The Russian State Duma has passed a law making it possible to recognize, upon a motion from the president or the government, some rulings by international courts as unenforceable in Russia.

The issue of the supremacy of international law over national law was raised in the Duma back in the summer. Photo: Lori / Legion-Media

Russia’s parliament, the State Duma, has approved a draft law that makes it possible, in certain cases, not to implement rulings by international courts, primarily the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). Under the draft law, upon a motion from the president or the government, the Russian Constitutional Court has the right to recognize these rulings as unenforceable.

Despite concern in Europe, Russian parliamentarians are convinced that motions like these will happen very rarely and the bill itself does no damage to “investment activity or private property protection” in Russia. They have attempted to justify the decision by insisting that the bill is not at odds with international practice, alleging that similar laws have already been adopted in some European countries, including Germany and the UK (in fact neither of these countries have legislation allowing them to ignore rulings by the ECHR).

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The issue of the supremacy of international law over national law was raised in the Duma back in the summer of 2015. At the time, deputies asked the Constitutional Court for a clarification and it concluded that Russia has the right not to abide by some ECHR rulings.

Russia, which ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998, is often the subject of cases at the ECHR and has been hit with some punishing rulings, the largest of which was a 2014 order to pay the shareholders of the now-defunct Russian oil company Yukos – controversially broken up by the state in 2003 – over $2 billion in compensation. Moscow has so far refused to pay the sum.

Simply a safeguard

The emergence of this bill can be primarily attributed to the difficult domestic and international situation, an assistant professor at the Moscow State Law University, lawyer Alexander Manov, who has experience of working at the ECHR, said.

“Unfortunately, currently legal practice in Russia is excessively politicized. I think, MPs are just taking a precaution in the event there are attempts to exert external pressure on our country, and they have reasons for that,” he said.

The ECHR does not have an executive body; it operates via the council of ministers of the Council of Europe, with which Russia has rather strained relations at present. Furthermore, there are cases that present a real problem for Russia.

“Indeed, human rights are sovereign, but the state is sovereign too. It is a safeguard against claims that can undermine the prosperity of another part of the population. In particular, this refers to the ruling under which Russia has to pay 1.87 billion euros to the shareholders of the oil company Yukos,” said Manov, who said that he is convinced that the new bill will not affect ordinary situations and ordinary people.

Having said that, he added, the adoption of this law is likely to create certain difficulties in the future: At some point, Russia’s relations with the West will return to normal and Moscow will be brought to account for not conforming with European laws.

The article was first published at Russia Beyond The Headlines.