Russia: reforms should strengthen human rights in the justice system

[11/04/ 2013 12:00] "The Russian authorities have started to address several structural shortcomings in the justice system identified by the European Court of Human Rights. However, much remains to be done to ensure access to justice, remedy serious human rights violations and prevent the flow of repetitive applications before the Court," said Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, at the end of a ten day visit to Russia.

"It is positive that the authorities have introduced non-custodial pre-trial measures. Furthermore, the possibility now exists of compensation to those detained in poor conditions. They have also made efforts to improve material conditions of detention," said the Commissioner in reference to the response of the Russian authorities to Court judgments finding violations of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the prohibition against torture and inhuman or degrading treatment) in respect of detention on remand. "Health care in the prison and detention system is another long-standing issue of concern which has led the Court to find a violation of this article."

During his first visit to Kazan (Republic of Tatarstan) and at central level, Commissioner Muižnieks discussed the response to the death of a person following severe ill-treatment in the police station "Dalniy" in March 2012. This led to dismissals and criminal charges against police officers implicated in the case, as well as a number of preventive measures, such as the introduction of cameras in holding cells. "It is only through decisive action against the officers responsible and sustained long-term efforts that similar tragedies can be prevented. It is essential to have selective recruitment and appropriate training of law enforcement officers, and to apply modern methods of investigation and proper questioning of criminal suspects."

The Commissioner welcomes the decision of the Russian authorities to publish the report of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) on its 2011 visit to the North Caucasus. He also encourages the practice of publishing all of the CPT's reports on Russia, including the report on the CPT 2012 visit, "as this would help address any shortcoming in the treatment of detained persons."

Other aspects of administration of justice discussed by the Commissioner included reform of the supervisory review procedure, which is essential to ensure the principle of legal certainty and the efficiency of the justice system as a whole; the enforcement of domestic judgments; and the application of interim measures ordered by the European Court of Human Rights in cases of extradition.

The recent series of comprehensive checks carried out by prosecutorial, tax and other authorities on non-commercial organisations following the entry into force of new legislation have led to a number of worrying reports brought to the Commissioner's attention. "I have clearly stated to the authorities my concerns about the 2012 Law on Non-Commercial Organisations Performing the Function of Foreign Agents, which contains a very broad and vague definition of the notion of political activity. Non-governmental organisations have an invaluable role in defending human rights and need to function in an environment conducive to their work. Nobody questions the desirability of promoting transparency and accountability in this sector. However, the recent inspections and their further consequences, along with official rhetoric stigmatising NGO work, have generated serious concerns. I intend to discuss developments in this area with the authorities on an ongoing basis."

A report on the Commissioner's visit is forthcoming.