The possibility that Russia will withdraw from the Council of Europe is increasing every month. In July Russia suspended its payment to the 47-member organization, as the latest step in a conflict that started in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea. Tanya Lokshina, the Russia program director of Human Rights Watch finds the situation ‘quite grim’, but still hopes that Russia wants to remain a member of this and other 'posh international clubs'.

img 0392Tanya Lokshina: 'The European Court represents a huge hope for Russian nationals'. Photo Hella Rottenberg

by Hella Rottenberg

As a defender of human rights in Russia Tanya Lokshina passionately wants Russia to remain a member of the Council of Europe. Membership gives Russian citizens the possibility to seek justice at the highest Court in Europe, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg. According to Lokshina ‘the court has been the most effective mechanism of human rights protection as far as Russia is concerned’. ‘It represents a huge hope for Russian nationals.’

Lokshina, on a short visit to Amsterdam for an event of Human Rights Watch, is one of the four staff members at the office in Moscow, which she joined in 2008. Asked whether the organisation is able to do its work in an increasingly hostile climate, she answers ironically: ‘Have you heard of the new normal? Well, that’s how we cope.’ Human Rights Watch has had an office in Moscow for 25 years now. ‘We plan to stay.’

The dispute between Russia and Strasbourg began in April 2014 when the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe revoked the voting rights of its 18 Russian members in reaction to the illegal annexation of Crimea. ‘At that time there was a general understanding,’ says Lokshina, ‘that once there was some tangible progress made, the issue would be reviewed and at some point the Russian delegation would return.

But not only has the delegation not been taking part in the work of the Assembly since 2014, the Russian government makes it fairly clear that it is not interested in returning, unless some major reform will be implemented. Russia wants to strip the Assembly of the powers to adopt country-resolutions. This, of course, would make the Assembly much weaker. If you look at the bigger picture and the way Russia is behaving itself at the Council of Europe these past few years, the situation is quite grim.’