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International Conference: “Enhancing national mechanisms for effective implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights”

Saint-Petersburg , 

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

I would like to thank all of you for being part of this International Conference on enhancing national mechanisms for the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

This question is at the heart of the Convention reform process…

…and, indeed, very close to my own heart.

 

The Brussels Declaration in March agreed that we have a shared responsibility for the long-term effectiveness of the Convention.

 

Responsibility is shared among States, the Strasbourg Court and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe…

…and it is, likewise, shared between various authorities in any State.

This basic principle is extremely important: even though it is only the Government which engages in the proceedings before the Court and the Committee of Ministers…

…it is the State as a whole which is bound by the Convention.

 

The State as a whole could only meet its obligations if all State authorities effectively collaborate towards the same goal.

It should not and cannot be an exclusive competence of any single authority.

 

I am therefore delighted to see ALL main actors of the Russian legal system represented here today, some of them at their highest level – the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, the Ministry of Justice.

This fact alone is indicative of their commitment to the Convention, which forms the basis of our common legal space, stretching across the European continent.

 

I am most grateful to Mr Zorkin for his personal involvement.

 

Needless to say, Russia’s role in Europe is crucial…

…and it is our duty to engage in a direct dialogue on matters of common concern.

 

The common legal space that we have built, based on the Council of Europe conventions…

…is an unprecedented success.

 

It sets a remarkable example to other regions of the world.

And we must be constantly vigilent over the need to protect this achievement – from which all of our nations benefit.

 

Indeed, ignoring or breaking the basic rules which preserve the integrity of the Convention system…

…risks disastrous consequences in individual States…

…and far beyond their borders too.

 

Effective implementation of the Convention is an ongoing challenge in ALL of our member states…

… and it requires, in particular, effective internal coordination.

 

This is the topic that is being addressed today..

…and it will continue be addressed by the Council of Europe in the coming months, in accordance with the Brussels declaration.

 

What is needed is better guidance for all of our States based on best practice.

 

Today’s conference has generated a lot of material for updating the Committee of Ministers’ Recommendation dating back to 2008…

… and we are grateful for all national contributions made.

 

Speaking more specifically about the Russian Federation…

…I am reminded of some of the challenges and success stories that we discussed here four years ago, at the First Saint-Petersburg Legal Forum.

 

One issue I raised at that time was the need to ensure that any individual complaint against the authorities is considered by the Russian supreme judicial authorities…

…before being taken up by the Strasbourg Court.

This was not standard practice at the time…

…and so I called for a kind of “judicial vertical” to be established in the Russian judicial procedure…

…for consideration of any Convention-related complaint.

 

I am extremely pleased that the problem has since been resolved through joint efforts of the legislature, executive and judiciary.

 

As a result, the Strasbourg Court recently recognised the appeal to the Supreme Court as an effective remedy.

This is most welcome and I hope that this new remedy will be effective both in theory and in practice.

 

We also follow very closely the work being done by our Russian partners to set up new, special domestic remedies…

…against the most frequent and repetitive violations of the Convention.

 

I have had several occasions to congratulate Russia for the Compensation Act…

…which was introduced in 2010 in response to the Court’s first pilot judgment.

This legislation has secured domestic relief for thousands of applicants…

…who therefore do not need to bring their cases to Strasbourg.

 

We share this experience with many other States looking to achieve similar results.

 

And we trust that the Russian authorities will build on such success…

…establishing similar remedies to grant redress for other repetitive violations…

…not least those concerning conditions of detention.

I’d like to thank Minister Konovalov for his recent initiatives in this regard…

…and offer any assistance from the Council of Europe that would be useful and appropriate.

Mr President,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

Let me say a few words on the relationship between the Convention and national legal orders…

…a topic which generated much discussion over the summer.

There is nothing new in discussing the complex relations between international law and national constitutions.

It is certainly no surprise that our Conference has addressed these matters…

…in light of the recent decision of the Russian Constitutional Court.

And, personally, I think that it is good that we talk about these matters openly, and together.

 

Indeed, you will remember the full and immediate support I gave to the Constitutional Court’s idea of “dialogue and constructive interaction” in order to resolve such issues.

 

I think it is helpful if I further clarify my position today.

 

You are no doubt aware that when such delicate issues have arisen in our member states…

…they have always been resolved either through amendment of the relevant constitutional provisions…

…or, much more frequently, through Convention-compliant interpretation (“interprétation conforme”).

 

Any radical or destructive move to break this constructive practice…

…would disrupt the fragile balance between domestic and international law…

…to the detriment of our common European legal order…

…to which we are deeply committed.

 

Open conflicts between the Convention and the domestic constitutions must therefore be avoided at all costs.

 

The member states’ highest political and judicial authorities bear the paramount responsibility in that regard.

 

“Pacta sunt servanda” means the treaty must be performed in good faith.

 

It is also well established among nations that a state party may not justify its failure to perform a treaty by invoking provisions of its internal law, including constitutional law.

 

Our major international conventions and the predominant legal doctrine leave no doubt in that regard, including the Vienna Convention.

 

In practice, domestic courts should give effect to Strasbourg rulings and they do it as best as they can …

…but this should not eclipse, in any event, the overarching obligation on the State to abide by the Convention.

 

Extensive practice of the Council of Europe member states has also upheld these principles.

Our states have consistently demonstrated that perceived tensions between the Convention and core constitutional principles can be resolved without open conflict.

 

This is the only way to preserve our common, legal pan-European space.

 

The alternative is a blatant challenge to the binding effect of the European Court’s judgments…

…which would mark the beginning of the end for our unique human rights protection system.

I trust that this is not the intention of the Russian Federation, nor of any other State or any institution in Europe.

******

Let me conclude by reaffirming that the Council of Europe’s raison d’être continues to be finding common solutions…

…to common problems…

…based on respect for human rights…

…and thus promoting greater unity in greater Europe.

 

The authorities of ALL member states and, in particular, their courts have extensively used the Convention to the benefit of their citizens…

…making these human rights a legal reality…

…not just a political declaration one may use or misuse whenever suitable.

 

The Convention rights live first and foremost in the decisions delivered by domestic courts every day in our 47 member states.

 

Russian courts are no exception.

It is the most impressive achievement in international law in recent history.

It’s our duty – indeed our shared responsibility – to co-operate both domestically and internationally, to help our courts in this common endeavor.

 

I have stated it repeatedly ever since I became Secretary General, and I repeat it today:

 

“There will be no enduring peace in Europe – and no unity – without the full respect of our common values based on the European Convention of Human Rights”.