Venezuela: protests heighten concern over rule of law

Venezuela_protests_against_the_Nicolas_Maduro_government,_Maracaibo_03Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

As the situation in Ukraine grows increasingly complex by the day and draws the world’s attention, thousands of miles away on the other side of the Atlantic,Venezuela endures the worst protests it has seen in more than a decade.

What started as a mere isolated, student-led protest in early February has evolved into a widespread demonstration of discontent, highlighting the government’s failure to provide adequate security measures, basic food supplies and its mishandling of the country’s finances. The protests have drawn comparisons with the unrest that ravaged the country in 2002 and are the most serious challenge yet to the government of Nicolás Maduro, who was elected president in April last year following the death of Hugo Chávez of cancer, after 14 years in office.

Although similar to earlier demonstrations, former IBA President Fernando Peláez-Pier, a partner at Hoet Peláez Castillo & Duque in Caracas, says the scale of these protests has taken the country and the government by surprise. ‘We have not seen governmental repression quite like this in recent years: based on different reports, in 17 days of protests there have been 18 deaths and 1,044 arrests,’ he says.

Published on 05-03-14. Read on here

Could Sochi provide the thaw that Anglo-Russian relations need?

Sochi Olympics

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

It’s already been over a week of sun, sea and well, some snow in Sochi, but yet more naysayers continue to join the chorus of disapproval over the Russian city’s choice as host for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

This time, however, the criticism is not directed at President Vladimir Putin, Sochi or its subtropical climate, but at UK prime minister David Cameron, whose decision to forego the Games has been labelled a “missed opportunity” by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

As with many other world leaders – Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, to name but a few – Cameron opted to shun Sochi and sent culture secretary Maria Miller along to enjoy the action instead.

Although Downing Street has gone to great lengths to deny that Cameron is staging any kind of boycott, Bach clearly is far from convinced. “I always think if you don’t have a dialogue, it’s a missed opportunity,” he told the BBC in an exclusive interview. “A dialogue is always better than talking about each other. It’s always better to talk with each other.”

Published on 16-02-14. Read on here

Russian amnesty law is no substitute for genuine legal reform

Mitya Aleshkovskiy is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

Although Russian Orthodox Christmas was still over two weeks away, the news that the country’s parliament had passed a wide-ranging amnesty bill on 18 December must have had many prisoners thinking Christmas had come early.

The law, which has already prompted the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 and members of punk band Pussy Riot, coincides with celebrations marking the 20th anniversary of the country’s constitution, which proclaims the rule of law and guarantees fundamental human rights to Russian people.

Since the amnesty law mainly applies to first-time offenders, minors and women with young children, the greatest shock came when it was announced that Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who had already spent just over a decade behind bars for convictions of tax evasion, fraud, embezzlement and money laundering, was also due to be released.

With mounting criticism of the crackdown on protests in the country, particularly in the run-up to the Winter Olympics, this development has left many questioning the motive of the amnesty law and what significance it may hold for the rule of law in Russia today.

Published on 28-01-14. Read on here

Human Rights Commissioner slams Magnitsky trial as Europe continues to moot law

Sergei_Magnitsky_(grave)Here is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks has condemned the posthumous trial of Sergei Magnitsky, just four months after a Russian court found the deceased lawyer and his former boss, Hermitage Capital founder Bill Browder, guilty of tax evasion in the country’s first modern-day posthumous trial.

In the report published last week, Muižnieks highlights a recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights, which states that posthumous trials violate Article 6 – the right to a fair trial – since the deceased is not able to testify at his trial.

He added that the trial’s proceedings are also contrary to a July 2011 ruling by Russia’s Constitutional Court, which stated that prosecutors cannot continue to prosecute people after their death. Instead, he adds the ruling said that ‘…posthumous trials are only allowed with a view to rehabilitating a person who was accused or convicted of a particular crime at the request of his family.’

The damning report comes just weeks after the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe’s (PACE) Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee approved a report calling for the Russian authorities to put an end to the posthumous trial once and for all.

Published on 18-11-13. Read on here

Khodorkovsky, ten years on

M.B.KhodorkovskyHere is my latest piece published on the IBA Global Insight newsfeed:

The Russian judicial system has been thrust into the spotlight countless times in recent months by the high level of international media attention surrounding trials involving the Arctic 30, the Bolotnaya Square protesters, Pussy Riot and Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

However, arguably 25 October this year marks one of the most significant junctures in recent Russian legal history: it is ten years to the day since Russian businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky was arrested at gunpoint in Siberia after his plane was stormed by special forces officers and he was detained by the Russian authorities.

Ten years behind bars and the former head of the now bankrupt oil company Yukos has undergone a rollercoaster ride of trials and appeals within Russia and further afield. Both he and his former Yukos business partner Platon Lebedev – who was arrested in July 2003 and has been represented by a separate legal team – first went on trial in June 2004 charged with tax evasion and fraud.

Published on 25-10-13. Read on here