Russia in PACE: powers confirmed, questions remain

Are European sanctions on Russia working? | Inside Story

The Assembly in the near future will assess the changes to the Russian constitution and may tackle the problem of Russian political prisoners

The Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had to get a little nervous during the winter session of the Assembly, which ends in Strasbourg on Friday: its credentials were challenged at the very beginning of the session, and the representatives of Russia were able to confirm them only last Wednesday.

The credentials of the Russian representatives were questioned by the Lithuanian MP and human rights activist Emmanuelis Zingeris. On January 27, on the first day of the PACE winter session, Zingeris said that «a dubious referendum has been announced in Russia, which will talk about the balance between international law and domestic laws», after which «decisions of the (European) Court of Human Rights will not be enforced».

In addition, a member of the Latvian delegation, Maria Golubeva, challenged Russia’s credentials in PACE on «technical grounds» – she recalled that the last elections to the State Duma were illegally held on the territory of the occupied Crimea, and some of the members of the Russian delegation to the Assembly are under EU sanctions.

By January 29, it became clear that the PACE Monitoring Committee, which was instructed to consider the initiative of Zingeris and Golubeva, did not support it. Dutch parliamentarian Tini Cox, speaking on behalf of the committee, spoke about this at the PACE session on Wednesday: «Over the past six months, we have not seen a serious deterioration in the situation with Russia, which would be a reason for not confirming its powers at the moment. On the contrary, I note that over the past six months after Russia’s return to PACE, the Monitoring Committee was finally able to resume its work with respect to the Russian Federation and organize a number of relevant hearings».

At the same time, Tini Cox agreed with Emmanuelis Zingeris that the new amendments to the Russian Constitution – this is «an important development that raises concerns that the legality of decisions of the European Court of Human Rights will be questioned by these amendments». The speaker said that the resolution confirming the powers of the Russian delegation to PACE will remind of the binding nature of these decisions, and the PACE members responsible for monitoring Russia’s fulfillment of its obligations to the Council of Europe will assess these amendments in the near future..

Critics of Russia in PACE: the situation has not improved

The decision to confirm the powers of the Russian delegation to PACE was primarily opposed by the parliamentarians of Ukraine. The head of the Ukrainian delegation Yelizaveta Yasko drew the attention of her PACE colleagues to the ongoing violations of human rights in Crimea and urged to prevent impunity for these violations: «UN calls impunity a sign of destruction of the rule of law and the legal system… We must be very honest about this. The number of non-governmental organizations subjected to repression in Russia is increasing. The human rights situation in Crimea and Russia is getting worse every day. I challenge you to remember this».

British Conservative Sir Roger Gale was even more harsh about the findings of the Monitoring Committee: «I find the committee’s report completely unacceptable and full of inaccurate conclusions… Rapporteurs have not even been appointed for Russia, they are in the process of appointment, and we will find out very soon whether they will be allowed to go to Chechnya, whether they will be allowed to enter Crimea through Ukraine, whether they will be allowed to visit imprisoned journalists in the Russian Federation, whether they will be allowed visit one of 80 political prisoners in Crimea, many of whom are journalists… Mr. Cox said in his opening remarks that there was no deterioration. Sorry, but I thought we were making progress!»

Faction member «Alliance of European Liberal Democrats» Martin Polachik from Slovakia, on behalf of his colleagues, also criticized the proposal to confirm Russia’s credentials: «We want dialogue, we want to talk to them. But at the same time, we are not satisfied with the situation in Crimea. We are not satisfied with the way things are in Chechnya when it comes to the LGBT community. We are not satisfied with the fact that 312 people are still political prisoners in Russia. We are not satisfied with this, and therefore we believe that the powers should not be full when it comes to the rights and opportunities to work in this organization (PACE – D.G.).

Russian deputies: protection and threats

The fact that Russian parliamentarians took the challenge to their powers rather nervously was fully expressed in their speeches at PACE. – members of the Russian delegation addressed their colleagues in the style «look at yourself» and threatened to leave the session if their rights in the Assembly were not confirmed.

In particular, the head of the Russian delegation, Pyotr Tolstoy, said: «We are here so that our dialogue with you is only on an equal footing. We are ready to discuss any problems, but this should be a dialogue, not an attempt by some to punish others. And, of course, if any sanctions are adopted against Russia or against our delegation, we will be forced to leave again, and again the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will find itself in a deep systemic crisis.».

Federation Council member and former Russian ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak was not too diplomatic: «Struck by the degree of lies and rudeness in the international organization, which should work to unite all of us living in Europe. And from which countries does rudeness and lies about my country sound? All of them can be approximately, with the exception of one or two, united by one criterion: these are countries that shot or shoot their citizens using army weapons».

As a result, PACE adopted a resolution confirming the powers of the Russian delegation in full, but recalled in the document its position on the illegality of the annexation of Crimea and instructed the PACE Monitoring Committee to monitor the process of adopting amendments to the Russian Constitution. A report on Russia’s compliance with its obligations to the Council of Europe should appear in PACE no later than April this year, the Assembly’s resolution says..

Russia in PACE: powers confirmed, questions remain

Vladimir Kara-Murza: PACE will deal with the problem of Russian political prisoners

Russian opposition politician, chairman of the Boris Nemtsov Foundation Vladimir Kara-Murza, who attended the PACE session in Strasbourg, told the Russian Service «Voices of America», that the deputies of the Assembly did not confine themselves only to statements about political prisoners in Russia made at the session:

«Now in Russia, according to the most conservative estimates made by the center «Memorial», 312 political prisoners. For comparison – when Andrei Sakharov wrote his Nobel speech in 1975, he listed 126 prisoners of conscience in the USSR. We talked about Russian political prisoners in Strasbourg with the participation of «Memorial» at a special briefing with the participation of 20 parliamentarians from different countries, and even earlier, 43 parliamentarians from 16 countries introduced a draft resolution on the appointment of a rapporteur on the topic of political prisoners in Russia. It is very sad that the nearest place where Russian citizens can find justice and justice – this is Strasbourg, and it is very important that PACE finally paid attention to this issue».

According to Vladimir Kara-Murza, «It is also important that our country’s membership in the Council of Europe results not only in the fact that parliamentarians under sanctions like Mr. Slutsky have the opportunity to travel to Strasbourg four times a year, but also that all the mechanisms that exist within the Council of Europe, as judicial, and parliamentary, worked primarily to protect the rights and freedoms of Russian citizens».

The Russian oppositionist told «Voice of America» that during the session, the PACE Legal Committee sent an official request to the Venice Commission (the Council of Europe’s advisory body on constitutional law) to receive an opinion on the amendments to the Russian Constitution proposed by Vladimir Putin.

In addition, according to Vladimir Kara-Murza, the same PACE legal committee intends to ensure that Emmanuelis Zingeris, who is the Assembly’s rapporteur on the investigation into the murder of Boris Nemtsov, is allowed into Russia..

«We perfectly understand what a red rag is for the current Russian authorities everything connected with the investigation of the murder of Boris Nemtsov. Soon it has been five years since he was killed, and all these five years the organizers and customers of the murder have been under the full protection of the highest level of the Russian government. And that is why this government has such a nervous reaction to any attempt by international control over the investigation of this case. The committee will insist that Zingeris be given access to the Russian Federation. Previously, the Russian authorities referred to the fact that their delegation had been restricted in its rights in PACE, so they did not allow it to enter Russia. Now you won’t be able to refer to it» – concluded by Vladimir Kara-Murza

Russia in PACE: powers confirmed, questions remain

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