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‘We are Interested in the Experience of Countries that Face the Same Problems as We Do’

From May 24 – 25, 2016, HSE hosted an international human rights conference dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe.

The conference entitled ‘Human Rights Education and Research in the Promotion of the Council of Europe Standards’ was organized by HSE (Department of Theory and History of Law), the Council of Europe, and the Presidential Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights (HRC). The forum attracted Russian lawyers and professors involved in human rights studies, their colleagues in Europe, as well as officials and diplomats involved in Russia’s accession to and work in the Council of Europe.

Vladimir Lukin, Professor-researcher at HSE and Russian human rights commissioner in 2004-2014, headed the process of Russia’s accession the Council of Europe 20 years ago was one of those who took part. He believes that this solution was a ‘sign of Russia’s European fate’. ‘Whatever some people say, Russia is a European country’, Lukin said, ‘And Russia is distinctive to the same extent as any other European country is distinctive’.

HRC head Mikhail Fedotov said Russia had ‘a long way to go and complete a great deal internally’ in order to enter the Council of Europe. For the Council of Europe, ‘soft law’ and recommendatory documents are important, and Russia ‘tries to rely on them’. ‘This isn’t always a success, but that is to be expected, since we are a young democracy’, Mikhail Fedotov noted.

Sergey Lavrov, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, noted in his greeting to the participants that Russia’s Council of Europe membership ‘boosted the development of Russian law and fostered democratic institutions at all levels’. Peter Sich, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Russia said that the Council’s main task has been developing legal standards (often issued as conventions), but stressed that cooperation mechanisms, including in education, are no less important.

Lev Yakobson, First Vice Rector of HSE, stressed how natural it was for HSE to host this event, as it ‘has been a kind of bridge between Europe and Russia, both in how it was conceived and in the work it carries out’, and that researchers and professors are the people who ‘build these bridges most successfully and impartially’.

Whatever some people say, Russia is a European country, and Russia is distinctive to the same extent as any other European country is distinctive

Vladimir Lukin
Professor-researcher at HSE Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs

Anita Soboleva, Associate Professor at the HSE Department of Theory of Law and Comparative Law, and Head of HRC regular commission on social rights said that the conference organizers sought to ‘avoid politicization’, since ‘there are many other platforms hosting discussions about the role of supra-national mechanisms’. At the same time, a conference dedicated to an anniversary should be more than ‘a ceremonial event’.

That’s why conference participants discussed ‘very specific issues, such as the application of Council of Europe standards by Russian lawyers and the issues involved in teaching human rights at university. A considerable proportion of the participants came from post-socialist countries. ‘The experience of these countries is very interesting, since they face the same problems as we do in teaching and in applying European norms’, Anita Soboleva explained.

Two renowned Russian judges and current HSE professors also spoke on the legislative issue. Tamara Morshchakova, retired Russian Constitutional Court Judge, and Anatoly Kovler, the first Russian judge in the European Court of Human Rights, looked at the application of the law and the correlation between Russian legislature and international contracts and conventions that Russia signs.

Several human rights commissioners from Russia’s regions also spoke, including Tatiana Merzlyakova from Sverdlovsk Oblast, Tatiana Margolina from Perm Territory, and Tatiana Zrazhevskaya from Voronezh Oblast. ‘We’ve worked with them for a long time,’ Anita Soboleva said, ‘They are actively involved in legal education in their regions and hold competitions on human rights in student papers.’

Anita Soboleva also noted that regular reports on human rights situation in some regions published by commissioners’ offices can be used for educational and research purposes, such as student term papers and graduation theses. ‘These reports generalize the practical experience,’ Anita Soboleva said, ‘Students can see the areas in which violations occur, how they are detected by those responsible, and what recommendations they make regarding their solution. This is a valuable research resource, which we’ll certainly use at the university.’

The best conference papers in Russian and English will be published in the HSE’s Law journal.

The HSE also hosted another international conference, on May 27, 2016, entitled, ‘Judicial Power in Countries in Transition’. It attracted leading Russian and international experts, including members of the Venice Commission for Democracy through Law.

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