Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Giving National Law Priority over International Law Would End Human Rights in Russia, Svyatenkov Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, April 29 – Aleksandr Bastrykin’s proposal to amend the Russian constitution so that Russian national law would take priority over international law is in fact another step toward the elimination in Russia of basic human rights such as the presumption of innocence in criminal trials, according to Pavel Svyatenkov.
            Yesterday, Bastrykin, the chairman of the Russian Investigative Committee, called for amending the 1993 Russian Constitution in order to make national law supreme over international law in order to boost what is today an ideologically popular theme, “the state sovereignty of the Russian Federation” (
            Svyatenkov argues that this proposal, which the Duma is to take up in June, is in fact not about that but a Trojan horse intended to achieve another goal -- the end of the presumption of innocence in Russian criminal trials – and that it thus represents “the greatest attack on human rights in the history of the Russian Federation” (
            Bastrykin, the Russian commentator says, bases his argument on the notion that Russians must no longer live with the risk that some foreigners will be able to tell them what to do without their consent. But that is a red herring because “any international treaty is subject to ratification by the Federal Assembly,” making such unilateral imposition of foreign laws impossible.
            In fact, Svyatenkov says, this proposal from Bastrykin is closely linked to another piece of legislation the latter is pushing, one that would in fact eliminate the presumption of innocence in Russian criminal trials, a principle that means an accused must be found not guilty if prosecutors do not prove their case.
            But this piece of legislation says that judges must “search for ‘some ‘objective truth’” and thus will be entitled, if the prosecution does not prove its case, to send it back for further investigation so that the government will have yet another chance to find the defendant guilty – something clearly at variance with international law.
            Bastrykin has been pushing for this “’objective truth’” standard for some time, Svyatenkov says, pointing to an interview the investigator gave to “Rossiiskaya gazeta” three years ago ( But he has run into a constitutional problem because of Article 15 and Article 17 of the Russian Constitution.
            Article 15 reads in part, “the generally recognized principles and norms of international law and international agreements are a constituent part of tis legal system. If by an international agreement of the Russian Federation are established different rules than those set up by law, then the rulers of the international agreement are to be applied.”
            And Article 17 specifies, Svyatenkov says, that “in the Russian Federation are recognized and guaranteed the rights and freedoms of man and citizen in accordance with generally recognized principles and norms of international law and in correspondence with the current Constitution.”
            “In other words,” he continues, in Russia, “the generally accepted principles and norms of international law are the guarantee of the observation of human rights,” a situation that reflects the fact that the Russian constitution does not define these rights with precision or establish the way they are to be protected.
            Consequently, if Bastrykin’s proposal is accepted, that will be equivalent under Russian conditions to a rejection of “human rights as such.”
            Svyatenkov points out that he is no friend of the Yeltsin Constitution. “It is a bad Basic Law. It gives too much power to the president. It created an asymmetrical federation. [And] there is nothing in it about the Russian people.”  But Bastrykin’s proposal if adopted “will make the Constitution of the Russian Federation not better but worse.”
            “If we want to be a sovereign state, we must not reject generally accepted norms of international law but strengthen them by adopting our own Bill of Rights, in which will be guaranteed the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Russia,” including the presumption of innocence. But until then, Russians must rely on the supremacy of international law.
            The fate of Bastrykin’s proposal, Svyatenkov says, “depends on the reaction of society.” So far, society hasn’t spoken.  But it should because of what is at stake: Those who trample on human rights pay dearly “not only in gold but in blood” and “even with Maidans” because the source of such risings is exactly the kind of injustice that ignoring human rights can lead to.

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