Russia withdraws from Council of Europe

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March 15 (UPI) — Before the members states were to vote Tuesday night on whether to expel Russia from the Council of Europe over its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow formally announced its withdrawal from the continent’s human rights watchdog.

Moscow’s foreign ministry said in a statement that its withdrawal was effective Tuesday.

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Russia said it has notified the council’s secretary general, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, of its intention to leave the-now 46-member organization.

“All responsibility for the destruction of the common humanitarian and legal space on the continent, for the consequences for the Council of Europe itself, which without Russia will lose its pan-European coordinates, will be borne by those who force us to take this step,” the ministry staid.

“We part with such a Council of Europe without regret.”

Russia announced its withdrawal prior to the council Tuesday night voting to expel the embattled nation from its membership.

The organization had suspended Russia’s membership on Feb. 25, a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin attacked Ukraine, and then initiated its expulsion.

On Tuesday night, its Parliamentary Assembly unanimously agreed that Russia should no longer be a member state.

A meeting of its Committee of Ministers is also to be held Wednesday morning concerning Russia’s decision to withdraw from the council, it said.

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“Through their actions in Ukraine the Russian authorities deprive the Russian people of the benefit of the most advanced human rights protection system in the world, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and our vast convention system,” the council’s leadership said in a statement.

A day earlier, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal demanded before the council that Russia be ousted from its ranks.

Russia’s attack has killed 691 Ukrainian civilians and injured 1,143 more, according to United Nations data. The war has also caused more than 3 million to flee the country.

Shmyhal told the council that it must have a “tough response” for this attack.

“Those who carried out this unprovoked and unjustified aggression cannot remain in this European family — where human life is regarded as the highest value,” he said.

The council, founded in 1949, was tasked with the mission to uphold human rights and the rule of law in Europe following the Second World War.

Russia joined the organization in 1996.

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said Russia’s decision to leave the council “is a tragedy for the victims of the Kremlin’s human rights abuses.”

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“Outside the Council of Europe and given the further degradation of Russia’s rule of law, some of the last safeguards against human rights abuses will be off limits to those who need them most in today’s Russia,” Struthers said in a statement.

“All stakeholders in Russia, including its legislators, should take steps to oppose this reckless move and prevent the country sliding ever deeper into an abyss defined by a total disregard for human rights.”

European Union leaders attend a summit at the Chateau de Versailles near Paris on March 11, 2022. Photo by the European Union/ UPI | License Photo