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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

In the political system established by the 1993 constitution, the president wields considerable executive power. There is no vice president, and the legislative is far weaker than the executive. The president nominates the highest state officials, including the prime minister, who must be approved by the Duma. The president can pass decrees without consent from the Duma. He also is head of the armed forces and of the national security council.

Duma elections were on December 19, 1999 and presidential elections March 26, 2000. While the Communist Party won a narrow plurality of seats in the Duma, the pro-government party Unity and the centrist Fatherland-All Russia also won substantial numbers of seats in the legislature. In the presidential election, Vladimir Putin, named Acting President following the December 31 resignation of Boris Yeltsin, was elected in the first round with 53% of the vote. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections were judged generally free and fair by international observers.

Russia is a federation, but the precise distribution of powers between the central government and the regional and local authorities is still evolving. The Russian Federation consists of 89 components, including two federal cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The constitution explicitly defines the federal government's exclusive powers, but it also describes most key regional issues as the joint responsibility of the federal government and the Federation components.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Russian judiciary is divided into three branches: The courts of general jurisdiction (including military courts); subordinated to the Supreme Court; the arbitration (commercial) court system under the High Court of Arbitration; and the Constitutional Court (as well as constitutional courts in a number of administrative entities of the Russian Federation). Civil and criminal cases are tried in courts of primary jurisdiction, courts of appeals, and higher courts. The general court system's lowest level is the municipal court, which serves each city or rural district and hears more than 90 percent of all civil and criminal cases. The next level of courts of general jurisdiction is the regional courts. At the highest level is the Supreme Court. Decisions of the lower trial courts can be appealed only to the immediately superior court unless a constitutional issue is involved. The arbitration court system consists of city or regional courts as well as appellate circuit courts subordinated to the High Court of Arbitration. Arbitration courts hear cases involving business disputes between legal entities and between legal entities and the state.

Judges are approved by the President after being nominated by the qualifying collegia, which are assemblies of judges. These collegia also have the authority to remove judges for misbehavior, and to approve procurator's requests to prosecute judges.

The new Criminal Procedure Code passed by the legislature in March and which is scheduled to be phased in between 2002 and 2004, provides for the strengthening of the role of the judiciary in relation to the Procuracy by requiring judicial approval of arrest warrants, searches, seizures, and detention. Moreover, the new Law on the Status of Judges, approved in December, strives to eliminate subjectivity in the selection of judges, to facilitate access to the judicial profession by minimizing corruption in the appointment process, and to improve the accountability of judges by subjecting them to disciplinary and administrative liability and by introducing age limits. In addition judicial training was mandated and strengthened during the year. The new Criminal Procedure Code also broadens the jurisdiction of Justices of the Peace to all crimes with maximum sentences of less than 3 years.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Human Rights

Although the Russian Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in some areas in 2001, serious problems remain in many areas. Its record was poor regarding the independence and freedom of the media. Its record was poor in Chechnya, where the federal security forces demonstrated little respect for basic human rights and there were credible reports of serious violations, including numerous reports of extrajudicial killings by both the Government and Chechen fighters. Hazing in the armed forces resulted in a number of deaths. There were reports of government involvement in politically motivated disappearances in Chechnya. There were credible reports that law enforcement personnel regularly tortured, beat, and otherwise abused detainees and suspects.

Arbitrary arrest and detention and police corruption remained problems. The Government prosecuted some perpetrators of abuses, but many officials were not held accountable for their actions. Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. Prison conditions continued to be extremely harsh and frequently life threatening. Existing laws on military courts, military service, and the rights of service members often contradict the Constitution, federal laws, and presidential decrees, raising arbitrary judgments of unit commanders over the rule of law. The Government made some progress during the year with implementation of constitutional provisions for due process and fair and timely trial; however, the judiciary continued to lack resources, suffered from corruption, and remained subject to some influence from other branches of the Government. A series of so-called espionage cases continued during the year and raised concerns regarding the lack of due process and the influence of security services in court cases. Authorities continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights.

Despite the continued wide diversity of press, government pressure on the media increased and resulted in numerous restrictions on the freedom of speech and press. The Government generally respected freedom of assembly; however, at times this right was restricted at the local level. The Government does not always respect the Constitutional provision for equality of religions, and in some instances local authorities imposed restrictions on some religious groups. Despite constitutional protections for citizens' freedom of movement, the Government placed some limits on this right; some regional and local authorities (most notably the city of Moscow) restricted movement in particular by denying local residency permits to new settlers from other areas of the country. Government institutions intended to protect human rights are relatively weak, but remained active and public.

Violence against women and abuse of children remained problems, as did discrimination against women. Persons with disabilities continued to face problems from both societal attitudes and lack of governmental support. Societal discrimination, harassment, and violence against members of some religious minorities remained a problem. Ethnic minorities, including Roma and persons from the Caucasus and Central Asia faced widespread governmental and societal discrimination, and at times violence. There are some limits on worker rights, and there were reports of instances of forced labor and child labor. Trafficking in persons, particularly women and young girls, was a serious problem.

Chechen fighters reportedly committed abuses, including killing captured civilians and federal security forces, and kidnaping individuals, particularly to obtain a ransom. Government officials accused rebel factions of organizing and carrying out a series of bomb attacks throughout the country beginning in September 1999 and continuing into the year; hundreds of civilians were killed or injured. During the year, the Government convicted several persons in connection with these bombings.

Source: U.S. Department of State

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Correspondents' Reports JURIST's Russia Correspondent is Robert Teets, Jr., Visiting Professor, Academic Legal University, Institute of State & Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow.

Chechnyan Conflict

Robert Teets, Jr.
Visiting Professor, Academic Legal University, Institute of State & Law, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow