Special focus of the international community, primarily in Europe, remains on legal disputes in which human rights, freedoms, and lives are affected. In particular, tense discussions among politicians, lawyers, civil society leaders and journalists are ongoing in relation to Ukraine government claims lodged with the International Criminal Court, the UN International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, as well as the MH17 probe by the Dutch Security Council, and individual lawsuits of so-called "victims" filed with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Fake Mass Claims Against Ukraine
In interstate disputes that are being considered for years by international and national institutions of other states, Russia, on principle, is unable to exert any political influence to ensure that "politically advantageous" rulings are handed down. That is due to these institutions' structure and well-coordinated work based on checks and balances. At the same time, Russia seems to have found a gap to exercise its malign meddling in such an authoritative judicial body as the ECHR, aimed at hindering progress of legal proceedings and compromising Ukraine in the international arena.
According to the European body, the lion's share of the inflow of complaints over the past years is taken up by those filed by those affected by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, since suits relate to rights violations as a result of the annexation of Crimea and Donbas hostilities, including ill-treatment, oppression of religious communities and national minorities, loss of property, and the like.
However, media reports say not all suits related to rights breaches are lodged by real plaintiffs.
Journalists with the Schemes investigative project reported a mass inflow to the ECHR of lawsuits lodged against Ukraine in the name of non-existent applicants. All are filed by only a few legal representatives based in the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine or in Russia.
According to their investigation, more than 600 complaints were filed between 2014 and 2016 by Yulia Nikitina, a lawyer with the Union of Refugees of Ukraine nonprofit. Nothing unusual here at first glance, but the fact is that the lawyer submitted all suits free of charge, while the organization in question had been founded and then managed a notorious ex-MP-turned-fugitive Oleh Tsarev, charged in Ukraine with high treason.
Some of the suits against Ukraine were submitted to the ECHR from representatives of Russian "human rights" organizations, including Vladimir Fedorov, a brother of Georgy Fedorov, a member of Russia's Public Chamber, and a number of Russian lawyers.
Another part was filed with the ECHR by lawyers based in non-government-controlled areas of Ukraine, who have been declared wanted by Ukrainian law enforcement, as well as by current and former lawyers with the Klishin and Partners Inter-Territorial Bar Association, which practices in Russia and publicly offers "consultative" services to residents of the occupied territories.
In their investigation, the journalists came to the conclusion that about 98 percent of complaints related to the war in Donbas, drawn up against the government of Ukraine and now being considered by Court, were sent by lawyers either from Russia or from the occupied territories of Ukraine that are in fact controlled by the Kremlin.
In the absence of an appropriate response from the Council of Europe, this will lead the effective blocking of the ECHR work amid the clogging by complainants lodged against Ukraine.
This, in turn, could lead to a much longer consideration of Ukrainian-Russian interstate disputes. At the moment, the ECHR is considering seven interstate suits filed by Ukraine against the Russian Federation. And Ukraine has been eagerly seeking to finally see the outcome of those proceedings, only to once again show at the international level Russia's disregard for the Council of Europe's guidelines and the norms of international law.
Is Silence Going to be Europe's Response?
It is worth recalling that Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe proclaims that each of its members, that's including Russia, must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realization of the aim of the Council, which includes the maintenance and further realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Russia has been openly ignoring these principles, while Europe seems to turn a blind eye to it. Against the background of U.S. support for Ukraine in this regard, EU's stance seems to be weaker.
Recall that in March 2021, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered to extend for another year the national emergency in connection with Russia's aggression against Ukraine, which provides for the further application of sanctions targeting Russia's economy.
However, in addition to extending sanctions, the United States also systematically draws the attention of the international community, including Europe, to the problem of rights violations as a result of Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine.
In March 2021, the 45th Annual Human Rights Report, presented by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, was published on the State Department's website. One of the sections is devoted to rights violations in Ukraine in connection with the activities of Russia's occupation authorities in Crimea and Donbas.
The reason why a separate section was laid down is that human rights are openly neglected in these territories. So there's no talk of rule of law or maintaining European principles for the protection of human rights in these areas.
This is exactly what Russia's minions exploit to discredit Ukraine by submitting multiple complaints with the European Court against Ukraine, claiming violation of human rights in these territories, allegedly caused by actions by the Ukrainian government.
Therefore, the Council of Europe's reaction to the massive factual claims lodged with the ECHR against Ukraine should be urgent and more categorical, since the issue of the reputation of a CoE member state is being questioned. This, however, isn't happening so far.
The Council of Europe Has Repeatedly Condemned Russia's Aggressive Policy toward Ukraine
It is worth recalling, among the latest moves, PACE Resolution No. 235 of January 30, 2020, according to which the Assembly once again put Russia in the list of countries where negative tendencies in democracy are observed, including regarding the government policy aimed at the illegal annexation of Crimea and military aggression in the east of Ukraine.
Later, at the current winter session, PACE condemned a number of negative trends seen Russia in the field of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Russia, among which the main one is the package of amendment to the Constitution dropping the government's obligation to implement ECHR rulings finding the country responsible.
Moreover, at the same session, German MP with Social Democrats, Frank Schwabe, stated that the ECHR is the CoE's holy of holies, and non-implementation of its decisions is the red line that no member state is allowed to cross.
Also, the decision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, adopted on May 11, 2021, on the human rights situation in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol (Ukraine), which condemns the occupation of the peninsula by Russia, which is "a violation of international law and the principles upheld by the Council of Europe," also states a significant violation of human rights in Crimea by Russia as an occupying power.
However, such decisions alone are not enough in the fight against the occupying power in question.
Today, the most effective leverage on any government is through decisions of international and interstate judicial institutions.
However, in the light of the current problems of the ECHR, now Europe is concerned exclusively about the problem of non-compliance with its rulings.
In September 2020, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Pejcinovic-Buric, in her address at the Athens Democracy Forum, only recalled that the countries failing to comply with the ECHR decisions risk losing membership in the Council of Europe.
However, the CoE, first of all, should develop a mechanism for "filtering" the massive inflow of suits to prevent the blocking of the judicial body's work on truly important cases.
First of all, in the light of these developments, it would be worth recalling an interstate complaint filed by the Dutch government against Russia in July 2020 over the latter's role in the MH17 downing.
On July 17, 2014, outside the town of Torez, Donetsk region, a Boeing 777 operated by the Malaysian Airlines performing a regular flight MH17 was shot down. All passengers and crew, a total of 298 people, were killed in the incident.
Not only did the Dutch government provide the ECHR with the evidence base proving deployment of Russian military hardware in the occupied Donbas, with the lawsuit they also support the 298 victims of the tragedy.
The ECHR is considering complaints against Russia filed by the victims – the closest relatives of those who died in the plane downing. It remains unclear when the Court will be ready to hand down its judgments on them all.
Therefore, first of all, it's the Council of Europe that should be interested in "filtering" hoax lawsuits in the ECHR so that the latter could work properly and issue within a reasonable period its rulings on claims of real rights violation guaranteed by the European Convention, and so that the real victims don't need to wait for years for court-imposed compensation from the responsible government.