Giving into Russian blackmail will destroy Council of Europe: European intellectuals, Crimean Tatar leaders, Ukrainian NGOs

The Council of Europe. Photo: Wikimedia commons  

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In the last week, a number of European intellectuals, Crimean Tatar leaders, and over 40 Ukrainian NGOs have voiced sharp criticism against the Council of Europe’s initiatives to lift political sanctions on Russia, warning that this will destroy the Council of Europe as an organization capable of guarding human rights and freedoms in Europe, and would make members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) share responsibility for Russia’s human rights abuses in occupied Crimea.

As reported, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted a decision aimed at lifting political sanctions against the Russian Federation. The proponents of the resolution argue that it’s unacceptable having a Council of Europe member which doesn’t pay its membership fees, which Russia cut down on after being denied the right to vote over its aggression in Ukraine. Council of Europe Secretary-General Thornbjorn Jagland told PACE delegates that the Council of Europe faces a difficult decision: to uphold its values or preserve the unity of the organization: the Russian delegation announced it would withdraw from the Assembly if sanctions were not lifted, and consequently, would stop paying membership fees, be excluded from the organization, and the Council of Europe would stop existing in its present form. Jagland has also argued Russia needs to return to PACE in order to vote for the senior officials of the Council of Europe, including for the judges of the European Court of Human Rights and the new Commissioner of Human rights. If this doesn’t happen, he says, the human rights protections of 130 million Russians will suffer, as they will be unable to lodge complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. The decision to return Russia back to the table will be debated at a PACE session in January 2018 in Strasbourg.

This proposal to reinstate Russia’s right to vote in Europe’s leading human rights organization takes place against the backdrop of Russia ignoring the PACE resolutions adopted in response to its occupation of Crimea and aggression in Ukraine, and despite the latest one, adopted in 2016, stating that dialogue with Russia can only be restored after “significant and measurable progress towards the implementation (of previous resolutions).”

Here we bring you the main arguments of the opponents of Russia’s return to PACE

In an appeal published by the New Europe Center, 38 European intellectuals warn that lifting the sanctions with no deliverables from Russia’s side “would be a disgrace for the Council of Europe and surrender of the mission it has pledged to uphold over almost 70 years of its existence,” call to reject Russia’s unconditional return, and warn against the following effects this would have on democracy and security of the European continent:

“1. Lifting sanctions upon Russia without any progress in the implementation of the PACE resolutions would destroy the credibility of the Council of Europe as an organization capable of standing guard of human rights and freedoms in Europe. Effectively, it would put an end to the Council of Europe transformative power and influence in the region;
2. Such a step could trigger a domino effect in the members of the Council of Europe;
3. Last but not least, such a step would be a heavy blow to pro-European political forces and civil society in Ukraine, who would be stripped of arguments on why Ukraine’s European integration is the only viable alternative. This could, in turn, compromise all the efforts and dramatic price Ukraine has paid for its democratic and reform-oriented path.”

The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group reported that the representative organ of the Crimean Tatars which Russia has banned, the Mejlis, has issued an appeal to the Council of Europe, in which it warns that PACE’s lifting of sanctions would compromise the human rights body, empower Russia to even more human rights violations in Crimea, for which PACE members would share responsibility with Moscow, and destroy the Crimean Tatars’ hope for liberating their native Crimean peninsula:

“Any decision aimed at reinstalling Russia at PACE should be based on the Council of Europe Statute an values, an PACE resolutions, rather than on fears of financial consequences of speculations about virtual Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe. If Russia succeeds, it will consider its return to PACE as a carte blanche for further escalation of repressions and as a certification of the legitimacy of the policy of annexation mastered by President Vladimir Putin.

We, the Mejlis, understand the pressure Russia is exerting on the Council of Europe pursuing its goal. Yet, this pressure is incomparably lower than the pressure and the terror which the Crimean Tatar people experience daily from the occupying authorities. If Russia returns to PACE unconditionally, the Assembly and its members will share responsibility with Moscow for further abductions, arrests, imprisonment, and tortures in Crimea used to crush dissent and freedom.”

Russia’s recent major assault on the Crimean Tatars happened on 23 November, taking the life of revered Crimean Tatar human rights activist Vedzhie Kashka, and depriving four Crimean Tatars of their freedom. This raises the number of Crimean Tatars who are de facto political prisoners to 35, the majority of them being imprisoned as a result of religious persecution

Over 4o Ukrainian NGOs have published an appeal (Euromaidan Press is one of the signatories) warning that lifting Russia sanctions would accelerate the process of “self-destruction” within the the Council of Europe, the only intergovernmental organization which unites the whole of Europe, maintaining a common space of values based on human rights, rule of law, and democracy, and offering clear mechanisms for their protection. The signatories note that such a step “will become another point of no return in the process of converting the Council of Europe into a worthless simulacrum” and call upon the PACE leadership to prevent the return of the Russian delegation:

“It is now clear that a process of self-destruction has been launched in the Council of Europe, which is associated with the erosion of the value platform this organization was based on. This is manifested in the organization’s tolerance to gross violations of human rights by individual states and the transformation of the gentlemen’s club into a cohort of countries, among which there are authoritarian regimes that frankly ignore the principles and rules of this club. This process can lead to the transformation of the Council of Europe into a kind of a hybrid institution that declares commitment to values, but does not consider it necessary to follow them in internal processes.”

The appeal notes that restoring the Russian delegation in PACE will not help, but compromise the human rights of Russians, as the Russian authorities will see that the documents of the Council of Europe, and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, are worthless. The possible return of Russia to PACE raises a number of questions, goes on the appeal:

“If the restrictions against Russia were imposed for a gross violation of international law, and these violations are still ongoing, then what is the basis for lifting these restrictions?

If Russia is allowed to demonstratively ignore the requirements of the Council of Europe, then what is the point in adopting Council of Europe documents?

If the Council of Europe selectively gives Russia the right not to comply with the requirements of the Council of Europe, are other participating countries allowed the same behaviour?

If we lose the Council of Europe as an intergovernmental organization that takes care of the maintenance of human rights, the rule of law and democracy, then what is the need for this organization in the context of other regional initiatives and actors?”

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Ukraine’s delegation warns that if Russia returns, Ukraine will leave, and maintains that the participation of Russia in PACE is possible when Russia implements PACE resolutions calling on Russia to end its aggression in Ukraine. Namely, they are resolutions 19902034, and 2063. Russia had not implemented a single call in the resolutions. In 2016, PACE adopted resolution 2112 calling on Russia to release all captured Ukrainian prisoners, as well as 2133  and 2132  which clearly state that Russian troops have to be withdrawn from the territory of Ukraine, that the war in Ukraine is not a “Ukrainian conflict” but “Russian aggression,” and elections in Donbas are not possible in the current situation and declare that Russia bears full responsibility for the occupied territories and rules out the return of the Russian delegation to PACE before the Minsk agreements are implemented and territorial integrity of Ukraine is restored.

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