Baltics among countries walking out of Council of Europe summer session

In protest against the restoration of voting rights to the Russian delegation, the delegations of the Baltic states and four other countries cut short their participation in the summer session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and returned home to consult on further actions with their governments and parliaments, the LETA newswire reported June 26.

The delegations of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Ukraine, Georgia, Poland and Slovakia said in their statement: "The unconditional restoration of the Russian Delegation’s rights without the Russian Federation honoring any of the Assembly’s numerous demands runs counter to the core values of the Council of Europe and its Statute."

"This step sends a very wrong signal to the country that has resorted to armed aggression, poisoning of individuals, does not observe human rights of its citizens and does not promote but seeks to destabilize democracies throughout Europe," the delegates said.

"The future of the Council of Europe is under threat as a whole because the Council of Europe is losing the trust of the people it stands to protect," the statement stresses.

The delegates said they are returning home "to consult our Parliaments and Governments about the joint actions in the Assembly in the next sessions," adding that they "wish good luck to the newly elected Secretary General and hope she/he finds a way to solve this unprecedented crisis of trust which was created this week."

As reported, on Wednesday, PACE returned the voting rights to the Russian delegation, which were withdrawn in 2014 following its invasion and annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region.

A total of 116 legislators voted in favor of the resolution to restore voting rights to Russia, 62 voted against, and 15 abstained. At the same time, the Assembly refused to support the amendment to the resolution on the condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia and on Russia's participation in the military conflict in the east of Ukraine. The PACE also refused to apply a number of sanctions on the Russian delegation for the period up to January 2020.

You can see which countries and delegates backed Russia and which opposed at the Council of Europe website.

On June 27 the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying:

The unconditional restoration of voting rights to Russia in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe runs counter to the principles and fundamental values of the Council of Europe and seriously undermines the organisation’s reputation and capacity for action. opposed the decision because it undermines respect for key values: democracy, rule of law and human rights

The developments both in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Helsinki in May this year and in the Parliamentary Assembly currently underway are unacceptable. Latvia cannot ignore the illegal annexation of Crimea, the conflict in Donbass and the state of affairs in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Latvia and like-minded countries will continue consulting actively and taking action to protect the international law and fundamental values.

The move has led the National Alliance, one of the parties in the current Latvian coalition government, to call for Latvia to suspend its participation in PACE until such time as Russia complies with its international obligations.

"The decision to restore Russia's voting rights, despite the fact that nothing has changed with regard to the reasons why these voting rights were suspended - the annexation of Crimea - is a cynical step from the PACE which discredits the policy pursued to date against Russia and the principles underlying the PACE," said Rihards Kols, the National Alliance's chairman of the Saeima Foreign Affairs Committee. 

A resolution on the matter will be put before Saeima as soon as possible, the National Alliance promised. 

The vote was taken after delivery of a report by Sir Roger Gale (Conservative) of the United Kingdom.

After listing the numerous ways in which Russia is currently violating human rights, press freedom and continuing to interfere militarily in Ukraine, Gale says:

"The Russian Parliament’s decision to finally submit credentials of its delegation, after four years of absence at the parliamentary level of the Council of Europe, should also be perceived as a sign of readiness to restore such dialogue. I welcome this decision and I am sure that we should not turn our backs on it. Importantly, the restoration of co-operation will allow for, and must mean, re-activation of the monitoring procedure in respect of the Russian Federation, which would enable the Assembly to hold the Russian delegation accountable on the basis of the Council of Europe’s values and principles."

"Furthermore, we have to be aware of the possible consequences of the rejection of the Russian credentials, which could ultimately lead to the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe membership gives Russian citizens access to the European Court of Human Rights jurisdiction. We should keep this fact in mind and take into account the needs of Russian citizens, who see the Council of Europe as a means of protecting their rights," said Gale.

"For these reasons, I propose that the Assembly, as it did in its Resolutions 1990 (2014), 2034 (2015) and 2063 (2015), ratify the credentials of the Russian delegation with conditions."

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (not to be confused with the European Council) describes itself as "The democratic conscience of Greater Europe" and brings together 324 men and women from the parliaments of the Council of Europe's 47 member states.

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