Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 06/2008

Human rights cooperation between Russia and European intergovernmental organisations: a one-way transference of norms or a mutual process of adaptation?

Sinikukka Saari

January 2006

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


The European intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe, OSCE and the EU have taken up the task to promote actively human rights in Russia. The organisations differ in methods, instruments and over-all strategies but the goal of socialising Russia to common European human rights norms is the same for all these organisations. Socialisation means a process through which norms are transmitted from one party to another and they become firmly established domestic practices.

The European practice of promoting human rights in third states has roots in the 1970s but it has become more active since the end of the cold war. The collapse of communism was generally seen as a victory of liberal western norms. Organisations based on those norms were eager to tie the liberated East-European states more closely into their structures of cooperation. The transition states on the other hand wanted to improve their international standing and domestic legitimacy by engaging in normative international cooperation. At the time the picture looked fairly clearcut: Russia, among other east-European states, was to transform itself into a liberal democratic state based on respect for human rights, rule of law and functioning market economy. By internalising the western norms and values through international cooperation Russia would become full-fledged member in "our common European home".

As we now know, reality turned out to be much messier and more complex than was envisaged at the time. A few East-European states have been fully integrated into the European structures and there is little doubt about their commitment to liberal values, whereas some other states have developed into autocratic states where violations of human rights are an every-day practice. Some states, including Russia, hang on the edges of the European 'solidarist state society'; 1 not clearly inside nor clearly outside of it.

To this day, Russia has continued being actively engaged in human rights cooperation within the OSCE and CoE and with the EU. Despite continuous engagement, the results of the cooperation have become increasingly modest. On many issues Russia is still nowhere close to meeting the European standards and there have even been negative development in democracy and human rights protection in Russia, yet the organisations seem to be less and less eager to criticise and pressure Russia. Paradoxically it seems that as the situation worsens in Russia, the European policy towards it grows more lenient.

This article aims to explain the mismatch between the results and the intensity of human rights cooperation between Russia and European intergovernmental organisations. This is done by revisiting the basic assumptions of international cooperation theory, formulating a hypothesis about the nature of cooperation, and finally testing the hypothesis on an empirical case regarding the abolition of death penalty. This article is a small contribution to the broader discussion on the nature of the relationship between the actors.