Russia can undermine the Human Rights Court, because the Court has undermined itself

1389943469_01-600x337Russia has adopted a law allowing its Constitutional Court to overrule and declare inapplicable judgements from the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The Russian constitution takes precedence under the new Duma law.

The measure aims to “protect the interests of Russia” in the face of decisions by international bodies responsible for ruling on human rights, according to Tass news agency.

Russia has one of the worst human rights track records of all Council of Europe Member States, according to statistics on the ECtHR’s case law. In view of this, the new law might be seen as an attempt by the Russian government to immunize itself against criticism, or as a first step to escape scrutiny  from international human rights bodies.

However, the new law does not mean that anyone will be prevented to file human rights complaints against the Russian Federation, or that the ECtHR will be prevented from hearing such complaints. It only means that ECtHR decisions may themselves be subject to control.

This is not in itself a bad step. Indeed, the ECtHR has itself done all to undermine the confidence of Member States as well as of citizens through its judicial activism. In one judgement earlier this year it went as far as de facto legitimizing the commercial trade with children.

To be sure, it probably was rather the ECtHR’s decisions on human rights abuses by Russian police, security services, and the judiciary, that have prompted Russia to adopt the new law, while the Courts radical and legally ill-founded social agenda was not the primary concern. However, it is self-evident that its radical judicial activism over many years has seriously undermined the Court’s standing, making it easy for Member States to opt out.