PACE WINTER SESSION WILL NOT BE EASY FOR RUSSIA


09.01.07
MOSCOW. (Mikhail Margelov for RIA Novosti)

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) starts its winter session in late January. The Russians, who judge about its work by media reports, sometimes gain the impression that all they do in Strasbourg is criticize Russia. This is by no means the case. At its sessions, PACE lashes out at everyone, if there is a reason. During the winter session there will be plenty of excuses for attacking the Russian delegation. Sometimes we are criticized with good reason, and sometimes the accusations are rather far-fetched.

There are several reasons why PACE could condemn Russia at its winter session. The main pretext is likely to appear in its report on Georgian-Russian relations, particularly the deportation of illegal immigrants from Georgia. The Council’s number one concern is human rights compliance, and the report includes some “suspicious cases” in this context. The appendices include copies of orders issued by Russian police bosses. One of them reads that the police and the courts agree in advance on mandatory deportation of all those arrested. Another one mentions police instructions to school principles to hand over lists of students of Georgian origin.

These attachments will have to be analyzed, as well as many other claims, such as the demand for compensation for occupation, which the Baltic delegates are chanting with gloomy persistence.

However, the PACE critics of Russia have a couple of indisputable arguments. We owe the Council ratification of two protocols to the European Convention For the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Russia has signed them, but they are meaningless unless ratified by the Federal Assembly. It is the only Council member not to have ratified the sixth protocol on the death penalty abolition, and the 14th protocol on the European Court reform.

Indeed, Russia should stop discussing the capital punishment and cancel it by law. The primordial an eye-for-an-eye instinct is deeply rooted in the human mind, and any referendum on the subject is predictable – the majority will vote in favor of capital punishment. In order to abolish the death penalty, the Russian authorities will have to display political will. But they must do this, and also ratify the 14th protocol.

The latter protocol is about the reform of the European Court of Human Rights. Upon joining the Council, Russia pledged itself to take part in its priority projects. The suggested reform falls into this category. Currently, the Court does not cope with the growing load of complaints from citizens of European countries. It is necessary to improve procedures for accepting complaints, set up a new institution of reporters, and strengthen control over the Court’s performance.

However, the State Duma behaves as if it has never heard of the 14th protocol, although Russia signed an obligation to ratify it at the Council’s third summit in Warsaw a little more than a year ago. It was even one of the protocol’s initiators, and Russian experts worked hard on its wordings.

The Duma’s delay in ratifying the protocol is making Russia’s position in PACE more vulnerable. This year, the Council intends to focus on the compliance of its members with their commitments. We will be reminded of both the sixth and 14th protocols, when the opportunity presents itself. For no reason whatsoever, we have made an enemy of the European Court, which is trying to reform itself.

The winter session is going to be difficult even without these subjects. The Russian delegation will have to discuss the prospects of the Council’s relations with Kazakhstan, and potential admission of Belarus and Montenegro. These topics are of vital interest for Russia.

This year, the Council and its Parliamentary Assembly will concentrate on dialogue between civilizations. The war of civilizations is a subject of heated debates. Some claim that this war is already going on, whereas others maintain that extremism and terrorism have nothing to do with ethnic or religious origin. Nevertheless, the bulk of experts attribute the growing number of conflicts to social and cultural reasons. The Council is planning to produce a White Book on intercultural dialogue. In this context, I will deliver a report on anti-Semitism in Europe.

Today, Europe has become a seat of ethnic and religious confrontation. As part of Europe, Russia is facing the same problem. Of course, a search for agreement between civilizations through dialogue is a global problem, but it should be resolved in individual regions.

PACE is also going to discuss the concept on single legal space in Europe. It gives priority to European conventions and relevant protocols, and stipulates immediate response to violations of the European Human Rights Convention.

The Council will review its cooperation with other international institutions, such as the EU, the OSCE and the UN. It will continue coordinating the efforts of its own bodies with those of the EU – its European Court, Human Rights Commissar, and the EU Agency for Fundamental Human Rights.

Mikhail Margelov is the head of the committee on foreign affairs of the Federation Council and the leader of the European Democrats faction in PACE.

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