Rexit: Russia withdraws from Council of Europe ahead of expulsion vote

Russia quit the Council of Europe on Tuesday, the continent’s leading human rights watchdog, ahead of a vote by the organisation to expel it.

It becomes only the second country to ever leave the human rights body set up in 1949 and which currently counts 47 member states — Greece withdrew in 1969 when it was under military dictatorship but rejoined in 1974.

What it means in practice is that Russian citizens will no longer be able to turn to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), the judicial arm of the Council of Europe, as a last resort after exhausting their country’s courts.

The Russian Foreign Ministry blamed NATO and EU member states of “abusing their majority” in the organisation to turn it “into an instrument of anti-Russian policy, abandoning equal dialogue and all the principles on which this pan-European structure was founded.”

“In such circumstances our country will not remain in the Council of Europe. On 15 March this year, the Secretary General, Ms. Pejcinovic-Buric, was served with a notice of withdrawal by the Russian Federation from the Organisation.

“Those who are forcing us to take this step will bear all the responsibility for the destruction of the common humanitarian and legal space on the continent and for the consequences for the Council of Europe itself, which without Russia will lose its pan-European coordinates,” it added in a statement.

The Council of Europe had already temporarily suspended Russia on 24 February after it launched its military invasion of Ukraine.

Russia’s decision to withdraw came just before member states held a vote during which “the Parliamentary Assembly unanimously considered that the Russian Federation should no longer be a member State of the Organisation,” the Council of Europe said in a statement.

The body is scheduled to hold an extraordinary meeting on Wednesday to discuss Russia’s exit.

“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,” it said.

“We express solidarity with the Russian people who, we firmly believe, share democratic values and aspire to remain part of the European family where they belong.

“We remain determined to use all means at our disposal to provide support, relief and legal remedies to the Ukrainian people in their fight against the aggressor and to continue the pursuit of peace based on justice and international co-operation,” it added.

According to statistics from the ECHR, a fifth of judgments delivered in 2021 concerned Russia while nearly a quarter of the more than 70,000 cases that were pending on 31 December 2021 had been lodged against the Russian Federation.