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Ukraine: European Court Of Human Rights May Tackle Leadership Issue

  • Breffni O'Rourke

http://gdb.rferl.org/39B711B3-D0FC-432C-A2E7-C936AD379D07_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/39B711B3-D0FC-432C-A2E7-C936AD379D07_mw800_mh600.jpg Ukraine's former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is carrying his electoral struggle for the presidency into the international arena. He says that if his latest appeal to the Ukraine Supreme Court fails, he's prepared to take his case to the European Court of Human Rights. Yanukovych is seeking to overturn the election win of his rival, Viktor Yushchenko. But what exactly is the European Court of Human Rights? And does it have the power to decide an issue that could be of historic importance to Ukraine?

Prague, 13 January 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Viktor Yanukovych is pursuing his claim to the Ukraine presidency relentlessly, despite having his appeals rejected repeatedly by the Ukraine Supreme Court.

He is seeking to have declared void the result of the 26 December presidential election rerun, officially won by his rival, Viktor Yushchenko. He said if the Supreme Court rejects his last appeal, he will go to the European Court of Human Rights based in Strasbourg, France.

If he does, he will need patience. Normally, it takes the court about three years to issue a verdict.

The court was established in 1959 by the Council of Europe, the 45-nation body that seeks to foster democracy and cooperation across the continent.

The court's chief spokesman, Roderick Liddell, explained that the long delay in handing down decisions stems from the workload, which grows by about 15 percent each year as more and more people turn to the court for redress. "Last year, I believe, we had something like 40,000 applications coming into the system, and currently we have a list of pending cases of around 75,000. So that is an enormous amount. But when you consider this court deals with applications from 45 states, soon to be 46, with a population of some 800 million, then that is hardly surprising," Liddell said.

Liddell said, however, that the statistics make the problem sound worse than it is. Few of these cases actually get as far as a verdict. Most are rejected at earlier stages of the legal process. "Of these cases, a very large percentage are inadmissible, and are not examined on their merits; we calculate that about 90 percent of the applications that come into the system are inadmissible, and they are dealt with fairly rapidly," he said.

The court consists of 45 judges -- equal to the number of member states in the Council of Europe. Its rulings are binding on member states and without appeal. Theoretically, that means that if Yanukovych were accepted, Yushchenko would have to give up the Ukraine presidency sometime in 2008.

Countries that fail to abide by the court's rulings face possible expulsion from the Council of Europe. That, however, is very unlikely to happen. Colin Warbrick, a professor of law at Britain's Durham University, said that Yanukovych has been given the opportunity to present his case to the Ukraine Supreme Court, and that court appears to have had sufficient ground to reject his appeals.
"Not just the court, but the Council of Europe as a whole, has laid down a mechanism which is the most effective there is -- which is not to say it is perfect -- but the most effective there is anywhere in the world, for protecting human rights at the international level."


Warbrick told RFE/RL that the European Court would be very unlikely to overturn the national court's verdict unless new information of large-scale wrongdoing in the election comes to light.

Noting the growing popularity of the European Court for Human Rights, Warbrick described it as "one of the most remarkable of the post-[World War II] experiments" in Europe. "Not just the court, but the Council of Europe as a whole, has laid down a mechanism which is the most effective there is -- which is not to say it is perfect -- but the most effective there is anywhere in the world, for protecting human rights at the international level," Warbrick said.

Warbrick said the council and the court achieve this because they try to enlist the states in the protection of human rights, rather than condemning them. To this end, the council has extensive training programs, financial assistance to improve judicial systems, and the like.

Warbrick said both council and court see their work as a continuous process, as there will always be human rights violations to protect against.

[For more RFE/RL coverage and analysis of the political crisis in Ukraine, click here.]
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