Opposition Media Manipulates ECHR Report Against Russia

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Translated by Ollie Richardson for Fort Russ

16th February, 2016


Journalistic ethics, objective presentation of material, the use of proven facts – all of this, most of the media close their eyes to. When it comes to the information war and propaganda, talking about such things is not accepted. However, open manipulation and perversion of information, which is so often used by some media outlets, make you wonder about their professionalism.

“Novaya Gazeta” decided to become the mouthpiece of the ECHR

Recently, “Novaya Gazeta” released an article with a vivid and sensational headline: “the ECHR recognizes Russia as a leader in human rights violations”.

Referring to statistics published by the ECHR (European court of human rights) in a report, the author easily puts Russia as the leader on a number of violations of the Convention on the rights person. For this purpose, “Novaya Gazeta” decided to choose the most biased criteria from those discussed in the report, the number of complaints to the ECHR in which irregularities were found. Russia on this indicator is a leader with 109 complaints, second place went to Turkey and Romania – 79 complaints, then Ukraine with 50 complaints.

It would seem that all is not right with this article? One has only to open the ECHR report in order to understand how the content of the article is far from reality.

Firstly, the report itself does not use ratings, that is, even the ECHR in this report, doesn’t recognize a leader or an outsider. Statistics are a kind of appendix to the report.

Secondly, the article states only the number of complaints, although this table contains data about the total number of decisions. For example, some simple calculations allow us to understand that violations were found in 98% of reviewed complaints from Ukraine, from Russia – 93% cases. Turkey -less than 90% of complaints. However, even the number of successful complaints does not represent the situation of human rights.

To interpret the ECHR report without considering this is, of course, convenient. Especially for the opposition media. Even  state media, which so often is accused of propaganda, does not allow themselves to use the information, distorting the original statistics’ meaning.

The real statistical report of the ECHR

In practice, statistical data on Russia says the opposite. The number of pending ECHR complaints puts Ukraine as the absolute leader, with 13,800. Second place goes to Russia with 9,000 complaints. Followed by Turkey and Italy – 8,400 and 7,500 respectively.

The total number of eligible entries received is equal to 64,850. Thus, Russia’s share among them – 14,1%. Not so bad as it seems at first glance.

A variety of countries with the highest number of complaints makes us think that it is not only the state of human rights, but the difference between the judicial systems. It should be noted that this is an absolute rating. If, for example, we compare the population of Russia with the population of Italy, the figures become even more objective. Of course, this is not sensationalised, but this does not make it any less interesting.

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So, if we consider the value of the ratio of population to number of complaints filed with the ECHR, you will see that the Russian leadership is far behind. When ranking countries according to this indicator, Russia is in 24th place with a figure of 0.41 (calculated by the number of complaints per 10 thousand people).

This, by the way, is one of the best rates among former Soviet republics. The worst situation is in Hungary, which is in first place with a score of 4.3. Not so good scores are in the countries of former Yugoslavia: Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which ranges from up to 1.92 to 2.37, to the best in Serbia – 1.74.

Thus, if we are to judge human rights conditions according to this indicator, Russia is near Luxembourg and Switzerland. In addition, every year the number of Russian citizens who file complaints is steadily decreasing. In 2013 the index decreased by 2 times, which indicates a clearly positive trend.

Therefore, the question of leadership of the country in human rights violations – this is just speculation with facts and figures, nothing more.

Russia and the ECHR’s decision

Throughout 2015 many media outlets criticized the Russian authorities for the refusal of implementation of the ECHR judgments. In the summer, the speaker of the Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, said that the European court takes “politicized decisions under a certain pressure”, so contrary to the laws and the Constitution of the Russian Federation, fulfilling these decisions of the court is not required. Given that recently the ECHR is being used as a tool in a global conflict, the number of politicized decisions will be even greater.

However, the constitutional Court of the Russian Federation , in July, still rejected the claim of 93 deputies of the State Duma who called for the recognition of those unconstitutional Federal laws, which oblige Russia to fulfil the ECHR judgments. Another thing is that because of this, a new legal mechanism was created, which emphasizes the primacy of Russian legislation. Because of this mechanism it is possible to review the constitutionality legislative provisions in which the ECHR sees the violation of human rights. If the Constitutional Court recognizes the decision of the European Court to be contrary to the Constitution, it cannot be enforced. The legal mechanism of this act entered into force in the winter.

In early February, it became known that the Constitutional Court received the first appeal on the non-enforcement of judgements from the ECHR. The appeal, filed by the Ministry of Justice, concerns Anchugov and Gladkov, who defended in the European courts the right of Russian prisoners to vote in elections. The ECHR decision was rendered in their favor, however, it contradicted article 32 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation.

The situation for the ECHR becomes even more complicated due to the fact that there is a precedent in international practice, when its decisions are not enforced. It is a result of the judgement in “Hirst vs. the United Kingdom”, which was delivered in 2004. Despite the threats of the ECHR towards the UK Parliament, the country’s parliament still has not approved the law on granting the right for prisoners to vote in elections.

As for Russia, The European court of justice can act against it by using penalties and targeted interventions. However, the majority of experts says that it cannot wreck the country’s reputation any more, since there are no legal mechanisms of pressure in the ECHR. This issue raises concerns for the international lawyers in connection with the sensational case of Yukos shareholders, which resulted in the decision of the ECHR obliging Russia to pay about 2 billion euros.

Features of the Russian judicial system, which don’t like to talk about criticism

Damages to reputation, however, are also quite a controversial issue. You should start at least with the fact that, despite indiscriminate criticism of the Russian judicial system, it has a lot of advantages.

Due to the high workload, courts in Russia use a mixed type of criminal proceedings, which combine elements of adversarial and inquisitorial process. The trial begins only after the investigation, that is, in most instances those cases which have sufficient evidence beforehand will reach the court. That is why the acquittal rate is only 1-2%, and not because of “accusatory bias” of justice in Russia. It is a feature of the continental system of law: in Germany, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Portugal the acquittal rate is less than 1%.

However, in the information war, all means are good. To expect objectivity from critics of Russia, the number of which has recently increased exponentially, is a waste of time. Any election is a transitional moment, which means that there is a new chance to undermine the current system. Therefore there is nothing surprising in the revitalization of external and internal opponents of the current regime.

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