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Misapplication of International Legal Norms in Socially Abnormal Situations (Part #2)


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In the turbulent period since the dissolution of the USSR, whilst much emphasis has been placed on legislative reform, there is no tradition whatsoever of confidence in the effective enforcement of those laws. There is therefore very little expectation that such laws will effectively govern relations between social actors in the short and medium-term future.

In October 1994 an expert group reported to the Council of Europe on the conformity of the legal order of the Russian Federation with Council of Europe standards (Council of Europe, 1994). The experts came to the conclusion that 'so far the rule of law is not established in the Russian Federation'.

Any hopes for effective implementation of laws are severely, if not completely, eroded by the day-to-day reality of an essentially lawless society. It is a well-publicized characteristic of Russian society that effective control is essentially in the hands of groups such as: the presidency, bureaucratic coalitions, the military, and organized crime. Although privatization has sanctioned the creation of privatized enterprises, their capacity to act, and the rules govening their action, are essentially determined by their relations to the above-mentioned groups, rather than by the law. When convenient, reference may be made to the law to justify or explain certain actions, but this is not a constraint on arbitrary or extra-legal actions. Furthermore, even the best informed have littleunderstanding at this time as to whether any given new initiative will be considered 'legal' or illegal.

The rule of law is further frustrated by deficiencies in the enforcement of the law. It is widely accepted that the police are completely corrupt. This does not mean that the poorly-paid police will necessarily act in a corrupt manner, rather it means that, given the opportunity for significant personal benefit, it is expected that the police can be persuaded to act in a manner inconsistent with their public duties. This difficulty extends to the courts and judiciary. It is clear also that there is a completely inadequate legal infrastructure, especially at the local level. There are few adequately trained judges and magistrates, for example. And, because there is little public finance available to pay those that do exist, the temptations for them to facilitate miscarriages of justice are far from lacking.

Ironically, as was explained by social scientists, disputes concerning commercial contracts are increasingly 'resolved' in Russia by one party arranging for the other to be visited by an organized gang to extract due payment. This offers a whole new interpretation to the notion of 'contract law'. This phenomenon is not without its parallels in the West where direct action through 'taking the law into one's own hands' is increasingly seen to have its merits.

All the above factors erode public confidence in legislative provisions. Day-to-day life is so problematic in consequence, that many recall favourably the relative security of the communist period. This is of immediate significance for the rapidly evolving political situation. It is widely assumed that that the apparently positive features of the reform period run a very significant risk of being swept away by powerful political forces, notably at the next nation-wide elections. This possibility is confirmed by recent reversals in nearly all regional elections.


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