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2017 | Syria Justice and Accountability Centre, ECtHR as an Avenue for Accountability Possibilities and Constraints

This article discusses the possibility of filing a case against Russia before the ECtHR for its involvement in the Syrian conflict. It states that while President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle remain out of reach, there may be other means available to achieve justice for victims of atrocities in Syria.

In the case of Russia, it might be possible to file a case against the state with the ECtHR. Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, and therefore it is subject to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Any national or resident of a Member State can petition the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for redress if they have a claim that their rights under the Convention were violated by the Member State.

The Court’s judgments are in the form of fines to compensate victims of violations and are binding upon the state in question. The payment of these fines is monitored by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. A Member State that repeatedly fails to abide by ECtHR judgments could theoretically be ejected from the Council. Russia is said to be generally compliant. However, ECtHR judgments will not result in Russian officers spending time in prison for their actions in Syria.

According to the article, the primary obstacle for any claim against Russia in the Syrian context will be one of jurisdiction. Typically, the ECHR only applies to human rights violations that occur within the territory of a Member State. However, when the Member State, and in this case Russia, is found to have had ‘effective control’ over the territory in question at the time of the alleged violation, the court may have extraterritorial jurisdiction. The article states that it is still uncertain whether the ECtHR would find that Russia’s dominance and command over the skies of Syria, firing repeatedly and over a period of months and years, would constitute sufficient effective control to assert extraterritorial jurisdiction. According to the article, a case that was filed in October 2016 by Dr. Moawyah Al-Awad may provide an answer to this question.