Russia quits Council of Europe rights watchdog

Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal addresses the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe via video conference, during an extraordinary session to discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine, in Strasbourg, France, March 14, 2022 REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

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  • Russia quits Council of Europe human rights body
  • Announces the withdrawal a few hours before the vote of the Council meeting
  • Council of Europe ‘is no place for an aggressor’, assembly says
  • The Council had suspended Russia’s membership following the invasion of Ukraine

March 15 (Reuters) – Russia quit the Council of Europe, the continent’s top human rights watchdog, on Tuesday ahead of an expected expulsion over its attack on neighboring Ukraine.

Russia is only the second country to leave the pan-European group tasked with upholding human rights and the rule of law since its formation after World War II.

Greece had done the same in 1969, also to avoid expulsion, after a group of army officers seized power in a military coup. He joined after restoring democracy five years later.

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Russia’s withdrawal from the institution that designed the European Convention on Human Rights and helped Eastern European countries democratize their political systems after the collapse of communism carries symbolic weight.

But the decision, announced a few hours before a vote on his expulsion at the assembly of the Council of Europe, also has concrete consequences.

The Human Rights Convention will cease to apply to Russia and Russians will no longer be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights against their government.

Russia, explaining its departure, accused Western countries of undermining the human rights body, which suspended Russia’s membership on February 25, the day after it invaded Ukraine.

“SLAM THE DOOR”

Leonid Slutsky, head of the international affairs committee of the lower house of the Russian parliament, accused NATO and European Union countries of seeing the Council of Europe as “a means of ideological support for their expansion military-political and economic to the east”.

In a resolution drafted on Monday but adopted on Tuesday after Moscow’s announcement, the Council of Europe assembly said Russia should be expelled. “In the common European home there is no place for an aggressor,” he said.

The resolution, adopted unanimously, said the impact of Russia’s withdrawal from the European court of human rights would be mitigated by Moscow’s failure to properly follow up on its judgments.

“Today’s decision is not against the Russian people, but against the autocratic, kleptocratic and oppressive regime of (Russian President Vladimir) Putin,” said former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, now a member of the Assembly of the Council of Europe.

“My country, Greece, was expelled from the Council of Europe in the 1970s…this decision strengthened our struggle for democracy and freedom,” he said.

Pyotr Tolstoy, head of the Russian delegation to the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly, said on his Telegram channel that he had delivered a letter from Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announcing Moscow’s decision to leave the watchdog.

The Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, confirmed having received the letter from Moscow.

Russia describes its invasion of Ukraine as a “special operation” to demilitarize and “denazify” Ukraine and prevent a genocide of Russian speakers. Ukraine and its Western allies call this a baseless pretext for a war of choice.

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949. Russia joined in 1996.

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Written by Ingrid Melander and Kevin Liffey; Editing by Mark Trevelyan, Mark Heinrich, Jonathan Oatis, David Goodman and Tim Ahmann

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