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By Anton Burkov, PhD (Cantab), LLM (Essex), Head of the European and Comparative Law Department, University of Humanities of Yekaterinburg

Conference Report: Human Rights Education in Russia and Other European States

On 21-22 October 2013 an international conference discussing human rights education in Russia and other European states was held at the Legislative Assembly of the Sverdlovsk region, Yekaterinburg (Russia). The conference was organised by the office of the Ombudsman in the Sverdlovsk region, the Legislative Assembly of Sverdlovsk region, the Sverdlovsk Regional Branch of the Association of Lawyers of Russia, the University for Humanities of Yekaterinburg, the Urals State Law Academy, and the non-governmental organisations Sutyajnik and Academy of Human Rights, with the support of the MATRA programme of the Embassy of the Netherlands in Russia, the Consulate General of Germany in Yekaterinburg, and the Embassy of France in Russia.


150 participants from eight countries attended the conference. Besides legal and educational experts, the regional authorities were well-represented. The German, French and US consuls in Yekaterinburg as well as a representative of the French Embassy in Russia were also among the participants. The conference was opened by welcoming speeches by representatives of the organising institutions whilst the key note speaker of the second day was Mr. Markus Meckel (Foreign Minister of the German Democratic Republic (1990), member of German Bundestag (1990-2009)). Academics from Russia, the US, the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Estonia and the Netherlands listened to 26 reports-presentations, discussed and finally adopted a resolution on the establishment of the Urals School of Human Rights.

The first day of the conference was devoted to issues relating to teaching human rights in different parts of Europe followed by a second day on matters of application of international human rights guarantees in judicial and administrative practice. This allowed comparing the effectiveness of teaching human rights for legal practice.

The reports delivered at the conference have significant scientific value which demonstrated to Russian participants that there is room for development and cooperation with European human rights academics of the second and third generations. The presentations (see here for the full presentation of the authors and their papers) broached a breadth of topics and are all accessible in video and audio format.


The first day of the conference started with the presentation by Tatiana Termacic (also audio – in Russian), Council of Europe, who focused on the Council of Europe’s role in ‘bringing human rights home’. She started her talk by explaining that ’Education on human rights is an uninterrupted journey that should start in school, continue at university and throughout a professional career. This journey is indispensable because in order to be a reality for all those within the jurisdiction of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, human rights have to be effectively protected and implemented first and foremost at the national level. This is what is meant by bringing human rights home”’. The presentation focused on the Council of Europe’s efforts to support its member states in ensuring that the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR) is applied at the national level. This support is done through capacity development, mainly for legal professionals, and in the future, law faculties may be targeted as well. The speaker also made a presentation of the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (the HELP Programme), whose aim is precisely to ensure that the human rights training throughout the European space is of good quality and meets the specific needs of each category, be it judges, prosecutors or lawyers. It has become the platform for all human rights capacity development endeavours undertaken by the Council of Europe.

Then the floor was taken by academics from European states. Prof. Dr. Carmen Thiele shared experience in teaching human rights, particularly in running the Summer school ‘The European System of Human Rights Protection’ and a LLM in ‘International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law’ at the European University Viadrina (Germany) in cooperation with other European universities. Particular attention was paid to the issue of the influence of the European Court of Human Rights’ (ECtHR) judgements on legal education in Germany.

Dr. Serge Slama (also audio – in Russian), Université Evry Val d’Essonne (France) talked about teaching human rights law in French universities. He explained that in the 1950s French universities included in the curriculum a special course entitled ‘Public Freedoms’ which was transformed and is now called ‘Fundamental Freedoms.’ At the moment it is already a third generation of academics who are teaching human rights in France. In 1974 France ratified the ECHR but it took more than 10 years for the national courts to start looking at the ECHR for the purpose of its application at the national level.

The next French academic representative Prof. Marie-Elisabeth Baudoin, University of Auvergne (France) reflected on ‘How Human Rights Law became an “autonomous” legal subject in France’. The speaker shared her experience of teaching European Human Rights Law and discussed the history of teaching European Human Rights Law in France as well as the influence of ECtHR decisions on legal education in France.

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Benedek (also audio – in Russian) , University of Graz (Austria), discussed human rights education as a right. In particular he shared his experience in teaching human rights in an Austrian University, the E.MA programme in Human Rights, and in developing a manual on human rights education ‘Understanding Human Rights’ translated into many languages, including Russian.

Dr. Eadaoin O’Brien (also audio – in Russian) of Essex University (UK) presented the interdisciplinary approach to human rights teaching at the Essex Human Rights Centre, addressing the advantages and challenges of teaching human rights theory and practice in a matter that encompasses other disciplinary perspectives such as sociology, government, philosophy as well as law.

Prof. William Simons, University of Leiden (The Netherlands), offered his ‘view from abroad’ on the matter of teaching human rights in Russia as well as on researching in human rights law. His view was optimistic as he provided examples of good practice and yet noticed room for improvement. For instance the 2008 Russian federal law on obligatory publication of courts’ decisions not only gives academics (and practitioners) numerous opportunities to ‘fine-tune’ their research (and their advice) but also invalidates the antiquated technique of referencing only a small number of judgments in support of research findings (or legal advice). This law makes Russia the leader among European continental jurisdictions in the area of access to court decisions. But more could (and should) be done: for example, to mandate the fuller publication of case materials (e.g. pleadings of all the parties, complete minutes of court hearings reduced to e-writing) which should substantially add to a fuller and more complete appreciation of the judicial resolution of disputes in the Russian Federation. Prof. Simons also suggested that attorneys and judges begin referring to and citing the works of leading Russian scholars (and perhaps even academics from other jurisdictions in the European legal space) in legal documents.

Interventions by representatives of Russian academia started with Prof. Svetlana Glushkova, who exposed the main tendencies and challenges in teaching human rights at her home institution and other Russian law schools. She mentioned that although most of the universities in Yekaterinburg run special human rights courses and the majority have special human rights departments what is missing is a resource centre in human rights.

Other Russian speakers of the first day referred to a variety of issues relating to teaching human rights starting with the fashionable topic of ‘legal nihilism’ (a thought that denies the social value of law and considers it to be the least perfect means of regulating social relations, a concept introduced by Dmitri Medvedev at the time he was President of Russia and his determination to fight ‘legal nihilism’) of students during teaching discipline on human rights (Associate Professor Dina Efremenkova, Ural branch of Civil Servants Academy) to the specifics of teaching human rights in an ‘administrative society’ (Sergey Denisov, University of Humanities).

Some presenters spoke of teaching methods (Vera Ilchenko, Head of the Department of Law and Methods of Teaching at the Urals State Law Academy) and development and implementation of “Additional Professional Education” programmes in the field of human rights protection (Inessa Krutya, Head of licensing and accreditation, Urals State Law Academy). Others shared experience in human rights education in their departments (Prof. Olga Bogatyreva, Urals Federal University).

DSC_9450The second day was devoted to the issue of the application of human rights knowledge in legal practice in Russia and other European states. Participants were welcomed by Andreas Klassen, Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Ekaterinburg, Michel Baran, Consul General of France in Yekaterinburg and Ida Chafai, representative of the Embassy of France. The tone to the second day of the conference was set by an introductory speech by Mr. Markus Meckel (also audio – in Russian) who reflected on the German and European experiences with both the ECHR as well as the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

The first two presenters, a French judge and a French human rights activist, provided the participants with an understanding on the application of the Convention in France. Providing specific examples, Judge Timothée Paris (also audio – in Russian) explained that a French administrative judge applies the ECHR and the case-law of its Court in the same way as domestic law. Questions from the floor led the speaker to admit that it is not the courts’ custom to actually acknowledge or cite in the text of a judgement that the judge took into account norms of international human rights law. Me Hugues de Suremain (also audio – in Russian), a member of the Paris Bar association, and a former legal officer at the International Observatory of Prisons, spoke of how European law on the rights of the prisoners has led to the emergence of prison law of France. The speaker addressed primarily the law governing the legal status of prisoners (awaiting trial or sentenced), which concerns the life inside the prison, the ‘internal legal status’ (as opposed to the “external legal status” of the detainee, which is to do with the duration and the different ways of the execution of sentences and the possibilities of conditional release). Just like what happened in the USA, where it is the federal judge who has developed the right of detainees, the construction of the prison law in France mainly took the form of a dialogue between, on the one hand, the associations and the chief of the International Observatory of Prisons, which, together with academics, took to courts the bulk of complaints of inmates, and, on the other, the administrative courts and the ECtHR. One of the presidents of the Supreme Administrative Court has analyzed the process of litigation of the International Observatory of Prisons and described it as a ‘collective action.’

The relay race was continued by the Chair of the Presidium of Collegium of Advocates ‘Sverdlovsk Oblast Guild of Advocates’, Honorary Advocate of Russia Natalia Sukhareva who, by referring to her own litigation experience, revealed that the ECHR is not taken into account by courts of the Yamalo-Enetskiy Autonomous district. Judge Kazantsev, judge of the Chapter court of Sverdlovsk oblast, spoke of ‘legal enlightenment’ as one of the directions of activities of the Chapter court of Sverdlovsk oblast. This is a soviet courts’ tradition to use the administration of justice as a tool for raising awareness of the law amongst the population. However, as one of the participants noted in his reply, it is not unclear how the court may legally enlighten the population if this court does not cite the ECHR and the relevant case-law. One could easily draw parallel to the practice adopted by French judges in civil cases.

DSC_9474The remaining part of the second day was filled by presentations of Russian human rights activists and legal practitioners which made the conference particularly interesting as these presentations gave an opportunity to see whether existing human rights education was working.

Igor Golendukhin, a former prisoner, now Head of the NGO ‘Protecting the rights of prisoners’, and expert of the State Duma Committee on Public Associations and Religious Organizations’ working group for the protection of citizen rights in places of detention, reflected upon his three-year practice of appealing against prison administrative penalties on the basis of incongruity with international human rights law. If prisoners decide to fight against disciplinary penalties, they in fact fight the system in which the head of the prison is the law. He admitted that there are examples of good practice of direct application of international human rights norms in courts but this is due to the applicants and their representatives making judges aware of the international legal framework regulating prisoners’ rights. The speaker asked the academics a rhetoric question, if all is well in the educational system, where do particular heads of correctional institutions come from?

Aidar Sultanov, Head of the legal department of JSC ‘Nozhnekamskneftehim’ and judge of the Arbitration energy court, gave an optimistic view on the domestication of international law, notably referring to his own litigation experience. Russian law enforcement organs use a type of administration of justice which involves comparing the disputable situation with norms of positive law without looking into case-law for interpretation in order to make a decision. As the Russian law enforcement authorities consider ECHR provisions too abstract to be used as a template that matches the facts of a case it is not easy to convince a judge to refer to such provisions. However, in the opinion of the speaker, this difficulty does not emerge from a poor application of international law norms but rather from the lack of positive norms on the domestic level with regard to the protection of the inalienable human rights and freedoms. Despite this and other difficulties, he concluded that European human rights law is slowly but surely coming to Russia.

Anton Kudryakov, member of the NGO Sutyajnik of Ekaterinburg, presented his strategic litigation campaign for the right to respect for private life of witnesses of administrative offences as understood in the ECHR and the relevant case-law. An analysis of a variety of examples relating to national courts practice (from a district court all the way up to the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court of Russia) revealed the judicial and police ignorance of international human rights law guarantees of the right to private life of witnesses of administrative offences. This, the speaker concludes, is the source of the lack of will of witnesses to cooperate with law enforcement organs, not to mention the back log of cases pending before the ECHR.

Prof. Andrew Suslov, Head of the department of Modern and Contemporary History of Russia at the Perm State University of Humanities and Education, speaking of teaching human rights in Russia and Russia’s international obligations and their fulfilment, stated that, ‘Human rights education is not a matter of discussion; it is the duty of the state to fulfil its international obligations’. This idea is not often considered but certainly attracted a lot of attention from the participants.

The short concluding intervention by Mihail Kuchin, former Head of the Urals Institute of Regional Legislature, focused on the method of teaching law in Russian law schools. He urged a reform of the way law is taught, stressing that it was important to teach not just the statutes, but also how to apply and interpret the law as well as how to look into legal practice the way the ECHR does it. Commenting statutes is no longer enough commenting legal practice must be employed.

One of the main outcomes of the conference is the recognition by the region’s leaders that the teaching of ‘human rights’ is the most important criterion for evaluating higher education institutions as well as courses of post-graduate and continuing education.

DSC_9609_1Statements made by representatives of the regional government on the need for the creation of the Urals Human Rights School, supported by participants in the conference resolution, are important from a political point of view. This political will to have the school initiated will eliminate some of the political obstacles. The actual creation of the school depends on the will of the participants, including the ones from Europe. It is crucial to understand that human rights are never national business and that international cooperation is the key to raising a certain level of awareness and respect for human rights. This conference came true only thanks to the international cooperation of Russian authorities, academics, human rights activists and legal practitioners and their European (e.g. French, German and Dutch) counterparts.

A full list of speakers as well as video and audio recordings of their presentations are available here Photographs and other conference materials are available here.

The organisers of the conference will publish conference reports in Russian. If you are interested in this forthcoming publication, please, contact Dr. Anton Burkov at

By Anton Burkov, PhD (Cantab), LLM (Essex), Head of the European and Comparative Law Department, University of Humanities of Yekaterinburg

Written for Euro Rights Blog





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