25 February 2022
by Pavel Chikov, head of the Agora International Human Rights Group
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has suspended Russia’s membership in the organisation. What does this mean?
There was no question of expulsion!
On 24 February, the Committee of Ministers decided to place on the agenda of its meeting the following day the possibility of applying Article 8 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, which relates to the suspension or termination of a participating State’s membership.
On 25 February 2022, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe suspended with immediate effect Russia’s membership of the organisation, which includes its right to be represented both on the Committee of Ministers and on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This decision was taken in response to Russia’s armed intervention in Ukraine.
The possibility of Russia’s exclusion from the Council of Europe itself was not however discussed.
The decision on whether to suspend – or terminate – a State’s membership is taken by the Committee of Ministers, without the participation of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Committee may take such a decision on the grounds of serious violations in three instances: of the rule of law, of fundamental human rights, or of the aims and objectives of the Council of Europe, including cooperation and unity among its members. A State whose membership has been suspended remains a member of the Council of Europe but does not have the right to participate in the work of the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and other bodies. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) is not however one of these bodies.
The Committee of Ministers may also invite a State to leave the Council of Europe. If the State agrees, then its departure will occur on 1 January of the following year. But the Committee may also independently decide to terminate a State’s membership of the Council of Europe on a date that the Committee itself determines.
Leaving the Council of Europe (rather than a mere suspension of membership) will mean withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, but this withdrawal will not be instantaneous. Article 58 of the Convention lays down the conditions for a State’s withdrawal from the Convention. In the event that a State is excluded from the Council of Europe, the ECtHR will retain the power to consider applications that have already been filed and also applications regarding alleged violations of the Convention that are filed before the date of withdrawal. This means that, were Russia to withdraw from the Council of Europe, the ECtHR would retain its power of jurisdiction until 1 January 2023 – or until the date that is determined by the Committee of Ministers.
To put it simply: the ECtHR continues to work for Russians. Cases will continue to be heard, decisions will be made and executed. New complaints to the ECtHR may be submitted and will be accepted.
The decision to suspend Russia’s right to participation relates only to the rights of the Russian delegation to participate in the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Translated by Elizabeth Teague