An important development for Ukraine took place in Strasbourg last week: the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) began hearing the inter-state case of Ukraine and the Netherlands against Russia.
This case has been dragging on since 2014 when Ukraine filed two complaints against Russia with the ECHR. The European Court of Human Rights, contrary to its name, considers complaints not only from individuals but also from one state to another. However, this is a special, even exceptional, procedure for states whose violations cannot be appealed against in any other way.
The case, which was heard in Strasbourg on 26 January, brought together three complaints. Two of them are from Ukraine – one concerning massive human rights violations in Russia-occupied Donbas (murder, torture, destruction of property, etc., including the killing of passengers and crew of the MH17 airliner), the other concerning the abduction and removal of orphans with special needs from Donbas to Russia. The third complaint was filed by the Dutch government about Moscow’s responsibility for the downed MH17, whose 193 passengers were Dutch nationals. In total, there have been violations of 11 articles of the Convention, ranging from the right to life to the right to education.
After the hearing, the impression was left that the judges were more sympathetic to Ukraine and the Netherlands than to Russia.
During the speech of the Russian representative, there were several times disgruntled noises from the back rows where the audience was seated. And once, about an hour before the end of the hearing, someone even shouted from his seat, interrupting the Russian – as soon as he said that Russia was “ready to investigate” the attack on MH17, there was a cry of “so start doing it right now! According to the rules, the President of the Court at this point should have ordered the intruder to leave the room – but he pretended not to notice anything.
The Russian government representative did a lot to make the judges have reason to despise him. Russia in general has been very successful this week in convincing the European Court of Human Rights of its wrongdoing. And this is no joke at all. What is remarkable is that even the Russian MoJ was not allowed to speak at Strasbourg! The Russians also decided not to involve world-renowned outside lawyers, who are authorities at the ECHR.