Nils Muižnieks is Director of Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office.
A dark shadow hangs over Red Square today.
As Russia marks its annual Victory Day with parades of troops and military equipment, the shadow cast by its invasion of Ukraine stretches far beyond the borders of the two countries — and not just because of the war crimes committed or the devastation of so many civilians.
Moscow’s relentless crackdown on human rights poses a challenge to the entire European human rights system.
On March 16, the Council of Europe expelled Russia after invading Ukraine. And on September 16, the country will stop Being a party to the European Convention on Human Rights, which means that the European Court of Human Rights will stop reviewing Russian cases related to events taking place after that date.
This is of enormous importance, not only for the future of the country, but also for the reconstruction of the legal order or cooperative relations with the neighbors.
Russia’s dispute with the European Court of Justice has long been tense.
Shortly after joining the Council of Europe, the country waged a brutal second war in Chechnya, for which the Court has since delivered hundreds of judgments. However, few of these rulings have ever been implemented as many believe the security forces are one of the main pillars of the current regime.
In the last decade, the Russian authorities have also increasingly championed sexism and homophobia under the guise of “traditional values” and have staunchly opposed the implementation of judgments on the matter, possibly inspiring others such as Azerbaijan, Hungary and Turkey
They protested to the court reigns that gender stereotypes did not justify the different treatment of men and women on parental leave in the Bundeswehr. They chafed even more at the court found that gay pride cannot be banned or that laws criminalizing “homosexual propaganda” violate the European Convention.
Political persecution of critical voices is another red line that has been crossed for too long. Cases linked to the Kremlin’s restrictive and sometimes murderous crackdown on political opposition are among the most sensitive.
If you look at the court files, you can see the names of all the key opposition figures, and Russia’s intransigence in enforcing those rulings may have once again emboldened other nations like Turkey, which also routinely jails critics to silence them.
Another important group of cases urgently awaiting a decision by the Court were cases related to the so-called “Foreign Agents Act” of 2012. This law imposed arbitrary restrictions and implied that NGOs were spies and traitors, signaling the beginning of very difficult times for Russian civil society and the Council of Europe can no longer remain uninvolved if similar laws are passed elsewhere.
Finally, in 2015, Russia’s Constitutional Court then found that judgments of the Strasbourg court can only be implemented if they comply with the Russian constitution, which allows the country to declare certain decisions “unenforceable”. Again, this challenge to the system met with only mild criticism, no doubt bolstering the resolve of others to similarly undermine the European human rights framework.
As Secretary General of Amnesty International Agnes Callamard told Audience in Kyiv on Friday: “Russia’s aggression challenges us all.”
The European Court of Justice must now examine not only all cases arising from the invasion of Ukraine, but also those involving relations with other neighboring countries that generally result from Russia’s attempts, its so-called “breakaway territories”, including Transnistria and Abkhazia , to control and South Ossetia, Donbass and elsewhere in Ukraine.
It is important that Council of Europe members take action to fill funding gaps as Russia has made an important contribution to the overall budget. And it must look for creative ways to support Russian civil society in the future, for example to ensure that people who are at imminent risk of imprisonment for their human rights work can seek protection in member countries.
An important lesson for the Council’s future is that shrinking civil society space is unacceptable. Therefore, the exclusion of Russia should be followed by the strongest determination to address political repression and other forms of crackdown on dissent or fundamental freedoms in other member countries – including Hungary and Poland.
Fortunately, there is finally some movement towards convening a summit to chart the way forward after Russia’s expulsion from the Council. But before any summit, it’s important to look back and look at all the red lines that Russia has crossed over the years and up to the current war. Such an exercise could help identify transgressions committed by other members and also lead to a collective renewed commitment to uphold human rights more effectively in the future.
But against this bleak backdrop, we still have to think of a post-Putin generation trying to rebuild a Russia that respects human rights, a Russia with some prospect of rejoining the Council of Europe. This Russia will have to address both its past and ongoing hurts while building new relationships with its neighbors. And when the country finally emerges from this dark chapter in its history, the Council of Europe must be ready to welcome it back on the path to justice and human rights.
https://www.politico.eu/article/victory-day-russia-human-rights-warning-europe/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication Victory Day is a human rights warning for Europe - POLITICO