should it pay? Would anyone buy a movie ticket knowing in advance that he would never see the film? So many questions! And the answers are all “no.”

In 2015 the RF adopted a law asserting its right to ignore rulings from the ECHR if those conflict with Russian law. It’s an open secret that the RF is deeply disappointed with the institutions of the CE: the PACE and the ECHR. The PACE’s anti-Russian tilt is obvious. Anyone who observes the organization’s activities will remember how Pedro Agramunt, the president of the Parliamentary Assembly,  was stripped of his powers and forced to resign last year. This happened after he joined Russian lawmakers on a trip to Syria, which included a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The CE has openly interfered in the RF’s internal affairs by insisting on the right of Aleksei Navalny, an opposition politician, to take part in the 2018 presidential election. Navalny is not allowed to run because anyone with a criminal conviction is barred from seeking elected office in Russia.

In 2017, the Court ruled that the ban on “gay propaganda” is illegal, because it breaches Article 10 of the ECHR, which protects the right to freedom of expression and information. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Does this mean that Russia has no right to protect its children from pride marches, promiscuous propaganda, and indecent behavior? If that’s not flagrant meddling into internal affairs, then what is?

The institutions of the CE could and should be reformed to guarantee that everyone is equal and the organization is not biased. No PACE member should be denied voting rights and no resolutions should be adopted with only a minority of votes. Finger pointing should be abandoned. That is not what the PACE was created for. Its mission is to serve as a platform for exchanging views and ideas.

And the Court should stop being used as a tool of the CE for propaganda and political purposes. The Court should provide its independent opinion, but without any further binding rulings. National law should prevail.

Russia refuses to contribute to this organization in which it has no voice and rightly so. Remember “No taxation without representation”? No doubt Americans are sympathetic toward Russia’s stance.

If the RF pulls out from the ECHR and the ECHR, it will also terminate its membership in the CE. The Council represents approximately 820 million people. The population of the RF, a country rich in resources, with a huge military and economy, exceeds 144 million. Without Russia the CE would no longer qualify as a truly pan-European institution. The RF is large enough that the idea of European discourse without Moscow is meaningless.

As a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Moscow does not need the podium of the PACE to make its views known. But will the CE enjoy the same clout without Russia? The RF can easily do without the Council, but the organization’s clout will diminish. It’s time for CE leaders to reconsider their organization’s mission.

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