Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a new law Tuesday giving Russia’s national legislation precedence over international treaties and rulings from international bodies. The bill was initially passed in the lower house, the State Duma, in late October, and then by the Federation Council.
The law is one among many constitutional reforms approved by the Russian public between June 25 and July 1. The amendments were controversially bundled into a single yes-or-no vote. Some of the major amendments included a ban on same-sex marriage, enforcing patriotic education in public schools’ curriculum, and forming socialistic measures on welfare and pensions.
Human Rights Watch has stated that this reform for primacy in the Russian legal framework will further isolate Russia. In 2015, the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that any judgment made by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) will be null and void if it contradicts Russian law. The rationale behind the decision was to prevent “skillful western rival manipulators and international legal mechanisms” from eroding Russian values. Critics have argued that this law has been brought after attempts by the Russian government to criminalise LGBT pride events were blocked by the ECHR.
Russia has been party to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties since acceding as the Soviet Union in 1986. The Vienna Convention is described by legal scholars as a “treaty on treaties,” and it bars governments from enacting domestic legislation as a way to circumvent international obligations. The Russian government has reassured that it will continue to uphold any ongoing international obligations, even though this new law purports that international treaties are only valid in Russia if they align with the Russian Constitution.
The law could set a bad precedent for other governments that seek to avoid international legal obligations and norms. Earlier in 2020, a referendum vote allowing Putin to perpetuate his presidency until 2036 was passed.
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