Two European countries have waged war against each other - Georgia and Russia. Numerous civilians have been displaced and no one really knows how many have been killed or wounded. The current ceasefire agreement is fragile and the crisis has escalated since Russia's recognition of the Georgian breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. A US ship with humanitarian aid bound for the Georgian port of Poti was forced to turn around in order not to provoke the situation further, since there was a clear risk of direct confrontation with Russian soldiers still in Poti.
Swedencurrently - between May and November 2008 - holds the chairmanship of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. This means that it is Sweden's duty to act in the Council of Europe for democracy and peace in our part of the world. The Council of Europe is the oldest civil European organisation for cooperation, established after the end of World War II. It is the Council of Europe that brought about the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.
What we have recently witnessed are two offensive war efforts, both in breach of our international norms; first a heavy bombardment by the South Ossetian separatists of Georgian villages close to the South Ossetian capital of Tschinvali. The Georgian troops retaliated with an assault on South Ossetia, by order of President Mikhail Saakashvili. The Georgian troops entered into conflict with the Russian troops and the war was a fact.(1)
However, Russia had been planning the war for a long time and had made the necessary preparations to quickly deploy its troops. Russia went from defending its Russian countrymen in South Ossetia to being an active aggressor against Georgia. A Russian Government representative commenting on Medvedev's and Sarkozy's peace plan claimed that Russia had never given its consent to replacing Russian peacekeeping troops in the conflict between Georgia and Ossetia with OSCE peacekeepers.(2) This further undermines confidence in those in power in the Kremlin. The OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) is the only security policy cooperation body in Europe in which all European states as well as the United States, Canada and the countries of Central Asia participate on equal terms.
Russia's internal social structures have, over many years, become increasingly undemocratic. Before last year's elections to the State Duma, a new legislative technicality was introduced, prohibiting representatives of participating parties from criticising their opponents' programmes and politics, and only allowing them to present their own policies and proposals.(3) Developments in Georgia in recent months have not been unproblematic either from a democratic point of view, especially the latest elections.
The Council of Europe has a number of parallel tracks with which to support democracy - political, judicial, advisory and supervisory. With economic support from, for example the EU, the Council of Europe could accomplish a great deal on the ground. It could, for instance, demand and help to create an all-round view in the media.
There are considerable differences about what future the people, split into different ethnic groups, want. The Council of Europe could conduct an in-depth survey and help the parties to hold fair elections or referendums about the future of these disputed territories. A decisive matter is which individuals are to be given the right to vote?
Refugees must have their democratic rights and social guarantees. Children, women and the elderly need support. Today, the Council of Europe should be working with solutions to the serious problems behind this inexcusable war.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) can suspend a parliamentary delegation's right to vote. This can be done if a member state's politics are clearly in breach of democratic principles, the rule of law, or human rights. An act of war is a definite example of such a breach.
In its position as chair of the Council of Europe, it is therefore Sweden's obligation to act here and now for democracy and peace.
(1) Jamestown Foundation Eurasia Daily Monitor August 14, 2008 , THE RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN WAR WAS PREPLANNED IN MOSCOW ,By Pavel Felgenhauer
(2) Johnson's Russia List, 2008-#157, MOSCOW. Aug 25 (Interfax-AVN)
(3) SvD, 6 September 2007, Det ryska politiska spelet en parodi [Russia's political game a parody]
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