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IPHR and partners filed Rule 9.2 communication concerning Vlasov v. Russia group of cases

IPHR and partners filed Rule 9.2 communication concerning Vlasov v. Russia group of cases
IPHR and partners filed Rule 9.2 communication concerning Vlasov v. Russia group of cases

Together with European Prison Litigation Network (EPLN) and State Capture: Research and Action, International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) submitted a Rule 9.2 communication to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in relation to the forthcoming examination of the Vlasov v. Russia group of cases at the 1501st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies.

In the case of Polyakova and Others v. Russia (no. 35090/09 and 3 others, 7 March 2017), which is a part of the Vlasov v. Russia group of cases, the European Court of Human Rights (the “Court”) found a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the “Convention”) on account of the lack of an effective opportunity for prisoners and their loved ones to maintain family and social ties during imprisonment in remote prison facilities.

The Court has noted that the domestic law of the Russian Federation (specifically, Article 73 of the Russia’s Criminal Executive Code) vests “extensive discretionary powers with the Federal Penitentiary Service (the “FSIN”) as regards the geographical distribution of prisoners in the Russian Federation and their allocation to penal facilities (paras. 94, 96 and 97), and that “the scope of such discretion conferred is not defined with sufficient clarity to give the individual adequate protection against arbitrary interference [with the right to respect for family life] (para. 99).

The Court further noted the absence of “any safeguard mechanisms that could counterbalance the FSIN’s extensive discretion in the field of allocation of prisoners or any mechanisms to weigh the competing individual and public interests and assess the proportionality of the relevant restriction the rights of the persons concerned” (paras. 99 and 101). The Court reached a similar conclusion in respect of the domestic law governing transfers of prisoners between penal facilities after their initial allocations (paras. 102-107). Finally, the Court found that the domestic law does not provide for effective judicial review of the proportionality of the FSIN’s decisions on prisoners’ allocation to penal facilities and their subsequent transfer between facilities (paras. 115 and 116).

The Court concluded, that “the Russian domestic legal system did not afford adequate legal protection against possible abuses in the field of geographical distribution of prisoners” and that the relevant provisions (namely, Articles 73 §§ 2 and 4 and 81 of the Criminal Executive Code) do not satisfy the “quality of law” requirement.

The Submitting Organisations believe that the comprehensive analysis of the issues outlined by the Court in Polyakova and the monitoring of the current state of the domestic law and practice requires an examination of the fate of prisoners during transfers, given that

  • (i) the system of long-distance prisoner transfer is closely linked to the geography of Russian prisons and the procedure for allocating prisoners to penal facilities, and
  • (ii) taking into account that transfers often interrupt contact between prisoners and their families and lawyers, amounting to the situations of enforced disappearance.

The Submitting Organisations therefore submit the present report to the Committee of Ministers, together with proposals on recommendations on the measures to be taken by the Russian authorities, in order to assist the Committee of Ministers in developing an up-to-date and informed position on the current state of the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the respective area.

The use of enforced disappearances to repress political opposition and dissident voices in the Russian Federation is well documented. Less documented is a bureaucratic tool that makes many of these enforced disappearances possible – the legal framework (or “legal black hole”) of Russia’s prisoner transfer system.

An examination of the enforced disappearance of political prisoners during prisoner transfers, when they are most vulnerable, sheds light on the way in which the Kremlin co-opts public institutions and legal loopholes to repress dissent and consolidate power. This report analyses Russia’s relevant legal framework, some notable cases, and relevant international legal obligations to bring this issue to the fore. It is hoped that this report will serve as evidence for future human rights cases, reports, and calls for legal and political reform in Russia.

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