2023 Winter session: the legal and human rights aspects of Russia's aggression against Ukraine

Published in World
Thursday, 12 January 2023 17:17

An urgent debate* on the legal and human rights aspects of the Russian Federation's aggression against Ukraine, with the participation of Oleksandra Matviichuk, Head of the Center for Civil Liberties, 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, will be among the highlights of the Winter plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), to be held in Strasbourg from 23 to 27 January 2023.

#OnTheRoadToReykjavik, a report on the fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe, to be held in the Icelandic capital on 16 and 17 May, will present PACE's proposals.

There will also be addresses by the Prime Minister of Iceland Katrin Jakobsdóttir and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. The Secretary General of the Council of Europe Marija Pejčinović Burić will present her communication to PACE members. The Assembly will also elect its President and Vice-Presidents.

Combating violence against women will also be a focus of the session, with a first debate on conflict-related sexual violence, and a second joint debate on the Istanbul Convention, on the role and responsibility of men and boys in stopping gender-based violence against women and girls, and on finding solutions for marital captivity.

Other topics on the agenda include the environmental impact of armed conflict, Daesh foreign fighters and their families returning from Syria and elsewhere, and the ethical, cultural and educational challenges of contact tracing applications.

* The Assembly will decide its final agenda at the opening of the session.

2023 Winter Session special page

Two Georgia v. Russia interstate cases: Committee of Ministers says Russia must execute the European Court’s judgments, despite its exclusion from the Council of Europe

Published in Politics
Friday, 09 December 2022 15:57

Strasbourg, 09.12.2022 – The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has deeply deplored again the absence of response of the Russian authorities to its earlier appeals to implement the Georgia v. Russia (I) judgment from the European Court of Human Rights concerning the arrest, detention and collective expulsion of Georgian nationals in 2006-2007, and strongly exhorted the Russian authorities to pay the long-overdue just satisfaction. The Committee has also urged the Russian authorities to start executing the judgment in the case Georgia v. Russia (II) related to the armed conflict in Georgia in 2008.

In the Interim Resolution (*) published today on the Georgia v. Russia (I) case the Committee of Ministers recalled that, despite ceasing to be a member of the Council of Europe on 16 March 2022, the Russian Federation is still required to implement judgments of the European Court, and the Committee of Ministers continues to supervise their execution.

According to the European Court’s judgment of January 2019, Russia inter alia had to pay to the Georgian government 10 million euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage suffered by a group of at least 1,500 Georgian nationals. The Committee deeply deplored the continued absence of the information from the Russian authorities and reiterated again its most profound concern that the payment of the just satisfaction and default interest accrued has not been made despite the passage of over three years since the deadline for payment expired on 30 April 2019.

The Secretariat of the Committee of Ministers will create and publish a register of just satisfaction owing in all inter-state cases against the Russian Federation and will keep it regularly updated as regards the default interest accrued so that both the issue and the sums due can remain under close public scrutiny.

The Committee of Ministers has also adopted the Interim Resolution on the second interstate case, Georgia v. Russia (II). The European Court’s judgment on this case has become final in October 2021 and concerned various violations in the context of the armed conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation in August 2008.

The Committee has urged again the Russian authorities to submit to the Committee of Ministers a plan on the execution of this judgment and to investigate the serious crimes committed during the active phase of hostilities as well as during the period of occupation. It has firmly reiterated again its profound concern about the inability of Georgian nationals to return to their homes in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and its insistence that the Russian Federation, which has effective control over these regions, ensure without delay safe return of persons wishing to return to their homes. The question of just satisfaction in this case remains pending at the Court.

The Committee of Ministers will restart the examination of the execution of both cases in March 2023.  

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(*) An Interim Resolution is a form of decision adopted by the Committee of Ministers aimed at overcoming more complex situations requiring special attention.

L. Ioseliani calls Droa's statement disinformation and states that he supported the CoE resolution, but did not support the fourth amendment, where M. Saakashvili is referred as a political prisoner

Published in Politics
Monday, 17 October 2022 16:41

Levan Ioseliani, one of the leaders of the Citizens party, responds to the statement of the Droa party. According to Dr­oa, Levan Ioseliani and representatives of Georgian Dream did not attend the PACE voting procedure where Russia was declared a terrorist regime. Levan Ioseliani calls this statement disinformation and explains that he supported the resolution, but did not support the fourth amendment of the resolution, where Mikheil Saakashvili is referred as a political prisoner.

"Yesterday, the resolution adopted in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe against Russian aggression was followed by a lot of responses. Obviously, I supported this resolution, although I did not support its fourth amendment, where Saakashvili is referred as a political prisoner. Since my vote does not appear in the results of the unanimous vote, someone assumed, that I did not support the text of the resolution. Of course, in this voting list, my vote would not appear, because if you want to support the resolution, without any amendments, you must announce it verbally at the plenary session and then your support will be attached to the record of the results of the resolution. So, if you have any doubts, friends, you can find my support in the verbal notes of October 14 on the website of the Assembly. On the day of the vote, my vote was technically not recorded, so I asked in the session the next day to correct, this is also considered as an official vote. Voting in this manner is an accepted and frequent practice in the Assembly. Therefore, the resolution has the support of Levan Ioseliani in the form of a record, which can be seen in the records on the official page of PACE," says Levan Ioseliani.

Ireland’s President Higgins: we need a longer-term vision of the Council of Europe’s role in a post-conflict Europe

Published in World
Tuesday, 11 October 2022 23:31

STRASBOURG. Ireland’s President Michael D. Higgins has called for a longer-term vision of the Council of Europe’s role in a post-conflict Europe, and how that might fit within the wider multilateral architecture, in order to effectively uphold human rights, the rule of law and democracy whilst ensuring there is no immunity for human rights violations.

Speaking to the Parliamentary Assembly in the context of Ireland’s Presidency of the Committee of Ministers, President Higgins stressed that we should revert to the Council of Europe’s fundamental strengths in rebuilding peace, notably the European Convention on Human Rights.

“It must be re-invoked, extended, bolstered, re-asserted, resourced and become part of the discourse of the European street,” said President Higgins, calling for Council of Europe and UN associations to be created in member states.

President Higgins underlined that we must focus on the indivisibility of human rights and commit to a wider definition of comprehensive security on the continent, as a European step towards a universal human rights-based approach to security – including food security.

Any review of the Convention framework must incorporate additional basic rights, said the President, such as the right to a clean environment and the right to be free from hunger.

It is in our interest that the national interests of the country, which are related to the occupied territories, are reflected as much as possible in all documents of the Council of Europe

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 11 October 2022 14:45

STRASBOURG. It is in our interest that the national interests of the country, which are related to the occupied territories, are reflected as much as possible in all documents of the Council of Europe, - Chairman of the "Georgian Dream" party, Irakli Kobakhidze said in connection with the opening of the autumn session of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

According to him, in addition to participation in the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, bilateral meetings with Georgian partners from different countries are planned.  

"Such formats are very important to deepen relations with partners in both bilateral and multilateral formats, and this format shall be used maximally for this purpose. It is in our interest that the national interests of our country related to the occupied territories and the situation there are reflected as much as possible in all documents of the Council of Europe. Naturally, the situation is complicated in the region and at this time it is most important that our national interests should be emphasized maximally to our partners", Irakli Kobakhidze said. 

Remind you that the autumn session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is holding in Strasbourg from 10 to 14 October.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is due to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe by videoconference on Thursday.

There will also be addresses by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and the President of the Swiss Confederation, Ignazio Cassis, as well as the Prime Minister of Albania, Edi Rama.

Thomas Byrne, Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, will present the Communication from the Committee of Ministers in the framework of the Irish Presidency of the Council of Europe.

The Organization’s Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić will hold the usual question time with PACE members.

Committee of Ministers again exhorts Russia to pay damages to Georgia following ECHR judgment on collective expulsions

Published in Justice
Friday, 23 September 2022 14:46

Strasbourg, 23.09.2022 – The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers has deeply deplored the lack of response of the Russian authorities to the Committee’s earlier appeals to implement the Georgia v. Russia (I) judgment from the European Court of Human Rights concerning the arrest, detention and collective expulsion of Georgian nationals in 2006-2007. It again exhorted the Russian authorities to pay the “just satisfaction” awarded to the Georgian government.

In an Interim Resolution (*) published today, the Committee of Ministers recalled that, despite ceasing to be a member of the Council of Europe on 16 March 2022, the Russian Federation is still required to implement judgments of the European Court, and the Committee of Ministers continues to supervise their execution. The Committee deeply deplored that no information was provided by the Russian authorities ahead of the meeting.

In its 2019 judgment on just satisfaction, the European Court of Human Rights determined that Russia was to pay the Georgian government, within three months, 10 million euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage suffered by a group of at least 1,500 Georgian nationals. The European Court also ruled that the Georgian government was to set up an effective mechanism for the distribution of the money to the individual victims.

At its latest regular meeting to supervise the implementation of judgments, the Committee of Ministers again reiterated its profound concern that the payment has not been made, more than three years after the deadline expired.

The Committee firmly reiterated that the payment of just satisfaction awarded by the Court is an unconditional obligation. “Delay in fulfilling this obligation deprives the individual victims of the violations from receiving compensation for the damages suffered by them,” the Committee stressed.

It again exhorted the Russian authorities to pay the just satisfaction, together with the default interest accrued, without any further delay.

The Committee once again invited the authorities of the Council of Europe member states to explore all possible means to ensure the execution of this case and instructed the Secretariat to come up with proposals for a strategy for supervising the execution of pending cases against the Russian Federation. The Committee will resume consideration of this case at their next meeting on execution of ECHR judgments in December 2022.

The Committee of Ministers has also adopted a decision on the execution of the judgment in the case Georgia v. Russia (II) which has become final in October 2021 and concerned various violations in the context of the armed conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation in August 2008.

Vote on 2 October was a missed opportunity for local democracy in Georgia, says Head of Congress delegation

Published in Society
Monday, 04 October 2021 16:29

Strasbourg, 4 October 2021 - The Congress concluded its mission to observe the local elections held on 2 October in Georgia. David ERAY (Switzerland, EPP/CCE, R), Head of the delegation, underlined the extremely polarized political environment in the country as well as an increase in verbal aggression, hate speech and fake news on social media during the campaign. “This polarisation had a paralyzing effect on local democracy which, in fact, has been taken hostage of the overall national political situation. Against this background, this poll was a missed opportunity for local democracy in Georgia”, Mr Eray stated. The overall unlevel playing field, pressure on voters and vote-buying were further features of these elections which raised concern of the Congress delegation.

Further to the invitation by the Georgian authorities, the Congress carried out an election observation mission from 29 September to 3 October 2021 and observed the local elections held on 2 October as part of a joint international election observation mission together with the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Parliament. The Congress mission comprised 18 members representing 15 Council of Europe countries who observed elections in 9 regions of Georgia, visiting in total some 120 polling stations from the opening until the closing.

The Election Day was overall calm, orderly, transparent and well organised. Except for some inconsistencies, particularly regarding the set-up of polling booths and finger-inking, the Congress observers did not notice major shortcomings during the voting procedures. Some polling stations in urban areas, mostly in Tbilisi, were comparatively small considering the large number of commission members and domestic observers and thus over-crowded. This led also to some confusion about the different roles of election workers, notably during the counting. Some of the Congress observers also reported violations of the new regulation on the 100-meter-perimeter around polling stations.

Although new regulations were put in place to increase number of women on candidate lists by placing at least one in every three candidates of the opposite gender on the ballot, this legal provision proved insufficient as women were almost always placed as the third, sixth or ninth candidate, thus having much lower chances to get elected than their male counterparts. “In our opinion, this was against the spirit of the law”, Mr Eray stated. 

Prior to the Election Day, the Congress delegation held meetings in Tbilisi with various interlocutors, including representatives of the diplomatic corps, domestic and international NGOs, media representatives, the Central Elections Commission and with the Deputy Minister of Justice and Head of Inter-Agency Task Force for Free and Fair Elections, Mr Tornike Cheishvili. Meetings with representatives from different parties including GD, UNM, For Georgia and European Georgia rounded off the preparatory programme of the Congress. The Congress report will be presented at the next Monitoring Committee and adopted during the 42nd Congress Plenary in March 2022.

CoE Committee of Ministers to mention term occupation in its decision on Georgia

Published in Politics
Thursday, 13 May 2021 14:45

“The decision of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is unprecedented, as it introduces the term occupation at the executive level for the first time,” the Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani declared on Thursday.

“Our main priority is to make the Russian-Georgian conflict issue real in the international arena and mobilize the support of the international community. We have another important success in this direction. The CoE Committee of Ministers in Strasbourg has adopted a decision on Georgia. We have been adopting such documents within this organization every year since 2014. But the decision is unprecedented this year as the term occupation has been introduced at the executive level for the first time,” FM said.

Zalkaliani underscored that the Committee of Ministers welcomed the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Georgia v. Russia war case.

“Committee of Ministers welcomed the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Georgia v. Russia 2008 war case that established the responsibility of the Russian Federation for grave human rights violations during the occupation of the Georgian Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region following the August 2008 war,” the Minister said.

According to Zalkaliani, the Committee of Ministers called on Russia to execute the ECHR judgment.

“In addition, it calls on the Russian Federation, as the state exercising effective control, to ensure the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions of Georgia, by taking concrete steps outlined in detail in the document. Committee calls on Russia to secure immediate and unrestricted access of the Council of Europe bodies to the Georgian regions,” Minister said.

Zalkaliani praised all members of the organization who supported this decision.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe took its eighth decision on Georgia on May 12, 2012.

- CM Decision on the conflict in Georgia 

Source: https://1tv.ge/en/news/coe-committee-of-ministers-to-mention-term-occupation-in-its-decision-on-georgia/

Implementing ECHR judgments: Progress despite COVID in 2020, but further efforts are needed

Published in Justice
Thursday, 01 April 2021 12:54

Strasbourg, 31.03.2021 – States across Europe are continuing to make progress on implementing judgments from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the latest annual report from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.

However, further efforts are needed to tackle systemic issues highlighted by the ECHR, including ill-treatment or deaths caused by the security forces and poor conditions of detention, as well as inter-state cases and a growing number of cases concerning abusive limitations on rights and freedoms.

“Today’s report shows that our member states take their obligation to implement judgments from the European Court of Human Rights very seriously, even in difficult circumstances,” said Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić.

“It is also very positive that NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions are becoming more and more involved in the process, making it more effective and transparent.

“Nevertheless, this is no time for complacency. Many important judgments have been outstanding for several years and a small number of high-profile cases are not being resolved quickly enough. Our member states have a duty to implement ECHR judgments promptly and fully. This is not a kind request – it is a binding requirement.”

The report shows that a total of 983 cases were closed by the Committee of Ministers in 2020 as a result of steps taken by the member states concerned. Of those 983 cases, 187 (19%) were “leading” cases – notably highlighting new structural or systemic problems – and 796 (81%) were repetitive.

At the end of 2020, 5,233 cases had yet to be fully implemented by the member states involved, of which 1,258 (24%) were leading cases and 3,975 (76%) were repetitive. 634 leading cases had been pending for over 5 years, but the number of such cases has been falling since 2016.

The report states that 581 payments of “just satisfaction” to applicants, awarded by the ECHR, were made on time in 2020. However, the Committee of Ministers was awaiting confirmation of payment in 1,574 cases at the end of 2020, over two-thirds of which had been awaiting confirmation for more than six months.

Finally, the report underlines that the Committee of Ministers received a record 176 formal communications from non-governmental organisations and National Human Rights Institutions in 2020, concerning 28 different states. The Committee also received its first five communications from the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.

Further information

Georgia: Reform for elections, political associations and parliament rules should be “reconsidered”, according to Venice Commission

Published in World
Wednesday, 24 March 2021 15:29

Strasbourg, 24.03.2021 – In a joint opinion, requested in December 2020 by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia and adopted at the latest plenary of the Venice Commission (19-20 March 2021), the OSCE/ODIHR and the Venice Commission call on Georgia to reconsider several amendments to the Election Code, the Law on Political Associations of Citizens and the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament of Georgia.

With regard to the Election Code, proposed changes would infringe the rights of political parties to equal opportunities by denying them free airtime if they do not receive public funding. The denial of free airtime to those parties is both “disproportionate and unfounded”, as it is exactly these parties with less funds at their disposal that would need access to free airtime in order to voice their opinions and present their programmes to the electorate, according to the opinion.

Furthermore, not only is there no evident connection between allocating free airtime and receiving state funding that would justify such a step, but also such a restriction is not in the public interest, as it would reduce access to information that the public needs in order to make an informed choice in elections.

The Venice Commission also is concerned by proposed amendments to the Law on Political Associations of Citizens that would deny state funding to a political party or electoral bloc that did not take up at least half of the parliamentary mandates that it won, and would deprive the party or bloc of state funding for the next six months, if half of the members of parliament of any party or bloc did not attend without good reason more than half of the regular plenary sittings.

Sanctioning political parties – and not individual MPs – by depriving them of funding, if the respective MPs do not attend most sittings during a parliamentary session, appears “disproportionate” and at odds with the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure, which already regulate such matters in a clear and balanced manner, according to the opinion.

Similar considerations apply to the proposed amendment to the Rules of Procedure of Parliament, which would result in the full deduction of the salary of an MP who does not attend without good reason all plenary sittings during a calendar month of the regular session, both for the period of the parliamentary session and for the ensuing recess period. This latter proposal also likely would not be compliant with the Constitution of Georgia, which makes salaries for Members of Parliament mandatory.

The opinion proposes considering “more proportionate and appropriate means” to achieve the goal of the amendments, which could involve imposing direct consequences on individual MPs for their actions. This would be more in line with the Georgian Constitution and international standards, the Venice Commission notes. “Such broad sanctions against parties not taking part in the Parliament’s work were not found in any other Venice Commission or OSCE/ODIHR member/participant states,” the opinion reads.

In a separate joint opinion, also requested last December by the Chairperson of the Parliament of Georgia, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR call on Georgia to reconsider adopting a proposed new provision – Article 791 – to the country’s electoral code, as related to the participation by an alien acting as party leader in pre-election campaigning. Adopting this amendment could lead to an unduly restriction of political pluralism, the Venice Commission warns, listing several concerns.

The proposed amendment does not clearly define which criteria would be used to determine who is considered to be an electoral list’s or party’s political leader. Besides, while the right to vote and stand for election may be subject to some conditions, including the respective individual’s nationality, restrictions of aliens to participate in domestic political life should be limited to the establishment of political parties, but not to their membership. Furthermore, the sanction of deregistering a party list due to the foreign nationality of a person acting as its political leader seems a disproportionate measure that targets the party rather than the alien in question. 

The appeals process regarding such deregistration as defined by the proposed amendment is "worrying" because deregistration of a party or electoral block can be made up to two days after elections: a decision may be taken after votes have been cast and voters might in good faith vote for a party which may then end up being deregistered.

Finally, the Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR believe that the amendment could be perceived, in the strict sense, as ad hominem legislation, i.e. directed against a particular individual, a legislative technique previously criticized by the Venice Commission.

The opinions were prepared under the Quick response Mechanism in the framework of the EU/CoE joint programme Partnership for Good Governance”, co-funded by the Council of Europe and the European Union and implemented by the Council of Europe.

COE MEDIA RELEASE

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