“Putin’s brazen move to put in place a constitutional mechanism to avoid implementing international treaties could severely undermine international law. If adopted, the proposed legislation would not only likely aggravate the human rights situation in Russia; it could also serve as a dangerous model, paving the way for other countries to shirk international human rights obligations.”
The legislation was designed by an ad hoc working group convened on 15 January, the same day that Putin first announced the constitutional changes during his annual address. The document, drafted in just four days and without a meaningful consultation with the civil society, proposes substantive changes to 14 articles of the Constitution, contrary to a federal law requiring a separate draft law for each amendment. As early as 23 January the draft law was unanimously accepted in the first reading by the lower chamber of Russia’s Parliament. The final reading, to be followed by a vote, is expected at the end of February.
Not only is the substance of the amendments worrying; the authorities’ disregard for constitutionally prescribed procedures required to adopt them gives cause for alarm. Since the proposed changes concern the first two chapters of the Constitution, the “Fundamentals of the Constitutional System” and the “Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen”, Article 135 requires that a new Constitution be adopted by a Constitutional Assembly, followed by a referendum. Neither the law governing the formation of the Constitutional Assembly, nor the organ itself, are currently in existence. Rather than abide by these procedures, the authorities plan to hold a nationwide constitutional vote this spring, in an attempt to give the proposed amendment an air of legitimacy.
The authorities’ move to prize sovereignty above all, in disregard for international law, could usher in a dark time for human rights in Russia, with the potential to set a dangerous global precedent. FIDH and its 37 member organisations urge the Russian parliamentarians and the Russian people to vote against the proposed amendments.