Putin Balks at Protocol to Limit Executions

President Vladimir Putin has again refused to commit Russia to a key international protocol aimed at reforming the European Court of Human Rights, a top Council of Europe member said Thursday.

Rene van der Linden, president of the council's Parliamentary Assembly, also said he "strongly pleaded" with Putin to push for the ratification of a European protocol limiting the death penalty, but the visitor was rebuffed on that issue as well.

Van der Linden's trip to Moscow comes at a time when Russia is becoming increasingly assertive -- and at times, belligerent -- in its policies toward the West and increasingly defensive about criticism of its domestic issues.

Disputes over energy supplies, European Union food exports, NATO expansion and Russia's recent parliamentary elections have led to testy exchanges between Moscow and some European capitals.

Van der Linden had sought a commitment from Putin to ratify Protocol 14 on reforming the European Court and Protocol 6, which requires signatories to restrict the use of death penalty to times of war.

Russia is the only member of the 47-nation Council of Europe, which acts as the European human rights watchdog, that has not ratified the two protocols.

By ratifying them, Russia "would give a strong and clear signal that it belongs to Europe and shares its common values," van der Linden told reporters after the meeting.

Russians have been able to appeal to the Strasbourg court since their country ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998. But the court has ruled against Russia in numerous cases brought by Russians claiming they were victimized by the authorities and denied justice at home.

Russians now file more complaints with the court than citizens of any other European country; many are Chechens.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the State Duma's International Affairs Committee, said Russia doubted the European human rights court's impartiality and said it often acted as a "a political tool."

"Some of the court's earlier decisions were not of legal nature," he said.

The proposed reforms would fast-track cases of human rights violations and simplify procedures for minor lawsuits that do not directly deal with human rights infringement. Van der Linden said there was "a complete misunderstanding" in Moscow about the court and the reforms.

The court "is in favor of all EU citizens and Russian citizens," he said.