Paksas goes to Strasbourg for justice

  • 2004-11-01
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - Former President Rolandas Paksas has formally registered his case with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg after being cleared of criminal charges in Lithuania. A Vilnius District Court ruling on Oct. 25 cleared Paksas of leaking state secrets, after which the Prosecutor General's office halted a pretrial investigation into possible unlawful interference by the president's office.

Paksas is seeking 1 million euros in compensation from the state, which he alleges denied his right to a fair trial and legal defense.

The former president is claiming that the Lithuanian Constitutional Court, which found him guilty of violating the constitution on three counts, was biased against him. He argues that the court issued a criminal ruling against him and, in doing so, acted outside its jurisdiction. The function of the Constitutional Court is to rule on questions of law arising out of the criminal court.

Paksas is also claiming that Egidijus Kuris, who is chairman of the Constitutional Court, didn't resign his post when Paksas' legal defense team requested him to. The request was made when Kuris was seen talking with one of Paksas' political opponents, Gintaras Steponavicius, deputy chairman of the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament), in a Vilnius cafe. Later on in the initial hearings, Paksas' attorneys also requested the removal of all nine constitutional judges, but their plea was rejected.

"The appeal is not against Lithuania or its citizens, it is against the system, which sometimes regards political decisions superior to legal ones," Paksas told the Lithuanian daily Respublika.

"Using my example, I would like to encourage Lithuanians to always maintain their position and to stay on course until the end - until victory. This is moral, essential and civic," Paksas added.

The European Court of Human Rights is required to register all complaints, even if they are clearly unacceptable for any further hearing. The fate of most cases is determined during a first consultation between judges. A total of approximately 120,000 cases are currently registered with the court, each with an average waiting time of four to five years.

Thus, Paksas' case will probably remain unheard until at least the end of 2005. The appeal was first submitted for consideration in July. The court's standard procedure is to call the first hearing on a case approximately 18 months after being officially registered.

Henrikas Mickevicius, director of the Human Rights Monitoring Institute in Vilnius, said that the European Court of Human Rights would probably reject the appeal.

"The right to justice embodies both civil cases and criminal cases. But, in my opinion, this is neither a criminal case nor a civil case, so it is unlikely that the sixth provision of the European Convention of Human Rights could be applied," Mickevicius said.

But Mickevicius also said that if, for some reason, the case was accepted for a hearing, then the alleged meeting between Kuris and Steponavicius could become "very problematic" and "would surely raise questions about the court's partiality."

Egidijus Sileikis, an expert on constitutional and administrative law, said that the Strasbourg court should take into consideration the fact that an impeached president filed the case, not an ordinary citizen.

"In general, this process can not be considered as salvation (for Paksas). I don't think the Strasbourg court will even start an investigation into this. There is no substantial wrongdoing that is worth looking into by the European Court of Human Rights," Sileikis claimed earlier this year, when Paksas first made clear that he intended to take his case to Strasbourg.

MP Andrius Kubilius, who was also involved in Paksas' impeachment, said that the Vilnius District Court ruling should bring the validity of Paksas' impeachment into question.

"The court tackled the case from a criminal approach, yet the Constitutional Court issued its ruling from a constitutional law point of view, so I don't see any contradiction," Kubilius said.