Council of Europe Restores Russia’s Voting Rights to Protect Its Citizens at Franco-German Initiative

Council of Europe Restores Russia’s Voting Rights to Protect Its Citizens at Franco-German Initiative

The decision has been protested by Ukraine and was far from unanimous in the PACE vote.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a body tasked with protecting human rights and the rule of law, has voted to restore the voting rights of Russia five years after they were revoked after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

The restoration has occurred at the initiative of France and Germany as part of a compromise whose full parameters remain unclear.

Founded in 1949, the Council of Europe is not formally connected with the European Union, although both bodies work to defend human rights and promote the rule of law.

The Council of Europe, however, is a classical intergovernmental organization, with a total of 47 members, thus covering the entire European continent. Its judicial body, the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg is based on the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a vote late on Monday, PACE (the parliamentary body of the Council of Europe) restored Russia’s voting rights with 118 votes in favor, 62 against, and 10 abstentions.

“[The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has decided that its members’] rights to vote, to speak and to be represented in the Assembly and its bodies shall not be suspended or withdrawn in the context of a challenge to or reconsideration of credentials,” the Council of Europe decided in a resolution quoted in a release after the vote.

The resolution that contained the new formula was based based on a report by Petra de Sutter (Belgium, SOC).

Ukraine has been the Council of Europe member to protest most vehemently against the restoration of Russia’s voting rights.

“[The decision sends] a very bad message: do what you want, annex another country’s territory, kill people there and you will still leave with everything,” said the head of Ukraine’s delegation, Volodymyr Ariev, as cited by Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

The restoration of Russia’s voting rights has allowed it to participate in the election of a new secretary-general for the Council of Europe on Wednesday.

After it was stripped of voting rights in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea and allegedly backing the insurgency in the Donbass region in Eastern Ukraine, Russia began boycotting the Council of Europe in 2016, and has stopped paying its annual dues to the organization worth EUR 33 million (7% of the body’s total budget) since 2017.

Russia had been threatened to leave the Council of Europe altogether if it could not participate in the election of the new Secretary General.

The restoration of its voting rights has come at the initiative of France and Germany, and is based on the rationale that Moscow’s exclusion from the Council was actually hurting the ordinary Russian citizens, rather than the country’s leadership.

“The immediate impact of Russia’s departure from the council would be felt most not by the Kremlin, but rather by the Russian people,” said the Netherlands Helsinki Committee in a statement in December.

“Russia’s departure from the council would deny Russian citizens protection and justice provided by the court — worsening human rights in the country,” it added.

When the compromise was engineered in May 2019, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it would ensure “millions of Russians the protection of the European Court of Human Rights.”

Cases from Russia present make up the largest number of cases heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

(Banner image: Council of Europe)

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