The PACE winter session will take place between 22-26 January 2018. Photo: flickr.com/photos/councilofeurope
Russia will not send its delegation to the January session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as amendments to the rules of the Assembly have not been made to protect the rights of national delegations against discrimination. Vice-Speaker of the State Duma of the Russian Federation Petr Tolstoy, who supervises international activity in the lower house of parliament, stated this on 11 January, TASS reported.
Tolstoy said that Russia will not be represented at the January session of PACE as “guarantees of non-discrimination of the rights of national delegations were not included in the regulations of this organization.” He added that Russia will abstain from work in PACE plenary sessions until the regulations are changed.
“However, we have been conducting consultations with PACE members on this topic and will continue to persuade our colleagues that any discrimination against national delegations is primarily harmful to the organization itself,” he added.
According to him, the Russian Federation is trying to persuade the leaders of political groups and employees of the PACE secretariat that the organization’s work requires “substantive changes.” He added that Russia is seeing the efforts of work in this direction:
“We are seeing the efforts [made in this direction by the Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn) Jagland and the report of [the leader of the Socialist Group in PACE Michele] Nicoletti, who call for the harmonization of the composition of the two bodies of the Council of Europe, the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly,” he said, adding that it will be clear what effects these efforts will have after the January session.
Russia and PACE
Russia was stripped of its voting rights in PACE in 2014 following its occupation in Crimea, but was not sanctioned by the Committee of Ministers. On 11 October 2017, PACE adopted a resolution which allows lifting political sanctions from the Russian delegation. Drafted by future PACE President Michele Nicoletti, it contains a norm specifying that PACE and the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, should “harmonize rules for member states’ participation in both statutory bodies.” This norm basically means that PACE would be banned from prolonging sanctions against Russia, without the consent of the member states, and that the adoption of any sanctions against Russia in PACE is now under question.
Council of Europe Secretary-General Thornbjorn Jagland, a man with distinct KGB past, 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).”
The initiative has been sharply protested by European intellectuals, Crimean Tatar leaders, and Ukrainian NGOs, who warned 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.
On 15 December 2017, the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Russian Federal Assembly announced that the chances of Russia submitting an application to participate in the work of PACE during 2018 is very low.
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