Oct 212010

Two news items:

First, Reuters reports that the European Court of Human Rights fined Russia over $40,000 for banning gay parades.

The judgment is a limited victory for the humanitarian organizations supporting gay rights because the Court has no jurisdiction to force Russia to allow the parades to commence.   The Court may hear cases and fine a country held in violation of international law.  Therefore, Moscow will suffer the small fine and international criticism, but there is no guarantee that the Court’s judgment will result in Change in Moscow’s practices.

Second, you might be interested in the added tension as the UN Security Council meets to discuss Iran’s nuclear program next month because Iran has announced the trial of the three American hikers in Iranian custody for alleged “espionage and illegal entry” into Iranian territory. [All three will be tried even though one was previously released on bail.]  The trial is set to begin on November 6.  The New York Times covers the story.

Apr 262010

Several weeks ago, I began examining the international community’s responsibility to respect free expression under international law.  I examined guarantees provided by the United Nations, but a nation’s responsibilities extend beyond UN charters and conventions.

Obviously, free expression is guaranteed under domestic constitutions ranging from the United States and United Kingdom to former Soviet controlled nations such as the Republic of Uzbekistan (for example, see the Constitution of the Republic of Uzbekistan, part three, chapter fifteen).

Further, many European countries, including Russia, are signatories to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The charter protects free speech, and signatories have agreed to adjudicate such human rights violations before the Court.

The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms guarantees the freedom of expression. Article 10 (1) states, “everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

However, for an issue to reach the ECHR, it must first be exhausted in the host nation’s legal system.  Further, if a nation is found to violate the Convention, the penalty is generally a fine, which often is not substantial enough to deter future violations.

Thus, while the ECHR theoretically protects free expression, in reality, it offers little protection in countries where the government systematically tramples their citizen’s fundamental rights.  This is especially a problem in countries like Russia where the government targets diverse opinions and the media.

The next entry in this series will focus on Russia, examining the country’s domestic and international responsibility to protect free expression as well as how they have failed to live up to the standard.