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Thorbjørn Jagland: Russian people would suffer most if Russia leaves the Council of Europe

Addressing the Parliamentary Assembly for the last time during a January session, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland expressed his satisfaction that the European Court of Human Rights was now on firmer ground than when he was elected in 2009. At that time, the credibility of the Convention system was in question, due to a backlog of 160,000 applications. By the end of last year, this figure had been reduced to 56,000.

This development was achieved largely due to a shift of resources to the field to bring member states’ laws into line with the Convention, and to train judges and lawyers. Mr Jagland expressed his concern at the situation in Turkey, where he said the role of the judiciary and therefore the Council’s Convention system was being tested. He warned that if justice was not served in due time, hundreds or even thousands of Turkish cases could end up in the Strasbourg Court.

The Secretary General highlighted progress in a number of areas, including migration, human trafficking, data protection, internet governance, the fight against terrorism and extremism and the protection of children against sexual exploitation and abuse. He also drew attention to emerging human rights challenges, notably in relation to Artificial Intelligence and forced labour, often referred to as modern slavery.

With regard to the ongoing non-payment of budget contributions by Russia, Mr Jagland noted that the Assembly’s decision to deprive the Russian delegation of the right to vote had not led to the return of Crimea to Ukraine or improved the human rights situation in Russia. Instead, it had created a crisis within the Organisation. He urged the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers to sit down and work concretely on clarifying the rules and the distribution of power between the two organs, in a way that will strengthen the authority of the Organisation, based on equal rights and equal obligations.

Mr Jagland referred to a letter sent to him by 59 leading human rights defenders in Russia, in which they called for a compromise solution to avoid the departure of Russia from the Council of Europe. The letter warned that such an outcome would hurt the Russian people most, because it would deprive them of protection under the Convention system. The Secretary General concluded by saying that in the Council of Europe’s 70th anniversary year, a compromise solution to the Russia crisis would be a great gift for Europe.