Friend or Foe?: Public and Elite Perceptions of the European Court of Human Rights
MultiRights Seminar with Åse B. Grødeland on her paper written with Leslie T. Holmes about Russia's relationship with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
The relationship between the Russian Federation and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has been troublesome ever since Russia ratified the ECHR in 1998. In recent years numerous Court rulings against Russia – particularly its ruling in the Yukos case in 2014 – has caused this relationship to deteriorate even further. In December 2015 the State Duma passed a law effectively allowing the Russian Constitutional Court to set aside the decisions of the ECtHR and other supranational human rights bodies. The new law was applied for the first time in April 2016, when the Constitutional Court considered the constitutionality of a recent ECtHR ruling on prisoners’ voting rights.
This paper approaches the relationship between the Russian Federation and the ECtHR from a different angle than the existing literature: rather than examining official Russian attitudes towards the Court or official responses to specific Court rulings it examines the attitudes and perceptions of the general public and elites across Russia towards the ECtHR. More specifically, the paper explores issues such as citizens’ trust in the ECtHR vs. trust in national courts; whether the existence of the ECtHR is beneficial for ordinary Russian citizens; whether the ECtHR or the Russian authorities should have the final say in disputes involving Russian citizens; and also the manner in which ECtHR rulings are handled by Russian institutions.
The paper demonstrates that there is considerable support for the ECtHR within the Russian Federation – both amongst the public and the elites. Whilst some people view the ECtHR as an institution that provides Russian citizens with justice, others view it as a preferable alternative to inefficient, unjust and/or corrupted national courts. Yet others take a legalistic view on this issue: as the Russian Federation has ratified the ECHR it is, in their view, legally bound by the rulings of the ECtHR. However, Russian citizens also view the ECtHR with considerable skepticism, even outright distrust: to many, the ECtHR and other supranational courts are effectively political tools used by the West to force the hand of domestic Russian institutions.
The last part of the paper discusses these empirical findings with regard to the relationship between the Russian Federation and the ECtHR more generally, as well as the legitimacy of the Court as such.