- The Council of Europe is a unique structure that has no analogues. First, it is the only intergovernmental organization that unites the whole “great Europe”. Secondly, it was created to maintain a common space of values, rather than a common market or economic interests of participating countries. Therefore, it is based on three principles: human rights, rule of law and democracy. And thirdly, in addition to the value platform, the Council of Europe offers clear standards and mechanisms. Among them is the European Court of Human Rights, which has long been a sort of brand of international justice. Participation in the gentlemen’s club of the Council of Europe was a kind of a democratic sign of quality for the country.
- 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 for 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.
- One of the manifestations of this self-destructive process is attempts to return to Russia voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), which it was deprived of after the illegal annexation of Crimea. In recent years, the Council of Europe has adopted a series of resolutions on the illegal occupation of the Crimea and the commencement of hybrid warfare in Donbas. The Council of Europe urged Russia to release political prisoners, to stop the persecution of the Crimean Tatar people, to fulfill the Minsk accords, etc. Russia is clearly ignoring these requirements. The situation of human rights in the occupied territories is deteriorating. Despite this, there are persistent calls for the return of the Russian delegation and a corresponding vote at the PACE session in January 2018 is being prepared. The triumphant return is planned on the eve of the presidential election in Russia, which has long become a formality.
- The reason for this possible valuable surrender of the leadership of the Council of Europe and a number of developed democracies is the threat of Russia leaving the Council of Europe and refusing to pay the budget until the Russian delegation returns the right to vote in the PACE. However, the best reasons to “preserve the unity of the organization”, which are guided by the initiators of this process, actually lead to the opposite result. PACE Resolution 2132 (2016) states that “only substantial and measurable progress towards their [PACE requirements] implementation can form a basis for restoration of a fully-fledged, mutually respectful dialogue with the Assembly”. Russia has not fulfilled any one. Thus, if the Council of Europe closes its eyes to it, it will jeopardize the rights of 140 million Russian population, because the Russian government will be finally convinced that the documents of the Council of Europe, and in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, are worthless.
- In the face of blackmail and denigrating the values of the Council of Europe, the initiators of this process accelerate the process of its self-destruction and sow contempt in civil societies of different countries that are struggling for the standards of human rights proclaimed by the Council of Europe in conditions of constant pressure and persecution by authoritarian regimes. Consequently, there are a number of dangerous issues for the future:
- 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 can demonstrably fail to comply with the requirements of the Council of Europe, then what is the point in accepting Council of Europe documents?
- If the Council of Europe selectively provides to Russia the right not to comply with the requirements of the Council of Europe, does this mean that such behavior is allowed to other participating countries?
- 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?
We believe that the leadership of the Council of Europe, the member states and the members of PACE should do everything in their power to prevent a dangerous precedent for the return of the Russian delegation to PACE.
We call on international and national human rights organizations to do their utmost to prevent the valuable surrender of the Council of Europe.
It is not just that thanks to the Council of Europe this will be the first significant relaxation of sanctions against Russia for the war unleashed against Ukraine, in which people continue to die every day and more than five and a half million people are forced to live under occupation.
But it will also give a free hand to other member states of the Council of Europe in jeopardizing the rights of millions of people who are protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Finally, it will become another point of no return in the process of converting the Council of Europe into a worthless simulacrum.
Center for Civil Liberties
Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group
Centre for Global Studies ‘Strategy XXI’
Human Rights Expert Center
Centre of Policy and Legal Reform
Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation
Institute of Mass Information
Monitors of National preventive mechanism “Ukraine without torture”
Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union
Lab for Democratic Transformations
East Ukrainian Center for Civic Initiatives
Human Rights Information Center
Association of relatives of political prisoners of the Kremlin
Liberal Democratic League of Ukraine
Women’s anticorruption movement
European movement of Ukraine
Bilozerka center for regional development
Center for Reform Support
Helsinki Initiative – XXI
Media Initiative for Human Rights
Kharkiv Institute for Social Research
Regional Center for Human Rights
Open Dialog Foundation
Crimean human rights group
Ivano-Frankivsk`s regional organization “Moloda Prosvita”
Luhansk oblast Human Rights Centre “Alternative”
Centre “Women’s Perspectives”
Ukrainian Center for European Policy
Social Projects School