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October 12, 2003 by AK

News from the European Court of Human Rights

According to Alex Tapinsh,

Latvia will have to pay ?20,000 within three months to two Russian nationals for violation of their human rights, European Union court on human rights declared Thursday.

The court held that the two women, a former Soviet/Russian officer’s wife, whose elderly parents live in Latvia, and her daughter, born in Latvia, were deported from the country in 1994 in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights: namely, their removal “constituted an interference with their private life and home”. A summary of the opinion can be found here, and the judgment itself by searching the court’s site for “Slivenko”.

It’s amazing how the coverage of this case in the Russian and Latvian press differs. Russian papers are clearly overstating the extent of this victory. A Latvian representative at the court made it clear that, although it found Latvia in violation of the Convention, the ruling does not mean the women will be granted permanent residence there.

I’ll keep the stronger part of my opinion on all this to myself; what I can say is I’m glad Russophone Latvian residents are turning to the court as a last resort to remedy their grievances with the authorities. I understand the Russian Federation presented its own comments to the court as a third party; the plaintiffs were represented by two lawyers from Moscow, one of them of ethnic Latvian origin. Russia’s foreign policy should focus more on the rights of Russian speakers — be it in the Baltics, where state-sanctioned Russophobia works by civilized means, or Central Asia, where things get, well, Central Asian at times. What do we care about Iraq, after all? Dealing with Latvia and Estonia, Russia has to keep two things in mind: the well-being of Russian speakers in those countries, which is not helped by Russia’s overtly hostile actions, and the sentiment within Russia. Any measures by Baltic states that Russia’s residents perceive as “discriminatory” to local Russophones and uncountered by the Russian government, add to the sense of national humiliation and powerlessness within Russia. Latvia and Estonia, in the view of many Russians, keep kicking a dead lion. The coverage in the Russian media occasionally gets a bit shrill, even hysterical, but it doesn’t change the underlying problem, just like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson are irrelevant to the actual problems in the black community.

The ECHR is not, by the way, a EU body: all countries bound by the European Convention of Human Rights must accept its jurisdiction. It cannot directly overturn a local court’s ruling or a state agency’s decision, but can find a country in violation of the Convention and order damages to the plaintiff. What surprises me is that so few Russians have successfully sued their own government in the Court; I have found only five rulings against the RF on the Court’s site. One would think Russia should top the list by the number of cases against it — even if it had a human rights record on par with, say, Germany, it would still have twice as many citizens.

I forget to add that the ladies were awarded EUR10,000 each. Not much, but still, it’s the proverbial tuft of wool from a mangy sheep.


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