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Russia: ECHR Judgments

Volume 684: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What action they are taking at the Council of Europe and elsewhere to ensure that all rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on human rights abuses in Chechnya are fully implemented by the Government of the Russian Federation.

My Lords, within the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers the United Kingdom has led inurging Russia to implement the European Court of Human Rights judgments. The committee issued a memorandum in June 2006 to monitor Russian execution of the judgments, following the Russian action plan of March 2006 detailing the steps it intended to take towards implementation. Her Majesty’s Government have also raised the matter through the EU-Russia human rights consultations: in September 2005 during the UK presidency; and most recently in March, in consultations in Vienna. We will continue to press Russia to implement fully the court’s judgments.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Does he agree that the intransigence of the Russian authorities and the refusal to take effective remedial action call into fundamental question the grave undertakings that Russia gave at the time of its admission to the Council of Europe about how it intended to become a full council member not only in letter but in spirit? Does he not also agree that that intransigence plays directly into the hands of extremists, because it undermines all those who might be won into a meaningful political process to overcome the continuing crisis in Chechnya by suggesting that everything else is ineffective and that the only thing to do if you really feel strongly is to go and join the militants?

My Lords, I acknowledge my noble friend’s long-standing interest in Chechnya and his contribution over three and a half years as special rapporteur on Chechnya to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I agree that there has been far too little progress—indeed, a distinct lack of progress—on the part of Russia in implementing the European Court of Human Rights judgments. That is worrying and is likely to be taken by some as an encouragement to acts of violence. I would hope that, on all such occasions when people feel encouraged by violence rather than by appropriate use of political process, they will reflect on that and turn to political process rather than tothe gun.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we face a potential problem of conflict spilling out across the north Caucasus and over the peaks into the south Caucasus and that Russian policy appears to be irrational? As we know, there is now fighting in Dagestan and west of the north Caucasus, in one or two other places that I am not even sure that I can pronounce. Meanwhile, the Russians are taking an entirely contradictory attitude towards separatism in Abkhazia and South Ossetia from the one that they take north of the Caucasus. Can we not attempt to put this into a regional context that includes the problems of the south Caucasus as well as of the north?

My Lords, I accept that there is a real attraction to seeing this in a regional sense, and we would be much more likely to reach a solution were not the parties all around somewhat intransigent. However, I accept the basic premise that there is a risk of the conflict spilling out further. That is one of the reasons why there is a consistent effort by the Government to get the Russians to meet their obligations in the places where there are specific judgments against them that require them to meet those obligations and to ensure that nothing is done that causes the spread of violence.

My Lords, let us leave aside the merits, which are indeed great, and look at the Question. How can you enforce implementation of an order of this court, the jurisdiction of which the states concerned have declined to accept?

My Lords, when my noble friend Lord Judd asked his supplementary question, he made the point that the Russians had entered into obligations when they sought to be within the remit of the court and of its arrangements, just as we all do when we sign up to international treaties that put us under particular legal systems. We must try to ensure by persistent argument that the Russians meet those obligations fully. There is no state in Europe, coming into the EU or in any other part of the European architecture, that can sign up to such arrangements and then stand aside from them.

My Lords, given the recent killing of the separatist guerrilla leader, Shamil Basayev, will my noble friend urge the Russian Federation to pursue a political solution to the conflict in Chechnya rather than a purely military one?

My Lords, the death of Basayev provides an opportunity for all parties to work towards a peaceful resolution in Chechnya. We hope that the amnesty announced last week by the head of the Russian security service, Mr Patrushev, will be a crucial step in the process of reconciliation.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is a great problem regarding the failure of many members of the Council of Europe to comply with judgments of the European Court of Human Rights? In those circumstances, it is particularly important that this country should continue to give the example, as it always has in the past, of meticulously following and giving effect to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that sentiment. When we enter obligations, we are absolutely bound to honour them.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that we sympathise and agree with the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, whose work for and connection with human rights in Chechnya is widely acknowledged and admired? Does he agree that Russia is now emerging as a mature nation anxious to reassume its great power status, or its co-operative status, and that we need its help and co-operation in resolving great issues such as those in Iran and the Middle East? The more we can talk to Russia in a mature way about the human rights failings and bring it to understand the danger that it runs of damaging its reputation and effectiveness and the virtue of obeying the rulings of the Council of Europe, the better progress we will make in solving many other problems as well.

My Lords, I agree with all of that. The dialogue between us and the Russians is vital across almost the entire range of international issues. That is why the consultations that have taken place in the EU-Russia human rights arena have been particularly important. We must continue those consultations. The Russians will understand that, as we accept that they have become a very significant force in the world again, they also have the obligations that go with being a very significant nation.