The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, in its Thursday’s opinion called on the Russian Federation to remove or review amendments to its constitution which would allow the Russian authorities to reject binding rulings by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia Director, said:
“These constitutional amendments are an attempt by the Russian authorities to empower themselves to override ECtHR rulings. This is a blatant affront to human rights and the rule of law, and would rob many in Russia of a crucial avenue for justice.
“By joining the European Convention on Human Rights Russia agreed to abide by the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. It cannot simply ignore judgments it doesn’t like.
“Everyone in Russia needs to understand that these and other wider amendments are another attack on the independence of the Russian judiciary and on the ECtHR. We join the Venice Commission in denouncing these plans and calling for the Russian authorities to reconsider.”
The Venice Commission noted that Russia “made the political decision to join the Council of Europe and remain a member of the organisation. In ratifying the ECHR and accepting the jurisdiction of the Strasbourg Court, it has committed itself to executing the judgments of the Court”.
The Russian Constitution (Article 15(4)) mandates that international treaties to which Russia is a party form “an integral part of its legal system” and, in case of divergence, have precedence over national law. However, the new amendments adopted by the Russian Parliament and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin in March 2020, introduced into Article 79 a provision stipulating that “decisions of interstate bodies” shall not be “subject to enforcement in the Russian Federation” if they run counter to the Constitution.
The constitutional amendments also seriously undermine whatever remains of the independence of the judiciary. They give the President power to nominate candidates for top national judge positions including those of the Constitutional Court, and to appoint all judges of federal courts and initiate their dismissal.