Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is the parliamentary arm of the Council of Europe, a 47-nation international organisation dedicated to upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe is an older and wider circle of nations than the 28-member European Union – it includes, for example, Russia and Turkey among its member states – and oversees the European Court of Human Rights.
The Assembly is made up of 324 parliamentarians from the national parliaments of the Council of Europe's member states, and generally meets four times a year for week-long plenary sessions in Strasbourg. It is one of the two statutory bodies of the Council of Europe, along with the Committee of Ministers, the executive body representing governments, with which it holds an ongoing dialogue. However, it is the Assembly which is usually regarded as the "motor" of the organisation, holding governments to account on human rights issues, pressing states to maintain democratic standards, proposing fresh ideas and generating the momentum for reform.
The Assembly held its first session in Strasbourg on 10 August 1949, making it one of the oldest international assemblies in Europe. Among its main achievements are:
- ending the death penalty in Europe by requiring new members to stop all executions
- making possible, and shaping, the European Convention on Human Rights
- high-profile reports exposing violations of human rights in Council of Europe member states
- assisting former Soviet countries to embrace democracy after 1989
- inspiring and helping to shape many progressive new national laws
- helping member states to overcome conflict or reach consensus on divisive political or social issues
Unlike the European Parliament (an institution of the European Union), the Assembly does not have the power to create binding laws. However, it speaks on behalf of 820 million Europeans and has the power to:
- demand action from the 47 Council of Europe governments, who – acting through the organisation's executive body – must jointly reply
- probe human rights violations in any of the member states
- question Prime Ministers and Heads of State on any subject
- send parliamentarians to observe elections and mediate over crises
- set the terms on which states may join the Council of Europe, through its power of veto
- inspire, propose and help to shape new national laws
- request legal evaluations of the laws and constitutions of member states
- sanction a member state by recommending its exclusion or suspension
Important statutory functions of the PACE are the election of the judges of the European Court of Human Rights, the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights and its Secretary General, as well as the members of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.
In general the Assembly meets four times per year in Strasbourg at the Palace of Europe for week-long plenary sessions. The nine permanent committees of the Assembly meet all year long to prepare reports and draft resolutions in their respective fields of expertise.
Election of judges to the European Court of Human RightsEdit
Judges of the European Court of Human Rights are elected by PACE from a list of three candidates nominated by each member state which has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights. A 20-member committee – meeting in camera – interviews all candidates for judge on the Court and assesses their CVs before making recommendations to the full Assembly, which elects one judge from each shortlist in a secret vote.. Judges are elected for a period of nine years and may not be re-elected. The terms of office of judges expire when they reach the age of 70 but they must stay in post until replaced. A judge may not be dismissed from office unless the other judges decide by a majority of two-thirds that that judge has ceased to fulfil the required conditions. 
Although the European Convention does not, in itself, require member states to present a multi-sex shortlist of potential appointees, in a 2004 resolution PACE decided that it "will not consider lists of candidates where the list does not include at least one candidate of each sex" unless there are exceptional circumstances . As a result, around one third of the current bench of 47 judges are women, making the Court a leader among international courts on gender balance.
The Assembly has a total of 648 members – 324 principal members and 324 substitutes – who are appointed or elected by the parliaments of each member state. Delegations must reflect the balance in the national parliament, so contain members of both ruling parties and oppositions. While not full members, the parliaments of Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Morocco and Palestine hold "Partner for Democracy" status with the Assembly, and there are also observer delegates from the Canadian, Israeli and Mexican parliaments. The population of each country determines its number of representatives and number of votes. This is in contrast to the Committee of Ministers, the Council of Europe's executive body, where each country has one vote.
Some notable former members of PACE include:
- former heads of state or government such as Britain's wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill, former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, former Turkish President Abdullah Gül, former Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides, former Finnish President Tarja Halonen, former Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, former Albanian President Sali Berisha, and many others.
- Dick Marty (Switzerland), appointed in late 2005 as rapporteur to investigate the CIA extraordinary renditions scandal and organ theft in Kosovo by the Kosovo Liberation Army from the Kosovo war, in 1998–2001
- Marcello Dell'Utri (Italy), convicted for complicity in conspiracy with the Mafia (Italian: concorso in associazione mafiosa), a crime for which he was found guilty on appeal and sentenced to 7 years in 2010.
Composition by parliamentary delegationEdit
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The special guest status of the National Assembly of Belarus was suspended on 13 January 1997.
Parliaments with Partner for Democracy statusEdit
Parliaments with Partner for Democracy status pledge to work towards certain basic values of the Council of Europe, and agree to occasional assessments of their progress. In return, they are able to send delegations to take part in the work of the Assembly and its committees, but without the right to vote.
Parliaments with observer statusEdit
Parliamentarians with observer statusEdit
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Composition by political groupEdit
The Assembly has six political groups.
The official languages of the Council of Europe are English and French, but the Assembly also uses German, Italian, Russian and Turkish as working languages. Each parlamentarian has separate earphones and a desk on which they are abel to select a language which they would like to listen. And when foreign guests want to address in their native languages they must speak either in one of the two official languages or bring an interpreter.
The Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have been:
The Assembly elected Wojciech Sawicki (Poland) as its Secretary General in 2010 for a five-year term of office which began in February 2011. In 2015 he was re-elected for a second five-year term, which began in February 2016.
The European Convention on Human RightsEdit
At its very first meeting, in the summer of 1949, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted the essential blueprint of what became the European Convention on Human Rights, selecting which rights should be protected and defining the outline of the judicial mechanism to enforce them. Its detailed proposal, with some changes, was eventually adopted by the Council of Europe's ministerial body, and entered into force in 1953. Today, more than sixty years later, the European Court of Human Rights - given shape and form during the Assembly's historic post-war debates - is regarded as a global standard-bearer for justice, protecting the rights of citizens in 47 European nations and beyond, and paving the way for the gradual convergence of human rights laws and practice across the continent. The Assembly continues to elect the judges of the Court.
Exposing torture in CIA secret prisons in Europe: the "Marty reports"Edit
In two reports for the Assembly in 2006 and 2007, Swiss Senator and former Prosecutor Dick Marty revealed convincing evidence  that terror suspects were being transported to, held and tortured in CIA-run “secret prisons” on European soil. The evidence in his first report  in 2006 - gathered with the help of investigative journalists and plane-spotters among others - suggested that a number of Council of Europe member states had permitted CIA "rendition flights" across their airspace, enabling the secret transfer of terror suspects without any legal rights. In a second report  in 2007, Marty showed how two member states - Poland and Romania - had colluded in allowing "secret prisons" to be established on their territory, where torture took place. His main conclusions - subsequently confirmed in a series of rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, as well as a comprehensive US Senate report - threw the first real light on a dark chapter in US and European history in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, kicked off a series of national probes, and helped to make torture on European soil less likely.
Sanctions against the Russian delegationEdit
In April 2014, after the Russian parliament's backing for the occupation of Crimea and Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the Assembly decided to suspend the Russian delegation's voting rights as well as the right of Russian members to be represented in the Assembly's leading bodies and to participate in election observation missions. However, the Russian delegation remained members of the Assembly. The sanction applied throughout the remainder of the 2014 session and was renewed for a full year in January 2015, lapsing in January 2016.
In response, the Russian parliamentary delegation suspended its co-operation with PACE in June 2014, and in January 2016 - despite the lapsing of the sanctions - the Russian parliament decided not to submit its delegation's credentials for ratification, effectively leaving its seats empty. It did so again in January 2017 and again in January 2018. Russia's seats remain empty,
The sanctions applied only to Russian parliamentarians in PACE, the Council of Europe's parliamentary body. Russia continues to be a full member of the Council of Europe, and retains full rights in the organisation's other bodies, including its statutory executive body, the Committee of Ministers.
In 2013, the New York Times reported that “some council members, notably Central Asian states and Russia, have tried to influence the organisation’s parliamentary assembly with lavish gifts and trips”. According to the report, said member states also hire lobbyists to fend off criticism of their human rights records. German news magazine Der Spiegel had earlier revealed details about the strategies of Azerbaijan’s government to influence the voting behaviour of selected members of the Parliamentary Assembly.
In January 2017, following a series of critical reports by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) NGO, and concern expressed by many members of the Assembly, the Assembly's Bureau decided on a three-step response to these allegations, including the setting up of an independent, external investigation body. In May 2017, three distinguished former judges were named to conduct the investigation: Sir Nicolas Bratza, a British former President of the European Court of Human Rights; Jean-Louis Bruguière, a French former anti-terrorist judge and investigator; and Elisabet Fura, a former Swedish parliamentary Ombudsman and judge on the Strasbourg Court. The investigation body, which has appealed for anyone with information relevant to its mandate to come forward, was originally due to report by the end of 2017, but this deadline has now been extended to 15 April 2018.
Although the Council of Europe is a human rights watchdog and a guardian against discrimination, it is widely regarded as becoming increasingly divided on moral issues because its membership includes mainly Muslim Turkey as well as East European countries, among them Russia, where social conservatism is strong. In 2007, this became evident when the Parliamentary Assembly voted on a report compiled by Liberal Democrat Anne Brasseur on the rise of Christian creationism, bolstered by right-wing and populist parties in Eastern Europe.
- PACE creates a special committee for the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights, 24/06/2014.
- "European Court on Human Rights" (PDF). http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Convention_ENG.pdf. External link in
- Adelaide Remiche (August 12, 2012), Election of the new Belgian Judge to the ECtHR: An all-male short list demonstrates questionable commitment to gender equality Oxford Human Rights Hub, University of Oxford.
- This number is fixed by article 26.
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- previously part of Serbia and Montenegro: member since 2003
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- Previously part of Czechoslovakia, member since 1991
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- James Ker-Lindsay The Foreign Policy of Counter Secession: Preventing the Recognition of Contested States, p.149: "...despite strong opposition from the Cypriot government, The Turkish Cypriot community was awarded observer status in the PACE"
- "Political groups".
- "Turkey's presence at Council of Europe increased". DailySabah. 24 May 2015.
- "Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly". coe.int. Archived from the original on 17 April 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
- "Russia suspended from Council of Europe body". EuropeanVoice. 10 April 2014.
- Judy Dempsey (February 4, 2013), Corruption Undermining Democracy in Europe New York Times.
- Judy Dempsey (April 27, 2012), Where a Glitzy Pop Contest Takes Priority Over Rights International Herald Tribune.
- Ralf Neukirch (January 4, 2012), A Dictator's Dream: Azerbaijan Seeks to Burnish Image Ahead of Eurovision Der Spiegel.
- "Allegations of corruption within PACE: appointment of the members of the external investigation body". PACE: News. Council of Europe. May 30, 2017. Retrieved September 6, 2017.
- Stephen Castle (October 4, 2007), European lawmakers condemn efforts to teach creationism International Herald Tribune.