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Resolution 1990 (2014) Reconsideration on substantive grounds of the previously ratified credentials of the Russian delegation, 10th April 2014, OXIO 301

Parliamentary Assembly; Russian Federation [ru]

Subject(s):
Armed conflict, international — Membership of international organizations — Representation of states in international organizations — Resolutions of international organizations — Suspension, withdrawal, and expulsion from international organizations — Voting in international organizations — Use of force, prohibition

Core Issues

1. The grounds for suspending the Russian delegation from participating in the Parliamentary Assembly (‘Assembly’) of the Council of Europe.

2. The Assembly’s characterization of the events in Crimea.

3. The options that remain open to the Assembly if the situation in Crimea is not reversed.

This headnote pertains to: Reconsideration on substantive grounds of the previously ratified credentials of the Russian delegation, an act of an international organization. Jump to full text

Background

Resolution 1990 (2014) Reconsideration on substantive grounds of the previously ratified credentials of the Russian delegation (‘Resolution’) of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (‘Assembly’) concerned the revocation of the Russian Federation’s voting rights in the wake of the annexation of Crimea. The Resolution is not only important as an act of the Assembly, but also provides insight into when the organization will suspend the voting rights of Member State delegations on the grounds of serious violations of international law. It also serves to explain the ongoing non-participation of the Russia within the Assembly.

From November 2013, after then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union (EU), huge daily protests had taken place in Kyiv and other regions of Ukraine. On 22 February 2014, President Yanukovich left the country, and on 27 February 2014 a new interim government was formed. This coalition government, while recognised by an overwhelming majority of the international community, was described as ‘illegitimate’ by Russia, who subsequently refused to recognise or enter into dialogue with it.

On the same day, reports appeared of heavily armed soldiers in uniforms without official insignia occupying public buildings in the Crimea region of Ukraine, including the region’s parliament. On 28 February 2014, in the presence of these armed soldiers, the parliament of Crimea replaced its Prime Minister with pro-Russian politician Sergei Aksyonov, and, following a referendum on the question, the Crimean parliament declared independence from Ukraine on 11 March 2014, electing to rejoin the Russian Federation.

The Resolution followed two prior motions from Assembly members to consider suspension of the Russian delegation on the grounds that it had ‘violated the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine’ (Motion for a resolution: Credentials of the Russian Delegation (21 March 2014)), as well as ‘the [Charter of the United Nations], the OSCE [Final Act of Helsinki], the Statute of the Council of Europe … [and] Russia’s accession commitments’ (Motion for a resolution: Suspension of the voting rights of the Russian delegation (Rule 9 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly) (24 March 2014)). Both motions noted that the deployment of Russian armed forces in Ukraine had been authorized by the Federation Council of Russia on 1 March 2014.

Following these motions, a report and draft resolution were prepared by the Committee on the Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by Member States of the Council of Europe (‘Monitoring Committee’) (Rapporteur Report: Reconsideration on substantive grounds of the previously ratified credentials of the Russian delegation (8 April 2014)). These were considered by the Assembly at its session on 10 April 2014.

Summary

Noting the two prior motions from members of the Assembly, the Resolution condemned the actions of the Russian Federation, identifying violations of the Charter of the United Nations (1945), the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe: Final Act of Helsinki (1975), the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed between Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan (1994), and the Statute of the Council of Europe. [paras 3–4]

These actions had created ‘a threat to stability and peace in Europe’ by establishing a pattern of behaviour that was being followed in other parts of Ukraine, and the Resolution noted with particular concern the involvement of both chambers of the Russian parliament in the decision to use force. [paras 6–8]

Moreover, the Assembly connected these actions to wider problems of media freedom in Russia and the continuing presence of Russian soldiers in the occupied Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, including Russia’s refusal to reverse ethnic cleansing. [paras 9–10] It further voiced fears concerning the treatment of minorities in Crimea, particularly Crimean Tartars and Ukrainians, and noted with concern the build-up of Russian military forces along its border with Ukraine, as well as statements made by Russian officials concerning the situation of Russian minorities in other Council of Europe Member States. [paras 11–12]

Believing that political dialogue remained the preferred way to solve the crisis, the Assembly declined to fully suspend the Russian delegation. [para 14] Instead, it opted only to suspend its voting rights, its right to be represented in the Bureau of the Assembly, the Presidential Committee, and the Standing Committee, and its right to participate in election observation missions. [para 15] However, the Assembly reserved the right to annul the credentials of the Russian delegation if the annexation of Crimea was not reversed. [para 16]

Finally, the Assembly invited its Monitoring Committee to set up an investigative sub-committee to follow developments in the conflict. [para 17]

The Resolution was approved by the Assembly, with 145 votes in favour, twenty-one against, and twenty-two abstentions.

Analysis

There are two points worth discussing from the Resolution. The first is the Assembly’s denunciation of the annexation of Crimea. The strength of the Resolution’s language is remarkable, variously describing the Russian Federation’s actions as ‘a threat to stability and peace in Europe’, a ‘flagrant violation by a Council of Europe [M]ember State of its obligations and commitments’, and ‘beyond any doubt, a grave violation of international law’. [paras 6, 13, 3] Moreover, the Assembly repeatedly took the opportunity to connect the situation in Crimea to other disputes between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation: the spreading of misinformation by Russian officials; concerns over restrictions on media freedom in Russia; the conflict with Georgia and the ongoing situations in Abkhazia and South Ossetia; and purported threats against other Council of Europe Member States. [paras 8–10, 12]

This is consistent with the broader practice of international organizations. Examples of collective non-recognition of territorial changes can be found in the previous practice of the League of Nations (VI. Measures Proposed by the Advisory Committee in connection with the Non-Recognition of ‘Manchukuo’ (1933)), the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) (UNSC Resolution 216: Southern Rhodesia (12 November 1965); UNSC Resolution 402: Lesotho-South Africa (22 December 1976); UNSC Resolution 541: Cyprus (18 November 1983); UNSC Resolution 662: Iraq-Kuwait (9 August 1990)), and the International Court of Justice (Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276 (1970), para 54). Indeed, Crimea’s annexation was also criticized—albeit in less strong language—by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA Resolution 68/262 (1 April 2014)).

The suspension of Russia’s voting rights, however, is more unusual. Suspension of existing Member States from international organizations remains rare. Delegate accreditation of existing Member States remained largely uncontested during the first five decades of the United Nations (UN)—with the rare exception of states with more than one government claiming representative status, such as Cambodia—although in recent years there has been a shift towards refusing the credentials of non-democratic governments, for example deferring consideration of Afghanistan’s accreditation from 1996–1999, thus excluding the Taliban from participating in the UN (Credentials of representatives to the 51st session of the General Assembly: First Report of the Credentials Committee (23 October 1996) para 14; Credentials of representatives to the 52nd session of the General Assembly: First Report of the Credentials Committee (11 December 1997) para 10; Credentials of representatives to the 53rd session of the General Assembly: First Report of the Credentials Committee (29 October 1998) para 9; Credentials of representatives to the 54th session of the General Assembly: First Report of the Credentials Committee (18 October 1999) para 9; see further Griffin). Nigeria, Pakistan, Fiji, and Zimbabwe have also been suspended from the Commonwealth as a result of violations of democratic and human rights standards (Commonwealth Network ‘Withdrawals and Suspension’), and Cuba was excluded from the Organization of American States (OAS) in 1962 as a result of connections with the ‘Sino-Soviet bloc of countries … evidently incompatible with the principles and standards’ of the OAS, in particular those of collective security (Resolution VI—Exclusion of the Present Government of Cuba from Participation in the Inter-American System (22–31 January 1962)).

In terms of the Assembly’s history, threats to revoke voting rights have only been made extraordinarily. The Assembly previously recommended that the Committee of Ministers consider suspension of Turkey’s rights of representation in the wake of its military intervention in northern Iraq (Recommendation 1266 (1995) Turkey’s military intervention in northern Iraq and on Turkey’s respect of commitments concerning constitutional and legislative reforms (26 April 1995), para 12.4), Russia’s voting rights following the conflict in the Chechen Republic in 2000 (Recommendation 1456 (2000) Conflict in the Chechen Republic – Implementation by the Russian Federation of Recommendation 1444 (2000) (6 April 2000), para 20.2), and Armenia’s voting rights following crackdowns against anti-government protestors in 2008 (Resolution 1609 (2008) The functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia (17 April 2008)). In each case the Assembly eventually relented, following Member State progress (Interim reply to Recommendation 1266 (1995) on Turkey's military intervention in northern Iraq and Turkey's respect for commitments concerning constitutional and legislative reforms (23 June 1995); Resolution 1241 (2001) Credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation (25 January 2001); Resolution 1643 (2009) Implementation by Armenia of Assembly Resolutions 1609 (2008) and 1620 (2008) (27 January 2009)). Greece was also set to lose its voting rights while under military dictatorship in 1969; however, it voluntarily left the Council of Europe before a decision could be taken (Soriano; Resolution (69) 51 on Greece). Accordingly, taking the step of actually suspending the Russian delegation’s voting rights should be seen as a truly exceptional measure.

Nonetheless, the Assembly’s refusal to entirely expel the delegation from the Assembly accords with the Council of Europe’s inclusive approach to former-Soviet states, preferring to retain members in dialogue than exclude them entirely from human rights monitoring (Duxbury (2004) 443–444; Drzemczewski and Scott 286). In this light, while suspension from voting within the Assembly should indeed be seen as an exceptional measure, the choice to allow the Russia to remain a member is coherent with previous Council of Europe practice, and reflective of the general tension within international organizations between ‘the desire for heterogeneous universality (getting bigger) and the need for homogenous universality (getting better)’ (Duxbury (2004) 427).

Bearing in mind the significant human rights issues in Russia, however, one could argue that the suspension of Russia’s delegation presents a significant barrier to the Council of Europe’s work—one exacerbated by Russia’s refusal to engage with the Assembly following the Resolution. Compare this against the ongoing situation between the European Commission and the current far-right government of Poland. On 20 December 2017 the European Commission proposed to the European Council to adopt a decision under Article 7(1) of the Treaty on European Union that Poland’s current legislative programme represents ‘a clear risk of a serious breach’ of the common values of the EU, in particular a threat to the political independence of the country’s judiciary—a decision that could eventually lead to, among other sanctions, the suspension of voting rights (Press Release—Rule of Law: European Commission acts to defend judicial independence in Poland). The EU has never previously made use of this so-called ‘nuclear option’, although it was discussed in 2000 in relation to the formation of Austria’s right-wing coalition government (Ahtisaari, Frowein, and Oreja; Duxbury (2000)).

Poland described the European Commission’s proposal as ‘essentially political, not legal’ and ‘an attempt to stigmatize Poland’, and the move also faced sharp criticism from Hungary (Boffey and Davies). Nonetheless, the Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, has now fired several senior government ministers in an apparent move to stem the European Commission’s criticism (Sobczak and Kelly).

This suggests that while states take seriously their ability to retain voting rights in international organizations, this will vary in relation to how important participation in the international organization is seen to be by each state. For Poland, a positive relationship with the EU remains necessary, particularly when one considers the significant financial benefit the country gains from its membership. For Russia, however, non-participation in the Assembly has had little detrimental effect, as the continuing occupation of Crimea attests.

Impact

In the face of the continuing occupation of Crimea, it is unclear what options remain open to the Council of Europe. Complete annulment of the credentials of Russia’s delegation has remained a mere threat, with the Assembly again only suspending the delegation’s voting rights in 2015 (Resolution 2034 (2015) Challenge, on substantive grounds, of the still unratified credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation (28 January 2015)). In any event, Russia has refused to participate in subsequent sessions of the Assembly, failing to send delegation credentials in 2016 and 2017. Subsequent resolutions of the Assembly have accordingly focused on ensuring the protection of human rights in Crimea and occupied eastern Ukraine, dealing with the de facto situation while continually reaffirming its position that the intervention is illegitimate under international law (see, for example Resolution 2122 The humanitarian concerns with regard to people captured during the war in Ukraine (21 April 2016); Resolution 2133 (2016) Legal remedies for human rights violations on the Ukrainian territories outside the control of the Ukrainian authorities (12 October 2016)). This perhaps reflects an acknowledgment of the inherent limits of an international organization like the Assembly’s ability to compel powerful states to rectify significant violations of international law.

On 14 November 2016, the Monitoring Committee established a Sub-Committee on Conflicts between Council of Europe Member States (Decision to establish a Sub-Committee on Conflicts between Council of Europe Member States (14 November 2016)). The remit of its mandate includes developments in occupied Crimea and eastern Ukraine, but it also covers conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Northern Cyprus, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Transnistria. However, Russia has largely withdrawn from cooperating with the Monitoring Committee (Honouring of Obligations and Commitments by the Russian Federation (11 October 2016)), and consequently the majority of the Sub-Committee’s work has focused on the other conflicts within its mandate.

It is worth noting that the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is concurrently dealing with cases resulting from Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine: there are approximately 3000 individual cases pending before the ECtHR that relate to Crimea or the hostilities in Eastern Ukraine (Press Release: Complaints concerning shelling of homes in Eastern Ukraine declared inadmissible due to lack of evidence (28 July 2016)), and the recent judgment of Khlebik v Ukraine concerned an applicant who had been unable to appeal against his detention due to his case file being held in the occupied Luhansk Region of eastern Ukraine.

In June 2017, Russia suspended its financial contribution to the Council of Europe, and indicated in September 2017 that it would refuse to submit its €11 million fee in 2018 unless its voting rights are restored. Considering that the Russian Federation contributes 7.3 per cent of the Council of Europe’s total budget, this poses a significant challenge to the organization’s continued opposition. The Council of Europe has yet to respond, but in light of the financial pressure it finds itself under, it will be left in a difficult predicament between relenting to Russia’s demands to restore its voting rights, while continuing to affirm its support for Ukrainian sovereignty. Ongoing non-participation may also give credence to future criticisms that the Council of Europe’s actions towards Russia are illegitimate, making future cooperation difficult. Glas suggests that if Russia refuses to participate in next year’s election of the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, the Commissioner may have little authority when reporting on Russia.

The upcoming year of parliamentary sessions will accordingly present an interesting forum for the discussion of Crimea’s annexation to resurface.

Further analysis of Relevant Materials

Leading Comments

Materials Cited

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Reporter(s): David Scott

Source text

Original Source PDF

1.  On 21 March 2014, two motions for a resolution with regard to the previously ratified credentials of the Russian Federation were submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly. The first one, signed by 74 members, called for the reconsideration, on the basis of Rule 9.1.a of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly, of the ratified credentials of the Russian delegation on substantive grounds (Doc. 13457 on the credentials of the Russian delegation). Condemning “without reservation the violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine by the armed forces of the Russian Federation in early March 2014”, and expressing their “gravest concern that members of the Upper House of the Russian Parliament unanimously authorised such action in advance”, the signatories expressed their conviction that there had been a “serious violation of the basic principles of the Council of Europe mentioned in Article 3 of, and the preamble to, the Statute”.

2.  The second motion on the suspension of the voting rights of the Russian delegation (Rule 9 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly) (Doc. 13459) was signed by 53 members. In particular, the signatories expressed their serious concern about “the persistent failure by the Russian Federation to honour its obligations and commitments” as demonstrated by the “actions of Russian military forces in the Crimean peninsula, as well as explicit threats of military actions in the rest of Ukraine’s territory”. Furthermore, they stressed that “the use of armed forces on the territory of Ukraine was authorised by the Federation Council of Russia on 1 March 2014”.

3.  The Assembly considers that the actions of the Russian Federation leading up to the annexation of Crimea, and in particular the military occupation of the Ukrainian territory and the threat of the use of military force, the recognition of the results of the illegal so-called referendum and subsequent annexation of Crimea into the Russian Federation constitute, beyond any doubt, a grave violation of international law, including of the United Nations Charter and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Helsinki Final Act. The launch of military action by Russia was in violation of a memorandum signed between Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom, and Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 1994, which undermines the trust in other international instruments, in particular the agreements on disarmament and on non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

4.  These actions are also in clear contradiction with the Statute of the Council of Europe, in particular its preamble, and the obligations resulting from Article 3, as well as with the commitments undertaken by the Russian Federation upon accession and contained in Assembly Opinion 193 (1996) on Russia’s request for membership of the Council of Europe.

5.  The Assembly regrets that the Russian Federation has persistently rejected the diplomatic efforts of the international community aimed at the de-escalation of the situation, by turning down proposals for international mediation and the establishment of an international observer mission in Crimea, by refusing to enter into direct dialogue with the authorities of Ukraine, and by choosing not to avail itself of international mechanisms, including those available in the Council of Europe, to peacefully resolve the conflict.

6.  The Assembly believes that by violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Russia has created a threat to stability and peace in Europe. The annexation of Crimea and the steps leading to it, have set a pattern which is now being followed by other parts of Ukraine, as demonstrated by the developments in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lugansk since the first week of April.

7.  The Assembly is particularly concerned by the position taken by the members of both chambers of the Russian Parliament at different stages of the process of annexation, including the unanimous vote in the Council of the Federation authorising the use of military force in Ukraine, the approval of constitutional amendments allowing for the annexation of Crimea and the ratification of the illegal treaty on unification.

8.  The Assembly regrets that reports of alleged and unconfirmed violations against the Russian-speaking minority and groundless accusations about the extreme-right nature of the authorities in Kyiv have been used for political purposes by many top officials and members of parliament in the Russian Federation in their public statements.

9.  The Assembly is deeply concerned by the state of media freedom and freedom of expression in Russia, and in particular by the biased coverage of the events in Ukraine, and even manipulations which have largely contributed to the interethnic instability in the country, as well as by suppression of the public debate and any criticism. The crackdown on the independent media, including online media and journalists, is most worrying.

10.  The Assembly is deeply concerned by the continuous failure of the Russian Federation to implement Resolution 1633 (2008) on the consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia, Resolution 1647 (2009) on the implementation of Resolution 1633 and Resolution 1683 (2009) on the war between Georgia and Russia: one year after, by the occupation of the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Russian troops and by the refusal of the Russian Federation to allow European Union monitors and to reverse ethnic cleansing.

11.  The present situation of minorities in Crimea, in particular of Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, raises the utmost concern. The Assembly urges Russia, which is in illegal control of this territory, to ensure that their rights are not violated.

12.  The Assembly expresses its anxiety with regard to the intentions of the Russian authorities in the light of the steady and noticeable build-up of Russian military forces along its border with Ukraine. Furthermore, it voices its concern about public statements made by Russian officials with respect to the situation of Russian minorities in a number of Council of Europe member States, which, in the present context, raise understandable fears in the countries concerned.

13.  The Assembly strongly condemns the violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity by the Russian Federation, and considers that such a flagrant violation by a Council of Europe member State of its obligations and commitments requires a strong signal of disapproval.

14.  However, the Assembly believes that political dialogue should remain the preferred way to find a compromise, and there should be no return to the pattern of the Cold War. Suspension of the credentials of the Russian delegation would make such a dialogue impossible, while the Assembly constitutes a good platform for keeping the Russian delegation accountable on the basis of Council of Europe’s values and principles. The Parliamentary Assembly has the power and the opportunity in this veritable crisis to confront face-to-face one of its member States – the Russian Federation – with questions and facts and to demand answers and accountability.

15.  In consequence, in order to mark its condemnation and disapproval of the Russian Federation's actions with regard to Ukraine, the Assembly resolves to suspend the following rights of the delegation of the Russian Federation until the end of the 2014 session:

  1. 15.1.  voting rights;

  2. 15.2.  right to be represented in the Bureau of the Assembly, the Presidential Committee and the Standing Committee;

  3. 15.3.  right to participate in election observation missions.

16.  The Assembly reserves the right to annul the credentials of the Russian delegation, if the Russian Federation does not de-escalate the situation and reverse the annexation of Crimea.

17.  The Assembly invites the Monitoring Committee to consider setting up an investigative sub-committee tasked with examining and following the developments since August 2013 relating to the conflict.