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Obama encourages renewed Russia commitment to rule of law

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] said Monday that a renewed commitment to the rule of law should be part of a "reset" in US relations with Russia during an official visit to Moscow. In an interview [text] with Russian opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta [media website, in Russian], Obama applauded the "courageous initiative" of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile] "to strengthen the rule of law in Russia," and that he saw "no reason why we cannot aspire together to strengthen democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as part of" US-Russia relations. Although he said he had not personally been following the trials of former Yukos Oil [JURIST news archive] executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky [defense website; JURIST news archive] and his business partner Platon Lebedev [defense website], who were convicted and jailed in 2005 on fraud and tax evasion charges, Obama said that "making sure that all those accused of crimes have the right to a fair trial and that the courts are not used for political purposes" is an essential part of the rule of law. The interview came in advance of Obama's summit with Medvedev to sign [VOA report] a replacement for the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty [text] on arms control, which is set to expire in December. Medvedev also granted Novaya Gazeta an interview [text] in April, his first interview with a Russian newspaper since taking office in March 2008.

Last month, the Council of Europe (COE) [official website] urged substantial reforms to correct systemic problems [JURIST report] in the Russian legal system, including the prevalence of political prosecutions and a lack of judicial independence. Also in June, Khodorkovsky called [JURIST report] for "preventative judicial reforms," saying that putting an end to corruption and political pressure should be a governmental priority. In March, Khodorkovsky criticized [JURIST report] amendments signed into law in January by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev [official profile], allowing trials for treason and terrorism to be adjudicated without juries [JURIST report]. Medvedev himself acknowledged the need for judicial reform [JURIST report] in December, saying that transparent courts would restore faith in the justice system and prevent people from seeking redress in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website].

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