Putin plans to enshrine rejection of international law in Russian constitution

Vladimir Putin is proposing constitutional reforms which would enshrine rejection of international law in the Russian constitution. By adopting these reforms, Russia could reject judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which Russia is bound under international law to observe, and could reject any decisions by international bodies that Russia has violated international law by invading and annexing the Crimea in 2014, invading the eastern Ukraine in 2014, or by attacking Ukrainian naval vessels in the Kerch Strait and seizing their crews in 2018.

In essence, the constitutional reforms amount to a full rejection of the binding nature of international law.

“Putin defenders”, who successfully argued for restoring the voting rights of the Russian Federation in the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (suspended after the invasion of the Crimea), with the argument that doing so would make the judgments of the ECHR an important tool for Russian advocates of the Rule of Law, have now had the rug pulled out from under them.


Richard Herzinger, “Dieser Plan ist ein Schlag ins Gesicht aller Putin-Versteher,” Die Welt, 19 Januar 2020.

Herzinger reports,

Putin will auch den Grundsatz in der Verfassung verankern, dass internationale Gesetzgebung und Verträge sowie die Entscheidungen internationaler Institutionen „nur insoweit gelten, als sie keine Beschränkungen der Rechte und Freiheiten des Menschen und Bürgers nach sich ziehen und unserer Verfassung nicht widersprechen“, wie er in seiner Rede an die Nation erklärte.

See also:

Vladimir Isachenkov, (Associated Press), “Vladimir Putin floats constitutional reform as prime minister steps down,” Yahoo News, January 15, 2020.

Isachenkov quotes Putin as follows:

Mr Putin also emphasised the need to amend the constitution to give it a clear priority over international law.

“The requirements of international law and treaties and decisions of international organs can only be valid on the territory of Russia as long as they don’t restrict human rights and freedoms and don’t contradict the constitution,” he said.

This development should be of grave concern to all those who support international law, and even to Putin defenders or apologists in the United States. The proposed amendments to the Russian constitution would formalize Russia’s de facto approach that it will follow and recognize international law as binding omly when it wants to do so.

Without acceptance of the binding nature of international law by the leading nations of the world, the whole system of international law and institutions will be greatly weakened, leading to increasing anarchy on a potentially horrific scale.

The Trenchant Observer

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.