The military invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation has pushed hundreds of thousands of people to flee the country and seek shelter in neighbouring countries. The humanitarian situation is deteriorating both within and outside the country. Several Ukrainian cities have reportedly lost access to water, heating, electricity and basic supplies, while the civilian population is at risk of shelling and violence.
While outside Ukraine’s borders, the international humanitarian community has quickly mobilised to provide support, the scale of the situation remains challenging. Humanitarian situation As of 8 March 2022, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, estimated that more than 1.73 million people have fled from Ukraine to neighbouring countries – mainly to Poland, which alone welcomed around 1 million people, but also to Hungary, Moldova, Romania and Slovakia. Mostly women and children are seeking shelter and protection from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as men have to serve in the army.
The military conflict is generating casualties, destruction and displacement within and outside Ukraine’s borders, causing one of the largest European humanitarian crises since the Bosnian war. The EU has stepped in to help civilians affected by the war in Ukraine, for instance with emergency aid programmes that will cover some basic needs, assistance at the EU borders, and activation of the Temporary Protection Directive (Directive 2001/55/EC).
Civil society has shown great solidarity as well, to the point that some argue that this is the ‘biggest show of European mobilisation in recent years’. Nevertheless, the institutions of the European Union recognise that humanitarian needs are expected to be enormous. The human costs of the military invasion is already too high.
How did the Council of Europe decide about excluding the Russian Federation from the Organisation?
Both Ukraine and Russia have been members states of the Council of Europe, since 1995 and 1996 respectively. The Council of Europe’s Secretary-General, Marija Pejčinović Burić, strongly condemned the recognition by the Russian Federation, in violation of international law, of the ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk on 21 February 2022.
The representatives of the 47 member states of Council of Europe held an extraordinary meeting, urging Russia ‘to immediately and unconditionally cease its military operations in Ukraine’; another extraordinary meeting was convened to examine the possibility of taking appropriate measures, ‘including under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe’. The latter provides for the possibility to suspend a Council of Europe member from its right of representation in the event of serious violation of the principles set out in Article 3.
The members of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and ‘collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council’. While suspension is a temporary measure, Article 8 also provides the possibility for the Committee of Ministers to decide on the expulsion of a member in the case of non-compliance with this request.
On 25 February 2022, the Council of Europe decided to adopt Article 8 measures and suspended, with immediate effect, the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided on 16 March to end the Russian Federation’s membership under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe – with immediate effect. The day before, the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) had already unanimously stated in a rare special session that Russia could no longer be a member of the pan-European organisation in view of its illegal war of agresssion against Ukraine and the accompanying violation of the Council’s fundamental principles. At the same time, Moscow had already announced its intention to withdraw. In this way, the leadership probably wanted to forestall the looming expulsion. Without success though, because the ministers – the actual decision-making body of the Council of Europe – made use of their option in a hitherto singular act and immediately terminated Russia’s membership. A diplomatic slap in the face in solidarity with Ukraine. Consequently, in the context of the procedure launched under Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, the Russian Federation ceases to be a member of the Council of Europe as from 16 March 2022.
How did the Council of Europe deal with Russia previously prior to exclusion?
This is the first time a member state of the Council of Europe has been excluded from the organisation. Previously, Greece withdrew from the Council of Europe in 1970 and returned as a member in 1974. However, this was a unilateral decision of Greece during the military coup which norms were not compatible of being a member of the Council Europe which primary objective was to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms.
For the Council of Europe, this is a consistent emergency brake. In the past years, the Council had always accommodated Russia. For good reason, one might argue: democracy, human rights and the rule of law must be constantly practised and preserved anew every day in all European countries – and actually around the globe. The Council of Europe’s main purpose is to support them in this and create a binding framework through its more than 200 conventions, especially the most important one, the European Convention on Human Rights.
This is not the first time the Council of Europe hastaken action against Russia. Back in 2014, in the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Crimea, a Council of Europe resolution strongly condemned Russia’s military EPRS Russia’s war on Ukraine: Council of Europe and European Court of Human Rights measures This document is prepared for, and addressed to, the Members and staff of the European Parliament as background material to assist them in their parliamentary work.
What are the consequences of the exclusion of the Russia Federation?
Russia remains accountable under the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Russian judge, Mikhail Lobov, remains on the European Court of Human Rights, meaning the Court will still be able to try the complaints it has received from Russian citizens up until the day of exclusion.