The Russian Federation’s recent endorsement of reforms to the European Court of Human Rights — the judicial arm of the 47-member Council of Europe (CoE) — signals Moscow’s deepening engagement with a system of governance based on democratic values, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. The development comes close on the heels of the Russian Constitutional Court’s extension of the decade-old moratorium on executions, and the country’s continued exclusion from other global institutions two decades after the end of the Cold War does seem incongruous. Moscow’s ratification of Protocol 14 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the foundational charter of the CoE, means that states can be brought before the Strasbourg Court for failure to implement its rulings. This is indeed a bold commitment to enhancing accountability and transparency for a country that has drawn flak for its handling of the situation in Chechnya and its military intervention in Georgia. Another significant reform in the new Protocol is the improvement in the court’s powers to filter the applications and weed out repetitive cases. The issue has acquired urgency as clearance of the huge backlog, a quarter of which relates to Russia, has emerged as a formidable challenge.
Since 1998, the court has functioned full time to keep pace with the growing demands. The expansion of membership of the CoE, which has more than doubled following developments after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and the provision for individual applications to the Court also contributed to the mounting volume of petitions. Insofar as political and democratic reforms are predicated upon the stage of economic development and vice versa, Russia’s long pending bid for accession to the World Trade Organisation could boost investment and ease barriers to its exports and sustain the momentum for all-round progress. Similarly, Moscow’s application for membership of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development would deepen its commitment to greater integration into the global economy. The work at the Council of Europe is of no mean significance for countries such as India where the human rights standards formulated by it inform the internal debate on the evolution of the legal framework. To that extent, recent concerns over the dilution of the authority of the Council could have implications far beyond European borders.