#17 - JRL 2009-233 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
December 22, 2009
Duma Prepares to Ratify Strasbourg Court Reform
By Nikolaus von Twickel

When Thorbjorn Jagland, the Council of Europe’s new secretary-general, arrives for his first visit to Moscow on Tuesday, President Dmitry Medvedev will have a special gift waiting for him.

Key State Duma deputies said Monday that they would finally discuss a reform proposal for the European Court of Human Rights.

The reform, Protocol 14 of the European Human Rights Convention, would help eliminate a massive backlog of cases in the court but had been blocked by Moscow. The Duma is acting after Medvedev told it last week to take a new look at ratifying Protocol 14.

Pavel Krashennikov, chairman of the Duma’s Legislation Committee, said the positions of all parties represented in the Duma had become “maximally close” to one another, Interfax reported.

Vladimir Gruzdyev, the committee’s first deputy chairman, told Interfax that ratification would most likely be discussed in the Duma plenum Jan. 15.

Russia has irked many in the 47-member Council of Europe by being the only country that has not ratified two amendments to the human rights convention. Apart from Protocol 14, the Duma has rejected Protocol 6, which requires signatories to restrict the use of the death penalty to times of war.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov said last week that ratification of Protocol 14 had become possible after the Council of Europe’s committee of ministers added a clause to the protocol that says a Russian judge must participate in any decision affecting Russia.

The Strasbourg court, which is run by the Council of Europe, has a backlog of more than 120,000 cases, which might require seven years’ work. Almost a third of those cases stem from Russia.

Jagland, a former Norwegian prime minister who was elected to the Council of Europe’s top post this fall, will meet Medvedev for talks Wednesday, the Kremlin said in a statement.

He is also scheduled to meet Gryzlov, Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Patriarch Kirill and human rights campaigners, the Council of Europe said in an e-mailed statement.

Analysts and human rights groups said an end to the Duma’s blockade of the court reform could send an important signal to Europe without being too costly for the Kremlin.

Alexei Makarkin, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said the reform was easier than abolishing the death penalty, which has not been enacted since the early 1990s.

The Constitutional Court ruled last month that capital punishment could not resume next year, effectively extending a moratorium on the death penalty indefinitely.

Sergei Lukashevsky, head of the Demos Human Rights Center, said reforming the court was the better option. “After all, the Strasbourg court is the only really independent instance available for Russian citizens,” he said.

Friederike Behr, a researcher with Amnesty International’s Moscow office, said that while she welcomed the ratification of Protocol 14, a finite abolition of the death penalty would do more. “This would signal that Moscow is really fulfilling its obligations as a Council of Europe member,” she told The Moscow Times.

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