Lithuania must void ban on impeached ex-president: UN

9th April 2014, Comments 0 comments

Lithuania must overturn a lifetime ban that stops impeached ex-president Rolandas Paksas from seeking political office because it violates his rights, a UN watchdog body said Wednesday.

Paksas, the first ever European head of state to be ousted by impeachment, has spent a decade battling the lifetime ban and filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee.

In a ruling hailed by the former leader, the Committee said Lithuania breached global civil liberty rules by banning him and criticised the fact the country imposed a blanket ban on impeached politicians seeking office just weeks after he was axed in 2004.

Paksas repeatedly has argued that it was devised to target him personally, was applied retroactively and was disproportionate.

"The ex-leader could not have foreseen the ban, which was not in force when he was impeached," the committee said.

Lithuania should "therefore overturn his lifelong disqualification" on running for president or becoming prime minister or a minister, it said.

The committee cannot force countries to fall into line, but its scrutiny places moral pressure on them to act.

Paksas praised the ruling, which coincided with the formal launch of the campaign for May presidential elections in which incumbent Dalia Grybauskaite is seeking a second term.

"I am very happy and I congratulate all my supporters," said Paksas, whose effort to run in the looming polls was blocked by Lithuania's electoral commission.

"It's a pity that these elections do not have the scent of democracy and legitimacy. But I am convinced the situation will change. I will run in the next elections," he told AFP in Vilnius, referring to the 2019 presidential race.

The former stunt pilot turned politician was elected president in 2003, but was impeached by parliament a year later after being charged for granting Lithuanian citizenship to a Russian businessman in exchange for money.

Lithuania's constitutional court barred him from holding any office requiring an oath, but Paksas filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights, which shot down the ban.

In 2012, the Lithuanian parliament passed a law allowing him to run in that year's general election, but the Constitutional Court overturned the legislation weeks before the polls.

Paksas has remained the key face of Lithuania's rightwing populist Order and Justice Party.

The ban does not apply to seeking office in the European Parliament, to which Paksas was elected in 2009, five years after former Soviet-ruled Lithuania joined the European Union.

He is a leader of its Europe of Freedom and Democracy party coalition, which also includes Britain's UK Independence Party and Italy's Northern League.

© 2014 AFP

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