The Council of Europe's human rights body has withdrawn its confidence for a Spanish senator for his breach of the group's integrity by meeting Syria's president. He had also been accused of blocking a corruption probe.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) said a March meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad undertaken by the group's current parliamentary president, Spaniard Pedro Agramunt, had tarnished the 47-nation international organization dedicated to the defense of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.
A cross-party group of PACE's members "resolved that it has no confidence in Pedro Agramunt as President of the Assembly," the organization said in a statement on Friday, adding that the 65-year-old Spanish senator would be prohibited from traveling, attending meetings or speaking on behalf of the assembly.
A human rights leader visits a suspected war criminal
The assembly's decision stemmed from Agramunt's controversial Russia-sponsored visit to Syria last month, during which he met and was photographed with Assad alongside Russian deputy Leonid Slutsky. Assad's forces were accused of using chemical weapons on civilians in Idlib
OPCW sends fact-finding mission to Syria days after Agramunt's visit occurred.
"It is sickening to see that the president of this assembly has been photographed with someone who has gassed his own population," said Oleksil Goncharenko, a Ukrainian assembly member.
An apology but no resignation letter
Agramunt recently apologized for his trip to Damascus and signed a written declaration to the PACE bureau stating he had made the visit to Syria "as a Spanish senator." He did not inform PACE ahead of time of his intentions to visit the war-torn country.
Agramunt did not attend Friday's hearing and has refused to resign as president of the human rights body. The assembly does not have the power to dismiss its president.
Spanish King Felipe shakes hands with Agramunt one day before the PACE head received a vote of "no confidence"
Since "the President cannot be compelled to resign, the Bureau felt it necessary to take these steps,” Sir Roger Gale, the British senior vice-president of PACE said after chairing Friday's meeting.
"Standards and principles of the parliamentary assembly are more important than any individual member, and the integrity of our assembly must be upheld," he added.
It is not the first time that Agramunt, a member of Spain's conservative Popular Party, has become entwined in scandal in his capacity as PACE president.
In 2013, the Valencia-born politician was accused of hindering an investigation into "Caviargate," a corruption scandal in which PACE members were accused of having received luxury gifts and plush travel perks from Azerbaijan's government in exchange for not signing off on a report that criticized the country's human rights situation.
PACE, whose acronym means "peace" in Italian, meets four times a year for one-week sessions in Strasbourg. Its duties include electing judges of the European Court of Human Rights, observing elections, and evaluating the human rights
cmb/sms (dpa, EFE, AFP)