AS (2012) CR 05



(First part)


Fifth Sitting

Wednesday 25 January 2012 at 10 a.m.

In this report:

1.       Speeches in English are reported in full.

2.       Speeches in other languages are summarised.

3.       Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.

The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.

Ms Vučković, Vice-President of the Assembly took the Chair at 10.05 a.m.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The sitting is open.

I regret to have to inform you of the recent death of a former member of the Assembly and of the United Kingdom House of Commons and former Minister in the United Kingdom Government, Mr David Atkinson. He was the Assembly’s special rapporteur for the Soviet Union and he was also Chairperson of the European Democrat Group from 1998 to 2005. I propose that we stand to observe a moment’s silence in memory of his contribution to the work of this Assembly.

(The Assembly observed a moment’s silence)

1. Written declarations

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The following written declarations have been tabled: No. 503 on condemnation of the man-made ecological disaster project of Teghut, signed by 44 members (Document 12847); No. 504 on threats to the freedom of expression of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Russia, Ukraine and Lithuania, signed by 31 members (Document 12848).

Any member, substitute or observer may add his or her signature to a written declaration in the Table Office, Room 1083.

2. The situation in Belarus

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The first item of business this morning is the debate on the report entitled “The situation in Belarus” (Document 12820) to be presented by Mr Andres Herkel on behalf of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. An opinion will also be presented by Ms Marieluise Beck on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Document 12840). I remind members that the maximum speaking time is four minutes.

In order to finish by 12 noon we must interrupt the list of speakers at about 11.55 a.m. to allow time for the reply and the votes. Is this agreed?

It is agreed.

I call Mr Herkel, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide as you see fit between the presentation of the report and the reply to the debate.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has always prioritised the issue of Belarus. We do not tire of doing so because bad news continues to come out of that country. The committee has organised several hearings, with participation from experts and human rights defenders from Belarus, and the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has also discussed Belarus.

The preparation for this report differed from that for others as I did not have an opportunity to go on a fact-finding mission to Belarus. As the appointed rapporteur, I asked the Belarusian authorities for permission to visit political prisoners, including former presidential candidates Mr Sannikov and Mr Statkevich, leading human rights defender Mr Bialiatski – we adopted a separate written declaration about him – and youth activist Mr Dashkevich, but it was not granted.

My report’s findings are mainly based on information received from very brave people in Belarusian civil society and from human rights organisations, both Belarusian and international. I thank them for their great work and great courage. Mr Bialiatski was sentenced to four and a half years and is still in prison.

My main finding is that human rights and political and civil liberties in Belarus are deteriorating, and even more so since the last presidential elections of December 2010, and my main conclusion is that the Belarusian authorities must release all political prisoners. Until they are released, I invite our member States to adopt the same stance as the European Union, which has imposed sanctions, targeted against state-owned companies directly connected with Mr Lukashenko and his inner circle. These are not general sanctions that affect the people; they are targeted against those who are repressing the people. Frankly, some of the United States sanctions are more targeted, such as those directed at State-controlled companies, including Belneftekhim. We, as Europeans, must not betray the Belarusian people because of our own economic interests.

The last point that I want to make at the start of our discussion is about elections. I did not, perhaps, focus on it as much as I would have liked in my report, but I shall make an oral statement now. The parliamentary elections are scheduled for later this year – probably October, but we do not know yet – and there is widespread pessimism about the possibility of there being even the minimum levels of freedom and fairness; after all, we have a history of negative experiences of elections in Belarus. Can we, here in this Assembly, say that elections are insignificant? My answer to that question is no. The Belarusian opposition has always tried to offer a democratic alternative. We fully understand how difficult this issue is, but we should be value-based idealists and at least present the notion to the Belarusian people that there should be free and fair elections in their country.

Dear colleagues and guests, thank you for being present. I hope we have a thorough discussion of this issue.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Herkel. You still have eight minutes’ speaking time left to respond to the debate. I call Ms Beck, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

Ms BECK (Germany) said that the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights supported the report. The rapporteur had been faced with a particularly difficult task since it had not been possible for him to visit Belarus in the course of his work. Belarus belonged to the family of Europeans. Europe had long since agreed that the death penalty was incompatible with human rights. Even so, over 400 executions had taken place in Belarus since 1991. Belarus had to be called back to the European fold and persuaded to put an end to its use of the death penalty.

This matter was particularly relevant because two young men had recently been sentenced to death after being accused of planning a bombing attack on a Minsk underground station. These two men, Vladzislav Kavalyov and Dmitry Konovalov, have said that their confessions were obtained under torture. One of the men had heard screams from the other’s cell. At the trial, one of the defendants showed visible signs of injury and was so incapacitated that he was unable to sit down in the courtroom. The President had ordered their arrest the day after the Minsk attacks and the same day had declared the two men to be guilty. This was a blatant contradiction of the fundamental principle that defendants are innocent until proven guilty. It has been claimed that the bombing attack had been an attempt to destabilise the government, yet one of the defendants had been unable in court to even explain what destabilising the government might mean. Relatives and friends of the defendants had been subject to threats during the trial.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe needed to make a firm declaration that there had been major shortcomings in the trial of these two men and that on no account should they be put to death. The Assembly had to put pressure on the President of Belarus to abolish the death penalty. The Russian Federation was pursuing these matters through dialogue with Belarus. This was not the path Europe had chosen but nevertheless the Assembly needed to call on the Russian Federation to do all that was possible through negotiations.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Ms Beck, for presenting the opinion of the committee. We now move to the general debate. I call Mr Toshev, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr TOSHEV (Bulgaria) – Madam President and distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we have always been, and will always be, on the side of oppressed people and never on the side of the oppressors. Belarus is the last State in Europe led by a dictator and an authoritarian regime, and this dictatorship is practising various forms of repression, intimidating the opposition and the media, and suppressing every attempt at democratisation.

Mr Herkel’s report bears witness to the deterioration of the situation in Belarus. There are new arbitrary detentions targeting opposition members and, with the newly adopted legislation of October 2011, the rights of freedom of expression, assembly and association were further restricted. Furthermore, torture, the death penalty and inhuman treatment are still practised in the State. The resolution that we will adopt today condemns clearly and unambiguously the continuous persecution and harassment of civil society and the media as well as the repression of human rights activists.

Mr Herkel’s report does not whitewash the facts. Instead, it suggests measures to be taken in conformity with international human rights standards. That has been the role of the Council of Europe since it was established in 1949, and that is why we appreciate the position taken in the resolution. Here in this

Assembly, we have adopted many resolutions and recommendations on Belarus that obviously have not produced results or encouraged Belarus to develop along European lines, and it is most likely that this alarming document alone will not contribute significantly to the improvement of the situation in Belarus.

To succeed, it is necessary that the governments of Council of Europe member States join us in adopting the suggested targeted sanctions. It would not be acceptable if the Council of Europe and European Union member States kept their good trade relations with Belarus in a way that could be considered support for Lukashenko’s regime. Money should not speak louder than the protection of human rights. European governments should insist that Belarus take the relevant steps to make its legislation conform if not with the high standards of the Council of Europe, at least with internationally recognised human rights standards, in co-operation with the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and Council of Europe bodies.

In that direction, the Group of the European People’s Party suggests that the targeted sanctions proposed by the rapporteur be imposed against the Lukashenko regime and that they remain in place until all political prisoners have been released and rehabilitated and until we have seen the end of the persecution of opposition members. That is why we strongly urge the Assembly not only to vote in favour of the draft resolution proposed by Andres Herkel but to support the draft recommendation to the Committee of Ministers. We should all do our best to encourage the governments of our member States to address the serious situation regarding human rights violations in this European State. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Toshev. I now give the floor to Baroness Eccles, who will speak on behalf of the European Democrat Group.

Baroness ECCLES (United Kingdom) – During the October part-session of the Assembly, three members of the European Democrat Group met nine representatives of Belarusian civil society. They gave personal testimony of police brutality during arrest, sleep and food deprivation and threats of rape, among other experiences. They also spoke of the 11 political prisoners being held in jail. Much of this repressive and brutal behaviour was a reaction to the presidential elections of November 2010. At the same time, a report was published that had been prepared by an Ad hoc Committee of the Bureau and that listed the names and reasons for the detention of many citizens being held or already convicted under Belarusian criminal law.

The total lack of progress noted in the recent report of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, which we have before us today, comes as a disappointment. It appears that conditions have not improved – in fact, they may have worsened since the crackdown over a year ago. That is in spite of international condemnation of the abuse of basic human rights. The regime appears determined to keep up the pressure on its population using methods with which we have become depressingly familiar. They have been well documented and the evidence is irrefutable. What can be done about it? Sanctions are used, and in this instance the European Union is using them intelligently. Blanket sanctions that affect whole populations are clumsy, but those being applied to Belarus are targeted against individuals responsible for oppressive acts, as has already been said. These are a particularly useful tool, as is mentioned in the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. This type of sanction could also be applied to financial backers of the regime. Also, of course, there is an arms embargo.

The European Students’ Union has opposed Belarus’s application to join the European higher education area, which implements the Bologna process, and with good reason. The regime might fulfil the formal criteria to join the organisation but its record in adhering to those criteria is bad. The regime has joined the OSCE, having made all the necessary commitments to abide by its rules, but has subsequently disregarded them.

Why does the regime persist in going down this route of oppressing its population and causing misery and resentment? Perhaps an Achilles’ heel can be identified: there are signs that, rather than being regarded as the pariah of Europe, it would like to be welcomed into the club but does not know how to change its harsh and cruel behaviour. I have some suggestions. If it could relax its attitude towards students and cease to deprive them of normal freedoms, perhaps it could join the EHEA. If it could demonstrate that it was running its economy responsibly and if the need ever arose, it could apply to the IMF for financial support. Most importantly, if it could come to realise that by ceasing to persecute and imprison people who get in its way and instead allowing freedom of expression, assembly and association, and by abolishing the death penalty, Belarus could be on the way to being acceptable even to the Council of Europe.

As some say, like nanny, Belarus must behave before the sweetie cupboard is unlocked. Is that too abrupt? Perhaps a more gradual and subtle approach would meet with greater success.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you Baroness Eccles. I call Ms Bourzaď, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms BOURZAĎ (France) thanked the President and also thanked the rapporteur for a report of high quality.

The situation in Belarus was extremely serious: Vladzimier Niaklajev, a presidential candidate for the “Tell the Truth” party, had been placed under house arrest. Vladzislav Kavalyov and Dmitry Konovalov were facing the death penalty. These examples summed up the human right situation in Belarus.

In September 2009, there had been some initial positive signs of liberalisation in Belarus. However the presidential elections in December 2010 and the crackdown that followed dispelled such optimism. The President now had a stranglehold on the political sphere and no progress could be seen.

Belarus’s geopolitical position meant that the European Union and the Russian Federation had to work together. Both the European Union and the Russian Federation had agreed that Belarus’s arbitrary imprisonments and use of the death penalty was unacceptable.

It was important that the Council of Europe did not fall into a trap when dealing with Belarus. It should deal only with the opposition parties until the Minsk Government changed its stance. The Belarusian Government had proposed a moratorium on the death penalty but had since reneged on this.

The Socialist Group supported the report and hoped that the Parliamentary Assembly would also support it unanimously.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – I call next Ms Lundgren who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden) – I stress the struggle to keep a Europe built on European values, freedoms, rights, democracy, the rule of law and, of course, the abandonment of the death penalty. That is the call of this house and we should be the benchmark for those European values.

Belarus is the only European country that is not a member of this family, and that is sad. One and a half years ago there was hope; we hoped for, and we saw, improvements. That was before the presidential election. Then came 19 December and its aftermath. We saw how the windows were closed, and we saw harsh oppression. We have seen new death penalties, political prisoners, and strong pressure on civil society and civil rights offenders. We give full support to the rapporteur’s approach to a moratorium on the death penalty, freeing and rehabilitating political prisoners, civil rights offenders, stopping repression against political opponents, civil society and individuals such as journalists. There should also be a transparent investigation into all human rights abuses. We do not like to see people getting away with those activities.

We have seen the situation become harder and harder for people in the past year. We have seen people being arrested for clapping in the streets because of the laws that have been introduced. That is not acceptable. People accused of getting money from outside have been arrested. It seems possible to accuse people of anything if they do not support Lukashenko, and that is not acceptable. We see young people being driven out of their country because of the repression. We have seen hope being driven out of the country because of what has been going on. That is not good for the country or for the future.

We call for all members to strengthen efforts for targeted sanctions. We also call for everyone to strengthen support for civil society and for independent journalists – for all those who try to make change happen despite the strong pressures. Let us hope that we see change coming up; I do not know whether we can have hope about future elections, but at least we can hope for a better future. Let us help the people to make that happen.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call next Mr Hunko who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr HUNKO (Germany) said that the Group of the Unified European Left unequivocally condemned the continued use of the death penalty in Belarus, and the hounding of the political opposition. Its sister party in Belarus, the “Left Party”, had been a victim of oppression.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe needed to consider its approach to Belarus. The President of Belarus, Mr Lukashenko, had said in December 2010 that he was in favour of the abolition of the death penalty. There had been some other signs of hope, including the release of some prisoners. However, more recently there has been a reversal of these signs of progress and new death sentences had been passed.

The European Union had imposed sanctions on Belarus and there had been calls to strengthen these sanctions. However, it was not clear how effective the sanctions were. While there were sanctions on the one hand, on the other, European police forces, including the German police force, were helping Belarus to train its border security forces. Such an approach called into question the credibility of the European Union’s stance on Belarus.

Belarus had a history of suffering. There were parallels with Israel: 25% of the population had been killed by the Wehrmacht during the Second World War so a certain degree of sensitivity was needed.

The Assembly should condemn the persecution of the political opposition in Belarus. The beacon of hope for political change should be kept alight and the channels of dialogue had to be kept open. The Assembly needed to look for clear signs from President Lukashenko that he was willing to make progress on reform.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Hunko. Does Mr Herkel wish to respond at this stage? You have four minutes.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – I fully support the approach of Ms Beck, and I have just a few comments about the death penalty. The story about Mr Konovalov and Mr Kavalyov, who were accused and sentenced to the death penalty and tortured during the investigation, is very doubtful. However, unfortunately, the death penalty in Belarusian society is much more popular than we want it to be, but this particular case is changing attitudes, because its unfairness is clear to society.

Secondly, I thank Mr Toshev, who mentioned the recommendations for the member States. We in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy decided this time to adopt a stronger tone in our document, and I owe a debt of thanks to Mr Toshev, whose voice in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy was strongly supportive of this position.

I also thank all the other contributors, who supported the essential lines of the report.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Herkel. You have six minutes left to reply following the discussion.

First on the list of speakers is Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin.

Ms DE POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – First, I would like to thank Mr Herkel for an excellent report.

On 27 January 2011, the Assembly debated and adopted Resolution 1790, on the situation in Belarus in the aftermath of the presidential election. It was a strong reaction and objection to the severe repression of fundamental human rights and freedoms that was taking place in Belarus.

It is a new year and there is a new report – but is there a new situation in Belarus? Lukashenko is now repressing not only political opponents but the people defending the political rights and freedom of all. Human rights groups are under strong surveillance, and well-known human rights activists are being imprisoned alongside political prisoners.

Imprisonment in Belarus today also means close to total denial of fundamental human rights. Prisoners risk facing abuses such as threats, inhuman treatment, forced confessions and refusal of health care and visits from family members and lawyers. Lawyers taking on their cases are being disbarred and court proceedings are held without legal representation.

Two more death sentences have now been pronounced in Belarus – even though no other State in Europe uses capital punishment any longer. New laws have been put in place to target support for civil society and more or less extinguish the already restricted freedoms of assembly, association and expression.

It is not only the political freedom of the population of Belarus that the Lukashenko regime affects in a negative way; by repressing the people, it also fails to make way for economic growth and modernisation of the country. The bad economy is in itself a big threat to the population. We see how higher inflation and higher living costs are leading to a substantial decrease in the standard of living for the people in Belarus. The conclusion is obvious: there is nothing new on the Belarusian horizon – at least, not any positive news.

So, what can be done? Many prominent politicians and leaders – foreign ministers from the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Poland and Sweden, as well as the European Union High Representative, Lady Ashton – share the view that stricter sanctions and greater pressure on the Belarusian regime are absolutely necessary. At the same time, the population of Belarus needs all possible support in its struggle for democratic change and political freedom.

I could not agree more. The European Union and the international community cannot stay silent. The acts of the regime must be challenged through more sanctions, and support be given to civil society through co-operation. Isolation of the country as a whole is not the answer, and it is very important that the population of Belarus feel that its neighbours care and want dialogue. The only ones who should feel isolated and be isolated are the leaders of the regime – and Lukashenko is the one responsible for that situation.

What can the Council of Europe do? Belarus is now the only country in Europe that has failed to qualify for membership of the Council of Europe. Given its past human rights record and the continuous repression, no news seems likely in that regard either. Instead, we must strongly condemn the ongoing repression and adopt a resolution that calls for all political prisoners to be immediately released; full respect of civil and political freedoms, including the right to exercise freedom of expression and freedom of assembly; and reforms to make way for democratic change and economic development.

I hope that this time next year, the situation in Belarus will have improved to the extent that today’s debate will be old news and therefore unnecessary to repeat.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin. The next speaker is Mr Valeriy Fedorov.

Mr V. FEDOROV (Russian Federation) suggested that an impartial observer might judge that the report distorted the true situation in Belarus. The terms of the report could be better applied to countries such as Sudan or Libya. Over the past year, co-operation between the Russian Federation and Belarus had been strengthened and trade between the two countries had reached $40 billion per annum.

Before coming to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, he had read in a Russian language magazine an interview with President Lukashenko in which President Lukashenko stated that cleanliness and order were like a religion in Belarus. This was true, the cleanliness of the country was one of the first things that one noticed on visiting.

It was vital to engage in dialogue as Belarus would not respond to threats. A message needed to be sent to the political opposition that it must respect the law. Co-operation with the Belarusian Government was the best way to promote democracy and the Assembly should refrain from supporting sanctions because, however attractive they seemed, it was important to remember that they always had an adverse effect on the lives of ordinary people. An unfortunate example had been the calls for the 2014 Ice Hockey World Championship not to be held in Minsk; this was symbolic of the systematic isolation of Belarus by the international community.

The Council of Europe needed to reinstate the special guest status of Belarus. Unless that step was taken, no positive reform would be achieved.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Federov. I now call Mr Vareikis.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – My opinion is different from that of Mr Federov: I think that the report is very good. Mr Herkel clearly has a deep knowledge of the Soviet and Russian realities. I have attached my name to a few amendments, but, broadly speaking, I have only one technical problem with the report. In paragraph 13.1, I would delete the word “president” before Lukashenko’s name, or at least get rid of the capital P. It would be better still to replace the word “president” with the word “dictator”. Sometimes we are too polite to dictators.

My house is 30 km from Belarus, and I can tell Mr Federov that I know how people live there. I believe that, despite all our efforts, Lukashenko sleeps well. Why? Because we are suggesting ways of living with him rather than ways of living without him. Belarus will be saved not when we restore its special guest status, as Mr Federov suggested, but when it is no longer governed by a dictator. I remind the Assembly that a successful approach was adopted some decades ago, when the United States had a president called Ronald Reagan. He uttered a simple sentence: “Mikhail, destroy the Wall”. He was not trying to find a way of fighting Mikhail in the morning and making friends with him in the afternoon, which is what we sometimes do.

Sanctions are not working. We have economic interests and we want to play ice hockey, and we therefore need to co-operate with a dictator. I consider it very dangerous to get into a situation in which we cannot live without a dictatorship because of our business, sporting and cultural interests. If we cannot live without a dictatorship, there is something wrong with our democracy. If we are genuine democrats, we can live without dictators. Let me repeat my message. Do not look for ways of co-operating; look for ways of abolishing the Belarusian problem.

Let me ask those who write papers and communiqués this question: who is our partner in Minsk? If we still think that Lukashenko is our partner, that is a problem. Last year my country, Lithuania, underwent a crisis when the problem of Bialiatski arose as a result of the operation of double standards. On one hand we were fighting a dictatorship, and on the other we were trying to co-operate with it. We are always making such mistakes. So will someone please tell me who is our partner in Minsk? My partner in Minsk is Bialiatski.

Let me return to the subject of sanctions. Economic sanctions do not always work very well, but moral sanctions always work. We must always refuse to play ice hockey in a country if a dictator is to attend the inauguration of the championship, because that is wrong in political terms. I repeat that moral sanctions are always better than economic sanctions.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vareikis. I now call Ms Zohrabyan.

Ms ZOHRABYAN (Armenia) said that debating Belarus had become something of a tradition for the Assembly. There were obvious problems with democracy in Belarus but there were also double standards on display within the Assembly.

It was interesting to consider the differences in the Assembly’s treatment of Belarus and Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan had obstinately refused to allow international observers to enter the country, yet the Assembly had taken no action against Azerbaijan. Turkey had also been a serial democratic offender, one amusing example being that the Turkish patent office had recently accepted a patent on Sarkozy toilet paper. She was too embarrassed even to mention a further notorious example. Nevertheless, the democratic situation in Turkey was never criticised in the Assembly, even though Turkey still had one foot in the Middle Ages.

Mr Herkel had called for sanctions against Belarus but was wrong to do so because sanctions increased the suffering of ordinary people. It was important to build stronger links between the Council of Europe and Belarus but full membership of the Eastern Partnership was not merited by Belarus.

Belarus needed to allow the OSCE to return and should co-operate fully with all human rights organisations. In the lead-up to the next presidential elections, Belarus needed to continue its process of reform and invite observers to monitor both the campaign and the elections.

Maintenance of dialogue with Belarus was the only way to solve its problems. Double standards in the Council of Europe should be avoided and certain countries should not be favoured over others.

(Mr Walter, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Vučković.)

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Kucheida.

Mr KUCHEIDA (France) thought that the report was of an excellent quality and that it helpfully set out the current state of affairs in Belarus. Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic countries had all developed a relationship with the Council of Europe but Belarus was becoming isolated.

The Belarusian Government had been returned to power in the 2010 elections, but those elections had been marred by irregularities and a lack of transparency. The Council of Europe had to mobilise its members to call on Belarus with one voice to address the human rights issues in the country and to support civil society. So far, progress on human rights in Belarus had been practically non-existent.

Belarus was not the only country on the borders of Europe where there were on-going human rights issues. It was important not to forget Azerbaijan or Europe’s Mediterranean neighbours. European countries had to act with urgency but they also had to account for their own actions if they were to demand certain standards from other countries.

President Lukashenko was to all intents and purposes a dictator who had resisted any move towards democracy. The Council of Europe had to maintain pressure on Belarus.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Zingeris.

Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania) – We have had this Lukashenko State before our eyes for the last 15 years. I remember that we were debating the question of missing persons in 1998 and 1999, and I also remember people asking in this chamber, “Where are the political opponents of Mr Lukashenko?” They are probably dead – killed by his intelligence forces. In 2000, I recall us asking whether we could get freer elections in Belarus, but that has not happened at all. The leaders of the democratic opposition in Belarus have spent years and years facing threats to their own and their families’ lives. Mr Milinkievič and Mr Lebedka have just been released from jail, after spending an extra six months in a KGB prison in Minsk. I congratulate them on being here among us. I want to tell them that they are our partners and that we are looking to them to make progress towards a more democratic society in Belarus.

During the Lithuanian chairmanship, the OSCE office in Minsk was closed down, so there was no longer any international presence in that country. We thus have a country with a regime like that of Josef Stalin, or that of Albania in the 1950s, in the middle of Europe. Having heard some comments in the Chamber, I am worried about a trend towards a new Euro-Asian union of States. From what some said, I fear the start of an anti-democratic trend. We do not want non-democratic Euro-Asian States; we want a Euro-Asian union of democratic States. Mr Federov told us how clean it is in Minsk, but democracy should not be cleaned out of the city. The truth is that elementary human rights do not exist in this country.

Elections are due in October, but in Belarus it is possible that these will be fake elections. We should encourage the parties in the Council of Europe – social democratic and liberal, conservative and Christian democrat – to support the party system inside Belarus. There is the issue of agreements with Belarus. We need to be aware of how agreements can be used in a system of justice. Agreements were used to extract information about Poland and Lithuania by the Belarusian KGB – for example, information about Bialiatski, which put him in jail. Our countries should not deliver information about Belarusian democrats to the Belarusian dictatorship. We should encourage our ministries of justice to be very careful about delivering information to Minsk. We have clear examples of how this regime has used information politically to put people in jail.

Mr Lukashenko now has only a 20% popularity rating. The democrats clearly have enough popularity to win – if the elections in December really are free and fair.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Zingeris. The next speaker is Mr Slutsky.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) had heard Ms Beck’s appeal to put pressure on Belarus to address the situation of individuals sentenced to death. Any use of the death penalty was a violation of the standards of the Council of Europe. Even so, there had been much discussion of the case of Ales Bialiatski and little mention of the fact that he was actually in prison for tax offences. Mr Bialiatski owed about €40 000 in taxes. The information that had led to his conviction had been supplied by the Lithuanian Government and few countries would question Lithuania’s good standards when it came to the rule of law. People could not be excused from their obligation to pay their taxes simply because they called themselves defenders of human rights.

The report also discussed the Belarus decision to restrict foreign donations to political parties and groups. It was important to remember that a great number of other European countries had also sought to limit foreign contributions to political parties. Indeed, a decision of the Committee of Ministers in 2003 had called on governments to restrict and regulate donations to political parties from foreign donors. The Venice Commission had urged similar action.

Economic sanctions against Belarus had already been taken too far and were damaging the livelihoods of ordinary people. Mr Vareikis had been right to say that moral sanctions were more effective than economic sanctions.

The Council of Europe needed to reinstate special guest status for Belarus because it was impossible to work constructively with the leaders of Belarus if they were not represented in the Assembly. If a delegation from Belarus were allowed to attend the Assembly, this would bring about great co-operation and hasten the development of democracy and the rule of law in Belarus. By persisting with sanctions, Europe was painting itself into a corner. It was vital to work with Belarus.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Slutsky. I now call Ms Schou.

Ms SCHOU (Norway) – I thank the rapporteur for producing such a thorough and comprehensive report. Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe and its special guest status at our Assembly has been suspended, but it is still our neighbour. We must therefore do what we can to help the Belarus people achieve a democratic and free society. It is important to debate the situation in Belarus. I hope that a message of support for a democratic and free Belarus will encourage Belarusians to continue their struggle. We must show the Belarusians that we have not forgotten about them.

Even though the Belarusian authorities seem not to want input from their European neighbours, we must do what we can to get our message across. It is not okay to persecute members of the opposition and people in civil society. It is not okay that human rights activist Ales Bialiatski is in prison. It is not okay to sentence people to death. Those are just a few of the issues that Norway has spoken up about, and they are covered in our draft resolution, which I fully support.

We are not the only people who are debating how we might contribute to Belarus moving in the right direction, towards democracy. We must co-operate effectively with other bodies, such as the OSCE and the European Union. I am pleased that the draft recommendation points that out.

The draft recommendation also calls for all Council of Europe member states to align themselves with the European Union regime of targeted sanctions. The Norwegian Government is implementing the extended travel ban and asset freeze, in accordance with the European Union’s decision. Meanwhile, Norway is doing what it can to support Belarusian democratic forces and human rights defenders. In 2011, in co-operation with Norwegian civil society partners, almost €3 million was given to support Belarusian human rights and democracy projects. That support will continue.

Supporting academic freedom is also a Norwegian priority. The European Humanities university in exile in Vilnius is an important institution for Belarusian youth, helping them develop free and critical thinking. We have supported the university, giving almost €1 million over a two-year period.

As politicians, we must work through our governments, political parties and civil society in seeking to empower individuals and organisations working for a more democratic Belarus. One example of what can be done is the seminar in Vilnius in October 2011 organised by the Nordic Council, at which members of the opposition and Belarusian organisations came together for discussions. After the seminar, my colleague and former head of the Norwegian delegation to this Assembly, Mr Per-Kristian Foss, pointed out that many Belarusians working in exile feel that they have been forgotten about.

We must not forget that the goal is for Belarus to be fully integrated into European and international communities. On the long road that lies ahead, we must not let the people of Belarus feel that they have been forgotten.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Schou. I now call Ms Schuster.

Ms SCHUSTER (Germany) said that the situation in Belarus was shocking. Belarus was the only European country that continued to use the death penalty. Over 400 people had been executed in Belarus since 1991. The use of the death penalty was entirely at odds with the European Convention for Human Rights. It was vital to abolish the death penalty not only in Belarus but throughout the world. Countries such as China, Iran, Yemen, Somalia and the United States all used the death penalty. The death penalty could be abolished only by political will. The Government of Belarus needed to, at the very least, introduce a moratorium on its use of the death penalty. An online petition to this effect with several thousand signatures had recently been sent to President Lukashenko.

It was appalling that defenders of human rights and opposition organisations were subject to oppression and arbitrary arrest in Belarus. The Government of Belarus needed to free all political prisoners. She had met a Belarusian political prisoner who had eventually been freed in September 2011 after four

years in prison. The former presidential candidate, Andrei Sannikov, remained in prison and had only just been permitted to receive a visit from his wife for the first time since August 2011. Mr Sannikov’s health was deteriorating rapidly and it was vital to put pressure on Belarus for his release.

The report also discussed the Belarusian Government’s actions to clamp down on silent protests. This was also entirely at odds with the European Convention for Human Rights. The Assembly needed to give its full backing to the report.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Ms Goryacheva.

Ms GORYACHEVA (Russian Federation) said that we lived in times when everything could be bought, even a political conscience. However, one thing that could not be bought was a reputation and no matter how they presented themselves, countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom continued to be viewed in eastern Europe as aggressors.

The west had been involved in four wars recently, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya. There was a common thread in these wars: namely that first the leader was labelled as a dictator. The spotlight had now turned to Belarus, although it was not clear why. The country was stable and had a good economy. The President of Belarus thought independently and therefore objected to the views of human rights activists.

Turning to paragraph 4.4 of the draft resolution, she noted that the tax evasion for which Ales Bialiatski had been imprisoned was not a minor offence. It involved payment of US$50 000 to carry across the border into Belarus a large quantity of foreign currency which Mr Bialiatski had been given in Lithuania.

The draft resolution was tendentious and should not be supported. Belarus was being picked on; next time, it might be the turn of a Council of Europe member State.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Reiss.

Mr REISS (France) congratulated the rapporteur on his courage in drawing up the report in difficult circumstances, and said that, in Belarus, there were human rights issues and economic problems. International observers had been banished. The president’s re-election was due to electoral fraud and electoral fraud was likely to be repeated. The economic and political situation was hurting ordinary citizens. Political violence in Belarus included imprisoning political opponents, torturing them and rigging trials.

The Arab Spring had shown that the days of autocratic regimes were numbered. Citizens living under such regimes would rise up in protest against their conditions and that was something which the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty had supported.

Belarus needed to release its political prisoners and stop torture. These were the first steps to reintegration. The Council of Europe needed to apply its principles in order to help the Belarusian people emerge from isolation.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Reissmann.

Ms REISSMANN (Denmark) – Thank you, Mr President. I would like to thank the rapporteurs for their hard work. As a new representative in this Assembly, I found it very frightening to read about what is going on in Belarus. It is a sad situation and it is of the utmost importance that we strengthen and underline the importance of the immediate release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners. That cannot be said often enough.

Furthermore, it is important to support the strengthening of the targeted sanctions, which do not punish the country and its population as a whole but single out officials personally responsible for acts of repression. Sanctions such as visa bans and the freezing of a person’s foreign accounts hurt only the responsible persons, not the population as a whole. Someone said that we should apply only moral sanctions because of the inefficiency of economic sanctions, but why go for one when we can have both? I truly believe that economic sanctions can play an important role.

Finally, it is important to underline the need to support the development of civil society organisations. It is also important that ordinary people are supported through the opening of universities and the offer of scholarship programmes to young Belarusian students with the university in exile in Vilnius. I therefore fully support the draft resolution and the report’s conclusions.

THE PRESIDENT – The next speaker on my list is Mr Darchiashvili of Georgia. Is he here? I do not think so. The next speaker is Ms Reps from Estonia, but she is not here either. I therefore call Mr Sobko from the Russian Federation.

Mr SOBKO (Russian Federation) noted that in any democracy one would expect different opinions on a subject, but on the issue of Belarus the opposing views were difficult to bridge. The topic had been discussed many times before by the Assembly but an agreement supported by all sides had yet to be achieved.

The Russian Federation and Belarus were kindred nations and the Russian Federation was working to address the issues in Belarus. It was unacceptable to go down the path of intimidation – dialogue was the best solution. Dialogue was best conducted in the presence of Belarusian representatives, and if not the president then the democratically elected members of the Belarusian Parliament should be invited to participate. It was not appropriate to discuss the affairs of a country without allowing that country to convey its views.

The effectiveness of sanctions on Belarus was doubtful; the country had not been cowed by Nazi fascism and so was unlikely to be overly concerned by the European Union’s imposition of sanctions. A path of co-operation should be embarked upon and the Council of Europe should engage in dialogue with the Belarusian Parliament.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Sobko. I now call Mr Chisu, Observer from Canada.

Mr CHISU (Canada) – I am pleased to have the opportunity to address this Assembly on the situation in Belarus. The human rights situation and the state of democracy in Belarus can only be described as appalling, and there appears to be no indication from the government of Mr Lukashenko that it has any interest in restoring even a semblance of democracy. What else can one say of the systematic campaign to shut down political free speech, civil society groups and the independent media, and to set up countless obstacles to opposition parties to contest fair elections, including the imprisonment of opposition politicians?

The litany of offences against democracy are too numerous to mention, but together they represent large-scale, gross and systematic human rights violations. This cannot be tolerated and the Council of Europe is to be commended for its persistence in drawing attention to this situation, and for the steps it proposes to compel Belarus to respect basic constitutional freedoms and the rule of law that are the cornerstones of free and democratic societies.

Canada has expressed its concerns about the deplorable lack of political freedoms in Belarus and has taken concrete measures. On 6 April 2011, along with 14 other States, Canada requested that the OSCE trigger its so-called Moscow mechanism, which required the preparation of an independent and impartial assessment of the post-electoral situation following the December 2010 presidential election.

Canada has limited its official relations with Belarus following the 2006 presidential election, which it considers to have been terribly flawed. Belarus was later added to Canada’s area control list requiring Canadian exports to Belarus to be authorised by an export permit.

Recently, Canada has on various occasions publicly condemned or expressed its serious concerns about the violations of human rights and the rule of law in Belarus. In November 2011, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister spoke out against the conviction of Belarusian human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, head of the human rights organisation Viasna, on the trumped-up charges of tax fraud.

What the rapporteur proposes is fundamentally sound and presents an opportunity for the Government of Belarus to redeem itself, at least partly, when elections are held in 2012. The Venice Commission and the OSCE have presented a set of recommendations and provided useful tools for reforming the electoral legislation of Belarus, including measures to strengthen the independence of the Belarus electoral commission so that it can be a fully independent, arm’s-length election control body that will ensure that elections are conducted freely and fairly, with the full participation of all parties.

The rapporteur is calling for Belarus to invite international election observers to monitor the 2012 election and the various political campaigns during the election. The rapporteur also calls for full backing for the European Union’s targeted sanctions against Belarus. The report further calls for maintaining on hold

high-level contacts with Belarusian authorities, and continuing the suspension of special guest status at the Council of Europe until there has been a moratorium on the death penalty and demonstrable progress in upholding the values and principles of the Council of Europe.

The imposition of the death penalty in the case of two young men convicted of the metro bombings in Minsk, after a trial that was a travesty of justice, is most troubling. This is an issue that I will endeavour to raise in my own country.

The Council of Europe and the international community should continue to apply pressure wherever it can in all areas of its relations with Belarus.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Halicki.

Mr HALICKI (Poland) – I thank Ms Beck and Mr Herkel for the report; the situation in Belarus is getting worse and worse. I say to my Russian colleagues that human rights are not optional but obligatory, and accepting them is an obligation if you would like to describe yourself as a democrat or a European. Please think about this when we talk about particular people, especially Ales Bialiatski, who has been mentioned. Mr Slutsky said something about taxes; my impression from the 1980s is that Lech Wałesa did not pay taxes either.

With democracy and human rights, we must have the same standards everywhere. If you can tell me of one other country where the ruling president is such a tyrant, Mr Vareikis, I will support you. All his competitors were sent to prison. Can you name one other country where that happened? The regime’s cruelty is a fact.

I would like to give my impression from the 1980s when there was martial law in Poland. I think that the situation in Belarus today is worse than it was in Poland in the 1980s. I remember when Danuta Wałesa was given the Nobel peace prize; we were proud and happy because the world was with us. Sometimes that is more important than economic sanctions – the hand given to the nation, to the ordinary people, to the citizens of a State where there is lack of democracy and freedom. In the Council of Europe, human rights are emphasised at the highest level by members of free States and members of parliaments where such standards are accepted. I would like to ask my colleagues from Russia to support the idea of awarding Ales Bialiatski the Nobel peace prize. You have to remember that his only fault – and please do not say anything more about taxes, Mr Slutsky – was his wish to help victims of the regime. He would like to help the people sent to jail. He was not a politician but an activist who could not accept injustice. That was his fault, and that is the reason why he is in jail. He was asked to leave the country but he refused. That is why he is in a hard-labour camp today.

We have to be with the Belarusians. We have to give them our hand, like the hand that was given to us in Poland in the 1980s. Let us support the written declaration that I prepared which has been supported by more than 40 members of the Council of Europe. If we all sign the document stating that Ales Bialiatski should be awarded the Nobel peace prize, that would be one loud, strong voice from this Council saying that human rights should be accepted everywhere. Please support the idea.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Halicki. I see that Mr Todorović, the last speaker on the list, is not here. Does anyone not on the list of speakers wish to speak?

Ms WOHLWEND (Liechtenstein) said that she was reporting on the possibility of the abolition of capital punishment in Council of Europe member States and observer States. She believed that there should be an immediate moratorium on capital punishment. Ms Beck had already highlighted the fact that many confessions that lead to the death penalty were obtained through torture.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Wohlwend. Does anyone else wish to speak?

Ms BECK (Germany) said that the Council of Europe had always been cautious about taking a position in difficult cases but all signs in Belarus pointed towards the President being the source of the problems. Several years ago, the Council of Europe had taken a hard line with President Lukashenko and yet this had not precluded the continuation of dialogue with Belarus. The rounding up of the political opposition on 19 December 2010 had meant the end of the most recent dialogue with Belarus. She emphasised, in response to some of the points made in the debate, that attempts at reigniting the dialogue had been on-going for a considerable time.

Because of the degree of pressure being exerted on the families of prisoners not to talk about the treatment of the prisoners, it was extremely difficult to report accurately what was happening in Belarus. The wife of one prisoner, Mr Sannikov, had, that morning, given an account of the extremely poor physical state of her husband. Prisoners were constantly being moved about, often going missing for days on end. The family of one of the prisoners subject to the death penalty had been threatened. The authorities asked the family not to talk to the outside world in order to isolate further the prisoners. This made the prisoners real hostages of the regime. Prisoners were being kept isolated by President Lukashanko, with nobody able to speak up for them because their families were too scared.

The Assembly should not remain silent on this matter. She wished to send a message to the delegates of the Russian Federation: if they advocated opening up access to Belarus, and if they claimed to have excellent trade relations with Belarus, then they should use that relationship to ensure that human rights were respected. She hoped that the Council of Europe would continue to make all efforts to ensure improvement in the democrat situation in Belarus. Lives were at stake.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Beck.

That concludes the list of speakers. I call Mr Herkel, rapporteur, to reply. You have six and a half minutes remaining.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – I would like to thank all my colleagues who have spoken – even those whose speeches were critical. I now have time to give my arguments against some of the opinions that were expressed.

Let me tell Mr Federov, Mr Slutsky and Ms Zohrabyan that your interpretation of the sanctions is misleading. Let me emphasise again that we are speaking about sanctions targeted not against the people, but against those who are oppressing the people. The leading politicians, even in the Russian Federation and Armenia, must confess that it is Mr Lukashenko in Belarus who is against the people.

I agree with Mr Vareikis, who spoke about the so-called “moral sanctions”. It is very important that we can raise the question of events such as ice hockey matches and the Eurovision song contest. Of course, such things are not within our capacity and are not included in my report, but it is very important that you referred to the possible use of moral sanctions in different fields outside of politics and economics.

What Mr Slutsky and Ms Goryacheva said about the Bialiatski case is in contradiction with our Venice Commission findings. We have different opinions. We asked the opinion of the Venice Commission, and the main conclusion was that the criminalisation of activities connected with non-registered associations contradicts the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. Therefore, Mr Bialiatski is right and your opinion, Mr Slutsky, is wrong.

Mr Halicki from Poland reached basically the same conclusion as us, and I would like to thank him for his Nobel peace prize initiative and support for Mr Bialiatski. I would also like to thank the committees and their staff for their hard work and support.

Finally, I say to those representing Belarusian civil society, including those here today on the balconies – former presidential candidate Mr Milinkievič, Mr Lebedko and others – thank you for your courage. You are a real example of the courage of Belarus and the Belarusian people.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Mr Herkel. Does Mr Marcenaro, Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, wish to speak?

Mr MARCENARO (Italy) said that the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy saw the situation in Belarus as a very important issue. In 2011, the committee had had several meetings: with human rights defenders; with the mother of a man who had been sentenced to death for the Minsk explosion, a meeting which had been very moving; and with the political opposition. The committee had been seeking to increase contact with relevant Belarusian insiders and was seeking to strengthen contact with the political opposition. The Council of Europe should demonstrate that it was a friend to the Belarusian people.

He commended colleagues who had worked on the report and taken part in the debate.

THE PRESIDENT – The debate is now closed.

The Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy has presented a draft resolution to which 10 amendments have been tabled, and a draft recommendation to which two amendments have been tabled.

We will consider first the draft resolution and the 10 amendments to it.

I understand that the chairman of the committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that the following amendments, which were unanimously approved by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, be declared as adopted by the Assembly under Rule 33.11.

The amendments are 5, 1, 2, 3, 6, 8, 7, and 9 to the draft resolution.

Is that so, Mr Marcenaro?

Mr MARCENARO (Italy) (Translation) – Yes.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone object? That is not the case.

The following amendments have been adopted:

Amendment 5, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 5.2, insert the following sub-paragraph:

“condemns the practice of creating so-called blacklists of journalists, human rights defenders and other activists, aimed at restricting the exercise of their professional work and freedom of movement”.

Amendment 1, tabled by Ms Beck, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 6.2, replace the words “that they were exposed to torture during the investigation to extract confessions, and reiterates that such an irreversible, cruel and inhumane penalty is unacceptable, however heinous the crimes of the perpetrators” by the following words:

“that the investigation and the trial were marred by serious human rights abuses (including the use of torture in order to extract confessions), contradictions and gaps in the evidence presented at the trial; it calls on the competent authorities to carry out a full investigation of the allegations made in this context and to ensure true justice for the victims of the heinous acts of terrorism in question, and reiterates that such an irreversible, cruel and inhumane penalty is unacceptable, however heinous the alleged crimes of the perpetrators”.

Amendment 2, tabled by Ms Beck, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, replace paragraph 7.2 with the following sub-paragraph:

“refrain from putting pressure on political prisoners, guarantee proper legal and medical assistance to all prisoners and allow their families adequate access to them;”.

Amendment 3, tabled by Ms Beck, on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 7.9, insert the following sub-paragraph:

“hold to account the perpetrators as well as the instigators and organisers of the disappearances of Yuri Zakharenko, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovski and Dmitri Zavadski, in line with the Assembly’s urgent request first made in Resolution 1371 (2004).”.

Amendment 6, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft resolution, replace paragraph 11 with the following paragraph:

“Therefore, the Assembly resolves to:

step up its engagement with representatives of civil society, independent media and opposition forces, as well as independent professional associations, to increase support for their development, and to invite them to attend round tables, seminars and hearings organised by its committees;

enhance co-operation between its different bodies working on Belarus and their counterparts in the European Parliament, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE and the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership of the European Union, with a view to increasing the effectiveness of the activities of the European institutions aimed at strengthening civil society in Belarus”.

Amendment 8, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 12.3, insert the following paragraph:

“consider revising international and bilateral mechanisms of information exchange with a view to preventing data misuse by the Belarussian authorities.”

Amendment 7, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 12.5, before the words "open universities", insert the following words: “continue to”.

Amendment 9, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft resolution, in paragraph 13.3, after the words “targeted at journalists”, insert the following words: “and human rights lawyers”.

We will therefore start with Amendment 4. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.

We come to Amendment 4, tabled by Mrs Anikashvili, Ms Bilozir, Mr Slutsky, Mr Lebedev, Mr Zhidkikh, Ms Burykina and Mr Rzayev, which is, in the draft resolution, delete paragraph 12.2.

I call Ms Anikashvili to support Amendment 4.

Ms ANIKASHVILI (Georgia) said that the Assembly should avoid double standards: if the issue was about political prisoners then sanctions should also be targeted at the Russian Federation.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Herkel.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – I strongly oppose the amendment, because it destroys the spirit of the report. The current wording is extremely important.

THE PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr MARCENARO (Italy) (Translation) – The committee is against the amendment.

THE PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

Amendment 4 is rejected.

We come to Amendment 12, tabled by Mr Slutsky, Mr Valeriy Fedorov, Mr Lebedev, Ms Burykina and Ms Konecná, which is, in the draft resolution, delete paragraph 13.1.

I call Mr Valeriy Federov to support Amendment 12.

Mr V. FEDEROV (Russian Federation) said that he supported the Belarusian people. The Russian Federation was not in favour of maintaining or extending sanctions as this course of action would hurt the people of Belarus.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Herkel.

Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – My argument is similar to some of the arguments that were advanced earlier. Mr Federov is wrong. This money is being misused by the government against the people.

THE PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr MARCENARO (Italy) (Translation) – The committee is against the amendment.

THE PRESIDENT – The vote is open.

Amendment 12 is rejected.

We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 12820, as amended.

The vote is open.

We will now consider the draft recommendation presented by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, to which two amendments have been tabled.

I understand that the Chairman of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 10 and 11, which were unanimously approved by the committee, be declared as adopted by the Assembly under Rule 33.11.

Is that so, Mr Marcenaro?

Mr MARCENARO (Italy) (Translation) – Yes.

THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone object? That is not the case.

The following amendments have been adopted:

Amendment 10, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft recommendation, after paragraph 2.3, insert the following paragraph:

“consider revising international and bilateral mechanisms of information exchange with a view to preventing data misuse by the Belarussian authorities”.

Amendment 11, tabled by Mr Herkel, Mr Vareikis, Ms Virolainen, Mr Mats Johansson, Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Toshev, which is, in the draft recommendation, in paragraph 2.5, before the words “open universities”, insert the following words: “continue to”.

We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 12820, as amended.

The vote is open.

(Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Walter.)

3. Address by Mr Grigol Vashadze, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia

THE PRESIDENT – We now have the honour of hearing an address by Mr Grigol Vashadze, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia. After his address the Minister has kindly agreed to take questions from the floor.

(The speaker continued in French)

He wished Mr Vashadze a warm welcome. Since Georgia had become a member of the Council of Europe, it had made significant progress in making the changes necessary to honour its membership commitments. This progress had been noted in the most recent Monitoring Committee report. For example, constitutional amendments had been passed in October 2010, reforms had been made to the operation of the media, and efforts had been made to tackle corruption, especially low-level corruption. To this end, encouraging reforms had been made to the Georgian police force.

Parliamentary elections would take place later in 2012, with presidential elections taking place in 2013. These elections would rightly be seen as a key test of the democratic system in Georgia. The Assembly reaffirmed its full support for the territorial integrity of Georgia. He hoped that, in the interest of all those living in Georgia, the well-known issues affecting the country would soon be resolved. Mr Vashadze was invited to take the floor.

Mr VASHADZE (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia) – Mr President, Mr Secretary General, Madame Deputy Secretary General, distinguished members of the Assembly and Ambassadors, I would like to start by congratulating you, Mr President, on assuming this important position and wish you every success in future endeavours. I should like to thank Mr Mevlut Çavuşoğlu for his efforts undertaken during his tenure of office. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude for the invitation extended to me.

I am delighted to have this first opportunity to address this statutory body of the Council of Europe – the Organisation that has defined European identity and values for more than 60 years. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was the first Assembly of its kind in the history of Europe. It is a place of political exchange across Europe’s borders for representatives from almost every European State. I hope that this Assembly will soon have the possibility of counting the representatives of the last non-member European State, Belarus, among its members.

In 1999, at the ceremony dedicated to Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Lord Russell-Johnston addressed the Georgian delegation with the following words: “Georgia, welcome back home!” We will never forget that. In this very spirit, the former Chairman of the Parliament of Georgia, Mr Zurab Zhvania spoke the words that every Georgian remembers and will always remember: “We are Georgians; therefore we are Europeans”.

This bond was clearly demonstrated in the tragic days of 2008, when the Assembly stood with the people, each and every citizen of Georgia – irrespective of ethnic origin – to protect common European values and principles. You acted without delay, raised your voice in a timely manner and confirmed that the conflicts between the Council of Europe member States and their resolution transcend the responsibilities of the parties involved.

Today, Georgia still faces external challenges and threats that undermine not only the basic foundations of our statehood – sovereignty and territorial integrity – but the core values of the Council of Europe. The Russian aggression against Georgia, occupation of its territories and ethnic cleansing of Georgians and other ethnic groups revealed that the goals set by the founding fathers of the Council of Europe are unfortunately not yet achieved. The same holds true for the consequences of the Russian invasion, and the on-going occupation of, the Georgian territories.

This Assembly has thoroughly assessed the situation in its resolutions and in its decisions in respect of the Russia-Georgia war file and adopted concrete measures to be implemented by the two conflicting States. However, mere identification of steps without their further implementation is hardly sufficient. I am confident that, as long as the issue continues to remain high on the political agenda of the Assembly and of other international organisations, the Russian leadership will realise that there is no other way but to start to fulfil its international commitments and obligations – starting with the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008.

The Rose Revolution dramatically changed the situation in Georgia and sealed the irreversibility of our decision to build a truly European, democratic and free State. I would not exaggerate by stating that the team of reformers, with the help of our foreign partners, including in the Council of Europe, managed to achieve considerable success by completely reforming almost every field of public life. I am, however, very thankful to you, Mr President, for noting the progress that we have achieved.

The Georgian Government has constantly, day after day, struggled to change the old ways of thinking and defeat the Soviet mentality. We have implemented a constitutional reform aimed at enhancing the system of checks and balances and creating a mixed parliamentary system. We have pursued reforms for good governance, established effective state institutions, while allowing citizens to fully enjoy their basic rights and freedoms. Today, our civil society is strong and influential, and our media enjoys freedom that is exemplary in the region.

Through the adoption of our new electoral code – after quite long consultations and negotiations with the opposition parties, with our international partners and, particularly, with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, which I thank – we have increased confidence towards the elections and improved the

electoral environment. By introducing amendments to the legislation on political parties, in line with the recommendations of the Group of States against Corruption and the Venice Commission, we have significantly advanced the fight against political corruption.

Our reform of the judiciary strengthened the independence of the courts and allowed them gradually to regain the trust of the population, as we drastically changed the situation in the courts by creating necessary infrastructure. We are making substantial progress in fully integrating the ethnic and religious minorities of Georgia through a range of legislative efforts, educational and social projects that are aimed at better protection of their identity and the creation of new opportunities for their self-realisation. We have introduced penitentiary and probation system reform, which has benefited the public greatly.

We are implementing a zero-tolerance policy towards corruption and have created a new system of criminal justice through the adoption of a new criminal procedural code. The 2010 Transparency International global corruption barometer rated Georgia as first in the world in respect of a public perception of a decrease in the level of corruption, with 78% perceiving corruption as having decreased. Georgia is placed in the least corrupt group of countries, with merely 3% of its people admitting to having paid a bribe within the last 12 months.

Thanks to the modernisation and increased transparency of our law enforcement agencies, there has been a significant increase in trust in the police. We are proud that, according to recent surveys, Georgia is ranked as one of the most secure places for citizens and tourists. These results enable us to move to the next stage, and commence with the liberalisation of the criminal code, inter alia, by decriminalising some offences and reducing the sanctions for others. Georgia has recently become a role model of democratic transformation, winning commendations from various international institutions.

The Doing Business 2012 annual report produced by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation ranks Georgia 16th among 183 nations. It is the top country among the post-Soviet and eastern European States. Furthermore, Georgia has retained the top reformer country position for the last six years. As a result of all this, other Commonwealth of Independent States are taking note of Georgia’s recent experience.

Our experience of post-revolutionary transformation is especially valuable in the wake of the Arab Spring. Arab States are showing increasing interest in our experience. We are willing to carry on this exchange with them, to promote democratic institutions and human rights in their societies.

If anybody had told me in the aftermath of the massive Russian military aggression back in 2008 that we would be in such good shape by 2012, I would have considered that to be nothing more than wishful thinking. However, although we are making progress in the implementation of our commitments and obligations, we are fully aware that there is much more to do in the years to come.

In order to ensure further progress, we need even closer and more developed relations and co-operation with European institutions. I firmly believe that integration with European institutions is the best way to protect against renewed instability and violence. That is a maxim. My country is not an exception: other friendly nations, such as the Republic of Moldova, have also chosen to move in this direction.

I am delighted that my country has significantly deepened its co-operation with the European Union. That is one of my ministry’s most important tasks. The negotiations on the association agreement with the European Union are progressing, and a considerable segment of the text has already been provisionally agreed. Recently, the European Union announced its decision to open negotiations with Georgia on the deep and comprehensive free trade agreement, and an announcement on the launching of a visa liberalisation process is expected before the summer of this year.

We are actively involved in the Eastern Partnership initiative, a valuable instrument invented by our Swedish and Polish colleagues and friends both to bring our region closer into line with the European Union and to create a forum where the six partner countries can exchange ideas and best practice among themselves and with the European Union. As we work to build a stronger democracy internally and gradually move closer to the European Union, we all understand that we cannot have development without security. Therefore, we have been relentlessly pursuing NATO accession, and we have been making progress on that. In this respect, the commitment taken by NATO at the 2008 Bucharest summit that Georgia would become a member was an historic step forward. That was further strengthened by the establishment of the NATO-Georgia commission in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s aggression against Georgia back in August 2008.

Due to the reform process, Georgia acquired the institutional capacity necessary to meet NATO standards and contribute to common Euro-Atlantic security. Moreover, despite the volatile domestic and regional security environment, my country actively participates in NATO-led operations. We have deployed about 1 000 troops in Helmand, one of the most dangerous places in the world, and we are going to increase our contingent to 1 700. We have suffered many casualties and I want to pay tribute to the 12 brave Georgian military servicemen who lost their lives there. Georgia is determined to continue contributing to NATO-led operations, however, because we sincerely believe that Georgia, as a partner country standing next to NATO, should not only receive, but also provide, security. I should, however, emphasise that the main rationale behind Georgia’s engagement is a threat perception shared with the allies. As a future member, we are greatly concerned about the success of the alliance in many respects, including in respect of International Security Assistance Force.

Leaving aside global and European structures, Georgia sees benefits in actively engaging in regional initiatives. Our participation in the GUAM – Organization for Democracy and Economic Development – together with our partners Azerbaijan, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine, is of huge importance and we will continue our efforts to benefit fully from this co-operation mechanism. I also see the added value in even closer and more structured institutional relations between the Council of Europe and GUAM.

Georgia’s geographical location is both a curse and a blessing. A glance at a map is all that is needed to realise the significance of Georgia’s geopolitical location for European welfare and security. Georgia links Europe with the central Asian region and beyond. Because of its access to the Black Sea, Georgia is the shortest transit route for transportation of goods or hydrocarbons from central Asia to Europe. However, Georgia is a reliable partner of the democratic community of nations, and does not use its geography as leverage to advance its own political agenda.

Georgia’s geography makes it very important for European energy security, as it is closely linked to various international projects that should connect the west with the rapidly growing Asian markets. It can also secure the steady flow of hydrocarbons through the shortest possible route to Europe, which is the South Caucasus region.

The region is host to strategic energy projects and a hub for the production and transit of energy resources. It is also scheduled to host the Nabucco and Trans-Caspian pipelines, which will greatly increase European energy security. The region will become ever more important as European demand for hydrocarbons increases. The potential of the region, including Georgia, is well understood by our friends and partners. Georgia’s importance is also well understood in the Kremlin.

It is clear that the Council of Europe is of special significance to my country, as Georgia’s accession to it was a first, and very important, step on the way towards the long-craved reunification with the European family. Today, the Council of Europe has a particularly important role to play in alleviating the consequences of the on-going occupation of the Georgian territories and in relieving the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Europeans, victims of brutal Russian aggression and ethnic cleansing against my country.

That is why we need a strong, politically relevant and pro-active Council of Europe that is able to make a difference when it comes to the real challenges. To ensure that the Council of Europe can succeed in this task, all its instruments and structures – the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee of Ministers, the European Court of Human Rights, the Secretariat and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities – should work together as closely, as smoothly and as effectively as necessary until our tasks are fulfilled.

Georgia fully supports the on-going reform of the Council of Europe. This is neither the first nor the last attempt to reform the Organisation, but in our view – and in the view of the declared objectives – it is by far the most ambitious one. As the Foreign Minister of a country that during the past few years has undergone profound and exemplary reforms, I can only praise Secretary General Jagland for his tireless efforts. We are in much better shape than we used to be thanks to his personal contribution. We in Georgia know extremely well that the reform agenda is anything but an easy one, and for all the actors the key words should be – and, I am sure, will be – as follows: dedication, engagement and confidence.

We clearly see that dedication. Last year, we witnessed the restructuring of the Secretariat, innovations to the budgetary and programming aspects, optimisation of intergovernmental structures, the revision of modalities for its external presence and, last but not least, developments that are about to bring concrete changes and that will allow the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights to function without the backlog it has today.

Undoubtedly, we have enjoyed unprecedented engagement from all actors, which has ensured healthy discussions and positively influences the outcome. Obviously, we may have divergent opinions, and when necessary we should not refrain from constructive criticism, or even from self-criticism. As an example of the latter, I recall that, despite my country’s efforts, the Izmir Declaration adopted last year made no mention of the important work of the Parliamentary Assembly. It is excellent that we consulted with civil society and involved it in a long-term strategic relationship, but not to have mentioned the key role played by the legislative organs of States did not send the right signal to anybody.

That being said, I would like to underline the fact that, notwithstanding the possible variety in opinions and approaches, we should remain constructive and, whenever possible, respect the confidence and trust that we have pledged from the outset. No one is safe from making mistakes, as we have learned from our own experience, and most of the reform agenda will bring no immediate results but, at the end of the day, in order to achieve results, that confidence must be an indispensible element and should not be under-estimated. Mr President, I also wish to praise the on-going reforms within the Parliamentary Assembly that you are personally leading so efficiently.

Allow me once again to express my conviction that the decision-making body of the Organisation needs to catch up with the general reforms. I am convinced that that is not just a wish but, given the plans and ability of the current Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, a realistic assessment of reality. That should be our goal. The decisions taken at the Warsaw Summit of Heads of State and government of the Council of Europe are still relevant and need to be further implemented, primarily by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Dear representatives, before we move to the question and answer session, I would like to use this opportunity to congratulate Mr Muižnieks on his election as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and wish him every success. I assure him of Georgia’s ever-lasting co-operation. That is the message from this mission delegation and myself as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

To conclude, I would like to recall the words of the former Swedish Prime Minister, Mr Olof Palme,: “For us democracy is a question of human dignity. And human dignity is the right and the practical possibility to shape the future with others.” The European concept is founded on a common historical experience and a desire to shape a better future by promoting and protecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law – the pillars for building Europe without dividing lines. We should all realise that until the right to live in dignity and to shape a common future are guaranteed for all 800 million Europeans, the ultimate goal of the Council of Europe – to create an undivided, free and peaceful Europe – will remain unfinished business. Thank you for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you very much, Mr Vashadze, for your most interesting address. Twenty Representatives of the Assembly have questions to put to you. The first question is from Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Ms De POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – Minister for Foreign Affairs, thank you for your informative speech. What is the Russian reaction to Georgia’s unilateral pledge on the non-use of force? Will you give me some details about that?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Thank you for your question, Madam. As we all know, on 23 November 2010, the President of Georgia undertook a legal obligation never to resort to force to restore our territorial integrity. That legal obligation – not pledge – has been confirmed in his letters to the heads of major international organisations, including this one, and to the countries closely involved in negotiations on the Russian-Georgian conflict in the aftermath of the war.

Unfortunately, we are still waiting for a positive answer from the Russian Federation. So far, we have either received a firm no or been answered by military exercises. Unfortunately, the size of those military exercises is growing constantly. The next one is scheduled for the near future. It will be called Caucasus 2012 and is a strategic military exercise involving not only the Russian armed forces but other agencies in relevant ministries. The primary reason for this military exercise is to work out the plan – by the way, this was also the case in 2008 – for how to occupy the rest of Georgia and the whole of the Southern Caucasus. Madam, you can check those facts yourself by referring to Russian open sources, including newspapers and information portals. It is not a secret. We are still waiting for a thoughtful and positive answer from Moscow.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Ms Durrieu, on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms DURRIEU (France) asked why Georgia had lifted its opposition to the Russian Federation joining the World Trade Organization, and whether the Russian Federation’s decision to include Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the election was taken with the consent of Georgia.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Quite frankly, no one believed that the Georgian delegation at Geneva would reach an agreement with the Russian Federation and consent to Russia’s fully fledged accession to the World Trade Organization. That was our main purpose from the beginning, however, because for Russia to be a member of a civilised trade and customs regime is good for the Russian Federation, for the world economy and for Georgia. We conducted those negotiations in good spirit, and I am pleased to say that eventually we ended up holding a professional and constructive dialogue with the Russian delegation – with the help of the invaluable mediation of our Swiss colleagues. Eventually, we reached the goal desired by everybody, including the WTO.

Our main idea was to have a positive step somewhere which we could possibly use as a foundation to build up, if not a better relationship, then at least a better understanding between Georgia and the Russian Federation. Unfortunately, this did not happen. When it comes to our occupied territories of Abkhazia and the Tskhinvali region, we purposely deprived this question of its political meaning. We have opted for a status-neutral approach, but eventually Georgian diplomacy not only got Russia into the WTO but reached a very important goal. We have established the same trade and customs regime on the Russian-Georgian border, including those two parts along the occupied regions.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – I next call Ms Rudd on behalf of the European Democrat Group.

Ms RUDD (United Kingdom) – You referred to the territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. My group wants me to ask you what the view of the Georgian Government is regarding these territories and how your political relations are developing.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – I thought I was going to get another question about this. First I will speak about our general approach to our occupied territories and to our co-citizens beyond the cease-fire line, beyond the occupation line, and then go back to the question about elections which I was asked by the distinguished member of the Assembly who spoke before you.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia are integral parts of our sovereign territory. People still reside there but unfortunately the population is diminishing. They are our co-citizens and we have obligations towards them. We have elaborated our State strategy of engagement. That is why we are providing all educational, health care, social and other possibilities to our co-citizens who still reside in Abkhazia and the occupied Tskhinvali region that other Georgian citizens enjoy. We are absolutely open to any and each concept which life or our efforts could possibly provide. We have never blocked any humanitarian action or confidence-building measure there; we never made a fuss about from where, for example, representatives of this Assembly or the Council of Europe enter the occupied territories from the north. We want those territories to be opened and the people living there to be given a chance of a normal life. This is our main aim, purpose and task. By the way, Georgia’s action to elaborate status-neutral travel documents is more proof of that, and I am very thankful to several European States, including the Czech Republic and Lithuania, which have already given their consent to recognising such a document.

To go back to your question about elections, Ms Durrieu, so that we can close this chapter, you cannot hold elections where only one-seventh of the original population is left. This is a characteristic of both those occupied territories. In the Tskhinvali region, there are barely 15 000 residents. That is not a Georgian figure, it is the figure given by the International Crisis Group. There is some seasonal movement up and down but that is the number of people who reside there. Those elections are faked, illegitimate and an offence even by Russian standards to those who still reside in South Ossetia. Quite frankly, this is a shame; we are deprived of any political or other instrument to help our co-citizens in this tragic situation because both regions – South Ossetia even more so – are transformed into Russian military bases. The only way for Russians of retaining that region is to use the situation against Tbilisi – against Georgia.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Xuclŕ who speaks on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Mr XUCLŔ (Spain) welcomed Mr Vashadze. He noted that in 2008 the European Union had agreed to send a civilian monitoring mission on the implementation of the cease-fire agreement. He considered the mission to be ineffective and asked Mr Vashadze for his views on the effectiveness of the European Union mission.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – I thank you for your question. You are absolutely right. On 12 August 2008, the French presidency of the European Union was effective and expeditious in negotiating the cease-fire agreement and, even more importantly, in assembling in record time the European Union’s monitoring mission and dispatching that mission to Georgia. One of the conditions agreed between the parties was that the European Union’s monitoring mission shall have access to the whole territory of Georgia. Unfortunately, the Russian Federation – the Russian authorities – opted to renege on their international obligations – all six of them, by the way, as they are written in the cease-fire agreement. They absolutely and categorically denied the right of the European Union’s monitoring mission to have access to the occupied territories. Unfortunately, this unhelpful, thoughtless and very damaging situation is still going on. The European Union’s monitoring mission does not have access to Georgia’s occupied territories.

On the last point raised in this question, I emphasise that the European Union’s monitoring mission is an extremely successful mission, which is a cornerstone of objectivity and stability on the ground. So let us not judge the European Union’s monitoring mission only by this criterion of access to the occupied territories. We would all like the European Union’s monitoring mission to enter the occupied territories, but this is not the only criterion that defines the success of this mission.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Kox on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) – I welcome your statement that Georgia will try to solve the problems regarding Abkhazia and South Ossetia only by peaceful means. But this Assembly has an ad hoc committee to promote dialogue between Russia and Georgia. Until now, unfortunately, that could not function because the Georgian delegation has not been willing or able to participate. How can we promote any form of dialogue between the Russian Federation and Georgia, because, whatever you think, they are there and will be there? How can we ensure a dialogue between these two countries?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Please let us not forget that we are having Geneva talks, where all interested sides are represented. Three States are participating – alphabetically they are Georgia, the Russian Federation and the United States – and the co-chairmanship is undertaken by three of the most respected international organisations: the European Union, the OSCE and the United Nations, although I do not know whether you can call the European Union an organisation. The working groups contain personal representation of the divided communities as well. Unfortunately, the Geneva talks have been stalled in both working groups because our Russian partners are explicitly refusing to discuss security arrangements in the first working group and in the second group they are explicitly refusing to discuss the voluntary, dignified and safe return of IDPs and refugees.

So, in our discussions in all other forums, notwithstanding whether they are here in Strasbourg or anywhere else, we are never saying no, because the Georgian position is clear: any place, any time, any level, any subject, with no preconditions. However, we would like first clearly to understand what we are aiming those negotiations towards and what their structure will be. Even more importantly, will they hamper the Geneva talks? Our Russian partners are trying to decrease the frequency of our meetings there. We started by meeting at least once a month and, rarely, once every two months. Now, we are meeting once every three months. The next stage will be meeting once every six months, and then they will kill those negotiations. We simply cannot afford to do that.

So we are not saying no. We are open to dialogue at any level at any place, but let us prepare it, as I said to the Secretary General today, in a good, Scandinavian, thoughtful way. Let us discuss the idea before jumping into the water.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Bockel.

Mr BOCKEL (France) asked whether the minister thought that the disqualification of the South Ossetian presidential candidate was likely to increase tensions or lead to further dialogue.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Thank you for your question. Again, we are prepared to discuss each and every question with the Russian Federation, notwithstanding whether it is about the social, political or any other aspect of the situation within the occupied territories. However, the Russian Federation explicitly refuses to recognise the democratically elected Government of Georgia. The Russian Federation is saying that it is not going to talk to this government, which has been elected by the Georgian people. Trust me: I guarantee you that when we have the next government, in 2012-13, the Russians will refuse to talk to that one, too. Why? Because they simply do not know what to talk about. The decision of Russia on 26 August 2008 to recognise so-called independence put the Russian Federation, Georgia and the population of the occupied territories into a catastrophic legal limbo. Our Russian partners do not want to meet the demands of the international community, and they simply do not know another way around the situation. So that is where we are.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Rigoni.

Mr RIGONI (Italy) noted that Georgia was member of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership. The Eastern Partnership was a powerful instrument for the consolidation of democracy and economic development. He asked what role the Council of Europe could play in the Eastern Partnership.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Thank you for your question. The Eastern Partnership is a very young instrument. We are still fine-tuning it, but its main purpose is clearly understood by the member States of the European Union and by partner States. We are trying to share our views and opinions on how to bring to another level co-operation between the European Union and partner States, and on how to exchange best practice on good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law, the fight against political and petty corruption and so on.

Right now, we are working on specific projects. Our relationship with the European Union is on a bilateral track, but the regional track is very important too. It is already a partnership and that partnership will be even more effective in the light of our co-operation.

The Council of Europe can go on doing what it has been doing, but even more resolutely. For example, when it comes to Georgia, it should go on realising confidence-building projects in our occupied territories and help State partners to improve their political and social environment.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Vareikis.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – Minister, I would like to ask you a question about the international recognition of the so-called republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Five or six countries recognise them. Does the process look like it will continue, or has it stopped; and does it change your relations with the countries that have recognised those regimes?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – So-called independence is currently recognised by the Russian Federation, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Tuvalu and Nauru. This process is not going very well for our Russian friends and it is costing Russian taxpayers a lot of money. Nauru was paid $50 million for this recognition. Proof of my words can be found in today’s Sydney Morning Herald, in which the Minister for Pacific Affairs, my very good friend Richard Marles, cites those figures.

Georgia, quite naturally, does not have diplomatic relations with the countries that recognise the so-called independence. We also explicitly refuse to engage in cheque-book diplomacy, and we try to prevent so-called recognition in return for more money being put on the table. That is absolutely out of the question. The international community and international law are on our side and we will prevail, notwithstanding how many Pacific Island countries recognise so-called independence.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Ms Pashayeva.

Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – Europe is in the process of reform. In your capacity as a member of the Georgian Government, could you please share with us your views on the extent of these reforms? The failure to find a long-term solution to the conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh is straining the situation in the region, thus generating a serious threat not only to the region but to Europe’s energy security. Are you satisfied with the approach of the European structures towards the resolution of these conflicts, and what are your expectations in this regard?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – Thank you for your question. Georgia’s position on all existing conflicts is quite clear. When we are undertaking efforts with the international community regarding the occupied territories of Georgia, we are doing the same in respect of all other conflicts. A solution should be based on showing the utmost respect for the norms and principles of international law. It is clearly understood that the unilateral change of borders and the violation of territorial integrity will not bring the international community towards its desired goal: the creation of a peaceful and common Europe, based upon shared values and principles.

We are absolutely in favour of peaceful means to resolve all the conflicts, and we want to show the utmost respect for the norms and principles of international law, notwithstanding how painful and how long the negotiations might be, because negotiation is a much better option than other options. It is up to the parties concerned to decide what structures can effectively solve the problem. I trust that your country and our strategic partner, Azerbaijan, is supporting the efforts of the Minsk Group.

We are convinced that the Geneva talks are indispensable. Eventually, such instruments will enable us to solve the conflicts peacefully, and to transform the South Caucasus into an area that will have tremendous potential as a zone of co-operation. We have everything that is necessary for that. We have natural resources, intellectual resources, educational resources and a geostrategic location.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vashadze. The next question is from Mr Aivaliotis.

Mr AIVALIOTIS (Greece) noted that 16% of the Georgian population were Russian, Greek or Armenian. During the Communist era and afterwards Greeks in Georgia were persecuted and they were still suffering as victims of crime in their regions. He asked what specific measures the Georgian Government was taking to protect ethnic minorities and to protect the cultural heritage of ethnic minorities in Georgia.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Mr Vashadze, would you like to answer that question?

Mr VASHADZE – Georgia’s citizens include not just Russians, Armenians and Greeks, but large Azeri and Jewish communities, and we are proud of that, because we take pride in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious character of our society.

I have already mentioned specific measures that our government is taking in regard to national minorities, but let me repeat that Georgia contains an unprecedented number of national schools, which are fully financed from the State budget. I am sure that there will be more questions on that subject, so I shall give the exact figures then. Our president is financing scholarships for representatives of national minorities who pass exams at our best universities, or pass exams in order to be sent to the best universities in the west to study their native languages. They will take special courses in the Georgian language before beginning their university studies. We are doing as much as any European State, and as much as our budget allows, to help those people, and education is very high on our agenda.

I have not heard any complaints from the Greek minority, but we mourn the loss of Greek citizens of whom we were very proud. Many of them had to leave Abkhazia because of the Russian military aggression and invasion. In 1993, Russia ethnically cleansed Abkhazia, leaving fewer than 100 000 inhabitants where there had been nearly 600 000 before the war.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vashadze. The next question is from Ms Acketoft.

Ms ACKETOFT (Sweden) – You said earlier that it was important for people to be able to live in dignity and shape their own future. Georgia has certainly taken steps to provide accommodation for many internally displaced persons, and when I visited the Tskhinvali settlements I saw that those in private

accommodation had decent living conditions. However, durable solutions are yet to be found for hundreds of thousands of people. What steps will the government take to deal with that, and what are its priorities in the search for those durable solutions to enable IDPs living throughout Georgia to live in dignity and shape their future?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Mr Vashadze, would you like to answer that question?

Mr VASHADZE – The village that you saw is now a small town which was built for the 60 000 Georgians who were evicted forcibly from the Tskhinvali region. However, you are absolutely right. There are refugees all over Georgia as a result of earlier waves of ethnic cleansing, and that village should not serve as a shop window that can be shown to you or any other visiting dignitary who may be told that action has been taken and nothing more need be done. The Georgian Government, largely through our minister who is responsible for IDPs and refugees, is constantly trying to improve housing for all IDPs and refugees who have been expelled from their homes. You can see that next time you come to Georgia, but before that I can send you an account of our plans to improve housing conditions for all IDPs and refugees. You can trust me. Special funds have been allocated from our state budget for 2012, and they amount to a significant sum.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vashadze. The next question is from Mr Gaudi Nagy.

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary) – Thank you for explaining the situation in Georgia. If the territories that are currently occupied by the Russians are returned to Georgia, how does Georgia intend to ensure that as many minority community rights as possible are granted to people who should have the right to self-determination within the country?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Mr Vashadze, would you like to answer that question?

Mr VASHADZE – God willing, our occupied regions will soon be free and incorporated in the sovereign territory of Georgia, and we intend to ensure that it enjoys as great a degree of European autonomy as could be imagined by any European State. I am thinking of, for instance, the Ĺland Islands and South Tyrol. The federal, or central, government will provide funds to promote, strengthen and take good care of Georgia’s cultural, linguistic and historical heritage. It is not a question of good will, but a question of our legal obligation.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vashadze. The next question is from Mr Ghiletchi.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – I believe that Moldova and Georgia face many similar challenges, one of which is the challenge of frozen conflicts. What is your view on the replacement of military peacekeeping forces with an international civil mission?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Mr Vashadze, would you like to answer that question?

Mr VASHADZE – Unfortunately, the circumstances in Georgia and Moldova are indeed very similar. I hope that the Russian so-called peacekeeping forces will leave and will be replaced by an international executive police peacekeeping operation, because otherwise we will never achieve the goals that the Moldovan nation has identified. As far as I recall, those Russian so-called peacekeeping forces have never brought peace to any place. I believe that such questions will be raised constantly when the Republic of Moldova is participating in the 5 + 2. Unfortunately, Russian representatives in Geneva are explicitly refusing to discuss the proposal that a European Union monitoring mission should have access to the occupied territories or the proposal that the occupying forces should be replaced by a peacekeeping operation, but we recognise that that is the only possible solution.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The last question is from Mr Valeriy Federov.

Mr V. FEDEROV (Russian Federation) asked whether the Georgian Government intended to free on humanitarian grounds Suleiman Barbakadze, a defender of the rights of the Meskhetian Turks, who had been sentenced the previous year to 11 years imprisonment, and who was suffering from heart disease and had had a recent operation. He also asked why Georgia was not providing for the repatriation to Georgia of Meskhetian Turks who had been deported from Georgia in the 1940s.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to answer that question, Mr Vashadze?

Mr VASHADZE – It brings tears to my eyes when the Russian Federation tries to defend what happened when people were expelled from my occupied country in the 1940s. I should say, rather, that it is heart-breaking. If the interest in this matter were extended to Georgian IDPs and refugees, I would be even more tearful and rather more grateful. When it comes to our co-citizens, the Meskhetians, who were forcefully deported from Georgia in the 1940s, let me point out that we have more than 5 000 applications and that 333 of them have already been met by the Georgian Government. Those people are now resettled in Georgia. Georgian non-governmental organisations are working constantly to bring in these Meskhetians. By the way, they are not only Turks; they are ethnic Georgians and many other ethnicities. These people are brought to Georgia and shown places where they might like to resettle. We are working constantly on this. As to criminal offences and Georgian court decisions, we are a democratic country. Mr Barbakadze can always appeal to a higher court.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. We must interrupt the list of speakers, as it is past 1 o’clock. I want to thank you, Minister, for your address and for replying to the various questions of our colleagues. I am sorry for the seven remaining speakers who had questions, but we do not have time for them, unfortunately.

4. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.

The sitting is closed.

(The sitting was closed at 1.05 p.m.)


1.       Written declarations

2.       Situation in Belarus

Presentation by Mr Herkel on report of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, Doc. 12820

Presentation by Ms Beck of opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Doc. 12840


Mr Toshev (Bulgaria)

Baroness Eccles (United Kingdom)

Ms Bourzaď (France)

Ms Lundgren (Sweden)

Mr Hunko (Germany)

Mr Herkel (Estonia)

Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden)

Mr V Fedorov (Russian Federation)

Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)

Ms Zohrabyan (Armenia)

Mr Kucheida (France)

Mr Zingeris (Lithuania)

Mr Slutsky (Russian Federation)

Ms Schou (Norway)

Ms Schuster (Germany)

Ms Goryacheva (Russian Federation)

Mr Reiss (France)

Ms Reissmann (Denmark)

Mr Sobko (Russian Federation)

Mr Chisu (Canada)

Mr Halicki (Poland)

Ms Wohlwend (Liechtenstein)

Ms Beck (Germany)


Mr Herkel (Estonia)

Mr Marcenaro (Italy)

Amendments 5, 1 to 3, 6 to 9 adopted

Draft resolution, as amended, adopted

Amendments 10 and 11 adopted

Draft recommendation, as amended, adopted

3       Address by Mr Grigol Vashadze, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Georgia


      Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden)

Ms Durrieu (France)

Ms Rudd (United Kingdom)

Mr Xuclŕ (Spain)

Mr Kox (Netherlands)

Mr Bockel (France)

Mr Rigoni (Italy)

Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)

Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan)

Mr Aivaliotis (Greece)

Ms Acketoft (Sweden)

Mr Gaudi Nagy (Hungary)

Mr Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova)

Mr V. Federov (Russian Federation)

4       Date, time and agenda of the next sitting


Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk

Francis AGIUS*






Florin Serghei ANGHEL*

Khadija ARIB


Francisco ASSIS*

Alexander BABAKOV*

Ţuriđur BACKMAN*


Viorel Riceard BADEA

Gagik BAGHDASARYAN/Zaruhi Postanjyan

Pelin Gündeş BAKIR



Meritxell BATET*


Marieluise BECK

Alexander van der BELLEN/Sonja Ablinger









Roland BLUM/Frédéric Reiss

Jean-Marie BOCKEL

Eric BOCQUET/Bernadette Bourzaď


Mladen BOSIĆ*

António BRAGA


Márton BRAUN

Federico BRICOLO/Giacomo Stucchi



Patrizia BUGNANO/Giuliana Carlino


Sylvia CANEL




Vannino CHITI/Anna Maria Carloni

Christopher CHOPE


Desislav CHUKOLOV/Yuliana Koleva



James CLAPPISON/Amber Rudd

Deirdre CLUNE

Georges COLOMBIER/Maryvonne Blondin

Agustín CONDE*


Igor CORMAN/Stella Jantuan



Cristian DAVID*


Giovanna DEBONO*






Karl DONABAUER/ Edgar Mayer

Gianpaolo DOZZO/ Paolo Corsini

Daphné DUMERY*

Alexander DUNDEE*



József ÉKES


Lydie ERR*

Nikolay FEDOROV/ Vladimir Zhidkikh



Doris FIALA/Raphaël Comte

Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Tomáš Jirsa




Gvozden Srećko FLEGO

Stanislav FOŘT

Dario FRANCESCHINI/ Gianni Farina


Jean-Claude FRÉCON/Marie-Jo Zimmermann

Erich Georg FRITZ

Martin FRONC*




Roger GALE

Jean-Charles GARDETTO



Sophia GIANNAKA/Georges Charalambopoulos


Michael GLOS*

Obrad GOJKOVIĆ/Snežana Jonica



Martin GRAF

Sylvi GRAHAM/ Ingjerd Schou

Andreas GROSS





Carina HÄGG/Jonas Gunnarsson




Margus HANSON*


Hĺkon HAUGLI/Tor Bremer


Oliver HEALD

Alfred HEER








Andrej HUNKO




Stanisław HUSKOWSKI/ Mirosława Nykiel

Shpëtim IDRIZI/Kastriot Islami


Igor IVANOVSKI /Sonja Mirakovska


Denis JACQUAT/ Jacques Legendre

Michael Aastrup JENSEN*

Mats JOHANSSON/Tina Acketoft

Birkir Jón JÓNSSON

Armand JUNG

Antti KAIKKONEN/Sirkka-Liisa Anttila

Ferenc KALMÁR*




Bogdan KLICH

Haluk KOÇ

Konstantin KOSACHEV/Oleg Lebedev

Tiny KOX

Marie KRARUP/ Mette Reissmann

Borjana KRIŠTO*



Jean-Pierre KUCHEIDA

Dalia KUODYTĖ/Egidijus Vareikis

Ertuğrul KÜRKÇÜ*


Henrik Sass LARSEN

Jean-Paul LECOQ






François LONCLE

Jean-Louis LORRAIN/Rudy Salles




Philippe MAHOUX


Nicole MANZONE-SAQUET/Bernard Marquet



Muriel MARLAND-MILITELLO/Bernard Fournier

Meritxell MATEU PI




Michael McNAMARA

Alan MEALE/Yasmin Qureshi







Jean-Claude MIGNON/Christine Marin

Dangutė MIKUTIENĖ/Birutė Vėsaitė


Krasimir MINCHEV/Petar Petrov




Patrick MORIAU*



Arkadiusz MULARCZYK*


Philippe NACHBAR

Adrian NĂSTASE/Tudor Panţiru

Gebhard NEGELE/Leander Schädler

Pasquale NESSA



Tomislav NIKOLIĆ/Nataša Jovanović

Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI




Nadia OTTAVIANI/Andrea Zafferani


Vassiliki PAPANDREOU/Elsa Papadimitriou




Johannes PFLUG*


Lisbeth Bech POULSEN*


Cezar Florin PREDA

John PRESCOTT/Joe Benton


Gabino PUCHE


Valeriy PYSARENKO/Volodymyr Pylypenko


Valentina RADULOVIĆ-ŠĆEPANOVIĆ/Zoran Vukčević


Mailis REPS


Gonzalo ROBLES*


Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*





Branko RUŽIĆ/Elvira Kovács

Volodymyr RYBAK/Oleksiy Plotnikov

Rovshan RZAYEV*


Džavid ŠABOVIĆ/Ervin Spahić


Giuseppe SARO*

Kimmo SASI/Jaana Pelkonen








Ladislav SKOPAL*




Arūnė STIRBLYTĖ/Arminas Lydeka


Fiorenzo STOLFI

Christoph STRÄSSER



Björn von SYDOW


Vilmos SZABÓ*


Chiora TAKTAKISHVILI/David Darchiashvili

Giorgi TARGAMADZÉ/Magdalina Anikashvili

Vyacheslav TIMCHENKO/Natalia Burykina



Latchezar TOSHEV



Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ


Konstantinos TZAVARAS/Konstantinos Aivaliotis

Tomáš ÚLEHLA/Dana Váhalová


Giuseppe VALENTINO/Renato Farina






Vladimir VORONIN/Grigore Petrenco

Konstantinos VRETTOS

Klaas de VRIES*



Piotr WACH





Karin S. WOLDSETH/Řyvind Vaksdal

Gisela WURM



Kostiantyn ZHEVAHO*

Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Guennady ZIUGANOV/Sergey Sobko


Vacant Seat, Bosnia and Herzegovina*

Vacant Seat, Cyprus*

Vacant Seat, Croatia*

Vacant Seat, Croatia*

Vacant Seat, Russian Federation*

Vacant Seat, Russian Federation*

Vacant Seat, Russian Federation*

Vacant Seat, Russian Federation*

Vacant Seat, Slovenia*

Vacant Seat, Slovenia*


Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote:

Johannes HÜBNER

Esben Lunde LARSEN


Jean-Pierre MICHEL






Corneliu CHISU


Blanca Judith DÍAZ DELGADO

Consiglio DI NINO

Hervé Pierre GUILLOT


Martha Leticia SOSA GOVEA

Partners for democracy:




Representative of the Turkish Cypriot Community

Ahmet ETI, (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of the Parliamentary Assembly)