Dear PACE Assembly Member,
Civil society across Europe is receiving worrying signals that PACE might vote to severely limit its sanctions powers in order to lift the political sanctions imposed on the Russian delegation in PACE after Russia’s occupation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine.
I am extremely worried about this development, and about the future of the Council of Europe as an arbiter of justice and human rights on the continent if it were to give in to Russian pressure.
Russia’s supporters argue that sanctions must be lifted on the Russian delegation to PACE because supposedly otherwise Russia will leave the Council of Europe and Russian citizens will be deprived of an opportunity to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
But in fact, Russia has no logical reasons to leave the Council of Europe. The last statement of a Russian official on the matter was that of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said that Russia is not thinking about leaving the Council of Europe. Other statements have been extremely contradictory, creating the impression that Russia is bluffing, tricking the Assembly Members into thinking that allowing the Russian delegation back without Russia fulfilling any of the calls of the CoE to stop its aggression in Ukraine is the least evil and a path to “dialogue” and human rights protection.
But unilateral surrender to blackmail is not dialogue! Approving human rights violations is not human rights protection. It is nothing but the self-destruction of the credibility of the CoE as an impartial arbiter, which will not only enable Russia’s further violations but set an example to all other violating member states.
As well, it would lead to the situation when Russia would admit MPs from occupied Crimea to its delegation, and PACE would be powerless to do anything:
If adopted on 24 June, the proposed resolution would, in the words of Professor of European law Michel Waelbroeck
“deprive the Assembly of one of the most effective means at its disposal to ensure the effective guarantee of the principles and values of the Council of Europe,” which would be a “strategic defeat for human rights defenders.”
This is not only the opinion of Dr. Waelbroeck. While many European officials believe that all of Russia’s civil society is begging to lift sanctions on Russia to only lessen the threat of their country slamming the door on the CoE, Russian voices are far from being unanimous in this matter. Arguably the most reputative Russian human rights NGO Memorial explained why they did not join a memorandum of Russian civil rights activists asking to lift sanctions on Russia in PACE thus:
“By appeasing a serious breach of international law and ignoring Russia’s human rights obligations, the CoE will trigger devastating consequences for international protection mechanisms. In the long run, such actions are bound to harm our country.”
Svetlana Gannushkina, Board Member at Memorial, urged not to vote the resolution:
“You cannot bow down to the offender. Our common task is not to lift the sanctions, but to stop the violations.”
As well, she gave a few ideas on what Europe can really do to really help Russian civil society: hold joint meetings of EU and Russian politicians with Russian and global human rights organizations, so they will be forced to listen to each other. This, and not giving in to the whims of Russia’s elites, will benefit Russian society in the long run.
Moreover, relatives of the direct victims of Russia’s war in Ukraine – the Ukrainian political prisoners of the Kremlin, Ukrainian hostages imprisoned by the Russian-led militants in Donbas, and Navy sailors captured by Russia near the Azov Sea, say that they have no other arbitrator than the Council of Europe to help free their loved ones, and ask PACE to intensify pressure on Russia to make it comply with the already adopted resolutions.
It is striking that PACE Assembly Members, while catering to the demands of some Russian human rights organizations to lift sanctions on Russia, ignore the plea of Ukrainian human rights defenders who are on the frontlines of combating Russia’s human rights abuses in the occupied territories of Ukraine. The return of the Russian delegation to the Assembly would undermine the trust of these activists in the CoE. In their open letter, they wrote:
“The unconditional return of the Russian delegation to PACE looks like a moral surrender of the Council of Europe as an intergovernmental organization that takes care of human rights, the rule of law and democracy”.
As well, nearly 40 human rights NGOs from across Europe, including the Russian Memorial, had signed a declaration warning the CoE that now is not the right time to lift sanctions on Russia, as this would contradict the principles enshrined in the Statute of CoE and legitimize Russia’s illegal actions in Ukraine.
“Such an act would send a strong signal to the Russian authorities that most flagrant violations of the international law are accepted and tolerated by European states. It would also risk setting a detrimental precedent whereby CoE compromises its principles upon threat of non-payment of membership fees,” the declaration states.
Are some Russian human rights defenders more important than the voices of Ukrainian and European ones?
Is the Council of Europe ready to sacrifice its credibility among Eastern European nations, and, possibly, launch its own self-destruction?
I hope not, and am urging you to vote against the resolution with the misleading title “Strengthening the decision-making process of the Parliamentary Assembly concerning credentials and voting” (Doc. 14900) and urge your colleagues to do the same.
In the words of the open letter drafted by Willem Aldershoff, Former head of unit, European Commission, Analyst international affairs, Brussels and Michel Waelbroeck, Emeritus professor in European Law Université libre, Bruxelles, Emeritus member of the Institute of International Law, Brussels, which was signed by over a thousand foreign policy analysts and citizens all over Europe,
“Seventy years of constructing the Council of Europe as the crucial defender of human rights, democracy and rule of law on our continent cannot be sacrificed to allow the return of Russian parliamentarians to its Assembly under such circumstances.”
Editor-in-chief at Euromaidanpress.com