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Moscow Times
March 12, 2009
Council of Europe Sees No Sanctions
By Nikolaus von Twickel / The Moscow Times

Russia's membership in the Council of Europe is not threatened by sanctions, despite Moscow's continued refusal to ratify two key human rights protocols, two of the council's top politicians said Wednesday.

Luc van den Brande and Theodoros Pangalos, who monitor Russia's compliance with its commitments to the council, said talk of sanctions against Moscow was groundless and that they hoped that the State Duma would soon ratify the outstanding protocols.

"I do not like sanctions. It is important that Russia is not marginalized," van den Brande told reporters after two days of talks with government officials and Duma deputies.

Russia has irked many in the 47-member council by being the only country that has not ratified two amendments to the European Convention on Human Rights. Protocol 6 requires signatories to restrict the use of the death penalty to times of war. Protocol 14 stipulates reforms for the European Court of Human Rights.

Pangalos, a former Greek foreign minister and Socialist member of parliament, complained that Russia's obstinacy was hampering the development of the whole council. He questioned arguments by Russian officials that public opinion was not ready for a formal abolition of capital punishment by pointing out that it was no longer carried out.

"Why do you not apply it and at the same time say it is approved by the population?" he asked.

Russia has maintained a moratorium on the death penalty since 1996, when it joined the Council of Europe.

Pangalos said the nonratification of the protocol for reforming the European Court of Human Rights was even stranger given that officials in the Justice Ministry told him that they were in favor of ratification. "The ball is in the field of the Duma," he said. The proposed reforms seek to improve the court's efficiency by filtering out cases that have less chance of succeeding.

Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Duma's International Relations Committee, criticized the protocol as ineffective. "It has many shortcomings and won't lead to real reform," he said after talks with van den Brande and Pangalos late Tuesday, Interfax reported.

Van den Brande said that despite disagreements, Moscow's membership in the council was not troubled.

"I have a feeling that there probably is more common understanding [now]. Europe needs Russia, and Russia needs Europe," he said.

Van den Brande, a senator in the Belgian upper house of parliament, is a candidate for the post of the Council of Europe secretary-general, which will be elected by the 642-member parliamentary assembly this summer.

However, he stressed that there was no connection between his candidacy and this monitoring mission.

He said he would deliver a report at assembly meetings on March 30-31 and April 26-27.