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April 23-27, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deals with the situation in Donbas, the presidential elections in occupied Crimea, global phenomenon of the hybrid war, and fake news.
The PACE Vice President, Ukraine’s People's Deputy Volodymyr Aryev announces this session to be "very important". Let us try to figure out why.
On the second day of the session, April 24, a report on the problems that have arisen in three countries (Ukraine, Turkey, and France) due to their derogation in the European Convention on Human Rights was presented.
Art. 15 of this Convention allows the country to deviate from its obligations in terms of the war or other public danger that threatens the life of the nation. Ukraine did not declare a state of emergency because of Russia's aggression, however, on June 9, 2015, the PACE reported on the application of this article.
The restrictions concerned the area of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). In particular, Ukraine reserved the right to detain suspected terrorists without a court decision (for a period that exceeds 72 hours but does not exceed 30 days); a special procedure for investigating cases of terrorism and crimes committed in the ATO zone; restriction of movement of people and search in certain areas.
The latest PACE report once again condemns Russia's aggression against Ukraine and does not call into question the fact that the situation in Donbas is "threatening", while it points to violations of human rights by "all parties to the conflict". It is believed that some adopted (and unaccepted) measures do not correspond to the situation.
Speakers believe that the issues of people living in the ATO area, as well as the functioning of organizations or enterprises there, could be resolved without derogation in the Convention.
According to the report, people face "inadequate waiting conditions" at the checkpoints; tens of thousands of civilians are forced to wait in queues for up to 36 hours, while there are not enough WCs for them.
It is also noted that not all courts have moved from the occupied territories. Some of those who moved have not received the relevant premises. Some of the archives remained in their original places and a significant number of judges resigned. The burden on the courts under the control of the government increased at times.
Thus, Ukraine is recommended to reconsider the need to preserve the provision on detention for 30 days (this norm should be investigated by the Constitutional Court); improve material conditions at the checkpoints; contribute to the proper functioning and provision of resources to ships transferred from the occupied territories; ensure effective verification of emergency measures in the ATO zone.
In Europe, 4 million internally displaced persons whose rights are regularly violated are recorded. The largest number is 1.7 million people account for Ukraine; because of the war in Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, people faced serious humanitarian challenges. According to the report, which is scheduled for April 25, many people in eastern Ukraine have limited access to medical care, many have been forced to leave their homes (some of them were destroyed by the hostilities) and their old parents.
Despite the fact that the conflict is "relatively recent and ongoing," the humanitarian needs of internally displaced people include basic social assets - housing, health care, and children’s access to education. It is also noted that Crimean Tatars during the Russian annexation were deprived of their cultural rights, which contributed to a new displacement.
In this regard, the member states of the Council of Europe plan to call for ensuring the humanitarian and social needs of IDPs.
The new PACE resolution (to be considered on April 26) states that countries are increasingly confronted with the phenomenon of a "hybrid war", which creates a new type of threat through a combination of military and non-military means, including cyber attacks, mass misinformation campaigns, fake news, especially in social networks.
It is noted that in the last ten years Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have spoken about the impact of Russian cyber attacks.
The report says that 126 million US citizens were subjected to Russian disinformation during the last presidential election in 2016. In addition, interference in the electoral process probably occurred in Germany, France, and some countries of the Balkan region.
Russia is accused of conducting a hybrid war in Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas. According to the text, in Ukraine, it has received very favorable soil (after all, in a region where the situation has already been shaken, it is much easier to conduct a disinformation campaign and impose its own vision of events). It is pointed out that the Russian "troll factory" works quite efficiently, "therefore it is very difficult to distinguish fake statements on the Internet from state interference.
The report emphasizes that when fighting against the hybrid war, states are obliged to comply with human rights law. A concern is expressed that some member states of the Council of Europe have resorted to means of tracking, blocking websites, criminal prosecutions for statements on the Internet. In this context, Ukraine is mentioned together with France, Germany, and Latvia. In May 2017, Ukraine has blocked access to some Russian websites (in particular, to "Odnoklassniki" and "VKontakte" social media).
PACE reporters see in such actions elements of restricting freedom of speech.
The Assembly intends to urge the Member States to refrain from using a hybrid war in international relations, to intensify cooperation in order to identify such manifestations and establish an appropriate legislative framework, to raise public awareness of hybrid wars and the ability to respond quickly to such threats. The Committee of Ministers should investigate this problem in order to protect the impact of hybrid war on holding elections.
According to the PACE, a petition was submitted for urgent debate: "Illegal election of the President of the Russian Federation in the temporarily occupied territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea: violation of human rights." According to the agenda, the discussion might be held on April 26.
The election of the President of the Russian Federation was held on March 18. Voting was also held in occupied Crimea, despite Ukraine's objections and statements by international partners about non-recognition of results. The next day, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the elections in annexed Crimea "insignificant" and "deprived of legal consequences." On March 22, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted a resolution on non-recognition of the Russian presidential election in the territory of Crimea. And the Ukrainian delegation initiated a debate in the PACE.
Climate change and the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the financing of ISIS terrorist group, protection of editorial independence and the status of journalists, the role of the Council of Europe in Libya, the fight against organized crime by confiscating illicit assets, tuberculosis in Europe, and access to education for migrant children would be also discussed.
In addition, according to Aryev, there would be a roundtable on Nord Stream 2 with the participation of the Naftogaz CEO.
In 2014, Russian delegation was deprived of the right to vote in the PACE for the annexation of Ukrainian Crimea. Since then, the sanctions have been extended several times, since the Russian Federation has not complied with any of the requirements of several resolutions on the Ukrainian question. The delegation of the State Duma, in protest, decided not to take part in the PACE sessions.
However, the PACE is gradually gaining momentum for the return of Russians.
January 22, 2018, Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland said that Russia did not deserve an exception from the organization, despite the violation of some of its principles.
January 23, the first ad hoc meeting of the PACE committee was held in Strasbourg, which was devoted to changing the rules and procedures of the assembly. The Russian delegation insisted that it would agree to return to the PACE only if a change in the rules of the assembly guarantees the non-introduction of sanctions against the Russian Federation in the future. After the meeting of the special committee, its participants announced that the draft decision on the modification of the rules and procedures of the PACE, which will enable the Russian Federation to return to the assembly of the delegation, could be presented at the session in June.
On the day before the start of the spring session (April 22), an independent investigation team, which studied corruption allegations in the PACE, will present its report in private. Later this report might be published on the PACE website.
In 2012 and 2016, non-profit organization European Stability Initiative (ESI) published two reports, which stated that European politicians received jewelry, carpets, and black caviar from representatives of the Azerbaijani authorities in exchange for approving reports on the state of democracy in this country.
Italian PACE MP Luca Volonte was accused of receiving two million euros from a member of the Azerbaijani delegation. The Milan prosecutor's office opened a criminal case against Volonte.
After that, a number of the PACE deputies demanded from then-President Pedro Agramunt (who visited Azerbaijan as an election observer and constantly "defended Baku") to begin an independent investigation in the assembly, but he delayed with this procedure.
Another scandal, in which Agramunt got involved, was connected with his trip to Syria in the company of Russian deputies. Eventually, a visit to a Russian plane to meet with Bashar Assad forced him to leave the PACE leadership in October 2017. By the way, he soon received an honorary title of doctor in Russia.
The results of the investigation into corruption in the PACE will be especially interesting for Ukraine since it advocated the resignation of Agramunt because of his close ties with Russia more than anyone else did.