Russia and the WTO
by Ethan S. Burger
Original to La Russophobe
In 2002, at a conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, as part of a panel a U.S. government official gave a presentation praising all the new legislation Russia was enacting. He suggested that “western technical” assistance in the legal area was having a real impact in the country. The next speaker was a Russian law professor who specializes in anti-corruption and human rights matters. He began his remarks with the comment that while he enjoyed the prior’s speaker’s remarks, it was unfortunate that he was describing a country that did not exist.
Russia is now seeking entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO). It should not be allowed to join this body until it enforces its own domestic laws, amends its restrictive foreign investment laws, and observes its existing international obligations. Russia has a poor record in applying the 1959 U.N. Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Arbitral Awards. Its does uphold its obligations under, or follow the standards and guidelines of, arising from its membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Cyber attacks on Estonia and Britain has arisen from its territory (arguably NATO should have responded). It foreign policy to a great extent seems aimed “reset” Europe to the Cold War era (although it has apparently privatized or contracted out formally state activities. Russia is not so powerful that it should not be challenged for its aggressive actions.
Yet, it would be a mistake to treat Russia as an international pariah. Russia is a member of the international community. It should be held to the same standards as other countries. Progress in one area of international relations should not be linked to another It should not be offered a concession on a trade matter as a means to cooperate on dealing with nuclear non-proliferation and global warming.
The WTO is not like the Financial Activity Task Force (FATF), a body that combats money laundering. FATF is a body that promulgates norms and standards, offers technical assistance and performs evaluations of its members anti-money laundering policies. Ideally, overtime Russia will see the benefit from observing guidelines.
In the human and civil records area, the present situation is troubling. This month, Ms. Vera Trifonova s died during pre-trial detention. Ms. Trifonova asserted her innocence contending that she and a senator conspired to sell a seat in Russia s Federal Assembly s upper chamber, the Council of the Federation to the head of a Russian bank for $1.5 million.
According to her attorney, the investigator in the case, Sergei Pysin, controlled the conditions for her pretrial detention and indicated that he would release her if she confessed. Admittedly, I don’t know the truth in the matter, but now we will never know. Where is the outrage? Why is there no public outcry with the exception of some human rights activists,
journalists and lawyers?
Last year, 37-year old lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, also died in pretrial detention. He was being held because his CLIENT allegedly engaged in tax evasion — apparently a popular activity for many Russian politicians, their shills and their cronies. Appropriately, Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev orchestrated the firing of approximately 20 prison officials in response to the Magnitsky affair and directed the Russian Procuracy to conduct inquiries into both the Trifonova and Magnitsky cases.
Under the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation, Section IV — Measures of Procedural Coercion, Chapter 12 — Detention of the Suspect neither Ms. Trifonov nor Mr. Magnitsky should have been detained for more than a few hours (assuming that there were any legitimate grounds for holding them in the first place), but in any case they should have been allowed to be released on bail. Needless to say, the Russian Constitution has been violated. These individuals civil and human rights under both Russian and international law had been violated. Should anyone wonder why Russia has more cases brought against it in the European Court for Human Rights than any other country?
Unfortunately, as citizens of Britain, France and the U.S. know, there are occasions when police/militiamen use excessive force and sometimes even kill suspects in the process of making an arrest. They are frequently acquitted by juries or given light sentences despite using an unjustified level of force. Still it is not an unusual event than such persons are criminally prosecuted. Furthermore, the suspects (or their family members) can find lawyers who are willing to file civil suits against the government or the police/militiamen.
How long will it be before the Russian Procuracy after concluding an investigation file criminal charges against law enforcement personnel may have used excessive force when arresting a suspect, or when a person is being held in pretrial detention or after being convicted? Will private citizens be able to find attorneys to represent them in law suits against the government and have any chance of prevailing? Let’s hope that time happens in the not too distant future — but many people with unrealistic hopes often become disappointed and cynical.
Professor Burger has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center and will be joining the Law Faculty of the University of Wollongong (Australia) and its Centre for Transnational Crime Prevention in July.