Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 24.01.2018
Russia wants sanctions lifted without being required to stop its aggression against Ukraine, or stop its occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas, or stop its gross abuse of human rights. Russia is using agents of influence in the Council of Europe to remove sanctions on the Russian delegation and restore it to full voting rights in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
The Council of Europe is Europe’s oldest international body for the protection of human rights. When Russia invaded Ukraine on 20 February 2014 and subsequently claimed to have annexed Crimea, PACE delegates recognized the grave threat to international human rights and to European values and voted to suspend the Russian delegation from voting rights in PACE until Russia respected the territorial integrity of Ukraine.
The current Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, wants to remove the PACE sanctions. To do this, Jagland claims that the so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea and the occupation of some of the territory of Ukraine cannot be grounds for sanctions. He says that Russia can come back into the fold if it respects the European Convention on Human Rights.
Secretary General Jagland is ignores that the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and occupation of part of its territory has led Russia to violate very provision of Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russian violations of human rights in Crimea are well documented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international bodies. Abuses in Donbas are well documented, for example in the Polish parliamentary delegation report “Russian Crimes in the East of Ukraine” that was submitted to the International Criminal Court in April 2016.
Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits executions, torture, and forced slave labour. The Russian occupation administration in Crimea and Donbas has committed and is committing all of these crimes.
First Deputy Chairperson of the Verkhovna Rada, Iryna Gerashchenko, has said that the Ukrainian delegation to PACE will hold Secretary General Jagland and the pro-Russia faction to account, and deny them the shifting ground they seek to lift sanctions on Russia. If not for being and invader and an illegitimate occupier, Russia deserves to be sanctioned for its gross violation of human rights. Jagland has chosen weak arguments to try to rationalize his perverse idea that sanctions should be lifted on Russia.
Iryna Gerashchenko rightly condemned the deliberate ignorance of the Jagland/pro-Russia faction: “Does Strasbourg receive any news from Ukraine at all? Is Jagland not aware of the fact that the Soviet-era criminal code with the death penalty in it has been reinstated in the occupied areas of Donbas, that the militant leaders executed Ukrainian military servicemen, including near Ilovaisk, Debaltseve, Donetsk airport - and those were public executions?... That the Ukrainian hostages are being tortured, that this is violence, that military hostages were forced to slave labor on dismantling the debris of the Donetsk airport, that there were those humiliating 'parades of prisoners', that Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians are being tortured in Crimea, and that Chiygoz and Umerov told about this at the Council of Europe, that Panov, Sentsov, Afanasyev, Klykh, Karpiuk, Kolchenko were tortured in Russian prisons?”
There are many other examples of Russia violating Article 4 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Russian GRU agent and Spetsnaz commander Igor Strelkov signed warrants for execution in Slovyansk in 2014. Strelkov is alive and living in Russia. Terrorist leader and commander of the Sparta battalion Arseniy “Motorola” Pavlov boasted of having summarily executed 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war. Motorola is dead, targeted for assassination and blown up with an improvised explosive device in the elevator of his apartment building in Russia-occupied Donetsk.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea, illegitimate occupation of Crimea and parts of Donbas, war crimes, and violations of human rights all go together. Sanctions against Russia, such as the denial of voting rights in PACE, are the very least that governments and international organizations can do. Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland has no reason to lift sanctions on Russia and many reasons to increase them.
Iryna Gerashchenko said: “We see how many Europeans are trying to turn a blind eye to the obvious things, defend the value of dialogue, forgetting about the key values – the right to life.” A ‘dialogue’ that consists of listening to Russian lies will destroy the Council of Europe. Pretending not to know that Russia is abusing human rights and violating the European Convention on Human Rights will destroy the Council of Europe.
If the Council of Europe stands with the victims of torture and abuse, Russia-occupied Crimea and Donbas, then it will survive. If the Council of Europe stands with the torturer and abuser, Russia, then it will die.