Ukraine conflict: Russia boycotts Europe rights body PACE

A separatist rebel near Debaltseve, Donetsk region, 28 January Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fighting continued in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday: a pro-Russian rebel patrols near the government-held town of Debaltseve

The Russian delegation at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has resumed its boycott in protest at Ukraine sanctions.

The Strasbourg-based Council, the oldest Europe-wide political body, is tasked with upholding rights, democracy and rule of law across the continent.

It suspended Russia's voting rights last year after the Crimean crisis and renewed the ban on Wednesday.

In response, Russia said it would boycott sessions until the year's end.

Fighting continues in the east of Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists pushed back Ukrainian forces in several areas in the past week as the number of casualties steadily mounted.

Shelling by Ukrainian forces killed 16 civilians in the rebel-held region of Luhansk and four in Donetsk, according to officials quoted by Russian state news agency Tass on Wednesday. More than 100 others were reportedly wounded.

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Media captionAndreas Koutepas, MSF: "The hospitals themselves are coming under attack"

Russia's delegation stayed away during the summer and autumn sessions of the chamber after it suspended both Russia's voting rights and its right to sit on its governing bodies in protest at Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in March.

Delegation chief Alexei Pushkov said Russia was now pulling out until the end of 2015, adding that the PACE's decision raised the issue of whether his country should quit the Council of Europe altogether.

In the meantime, he said Russia would concentrate on its activities in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Vienna-based Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) instead.

One immediate effect of Russia's boycott, Mr Pushkov added, was that it was withdrawing its invitation to PACE to visit Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, in custody in Moscow over the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine: the human cost

Image copyright AP
  • Some 5.2 million people live in conflict-affected areas and 1.4 million are considered "highly vulnerable and in need of assistance"
  • More than a million people have fled their homes with 633,523 living as displaced persons within Ukraine and 593,622 living outside Ukraine, mostly in Russia
  • More than 4,800 people have been killed in the fighting and at least 10,322 have been injured, including at least 102 children

Source: UN report of 9 January for refugee figures; news reports for casualty estimates

'Instigating and escalating'

Image copyright Council of Europe
Image caption Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in session in Strasbourg earlier this week

In a resolution passed on Wednesday, the PACE said it condemned the "illegal annexation of Crimea and its continuing integration into the Russian Federation".

It also condemned Russia's role in "instigating and escalating developments in Ukraine, including with arms supplies to insurgent forces and covert military action by Russian troops inside eastern Ukraine".

The Council of Europe (not to be confused with the EU's governing European Council) brings together 47 countries.

All member states sign up to the European Convention on Human Rights, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Critics accuse the Council of being a talking shop with little power, other than diplomatic pressure, to halt human rights abuses.

In recent years, its work has overlapped with that of the OSCE, which has 57 members including states in Central Asia and North America.