AS (2012) CR 07



(First part)


Seventh Sitting

Thursday 26 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.

Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 10.03 a.m.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The sitting is open.

1. Written declarations

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The following written declarations have been tabled: No. 506 entitled “A call for the international civil peacekeeping mission in the Transnistrian secessionist region”, which has been signed by 31 members, Document 12851; No. 507 entitled “The situation in Bahrain”, which has been signed by 20 members, Document 12852; and No. 508 entitled “Support of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Ales Bialiatski, Belarusian human rights defender”, which has been signed by 41 members, Document 12854.

Any member, substitute, observer or partner for democracy may add his or her signature to this written declaration in the Table Office, room 1083

2. Report of result of challenge to Ukrainian credentials

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – At the Assembly’s opening sitting, the credentials of the Ukrainian delegation were challenged on procedural grounds. Under Rule 7.2, the Assembly referred the matter to the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs.

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Rules Committee concluded that the credentials of the Ukrainian delegation should be ratified. In accordance with the Rules of Procedure, I will now read the opinion of the committee to the Assembly.

“1. On 23 January 2012, the still unratified credentials of the parliamentary delegation of Ukraine were challenged on procedural grounds, in accordance with Rule 7 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, on the ground that the composition of the delegation did not satisfy the criterion of fair representation of the political parties or groups.

2. At its meeting on 24 January 2012, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs examined the various objections raised and established that the Ukrainian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly was appointed in compliance with Article 25 of the Statute of the Council of Europe and Rule 6 of the Assembly’s Rules of Procedure, as regards the fair representation of political parties and groups in the delegation.

3. Consequently, the Committee concludes that the credentials of the Ukrainian parliamentary delegation should be ratified.

4. However, the Committee notes that the list of members of the Ukrainian delegation as transmitted to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly contains misleading information in particular as regards the political affiliation of three members: Mr Valeriy Pysarenko, representative, and MM Oleksandr Feldman and Volodymyr Pylypenko, substitutes, listed as members of the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, actually sit in the parliament under other political labels. It asks the President of the Parliamentary Assembly to invite the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament to clarify the issue of the political affiliation of these three parliamentarians and to send to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly updated information.

5. Moreover, the Committee invites the President of the Parliamentary Assembly to remind the Speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament and the Ukrainian parliamentary delegation that promoting political pluralism, in particular through the promotion of standards and practices guaranteeing pluralist functioning of national parliaments, is a clear commitment of all parliaments of Council of Europe member states. In this connection it refers more specifically to its Resolution 1601 (2008) on the rights and responsibilities of the opposition in a democratic parliament and its Resolution 1798 (2011) on fair representation of the political parties or groups of national parliaments in their delegations to the Parliamentary Assembly.”

The credentials of the Ukrainian delegation are ratified accordingly without debate.

The detailed opinion of the Rules Committee on this matter is available for all members of the Assembly from the document centre.

3. Changes in the membership of committees

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Our next item of business is to consider changes proposed in the membership of committees. These are set out in document Commissions (2012) 01 Addendum 5.

Are the proposed changes in the membership of the Assembly’s committees agreed to?

They are agreed.

4. Current affairs debate: the Russian Federation between two elections

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next item of business this morning is a current affairs debate on the Russian Federation between two elections.

Under Rule 52.4, the debate is limited to one-and-a-half hours, and we agreed yesterday to limit speaking time to three minutes for all members except the first speaker, who is allowed 10 minutes. I call Mr Gross.

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – Never since 1993 has the political situation in Russia been as open as it is today. Never since Mr Putin came to power 12 years ago has the power of the system been as strongly challenged as it is today. Never since 1993 have so many people in Russian civil society been so active. Never since then have so many people come out on to the streets; on 24 December there were 100 000 people on the Sakharov prospect in Moscow, demonstrating to defend their dignity and to insist that those in power must respect them in a democracy. This openness presents a structural opportunity for Russia between the Duma elections of 4 December and the presidential election of 4 March. Those 100 000 people had a special quality – but I shall come back to that. First comes the question of how it could happen. Half a year before, no one had thought it possible that 100 000 people could demonstrate on Sakharov Prospekt on 24 December. How was it possible? There are many hypotheses, and I would like to share some of them with you, because they indicate how it happened, what the consequences should be and what the dangers are of this open situation. Openness means that things can improve, but they can also deteriorate. Progress can be made, but there can also be regression. It is important to think about the options and to encourage those responsible not to make the wrong choices.

Those who have been taking part in this unique demonstration – more than 100 000 people over Christmas – said that they felt totally excluded when they saw on television how, at the party congress of United Russia, the two people who occupied the two most important positions of power in the system, the president and the prime minister, decided to switch positions without taking into account the facts that between elections the people lend power, that power is not their private property and that they cannot just switch it with other people. This moment, which was seen by everyone in Russia – it was intensively broadcast on the main TV channels – created a feeling of exclusion and of not being respected as a citizen. As a result, many people started to speak out on the internet – a communication network that cannot be controlled as easily as big TV stations, big radio stations or big newspapers. Those demonstrators started to say, “We will now pay more attention to these forthcoming elections on 4 December.”

The demonstrators felt excluded from something in which they have to be included. In a democracy, people do not own power; it is lent. People cannot just organise, three months before an election, how the situation will be after the election. Instead, they must follow the will of the people during the election.

The demonstrators used their cameras on election day and gathered millions of pieces of evidence that the elections were manipulated. Today, after the demonstration of 24 December, nobody denies any more the heavy manipulation of these elections – not even the representatives of United Russia. Everybody knows it. The 100 000 people helped everyone find their way to the truth and to self-criticism. One of the most serious non-governmental organisations, Golos, told us last Saturday that at least 10 million – if not 12 million or 15 million – votes were added to United Russia’s count. Such was the violation on election day.

Then there is the exclusivity. It is difficult to register as a party, and to take part in the election, and we will come back to that issue in the Monitoring Committee’s big report. Such exclusion prompted demonstrations in more than 100 cities immediately after the elections. It also led to a lot of violence because when people feel excluded, they resort to other methods – I shall come back to that. Then, however, the protesters all concentrated on the mobilisation of 24 December. Sociologically, these demonstrators are very interesting. A survey showed that more than 50% of them were between 20 and 40 years old, and that more than 70% had at least two university degrees. These are not people that you can buy because their salaries are too weak or because they do not have a job. They were there because they did not feel respected.

The demonstrators were not a political organisation in the sense that they had a clear interest. They defend values more than interests; they are more value-based. They defend the dignity that is an essential part of human rights and of our Organisation. They feel that their dignity has been ignored, and that makes it difficult to answer them. After the demonstration, the reaction of the system was to denigrate and humiliate these people. I will not quote what the system’s representatives said because their words would be an affront to this Assembly. However, the people decided to mobilise again on 4 February or later, and immediately they obtained an acknowledgement of the fraud and prompted a discourse on change from the outgoing president. One of those changes – one that we have always recommended – was that governors should be elected by people in the regions. That was immediately conceded, but there are many filter mechanisms, which we have to look at closely. Also, the 7% entry rule was immediately reduced to 5%, but only for the election in five years’ time. Should the forthcoming elections be inclusive or exclusive? Alarmingly, it was indicated yesterday that only four people can challenge Putin. The fourth person is another right-wing oligarch and one of the richest people in Russia. Mr Yavlinsky, the more democratic social and liberal candidate, was excluded, for reasons that we cannot accept.

To stand, candidates need to collect 2 million signatures in six weeks in the more than 80 regions in a proportional way. To collect signatures, you need forms on which to collect them, and they had to be photocopied – it was not the signatures that were photocopied but the forms. Nevertheless, those signatures were not taken into account. The danger of such openness is that instead of contributing to a more inclusive and open election, they closed it again. When you close elections, you exclude people, and the danger is that you get more violence, not more legitimacy, because in order to have legitimate elections, you need a fair process. However, this fair process is in danger today.

I hope that this debate will encourage the system – which is also designing the process for acquiring more power – to consider the need for openness and inclusivity, and the fact that, to include those with whom you disagree, you have to give them a fair chance. I am afraid, however, that until now, these people have not had that fair chance. That is dangerous. It will create a dangerous situation in Russian society, which needs integration, not the dangers of exclusion.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. In the debate, I first call Ms Lundgren, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms LUNDGREN (Sweden) – We want to be helpful in this Assembly. Over the past seven years, we have not been able to see a report on the honouring of obligations and commitments made by the Russian Federation. I do not think that that is helpful. We should have been able to have a proper debate in order to be helpful. Democracy is the heart of this Assembly – not elections as such. Democracy is much older. If we look at the environment for democracy in Russia, we see denial of registration, harassment and the arrest of journalists. The independent organisation, Golos, has been stopped. Many people have told us that there are two ways forward: to keep on as before or to change the pattern. So far, we have not seen any change. Many voices have said that if it is not possible to change power with elections, what should we do?

We have seen rallies and demonstrations, and there will be a new presidential election in the months ahead. Democracy is not built in a day; it is an everyday struggle. We have to shape the system to keep democracy moving. It is about freedom and about the right to assembly, to stand in elections, to organise, to demonstrate, to have a free debate and to change power via voting.

It is not as easy for people to change the power in Russia as it was for Putin and Medvedev to change between themselves. The democratic environment for elections is about confidence, real freedoms and rights. If a society denies those rights – if the people feel that they are not respected or heard and if they cannot vote for real change – then we know what will happen.

We hear you from the streets of Moscow, St Petersburg and all over Russia. We see your struggle and we follow it. We want to be helpful. We see how Yavlinsky was rejected and Golos harassed. We will see the Secretary General’s report later and the election results. We are prepared to take further steps if needed.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Ms Lundgren. The next speaker is Mr Kox, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr KOX (Netherlands) – Last Monday, I presented the Assembly with my report on the observation of the parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation of 4 December. In April, I hope to present my report on the observation of the presidential elections of 4 March. So we are indeed in between elections in our biggest member State. I thank the Assembly for using this current affairs debate to give its opinion on the electoral process. I am sure that we will use today’s input in our upcoming visits to Russia.

On Monday, I said that the parliamentary elections were technically well prepared but marked by a convergence of the State and the governing party, limited political competition, a lack of fairness and the absence of an impartial referee. On election day, we observed frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation.

After the elections, Russia saw its biggest rallies in decades, in which citizens showed their anger with the way in which the parliamentary elections went. This public manifestation of distrust led to a number of proposals to improve the electoral process.

The President of the Russian Federation proposed to make registration of political parties far easier and demanded an independent public broadcast organisation. The Prime Minister ordered the installation of webcams in all polling stations. The Central Election Commission ordered transparent ballot boxes everywhere. The Supreme Court annulled the decision to refuse registration of a certain party, and thereby followed the verdict of the European Court of Human Rights. Yesterday, Moscow’s city hall granted permission for a mass demonstration on 4 February. A league of voters is asking citizens to participate in monitoring the elections. The presidential human rights council asked for changes in the CEC and now calls upon citizens to help ensure fair elections. Golos hopes to have several thousands of observers present on election day.

However, not everything is positive. The Central Election Commission refused the registration of several candidates for the presidency. We will check the arguments and listen to those involved when our pre-electoral mission visits Moscow. The CEC has also announced that 90% of all complaints with regard to the parliamentary elections were untrue. We will check this as well. In Moscow, we hope to meet all presidential candidates, including Prime Minister Putin, who has made it public that he demands free and fair elections for the presidency. We are looking forward to hearing from him and his colleague-candidates how to ensure this. The participation of all candidates in the television debates would be a clear signal, and pressure on the international and national observers should be avoided.

Those who used to say that nothing ever changes in Russia have been proved wrong. Change is happening in Russia. What we do not yet know – as I said on Monday – is whether this change is substantial and sustainable. The Assembly’s debate is a clear message to the Russian Government, Parliament and public that we want change to be substantial and sustainable in the interests of the Russian Federation, its government and, in particular, its citizens.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Kox. The next speaker is Mr Frunda, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr FRUNDA (Romania) – The whole of Russia is in transformation, not only society but political life as well. In Russia, political parties need 45 000 signatures to be registered. In Russia, you can enter the parliament with 7% of the votes. In Russia, fraud took place during the elections, but nobody questioned that United Russia has the majority. In Russia, presidential elections will take place on 4 March with four candidates standing out of seven, and this is not a good sign. We met the seven MPs in Russia.

Russia has a new ruling party, which has obliged itself to change the number of signatures in order for a party to be registered from 45 000 to 500, which promised to directly elect the governors and the judges. We have a United Russia in coalition, so that not just one party rules.

There is a strong fight between the pro-Europeans and the old-fashioned Russians. Our main aim is to support all these Russians who want to become Europeans. That is why I applaud our wise decision to have only a current affairs debate, leaving the possibility for an urgent debate later if necessary.

In June or October, we will present, along with Mr Gross, our comprehensive report of the situation in Russia. We have to help it to become a democratic country, despite all its problems. Russia has a lot of problems; we cannot consider Russia as one of the old democracies of Europe. We have to consider Russia from when it started in the Council of Europe in 1996. Russia has made changes even if they are not enough. It still has to change the judicial system, the electoral system and the right to hold rallies and meetings. There still needs to be fair jurisdiction in the country. They can make these changes only if they have Europe’s support.

I make a firm request to the Russian delegation; Russia must fulfil the commitments that were made 15 years ago. If you do it for your own people, Russia can be a whole and strong member of the Council. That cannot be the case when you still do not have democracy and the rule of law, and still the citizen is not respected. If the dignity and rights of the citizen are not respected, it will be time to make changes in Russia, and now is the time for change.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Frunda. I now call Mr Binley, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.

Mr BINLEY (United Kingdom) – May I extend my congratulations to Mr Kox on leading the delegation to observe the recent Russian elections so well, and on producing such an excellent report? It was a pleasure to work with him, and I want to draw my conclusions from that visit.

Mr Kox’s report highlights many deficiencies in the practice of election procedures on polling day and the structure and composition of the electoral system, and it details those deficiencies concisely. The requirements demanded of political parties before they can register are overly precise. Article 20 of the law on political parties constitutes unnecessary influence. Broadcast and print media coverage was heavily biased in favour of the government party. The Central Election Commission was both inconsistent and deliberately dilatory regarding electoral complaints. Absent voting procedures were wide open to abuse – and abuses occurred.

There is no doubt that corruption and illegal practices were widespread; they are well documented in the report and action must be taken to correct them. However, the real question is whether there was a massive conspiracy, directed from the top, to fix the election; or were the abuses culturally endemic, dependent upon ingrained habits and operated by those with an apparatchik mentality? If they were the result of a preordained plot, they failed miserably. The ruling party took a massive kicking, losing 77 seats, dropping 25% of its share of the poll and winning just under half the popular vote. As the Duke of Wellington would have said, it was a “close-run thing.” Consequently, it is more likely that the abuses were caused by cultural factors inherent in middle management and polling station clerks motivated by a mindset from a left-over age.

The report is right when it states, “Any election needs an impartial referee and, to this day, this is clearly missing”. However, there is real hope that things can get better. Russia is technically capable of organising fair elections – it simply needs to act to show it can. There is real hope, particularly as displayed in the result itself. There is real hope engendered by the use of social networks, from which 60% of the Russian people get their hard-core information.

Finally, there is real hope in the expression of the many young people I talked to, who openly stated their contempt for the corruption they clearly see operating daily in the machinery of government. Mr Kox’s report concludes on a hopeful note, and it is right to do so.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Binley. In the general debate, I call Mr Pozzo di Borgo.

Mr POZZO DI BORGO (France) said that it was important to learn lessons from the recent parliamentary elections in the Russian Federation in order to ensure that the procedures of the forthcoming presidential election were not challenged.

It was clear that there had been irregularities in the course of the parliamentary elections, but it was surprising that the United Russia party had considered it necessary to turn to fraud. After all, the party’s policies enjoyed considerable support and President Putin remained popular with large sections of the population. Even so, United Russia had prevented the registration of certain parties and imposed selection of the presidential candidate. In the event, these fraudulent tactics had backfired. The people of the Russian Federation had felt manipulated and their protests were a natural response to this. It was noticeable that opposition parties had significantly increased their share of the vote.

The Russian Federation was at a turning point. Civil society was on the march and the authorities could no longer disregard the views of the middle classes, students and intellectuals. In a sense, those protests were similar to the 1968 protest movement in France. The Russian authorities had to be persuaded to take account of the emerging civil society which wanted only to participate and to be heard. The Russian authorities had to adapt to this new state of affairs.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Pozzo di Borgo. I now call Mr Slutsky.

Mr SLUTSKY (Russian Federation) said it was wrong that the Russian Federation continued to be criticised as having held unfair elections, when the opposition parties had in fact increased their share of the vote. The opposition parties had been fighting hard for reform, and a number of their proposals, including simplifying the process for selecting candidates and reforming the composition of the State Duma, were now being considered by the State Duma.

It was wrong to say that United Russia dominated the political scene. In fact, that party had lost over 100 seats at the election and no longer held a constitutional majority. This was due entirely to the will of the people as expressed in the elections.

It should not be forgotten that the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe had observed the elections in the Russian Federation and assessed them positively and constructively. There had been no evidence of the shortcomings referred to by Mr Gross. Ambassador Tagliavini, the leader of the OSCE election observation mission, was the sort of person to call a spade a spade. The Russian Federation continued to make progress towards achieving the election standards demanded by the Council of Europe. Mr Kox had been right to say that there was change in the air in the Russian Federation. This was certainly the case when it came to election procedures.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Slutsky. I now call Ms Hostalier.

Ms HOSTALIER (France) said that it would have been better for the Assembly to have debated this matter as an urgent debate so that it could have agreed a clear resolution demanding action from the Russian Federation. The situation in the Russian Federation was dangerous and very alarming. The political leaders had acted in an entirely authoritarian and anti-democratic manner. It was not clear why the Assembly had failed to take action. It was vital, for the sake of the civil population in the Russian Federation, to push for change and adopt a recommendation calling for an end to the numerous election violations perpetrated by the authorities in the Russian Federation.

She had been an observer at the first democratic elections in the Russian Federation on 12 December 1993. Those elections had not been entirely fair but they were heartfelt. Under the current regime, irregularities were occurring on a far greater scale and there was a complete disregard for international standards. It was time for a friendly warning in order to maintain the credibility of the Council of Europe. The Assembly needed to issue such a warning not least because of the regular swapping of the holders of the presidential and prime ministerial posts. This created absolute power with a disregard for the constitution.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Beck.

Ms BECK (Germany) welcomed the comments made by the rapporteur, Mr Gross, which she said should be taken on board by the Assembly. The Russian Federation was at a turning point and in considerable danger. The approach of Mr Putin had created internal risks – citizens were aware of the situation and were likely to reject electoral fraud. The concerns were not just about what happened on polling day but about what happened in the run-up to it, in particular regarding the access of opposition politicians to the media.

The Russian Federation had stated that 180 000 webcams would be installed in polling stations, but there was no guarantee that these webcams could not be tampered with. Human observers would provide a more certain alternative. There was concern that an opposition group that had published allegations of electoral fraud on the internet in December 2011 faced a planned power cut at their headquarters around the very time of the presidential election. Citizens of the Russian Federation need to be able to vote and should expect to be able to vote in just the same way as citizens in other democratic States. If this right were denied, then the result could be that the people would take action on the streets. Such action could create a dangerous situation.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Skinnari.

Mr SKINNARI (Finland) – Russia’s importance is growing. Many experts believe that the elections will not contribute to changes in its macroeconomy, but we should bear in mind that it will join the World Trade Organisation next summer. Let us look at what Russia has going for it. Unlike other Council of Europe member States, it has no government debt, which is of great benefit to Russian taxpayers and to its own future. Too often, we see Russia only in a negative light, but increased trade with it means employment for million of workers.

Economic reform supports democratic reform. There is much that we can do to help Russia to empower itself and prosper to the benefit of its own people. Increased technological co-operation could take place in the context of the environment and energy efficiency; we could promote investment in infrastructure; and there could be more co-operation in the Arctic area and in relation to sea routes, new oil and gas reserves and forestry. Meanwhile, Russia has much to teach us, given its advances in culture and sport.

When I visited the country for the Just Russia party congress in September, before the parliamentary elections, I noticed that its political programmes were similar to ours in Finland. Many of its parties are committed to our own objective of improving people’s living conditions. Between and after the elections, we must try to establish positive co-operation so that we can help each other to improve the standard of living following the bank crises in Europe and in the world. We depend on each other’s advances in business, and on what we can learn from our different systems of social welfare. Equality must be ensured.

It is true that democratic changes are needed in Russia, and we must always send the strong message that fundamental freedoms must be respected. However, despite the problems that were identified during the recent elections, the result represents the view of the Russian majority, and it too must be respected. Instead of always pointing the finger, we should look at what Russia has to offer and at what we can learn from it.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Tsiskarishvili.

Mr TSISKARISHVILI (Georgia) – We all agree on the three main topics involved in the Russian elections. First, the process that took place during the pre-election period was not fair or free. Political groups and parties were allowed only limited participation, and the Kremlin authorities failed to create a level playing field or a competitive environment. Secondly, the day of the elections was marred by fraud, vote-rigging and ballot-stuffing. That process was far from transparent, far from democratic, and far from conforming to international standards or the standards promoted by this Organisation. As for the aftermath – the post-election period – although everyone expected the Russian authorities to react appropriately by investigating and addressing the irregularities, they once again failed to do so, insisting that the process that had been orchestrated had in fact been entirely correct. In short, the elections were not free, democratic or fair.

I understand that some colleagues want to stress the positive side of those events and to say that the elections were well organised technically. However, I do not think that that argument is relevant in that Russia has never had any problems organising elections technically. We will all remember that there used to be a Soviet country called the USSR and that it was the all-time world champion in organising elections technically: yes, there was 100% voter turnout, 100% support for the Communist party and all the polling stations were opened and closed on time. I do not think therefore that referring to the technical organisation of the elections is the right way ahead.

I would like to join Ms Hostalier, our colleague from France, in saying that our delegation, too, supported the urgent debate and subsequent resolution because concessions from our side are never perceived by the Russian authorities, the Kremlin, as a gesture of good will in the hope of further and future improvements. On the contrary, they are perceived as weaknesses that further encourage and reinforce the authoritarian habits of the Kremlin authorities. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next speaker is Mr Vyatkin.

Mr VYATKIN (Russian Federation) said that it was important to note that at this stage these were only allegations of violations of the electoral rules in the Russian Federation. Only after there had been an investigation and judicial process, with all parties represented, could a conclusion be reached as to whether violations of the electoral rules had actually taken place.

Representations had been made by political parties and observers about possible violations, and these needed to be noted. While there had been a considerable number of accusations of violations, to date they had not been proven.

Mr Vyatkin and representatives of the United Russia party agreed that there was a need for an impartial, objective and transparent investigation, but the principle of innocent until proven guilty needed to be upheld. He hoped that this was a principle that members of the Council of Europe would agree with.

The OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights mission had found that elections had taken place, that they were legitimate and that all those elected had taken their seats in the Duma. The main conclusion of that mission was that the elections were fair.

To conclude, allegations had been made about the December elections and they would be investigated. The Russian Federation was following a hard road to democracy but it should be recognised that the progress it had made in a few years had taken other countries much longer to achieve.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Sasi.

Mr SASI (Finland) – Colleagues, Russia is now at a crossroads. Yes, Yeltsin established democracy, but knew that there were no democratic traditions in Russia; in fact, there was chaos and something had to be done. I understand, too, that Putin wanted to establish stability and that it was necessary for Russia. It was done, however, through a true concentration of power. That was fine, but when it was later found that Russia needed, according to Putin, “guided democracy”, it was no longer fine.

How is this guided democracy established? There is no real division of powers; there is just one party that tries to take over the control of the previous Communist party. The security services, aided by the police and judiciary, also tried to take control. As the Khodorkovsky and Magnitsky cases show, people are afraid, and this is one way to guarantee that there will be no effective opposition. The third element of guided democracy is where power is controlled by oligarchs, who must have good relations with the State leadership. This concentration of power means that it is really possible to lead and guide the country.

I would like to remind everyone that democracy is a fine system because it means gradual change in a country, or evolution. If there is no democracy, the change that comes about will be a revolution. We know from Russian history that there have been revolutions in the country. With that alternative, the control of power is strengthened even further. That would be a very unhappy event and it would be unhealthy for Europe.

To my mind, what Russia has to do is to separate the party and the State. The State has its own functions, so people should be working for the State, not for the party, when they occupy certain positions. The party structure cannot be “guided”; it must be real. Parties cannot be established for certain purposes. In fact, all countries have political values, and the parties should be based on those values and on clear programmes, not on controlling the country. It should be possible to mobilise people to attend political activities.

It is also very important for Russia to analyse its history. What has happened in Russia over the last 70 years has not been analysed. We need to confess what has happened in the past and try to learn from it. Let us take the example of Germany and think about how healthy such a process has been there. Television is also important; it must be impartial. People must know the truth, irrespective of the “official information” they get. There can be conflicts between the minds of the people and the minds of the political leadership.

Finally, it is important for us to deal with reports on Russia in our Assembly this April. We want to help. It is useful to have Russian members here. They know what democracy means; will they please work in their own country in favour of democracy?

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Taktakishvili.

Ms TAKTAKISHVILI (Georgia) congratulated the President on his appointment. She noted that there had been no monitoring report on the Russian Federation since 2005, notwithstanding the military occupation of Georgia and ethnic cleansing. Neither of these actions had resulted in sanctions against the Russian Federation. The rapporteur wanted to motivate the Russian Federation to make the right choices. This begged the question “have they made progress?” There continued to be acts of repression against opposition groups.

It was important that the Parliamentary Assembly proactively took steps to improve the situation in the Russian Federation. It was important to draw up an anti-crisis plan that all Council of Europe bodies agreed and that would be adopted in an emergency. If a crisis took hold, the fast pace of developments would not allow sufficient time for policy to be evolved, so it was important to plan ahead. When Georgians talked about the democratic deficit in the Russian Federation, they were often accused of expressing a subjective point of view. Nevertheless, it was a matter of the utmost importance for all Georgians that there should be true democracy in the Russian Federation.

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

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Goryacheva.

Ms GORYACHEVA (Russian Federation) said that she was able to give an unbiased account of the situation in the Russian Federation because she had been elected as an opposition member of parliament five times.

Parliamentary democracy had suffered a series of setbacks in recent years and the problems were significant. For example, the sheer size of the country necessitated 94 000 polling stations, so a desire for overnight reform was unrealistic.

She had been grateful to the international observers who had monitored the Duma elections. There had been electoral infringements throughout her time as a parliamentarian, but the situation was now worse. Nevertheless, 31 prosecutions for electoral fraud had been brought and many of these had been recognised as valid. The following day, the Duma was due to call to account the senior legislators and the chairman of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation. Those who had broken the law should be punished.

The people of the Russian Federation would decide who the next president would be, but they were not always as ready to listen to the international community on this subject as some supposed. The international community had supported Gorbachev and criticised Putin, yet the Russian people often saw the former as damaging to their country and the latter as having prevented the Russian Federation from being broken up.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin.

Ms DE POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – First, I shall talk about the pre-election period. Many people said that they had difficulties in registering parties. We need to understand that parties are created by the Kremlin and that there are no real opposition parties. Also, a tremendous amount of pressure was put on the governors to provide a certain amount of votes for United Russia. All of this narrows the competition even before election day.

When I visited Russia on the post-election mission, everyone we met admitted that things had gone wrong during the Duma election. Everyone we met also said that political change was needed. That is all well and good, but I have my doubts about United Russia. It might be merely employing a survival strategy until the 4 March presidential election. Time will tell whether that is the case, or whether the signs are genuinely hopeful.

The European Court of Human Rights has received thousands of complaints about violations on election day. I do not think the Court has dealt with many of them yet, but I hope it will deal with them satisfactorily.

The fact that there was less support for the ruling party, United Russia, and Mr Putin shows that many Russians are tired of the political recycling of Mr Putin. Many of the people who took part in the recent mass demonstrations were middle class, and they were making a personal protest: they were saying “my vote was stolen.” Will their votes be stolen in the presidential election of 4 March?

Russia’s future might be decided in the next month. It all depends on whether the talk about the need for political change is translated into action. That is in the hands of those in power in Russia. I wish the Russian people well, because they deserve democracy, the rule of law and human rights. That is not what they have currently got.

I will go back to Russia, because it is good to talk, but it is much better to act.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Sudarenkov.

Mr SUDARENKOV (Russian Federation) said that he had first been elected as a member of the Duma in the 1950s during Khrushchev’s time. Over the last 50 years, the national mood had changed significantly.

In his early years as a parliamentarian, elections had felt like a festive occasion even though the people had no real choice. These days, there was a choice but elections had become sombre occasions where people seemed suspicious of one another and the population appeared fractionalised. It was necessary to make elections feel like a national celebration once more.

In the current presidential campaign, he had essentially been a voter rather than a member of a political party and so he could speak from that perspective. Electoral legislation in the Russian Federation was extremely complex and difficult to understand, even for experts. It was very hard for candidates to meet the requirements: for example, in 1996 he had had to collect 20 000 signatures and this had been a laborious task; now 2 million signatures were needed and this was clearly unrealistic. Electoral regulations needed to be simplified and the numbers of signatures required reduced to about 300 000. It was undesirable for the country to be governed without electoral legitimacy.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Fritz.

Mr FRITZ (Germany) said that Mr Slutsky had expressed a positive view of the electoral situation in the Russian Federation, saying that future elections would be different. On the other hand, Ms Beck and others in the debate had expressed doubts about this.

Mr Putin’s party had reportedly received over 90% of the electoral vote in Chechnya in the recent parliamentary vote. This seemed somewhat unlikely given Putin’s history in Chechnya.

There were more demonstrators on the streets than ever, mostly educated people, the young and those who were forward-looking, all of whom wanted to see the rule of law and parliamentary democracy applied in the Russian Federation. He wished to see an end to bureaucracy and the power of the oligarchs in the Russian Federation.

Those enlightened people who were currently demonstrating were precisely the people with whom the international community should be working because, without their participation, true democracy could not be achieved.

In relation to the current elections, the international community should take all necessary steps to ensure that they were as fair as possible, despite the fact that there was already a certain amount of inequality in the process. The debate had been started and issues has been raised that had formerly been taboo: the Council of Europe needed to foster that debate and encourage modernisation.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Fritz. I now call Mr Minashvili.

Mr MINASHVILI (Georgia) – We find ourselves in a surprising situation. For the first time, opposition parties in Russia are praising the president and – even more – the ruling party. That is the scene in Russia. Some say that there are pro-Europeans in the Russian Government. Who is pro-European? Is it Mr Putin, who says that the talk of democracy is a conspiracy plot? Or is it Mr Lavrov, who mourns Kim Jong-il, the former leader of North Korea, but never expressed condolences to the Czech Republic when Václav Havel – that symbol of freedom and liberty – died? Or is it the current president, who said that these were the cleanest elections yet? There are no pro-Europeans in the Russian Government.

There is only one pro-European force: the people. It is the same old story of a repressive government, a repressive State, emboldened corruption and attacks on the free world. The new story, however, is the power of the people. This is the time to act and the time to join our voices to the public protests and the diplomatic pressure. Just a few weeks ago, the European Parliament adopted a resolution stating clearly that the elections were illegal, that there should be new elections, that all the violations should be investigated and that the public protests should be supported as an expression of the people’s will. That is the important thing.

Democracy in Russia is in the indivisible interest of the world, of Europe and of Russia’s neighbours. As the United Kingdom Prime Minister rightly mentioned yesterday, there can be no external peace without internal peace. Democratic transformation in Russia will lead not only to political and economic reforms but to the consolidation of peace and stability in the world. That is very important. Currently, Russia protects and provides military weapons to regimes such as that in North Korea – it is an umbrella for the autocratic world and the enemy of the free world. Edmund Burke said that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. This is the right time for the good women and men here, in the Chamber, to defeat the evil of oppression.

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

Ms ČIGĀNE (Latvia) – I thank our colleagues for coming up with an insightful report. Its overall conclusion is clear: the parliamentary election in the Russian Federation was not fair. Several colleagues have referred to the report by the OSCE and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, and have said that it gave an overall positive assessment. That is not true. The report was very clear that the count was assessed as bad or very bad in every third polling station. That is a very bad assessment that shows that there was a systemic problem during the count. We can talk about whether it was a massive conspiracy or local initiative, but we have to bear in mind another conclusion: election workers were perfectly capable of conducting a good election, but they obviously failed to do so during the count. That is the most important point.

Several colleagues also mentioned that change is happening in Russia, and they focused on the legal framework saying that it is being improved. However, improving the legal framework post factum does not work – the election has already happened. I was alarmed when I heard about video cameras being installed in the polling stations across Russia. Given that there is such huge mistrust, such actions can spread fear. People might start to fear that their vote is being even more controlled and that is not a positive thing.

I also want to mention civil society. Colleagues have mentioned that there was unprecedented mobilisation during the election campaign, despite those who argue that the result was already known and that citizen participation could not have changed anything. Despite that, people participated, and as mentioned there were numerous widespread demonstrations after the election. There are reports, however, that protesters have been repressed and harassed. It is very important that the Monitoring Committee takes a close view on this, and that in the summer or autumn session, at least, we discuss the situation of civil society in Russia. Cases such as that of Mr Magnitsky testify to the fact that the due legal process is not always available to Russian citizens.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Mr Valeriy Fedorov.

Mr V. FEDOROV (Russian Federation) said that he had already addressed the issue of parliamentary elections earlier in the week and wished to emphasise that, in many respects, democratic obligations were already being met in the Russian Federation.

Some 60% of voters had participated in the elections. The prosecutor general had identified 3 000 violations in electoral registrations and 31 criminal cases had been started against members of the electoral commissions. There had been violations in the electoral process but, in each case, an investigation would be opened and a judicial decision would be handed down.

Claims about the defects in the electoral process had not been credible: claims of 10 million or 15 million complaints and that there had been infringements in one third of polling stations were false. Fox News had reported on a protest which had taken place on 24 October, but the video footage which went with that news item was of street battles in Greece which clearly showed palm trees in the background. Self-evidently, palm trees did not grow in Moscow.

Changes were now being made to electoral law in the Russian Federation. These changes were based on the recommendations made by observers from the Council of Europe and elsewhere. For instance, now a political party could be created with only 500 signatures rather than 40 000.

Legislation had been proposed which lowered the threshold for eligibility to win seats in the Duma from 7% to 5% and reforms were also being made to the procedures for selecting candidates. It was to be hoped that Mr Kox’s report would increase confidence, and that as a result future assessments of electoral processes would be based on fact rather than emotion.

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

Mr ZINGERIS (Lithuania) – We are seeing possibly one of the most important events in the 21st century. In the past two months, respect for Russia has grown because the situation is similar to what happened 20 years ago, when the Russian democrats took a lead and dismantled the empire of evil – the Soviet Union. At the time, I was one of the team of negotiators for my country’s independence with Mr Yeltsin in the Kremlin; I was the chairman of the foreign affairs committee and my respect for the brave Russian democrats in the 1990s planted in my heart a respect for the Russian nation.

Russians have shown in the past two months that they are capable of being a competitive nation among democratic States, and they cannot lose this moment. If Yavlinsky or Prokhorov are elected and join us as respected friends in this Chamber, they will sit on our committees and plenary sessions as well as other types of discussions, which allow open dialogue and trust. The best part of Russia, in Moscow, is trying to cement the trust between Russia and the rest of the democratic world.

We have 105 democratic countries in the world, a number which can diminish or grow. I attended the recent election in Taiwan, which showed that in mainland China, there was huge interest, with hundreds of millions of clicks on the internet every day about who would win – the Progressive party or the Kuomintang. The result was that mainland China was morally involved in this vision of Taiwanese democracy.

There is no similar island in Russia to be purely democratically elected – there is no Russian Taiwan, but we have democrats in Moscow. I thank Mr Kox for his mission and the contribution of our dear friend Mr Gross, but now is the moment to concentrate on the main event – 20 years ago, it was the challenge of dismantling the Soviet Union – and if the democrats win, we will shake their hands in Moscow.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Zingeris. I see that Ms Anikashvili is not here, so the next speaker is Mr Vareikis.

Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – As Mr Sudarenkov said, people are voting in Russia, but an election is not a holiday, it is a job. People are not celebrating victories or crying about losing. That is not really natural. Mr Vyatkin said that Russia wants to do everything better, but the wish to do better is not enough. I suggest that people stop wishing and start doing. People are expecting not only vision, but also some activity.

Generally speaking, I am not happy that when we speak about Russia, we use the word “problem”, not “solution”. I do not want to refer to history, but the famous British historian Norman Davies said that the Russian problem occurred in Europe in the 18th century, when Russians started to come to Europe. There have always been Russian problems – I do not like that.

Russia is a beautiful country with beautiful people. You may be surprised, but I love Russia. I love the Russian language, and in fact I can speak it. If you will permit me, I will now switch to speaking in Russian.

(The speaker continued in Russian.)

The people of the Russian Federation were wonderful and loved their country, but they wanted to be free. The representatives of the Russian Parliament had to understand this. The Assembly wanted to see the Russian Federation as a European country, not as a problem or a country to fear. The Assembly wanted a country it could love, and indeed there were many things to love about the Slavic soul.

The elections were an opportunity for the Russian Federation to allow democracy to triumph. Russian politicians should not be afraid: the person they want to win will probably win anyway.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Vareikis. I now call Mr Aleksandrov.

Mr ALEKSANDROV (Russian Federation) said that it was very difficult to convince people who had already made up their minds. He wanted to see an objective and peaceful relationship between Europe and the Russian Federation, which was a modern State and a democratic country based on the rule of law. It was already part of Europe but it also wanted to be friends with Europe.

It was important to be objective about these matters. There had been mistakes in the election, but action was being taken to ensure reform. There were currently legal restrictions on who could become a member of parliament. Many legal cases had arisen from alleged irregularities during the election, and anyone found to have contravened electoral law would be pursued robustly. The elections had been democratic and this had to be recognised.

The Assembly needed to co-operate with the Russian Federation on improving electoral procedures. This was in the interest of all countries.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Aleksandrov. I now call Ms Papadimitriou.

Ms PAPADIMITRIOU (Greece) – Having participated in the election observation mission for the Russian Duma, and having noted the heavy international criticism – the European Parliament’s incredible attack, and the severe points of view of many Council of Europe colleagues and their expressed desire to take measures – I was delighted to hear our Secretary General Mr Jagland’s response to one of our colleagues last Monday, when she asked for more sanctions for a certain country. Here are his wise words: “I do not look upon Europe as a continent in which we should now talk about strengthening sanctions…we should believe in our own instruments and their capacity to influence the situation in member countries. We have to move beyond the more passive approach of criticising and reporting…and set up co-operation programmes with a positive attitude.” Thank you, Mr Secretary General, for your words of wisdom. I hope we all adopt your message and our new role.

Mr President, I do not want to doubt the credibility of my colleagues’ findings. However, my own experience of Russia’s progress as a short-term observer – my pre-assessment of the role Russia can and should play in a world that is challenging traditional spheres of influence and blocs of co-operations – was rather positive.

Contemplating my own country’s crisis – it is not only an economic crisis – I see many missed opportunities and dramatic misconceptions of “belonging” here or there, curtailing our freedom to interact on a wider platform of choices. Of course, there is less need for spending on weapons, but let me tell my European Union friends that if Greece manages to get the much-needed loan before the end of March, we must immediately hand to Germany €10 billion for more guns; both Turkey and Greece, I believe and trust, know that they are not needed any more.

I will not pretend that I do not see clearly that Russia has to address and fix deficiencies and shortcomings. Let us, however, recognise that the post-electoral reaction to our recommendations showed herculean courage and unveiled a determined political will. Let us allow the Russian people come to their presidential elections wiser, free and determined to make the best of this important step towards, let us hope, a more democratic future.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Papadimitriou. I now call Mr Hancock.

Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom) – Let me first say how much I appreciated the comments of Tiny Kox, who summed up a lot of people’s feelings: feelings of hope, but also of regret that opportunities had been missed. His speech today gave the Assembly the chance to think seriously about what we are saying about Russia. His presentation made it clear that we still have to work with our colleagues in the Russian Duma and with the Russian Government to make the improvements that all of us would like to see.

I was rather surprised when Mr Gross said at the Monitoring Committee that the Secretary General was going to go to Russia after the presidential elections, which to me makes no sense whatsoever. If there was ever a time for the Secretary General to visit Russia, it was between the elections, and I hope he will reconsider that. He should take to Mr Putin, Mr Medvedev and our colleagues in the Duma a clear message about the strength of feeling regarding the situation in Russia.

I am not sure I understand what the people on the streets of Russia were saying when they were demonstrating – it was unclear. There was a series of interviews with people; however, you were lucky if you could find someone in the crowd who could speak English. On asking, “What do you want?”, they said, “We were cheated of our vote.” However, these were people crowding the streets of Moscow. When I asked the Monitoring Committee whether this was a Moscow phenomenon or widespread across Russia, nobody in the room could answer that question. Mr Gross has said that there have been demonstrations in other parts of Russia, but I find it strange that that has not manifested itself, certainly in the western European press.

We have to find a way to work with our Russian colleagues to bring about the things they aspire to. I listened carefully to Mr Slutsky’s speech today, and nobody could fail to gain the impression that he was speaking for a sizeable majority of the political forces in Russia, saying that they welcome change and will work to make it happen. However, we in this Chamber seem to have an inbuilt reaction – if somebody does not do immediately what we want, we will find ways to threaten or punish them. That is not the solution. If we do not want Russia in the Assembly, let us tell them so. Let us make a firm decision. I happen to believe that it is better to have people inside the tent arguing their case, than having them outside it causing you problems that you have no control over whatsoever.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Hancock. I now call Mr Ghiletchi.

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – Although I have been to Russia many times, this was my first mission as an international observer, which made my visit rather special. Like many other observers, I was eager to see how the electoral process was organised and how people would respond to it.

My first contact with the immigration officer at the airport border control disappointed me. When the young lady asked me what was the purpose of my visit, I told her that I had come to observe the Duma elections. She said, “Wonderful”, but added that she was not going to vote on Sunday. The results were predictable anyway, she said, and I think that her words expressed the opinion of the majority. As Mr Kox put it in the report that we discussed on Monday, there was “a widespread perception that individual voters could not influence the outcome of elections.”

Nevertheless, it must be said that the picture was slightly better on election day, when I saw many people coming to vote in the hope of a better future. The voting process was organised relatively well, although the counting was tense. Unfortunately the elections were marked by a lack of fairness, but it is good to know that President Medvedev has proposed a comprehensive reform of the Russian political system and Prime Minister Putin has ordered that cameras be installed in all polling stations in time for the next elections. The establishment of authentic democracy in Russia is important not only to the Russian people but to the whole of Europe, especially eastern Europe. It is a known fact that the key to the most frozen conflicts in the former USSR area lies in the Kremlin.

The tragedy that occurred in Moldova on the first day of the new year at the Vadul liu Vodă checkpoint, when a Russian soldier killed a young Moldovan, shows once again how important it is to solve the Transnistrian conflict. Replacing the military mission with an international civil mission is an imperative priority. Regrettably, the Russian ambassador in Moldova made provocative and offensive statements after that tragic incident, which caused a good deal of tension on both sides of the Nistru River. I hope that, with a new leader in the separatist region and re-elected Russian authorities, significant progress will be made in solving the conflict.

Finally, let me challenge our Russian colleagues with a statement made by David Lloyd George. He said “Don’t be afraid to take a big step if one is indicated; you can’t cross a chasm in two small jumps.”

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

Mr ZHIDKIKH (Russian Federation) said that the Assembly was discussing an exceptionally important subject for the Russian Federation and many were interested in what the Assembly had to say. He thanked the rapporteur for his extraordinary work in assessing the elections and hoped that ongoing observation and monitoring would increase confidence in the process.

It was questionable whether the Assembly was assessing the effectiveness of the elections or the overall political landscape of the Russian Federation. If it was the former, of 100 million eligible voters, 60 million had participated and the parliament had been elected thanks to the efforts of the large number involved in the elections.

The views expressed in the speeches of Georgian members of the Assembly were hard to understand. They had brought up past problems between Georgia and the Russian Federation. The current debate was not an opportunity to insult the President of the Russian Federation and there was a need for Assembly members to show more respect for one another.

Youth had played an important role in the elections and was a new and emerging force in the Russian Federation. Some young people from the Russian Federation had visited Strasbourg to learn about the core values of the Council of Europe and this was very welcome.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Guţu

Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova) regretted that there had not been a debate under urgent procedure regarding the elections in the Russian Federation.

The issue of Transnistria remained unresolved. Representatives of the Government of the Russian Federation had announced during a visit to the region that there would be no polling stations in Transnistria apart from those at the embassy. However, a few days after that visit they announced that 24 polling stations would be open in Transnistria. Around 50 000 people were recorded as having voted in Transnistria, although this figure had not been validated because there had not been any international observers. Tensions in Transnistria remained high following the shooting of a young Moldovan by a Russian Federation peacekeeper.

Although 65 million voted in the elections in the Russian Federation, there was a surprising lack of pluralism and freedom of expression and the media were not very open. The Russian Federation needed to respect the sovereignty and independence of the Republic of Moldova. While no resolution would be adopted following the debate, the Government of the Russian Federation had to take note of the debate.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Kandelaki.

Mr KANDELAKI (Georgia) – I start by responding to my Russian colleagues by saying that all the neighbours of Russia are very eager and cannot wait until they start respecting Russia but, for that to happen, Russia will need to start to respect them.

This is not the first and – I am afraid – it will not be the last time that we debate Russia in this Chamber – and every time it happens, we find ourselves regretting that things are going backwards in Russia and not forwards. Surely, when a Georgian speaks about the state of democracy in Russia, he or she will be accused of being biased. Yes, we are biased! If one country has a vested interest in Russia becoming a normal country and a responsible member of the international community, it is, first and foremost, Georgia.

Some statistical research was recently published by The Wall Street Journal. This research, which involved reputable statisticians from Russia and the United States, analysed the data from 95 precincts from all over Russia – and it established some very strange anomalies. The main one was that the United Russia Party enjoyed very significant – more than 90% – support in precincts that achieved a significantly higher than average turnout. No other party showed such a surge in support in the high turnout precincts, and we have seen this phenomenon in other Russian elections since Mr Putin came to power. At the same time, the heavy support for the ruling party did not extend to the lower turnout districts. And check this out. Just 30 out of 11 567 precincts in which the United Russia party took more than 80% had a turnout of less than half of the registered voters.

The science of statistics, dear colleagues, tells us that this is impossible! The same research alleges that the number of votes that could have been stolen amounts to as many as 14 million – about the number that Mr Gross suggested. President Medvedev clearly has a strange sense of humour. Commenting on the thousands of video clips that were all over YouTube showing directly how the fraud and ballot-stuffing took place, he said, “I could not understand anything.” Yet it got even more comic – or tragi-comic – than this: in Moscow’s psychiatric hospital No. 3, 93% of voters voted for the United Russia party.

The real tragedy is that all this was not enough for us to come up with a single sheet of paper or to put together some reasonable demands and requirements with which Russia should comply. This was happening at a time when the European Parliament was adopting rigorous resolutions, calling these elections illegitimate and demanding new elections.

We can all recall previous occasions when we could have acted but did not. Everybody remembers the resolutions adopted by the Assembly about the consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia, and everyone remembers how the Russian Foreign Minister refused to implement any of the demands of the resolution. It is high time that we put our case together and stopped going backwards. We must think about the future. I believe that demanding a fully fledged observation mission for the next elections would be a good first step.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Seyidov.

Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan) said that the Russian Federation was a great and enormous country and that changes that took place in the Russian Federation were important not only for the country itself but for the rest of the world, especially Europe.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe had been discussing the affairs of the Russian Federation for a considerable time and had often made criticisms, but it had to be noted that the Russian Federation had started to move in the right direction and had achieved a great deal. The media were now more open and citizens were able to demonstrate and hold rallies. The Russian Federation had been taking the steps that others had asked it to take and it was important not to criticise but rather to support and help nourish the green shoots that had emerged.

There had been mistakes, but the Russian Federation was not unique in that respect. The member States of the Council of Europe needed to help one another. It was only through co-operation that the situation could be improved within the Russian Federation and for its neighbours.

In terms of geography, the Russian Federation was the largest country in the world and it was important that change took place at a measured pace. The Russian Federation would do all in its power to continue along the path it had already embarked upon.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Popescu.

Mr POPESCU (Ukraine) thanked the rapporteur for his analysis and said that there had been 29 Ukrainian observers at the December election in the Russian Federation, along with colleagues from some 50 other countries. As had been expected, the results of the election had not differed greatly from those of previous elections, although it was important to note that support for the ruling party had reduced somewhat.

Of the more than 100 000 complaints to the electoral commission, only 191 had been justified and only 30 had been deemed to have a case. Given the number of polling stations, these were not high numbers at all. It was therefore important that the electoral system and the organisation of the election should be viewed positively.

The conclusions of the OSCE and of the Council of Europe would be taken into account for the next election. The Russian Federation had given an assurance in that respect. There was real hope that the presidential election would be fully compliant.

The Russian Federation had in its power the ability to show it was committed to the Council of Europe and he hoped that there would be no need for the Assembly to discuss the results of the presidential election.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. Our final speaker is Mr Agramunt.

Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) said that the fact that many contributors had spoken in Russian during the debate should be noted. There were 47 Council of Europe member States and many had experienced problems at one point or another, just as the Russian Federation had. There were also problems in Ukraine where the former prime minister was in prison and so was unable to stand in the next election.

Georgia and the Republic of Moldova both had issues with the Russian Federation, which needed to be resolved. He supported the position of Georgia and the Republic of Moldova because Council of Europe member States should not attack each other militarily.

Because the Group of the European People’s Party had no Russian members, he could be frank. The problems in the Russian Federation were not due to the electoral system. He had been an observer in Moscow at the previous elections and had seen no irregularities on election day itself. Other observers had said the same thing. Some of the electoral commissioners had been rather authoritarian, but there had been no really serious defects in the process.

Those who had lost the elections had certainly demonstrated in the streets the following day, but the claims they were making about the flaws in the electoral process were not necessarily true and could not easily be verified. Observers of all political colours had been present on election day and they had not noted any serious problems. It was true that there were flaws in the electoral system generally, but he emphasised that he personally had seen no infringements on election day itself.

THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. That concludes the list of speakers. I thank all who have spoken, as well as Mr Gross, who introduced the debate.

I remind you that at the end of a current affairs debate, the Assembly is not asked to decide upon a text; but the matter may be referred by the Bureau to the responsible committee for a report.

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

5. Annual activity report 2011 by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

THE PRESIDENT said that he was honoured, in his new role as President of the Assembly, to welcome the Commissioner for Human Rights. He had followed the Commissioner’s excellent work over the years and had admired his approach. The Assembly was delighted to receive such an illustrious Commissioner and he called him to take the floor.

Mr HAMMARBERG (Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights) – Let me congratulate you, Mr Mignon, on your election to the presidency of this extremely important body, with which I have co-operated so closely for almost six years. I have had very good relationships with previous presidents – René van der Linden, Lluís Maria de Puig and Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu – as well as with the rapporteurs appointed by the Assembly to examine individual countries.

One of the most important recent developments in the Council of Europe has been the closer co-operation between the various mechanisms. Although my office is independent and not political, we have managed to co-ordinate our work so as to enhance our efforts to protect and promote human rights. I thank you all very much for that.

I have benefited greatly from my excellent team. At present, it is guided by Isil Gachet, and we also have an excellent assistant in Sandra Ferreira and very committed and hard-working advisers in our office. I am very happy that my successor will be able to benefit from their support.

I am not leaving now, however. I am staying on for another two months, and will visit a number of countries during that period. Those that are in our plans will know about that, of course. There will also be further reports on missions that have already taken place. One of them will be a report on human rights in Ukraine, which I think will be of great interest to this Assembly. There will also be a report on the situation faced by the Roma minority in Europe; that is a comprehensive report covering how it is treated across the entire continent. Another priority for me in my final two months in office will be to have close contact with my successor and to try to assist him in getting acquainted with the challenges of this work.

I have been asked whether we have made much progress during the past six years, and the answer is that we have. There have been some concrete, tangible successes. There were problems following the March 2009 events in Armenia and we have been very active in dealing with the authorities there. Key laws were changed, which was important, and people who had been arrested were released under an amnesty. After the unfortunate war in Georgia in August 2008, we facilitated the release and exchange of a number of people who had been detained on both sides of the border. More than 100 prisoners were released and I had the honour of being present at many of those events.

Perhaps more importantly, laws and procedures have been changed and there have been developments in respect of national organisations protecting human rights, such as ombudsmen and equality bodies. Relationships have also been forged between the authorities and non-governmental organisations. That is extremely important. Civil society groups have become increasingly professional; they are increasingly competent and therefore better at identifying problems and proposing solutions to the authorities.

All that is positive news, but I would not be a human rights defender if I left things there, because there are a number of major problems as well. I shall highlight four problem areas for the future and focus on how they could be addressed.

First, there are problems with the independence of the judiciary. In some countries, there are problems with corruption in the judiciary and the court system, but there are also problems with political interference in court proceedings. That is a serious problem because it undermines people’s trust in the justice system. There are also problems with the misuse of the power to detain people before trial. In fact, many prisoners in Europe today are detained before their guilt has been proven. Our position is that no one

should be detained before their guilt has been proven, unless it is necessary in order to guarantee a fair investigation, or to prevent a suspect from disappearing, from putting pressure on witnesses or from making other problems for the investigation. Most of the cases, however, are not of that kind. We overuse detention.

Linked to that, there is a problem with impunity, not least in serious cases. As colleagues will have noticed, we have increasingly highlighted special cases because we believe that if these cases can be resolved, the spirit may change and the justice system might become more professional and more trusted by people. There are problems with the basic functioning of the justice system in many countries in Europe. I am worried about the conflict or tension between the power of the executive and the judges in several countries, and I am worried about its impact on the performance of those judges. It is a warning signal.

Secondly, we have not lived up to expectations in dealing with terrorism. Terrorism is a plague that must be effectively countered, but at the same time we must respect human rights, not only because it is right in principle but because it is more effective in the fight against terrorism. Here, we have problems in Europe, one of which was the close co-operation, in the aftermath of 9/11, between the United States of America’s security agencies and the European security agencies. There are still cases of rendition and of what have been called “black sites” – secret prisons in Europe where torture is conducted against the suspects. We have not clarified what happened or held to account those responsible for the decisions that made it possible. That is disappointing and needs to be addressed.

Thirdly, we have not fully lived up to expectations with respect to the protection of human rights during the economic crisis. The austerity budgets introduced in country after country in Europe – for good reasons – have, unfortunately, largely targeted vulnerable groups. The poor, who were already disadvantaged, have been asked to carry too much of the burden compared with the rest of the population, and the effects have been unfair. One group that has been targeted and victimised in this process is old people, not least very old people, who have no chance to start again or to earn money through work – they are past that age in their lives. Too many of the consequences of the austerity budgets, therefore, have landed on old people. You can even see them begging in the streets, which is a shame.

Another group hit by the austerity budgets are people with disabilities. We also have to recognise that we have a growing problem of child poverty in Europe as a consequence of the economic policies. I am not saying that we should ignore the economic crisis, but we must adjust our policies to combat the crisis so that the most vulnerable people are protected. It is important that those bodies created to receive complaints and monitor the effects of policies – the ombudsmen and others – should not have their budgets reduced just when they are most needed.

Fourthly, there are problems with something as simple and direct as a lack of tolerance in Europe today. We have too many reports of xenophobia, prejudice and intolerance towards Roma, foreigners and the elderly in our society. People fear losing their jobs. There is the fear that foreigners are taking over our cultures and our societies, and in my opinion not enough leading politicians are trying to explain the importance of tolerance, and of the principle that everyone should be welcomed into our society and that no one should be ostracised because of their background, nationality, race or religious affiliation. There are great problems there. Extreme political groups are making themselves heard more and more, and there is too little effort to ensure that the real issues and values of Europe are explained to the population at large so that these groups cannot continue to grow.

That is my summary of what remains to be done. My successor has important tasks in front of him, and I am sure that he will get your full support. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Hammarberg. A number of colleagues have tabled questions. They have 30 seconds. The first question is from Mr Santini, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.

Mr SANTINI (Italy) said that it was a pleasure and honour to thank the Commissioner on behalf of his group. The Commissioner’s report had mentioned both his achievements during his time in office and those things which had yet to be achieved and were to be taken up by his successor. With particular reference to the Roma people, he asked what the Commissioner’s greatest success had been and what had still to be achieved.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – We have invited governments to provide us with models for success when it comes to the Roma, and we have published a report on the situation in Slovenia noting improved contact between the majority population and the Roma community in certain areas. There are still problems in Slovenia, of course, but when I went there and had discussions with the Roma and the rest of the population in these municipalities, I could sense that something was growing – a recognition of the importance of understanding between people there. Likewise, we went to Spain to see good examples. Efforts are being made there – we were mainly in the Madrid area – to ensure that the Roma population has a chance to find jobs. There are successes there.

The picture is not gloomy all over Europe, therefore, but the overall situation remains very bad. The Roma are behind on all social indicators – for example, their life expectancy is more than 10 years below that of the rest of the population and drop-out levels from school among Roma kids are very high, with about half of school-aged Roma children in Europe not in school. That only perpetuates the bad situation and their poor job prospects.

If I had to point at one aspect that is particularly important for future work with the Roma for their improvement in society, it would be education. Perhaps even more important is pre-school education, so that those who come to school one day are more prepared than they have been in many cases these days.

Finally, anti-Gypsyism and prejudice are major problems for the Roma community. Instead of feeling part of society, they have a tendency to withdraw from co-operation with the rest of society, which is extremely unfortunate. Anti-Gypsyism has to go.

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

Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – The Social Democrats are grateful for your work, and we would like to thank you wholeheartedly for it. We appreciate enormously your compassion and your readiness to work with us. My question is very simple: how do you explain why it is that, in spite of all the efforts and successes, so many human beings, even in Europe, do not see why they should respect, in their own interests, the human rights of others, and why the legitimacy of human rights is becoming so weak?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – This is not an easy question. We have partly failed to bring out the importance of our work. The regression that we have seen in certain areas over the last decade is, to a large extent, dependent on people’s fear. I think that they are afraid of terrorism, the economic crisis and unemployment, so they have retreated into themselves and their communities.

Politicians have a tremendously important role to play in standing up for the values that we have agreed ever since the end of the Second World War and making it clear how enormously important it is that in achieving at least a certain level of social cohesion, we respect human rights. But the work has to go on; some progress has been reported, but also real problems.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Heald, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.

Mr HEALD (United Kingdom) – The EDG joins in congratulating you on your work as well as your speed of response and proactive approach. May I ask you this about your first area of concern? In improving national justice systems and particularly in preventing corruption and ensuring that human rights monitors are protected, is there more of a role for the Assembly and for the Council of Europe in questioning all our governments about what they are doing on these crucial issues?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – The short answer is yes. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly could be very important instruments as a bridge between the knowledge that is here in Strasbourg – including the case law from the Court and the reports from the various mechanisms such as the European Committee for

the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and others – and the situation at home. I have noticed that when there are human rights committees in the parliaments of various member States, the members are not always members of the parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe. It would be natural if there was an overlap, so that you who are here would also be involved actively in human rights work at home. I realise that that happens in some cases, but not often enough. I hope that there will be a better linkage and you will represent the parliamentary and broader discussions on human rights in your country and bring it here, which you do, but also that you will bring to the discussion at home ideas and good examples as well as the criticism that is voiced in this Assembly.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Ms Reps, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms REPS (Estonia) – On behalf of the ALDE group, I join in congratulating you on, and thanking you for, your good work in your many meetings, speeches and prompt reactions to events. I would like to ask a very important question about protecting human rights defenders. What would you say to the next Commissioner about this interesting but difficult field?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – It would be to relate closely to individuals who are active in those groups – such communication is absolutely crucial – and to give them the feeling that they have a channel to the Council of Europe so that serious concerns will be brought up in this Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and the other bodies. For them, it is so crucial to be recognised by the Council of Europe; you cannot imagine the moral strength that you are giving them, by seeing them, listening to them and relating to them. The fact that this body has a rapporteur on this issue is important in itself.

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

Mr VILLUMSEN (Denmark) – Allow me to send the compliments of the Unified European Left on the good work that you have done. What would you tell your successor concerning Russia?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – Nils Muiznieks has the advantage, which I do not have, of knowing the Russian language, and that is a positive factor. I think that he should go there and not only stay in Moscow and St Petersburg, but travel around the country and talk to people. There is a very active civil society community in Russia today; we have of course had visitors here from that community. He could continue the good relationship that the Office has with the Office of the Ombudsman, Mr Lukin, who has been very constructive and helpful to me in my work, and the other regional ombudsmen in Russia. He should build trust, but at the same time continue to have frank, honest and critical reporting. Frankly, I have not had problems with very critical reports when it comes to relationships with the authorities in Russia. As long as there is a feeling that one is fair and that the facts are correct, our reports have been accepted and have been the basis for some good discussions. So Mr Muiznieks has a good basis for continuing work on the many and serious problems on human rights that still exist in Russia.

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

Mr ROCHEBLOINE (France) said that he had asked Mr Hammarberg, on two previous occasions during the annual question session in the Assembly, about the steps he had taken to shed more light on the situation of Armenian minorities in Georgia. Many human rights violations had taken place in Georgia. The last time he had asked, Mr Hammarberg had said he would look into the matter, but there was no reference to it in Mr Hammarberg’s annual report.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – There is no deliberate silence, but it is true that we have not been very active on this. I have communicated with the High Commissioner on National Minorities in The Hague within the OSCE context. He has been active on this issue, kept me informed about the steps that have been taken, and I have given him my support. I have mentioned it in some discussions with authorities in Tbilisi, but I agree that we could have done more on this issue.

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

Ms ZOHRABYAN (Armenia) referred to the assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and the failure of the Turkish authorities to co-operate fully with the investigation into his death. She asked whether the Assembly should push for action on this point.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – Yes, it could. I happened to be in Istanbul when the ruling came from the court on the fifth anniversary of the killing of Hrant Dink. The outrage was very clear among the population that this was not the right conclusion of his case. Of course, it has now been appealed and will go to a higher level and thereby be resolved. Interestingly, the prosecutor, perhaps not surprisingly, and the judge said afterwards that they were not happy with the ruling and felt that all the truth had not come out. It was felt that more people were involved and what happened was more organised than the decision had said. I am optimistic: I think that the next level will take into account the criticism, and that there will be a serious review of the case. Further investigations will be required, and they will need to look at not only the procedures but the facts, and to find more facts. It is clear that this case is not finished.

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

Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – My question relates to Transnistria. As you know, on 1 January a young man was shot dead at the checkpoint. What is your opinion about the replacement of the military peacekeeping force with an international civil mission in that area?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – I am familiar with this issue as I recently visited Transnistria and discussed such matters, as well as broader human rights issues, with the newly elected de facto president and some of his close colleagues. I hope that, after the incident on 1 January, it will still be possible to start, in real terms, the 5 + 2 process the OSCE is organising and promoting along with the Irish chairmanship. I also had discussions in Chişinău about the situation there. When it comes to human rights, I believe that our voice will be extremely important, and I hope that it will not be misunderstood if my successor also has some interest in the Transnistrian situation. It does not mean that we recognise Transnistria’s independence; it just means that we are concerned about the people there and want to protect their rights. We in my office have taken the liberty of being colour blind when it comes to politics, going to areas where people might be under pressure or suffering human rights violations, irrespective of diplomacy or the question of recognition. I am sure that that will continue.

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

Mr KALMÁR (Hungary) – The foreword of your report constitutes a conclusion to your period in office and outlines the heritage for your successor. You raised many questions and issues, but surely one is missing: the problems experienced by national minorities. It seems you have forgotten this question, and that is more than a deficiency – I consider it scandalous. What is the reason for this? I do not consider satisfactory the answer you gave to my colleague, Mr Rochebloine.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – The answer that I gave was honest – that is the true situation. National minorities is not a forgotten problem: if you read more carefully what we said – this is reflected on our website – you will see that we raise this problem repeatedly. Of course, there is also frequent reference to the rights of people belonging to national minorities in our published collection of viewpoints and human rights comments. The Council of Europe also has a very useful body that deals with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Therefore, I do not accept the criticism that we have not raised this issue. If asked, some of the ambassadors here from various countries would say that we have done too much in this regard, and we have done quite a lot.

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

Mr HARANGOZÓ (Hungary) – Thank you, Mr Hammarberg, for your excellent work. You expressed your hope that there will be a fruitful dialogue with the Hungarian Government on Council of Europe standards. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of talks with the government, especially given that, since that time, Klub Radio, the only voice of the opposition, has lost its radio frequency; and that, after forced retirement, judges will be replaced by new nominees appointed by the wife of the Fidesz European Parliament delegation leader, a close friend of the Prime Minister? There is also the question of the registration of churches by the parliament.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – As you know, there is an on-going discussion between the European Union, the Council of Europe and the Government of Hungary, and hopefully it will be constructive. We took a particular interest in the changes to media legislation in Hungary, and looked at the case law on freedom of expression cases in the Court here, comparing it with the changes to the legislation in Hungary. We found that there were some discrepancies and problems, and we conveyed that to the government. Unfortunately, we did not feel that the response was sufficiently constructive. This issue has come up in Brussels, and Secretary General Jagland has raised it in dialogue with the Hungarian authorities. I hope that my successor and other elements of the Council of Europe can establish a real and constructive dialogue with the authorities in Hungary. The Venice Commission will play an important role, as I hope will the Commissioner’s office.

I have said many times that I think it is important that the European Union, in raising human rights issues, has the politeness and courage to refer to the Council of Europe. We have the standards – the Convention, and other conventions of relevance – and the experience to deal with such problems, which are not always a matter for Brussels. There, the approach has not always completely worked.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next question is from Mr Huseynov, who is not here, so I call Ms Pashayeva.

Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – The French Senate passed a law criminalising the denial of the so-called “Armenian genocide”, which has not been recognised as such by any international court. The endorsement of this law could result in the imprisonment of, and the imposing of heavy penalties on, any citizen of France – that would include 500 000 Turkish people – who denies the occurrence of this so-called genocide. As the Commissioner for Human Rights, do you not think that this decision limits freedom of expression and thought, thereby violating human rights?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – I am aware that the Secretary General made a statement on this issue here the other day, and I take the same line. I do not think that this is the right approach. Freedom of expression can be limited, but when it comes to similar matters, we relate it to hate speech. If a statement incites hatred, and perhaps even violence, against a group of people, that could be criminalised in our opinion. However, it has to be that serious – there should be this intent to spread hatred. I am not sure you could say that in this case, and I think that Mr Jagland is on the right track when he says that it is not up to political bodies to decide upon versions of history. So, to be frank, I do not think that this approach is very helpful.

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

Mr HAUGLI (Norway) – As you are about to complete your term as Commissioner, Mr Hammarberg, I want to join with those who convey their deep gratitude for the impressive work you have done. I want to highlight the ground-breaking work you have done on LGBT issues. My question, however, is more general.

It is often said that, as you touched on in your presentation, minorities are hardest hit in tough times. Looking back at 2011, when the economic crisis deepened throughout Europe, in what areas did you observe the most serious setbacks?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – There are different kinds of minorities. We have already touched on the subject of national minorities, who tend to be targeted or victimised by austerity budgets. The Roma should be mentioned repeatedly because they are so far behind in respect of basic human rights, not least social rights. LGBT people have also been suffering from the consequences of austerity budgets and, as I said earlier, I am extremely worried about the consequences for people with disabilities, very old people and, of course, children, who will make up the next generation. They too have been subject to budget cuts that will affect their ability to develop properly in society.

Economic policy can clearly have serious consequences. Perhaps we can at least hope for a deeper analysis of those consequences – a sort of impact analysis – before budgets of this kind are adopted.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I do not see Ms Jovanović, so I call Ms Bilgehan.

Ms BİLGEHAN (Turkey) – You have already commented on the recent increase in the number of racist and xenophobic acts, or crimes, in several European countries. Do you think that the local authorities in Europe are implementing existing laws and regulations fully in order to deal with such crimes?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – The short answer is no. More could be done. I believe that our Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe is trying to take some meaningful action, and I hope that it will be given enough support for its work. I am rather worried about the current discussions about the possibility of cutting it down.

I believe that a large proportion of human rights work should be done locally, close to the people. It is important for elected members of local assemblies to feel that they too have responsibility for the implementation of international standards, but that is not always the case.

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

Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary) – One of my Hungarian colleagues, Mr Kalmár, said in his question to you that he thought it scandalous that you did not focus more on the protection of the rights of national communities, and I agree with him. Why have you not concentrated on, for instance, trying to help the special communities living in Romania? I think that helping the Hungarian communities, the settlers, the almost 1 million people with no territorial autonomy, is more important than the rights of gay and lesbian people.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – Let me say first that we do not make such comparisons. We think that there is justification for helping both groups rather than allowing one to cancel the other out.

As for the Hungarian minority in Romania, I think that you should ask the Romanian Government whether I have raised that issue or not. In fact, I have raised it. I think that you are on the wrong track when you try to spread the message that we have done nothing for national minorities, because they are one of our key priorities. Read our reports on the subject. Read the special communication that I have written about it, which deals with aspects such as language, recognition and the possibility of voting. I am not sure that you read the necessary texts before expressing your views.

I am certain that Mr Muiznieks, my successor, will pay special attention to this issue. He has, after all, chaired the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, and he thinks along the same lines as me – as, indeed, does my director and my entire office. This is an important part of our work, and if others can come up with good proposals, we shall be prepared to do even more.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Ms Guţu

Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova) asked for Mr Hammarberg’s personal view on the issue of Transnistria following his visit to there.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – As you know, my remit is limited to human rights, but I am concerned about the human rights of people in that region. I have tried to monitor the situation there, and to produce recommendations. However, I am not an idiot, and I realise that the best long-term solution will be in the political dimension. There is a link between politics and human rights, not least in instances such as this. I can only hope that the dialogue which has began under the international umbrella of the OSCE and others in advance of the 5 + 2 process that will begin in Dublin in March will produce results that render the political dimension no longer a problem, so that we can concentrate on supporting efforts to protect the human rights of the people whom you have mentioned. I do not want to say more than that, because I do not want to undermine the strength of our message when it comes to focusing on human rights

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

Mr VYATKIN (Russian Federation) asked for Mr Hammarberg’s view on the resurgence of Nazism in a number of countries in Europe, especially given that fascists from the 1930s and 1940s were being proclaimed as heroes in some Council of Europe member States.

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – Extremism in all its forms constitutes a threat to human rights. As I said in my speech, I am worried about the growth of extremist movements in Europe. It is interesting to note that the scapegoats targeted by those movements through their propaganda are more or less the same as those who were targeted by the Nazis in Germany under Hitler: Jews, Roma, homosexuals and disabled people. It is important for us not to accept the re-emergence of such tendencies in Europe today.

Perhaps the most dangerous groups are those that pretend not to be as extreme as they really are. We are seeing a “smart” version of extremism in some countries, which contains aspects that may be attractive to a number of voters, but also contains a message that would prove dangerous if its proponents ever achieved governmental power. We must ensure that groups of that kind cannot obtain support from the wider population in our countries.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The next question is from Mr Flego.

Mr FLEGO (Croatia) – Thank you for all the activities that you are undertaking in fulfilling your mandate of promoting human rights and preventing their violation. We all know that prevention is better than cure, and that human rights should be given much more prominence in school curriculums. However, rather than merely disseminating information or discussing the theoretical foundation of human rights, should not teachers provide examples that will promote an atmosphere of tolerance, mutual understanding and mutual respect in the classroom?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – I think it would. I believe that human rights education has not been as successful as it should have been. In a number of countries, the curricula are not well developed and when teaching on human rights takes place, it tends to be abstract; it tends to refer to various conventions rather than to use modern pedagogic methods to make the next generation understand that internationally agreed human rights are crucial for all of us. Messages are sometimes spread through the internet and the new social media – some very positive, some very negative. We should not forget the importance of being active on the internet when it comes to the future of human rights education. Some of us have been too passive and too slow in understanding the potential of using these methods of communication.

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

Ms POSTANJYAN (Armenia) – How can the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights oblige Turkey to fulfil its international obligations on impunity, particularly in respect of the case of the justice journalist, Hrant Dink?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – As you know, we have just published a report on the functioning of the administration of justice in Turkey, and this issue was relevant. As I said earlier, we have been active on the case of Hrant Dink; it is not only a serious case in itself, but symbolises a problem in the Turkish system of justice. When I visited Turkey, I had some very positive discussions and I gained the feeling that Ankara’s response to our report, as to the previous report on freedom of expression, has been quite constructive and positive. The Minister of Justice made a public statement when I was there about a new package of reforms to be discussed and adopted. I hope further steps will be taken to ensure a better functioning of the administration of justice, and certainly to avoid impunity in the future.

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

Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) – I thank you for your work as Commissioner for Human Rights and for your statement today that we politicians should tackle racism and intolerance. Unfortunately, hate speech is becoming increasingly common and increasingly evident in general debate. This is a threat not only to minorities but to us all. What can we do to stop offensive discussion from becoming more general?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – It is not easy because there are problems with the definitions. There are, however, some obvious cases of hate speech to which we should react. It is important to have legislation that states that there are exceptions to freedom of expression, and that this is one of them. Another example would be child pornography. Then, the law should be used. Some countries have legislation in force to deal with this, but they do not use it in reality. It is important that prosecutors see the possibility of setting an example. Frankly, I have seen too many statements made by leading politicians, which I view as not only prejudiced but containing elements of hatred in them – not least against the Roma minority. That is, of course, absolutely unacceptable.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Mr Chope has a question. If anyone else wishes to ask a question, we have a little extra time.

Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – I want to ask about the lack of independence of the judiciary. How many of the 47 countries in the Council of Europe does Mr Hammarberg think are tainted by not having an independent judiciary? What does he think we as members of the Parliamentary Assembly can do to take this issue forward?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – That is a good question, but impossible to answer because it is not an either/or situation; it is more like a sliding scale. One problem is what is known as “telephone justice”. This happens when a telephone call comes from high up to the judge when an important decision is about to be taken. We know that happens. More often, however, the problem is where judges are inclined to decide on the basis of what they think the president or the prime minister want. It often happens like that. Clearly, there are some cases of politicisation in several countries when it comes to the system of justice. I have already mentioned detention before trial, which is often used selectively. In some countries, a politician who is seen as controversial will run a higher risk of being put in detention than others. That is, of course, a distortion of the principle of equality before the court. I cannot say exactly how many countries, but I think that a number of countries have tendencies in this direction. In some countries, it is so obvious that we have pointed it out in our reports, which can be read on our website.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Andersen.

Ms ANDERSEN (Norway) – First, thank you for the important work you have done. You said in your speech that you were worried about human rights in the fight against terrorism. Yesterday, Prime Minister Cameron visited this Assembly, and he also mentioned this issue. I was a bit worried by what he said. It sounded as if he was saying that it was acceptable to suspend human rights when fighting terror – something I believe has happened in many countries. What would you recommend we do on this issue?

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

Mr HAMMARBERG – To accept that there are red lines when it comes to using methods against terrorism. One is that we cannot allow torture, which we know took place after 11 September, sometimes as a result of co-operation between the United States security agencies and some European agencies. In the United Kingdom, there is the issue of whether people should be deported to their country of origin where there is an obvious risk of torture. There, the human rights position is quite clear: we cannot do that.

I thought that Mr Cameron addressed the issue yesterday quite intelligently. He explained that he was landed with a real problem. He did not wish to allow Abu Qatada to continue to preach hatred, but he could not send him back or put him in detention. The human rights response to this dilemma – there is, of course, a dilemma there – is that he cannot be sent back if there is a serious risk of torture. That is out. As to imprisonment, if it could be shown in a trial that he had committed a crime, he should be put in prison. Evidence is required, however, before condemning someone as a criminal. That is the human rights response on that angle. We talked about hate speech a little earlier. Again, incitement of hatred has to be proven before it can be defined as a crime. There are, therefore, human rights responses to the dilemma that the Prime Minister so eloquently described yesterday. From our point of view, this is not a hopeless discussion.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. The last question is from Ms Beck.

Ms BECK (Germany) thanked Mr Hammarberg for his work and said that his personal credibility gave considerable weight to the office of Commissioner. With regard to Belarus, there was a risk of two death penalties being implemented. Opposition politicians faced physical threats. She asked what could be done.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. Would you like to respond, Mr Hammarberg?

Mr HAMMARBERG – Let me say that I have had a bit of a mandate problem in respect of Belarus. My mandate says that my work should be focused on member States, but Belarus is, of course, not a member State. Fortunately, the Committee of Ministers decided to give my office an extra task relating to human rights defenders. I choose to interpret that fairly broadly, so that it does not apply to the territorial limitations of the office. I have therefore done quite a lot of work on Belarus, not least during the past year. I have followed developments there and have frequently met human rights defenders and non-governmental organisation representatives, including here in connection with your Assembly meetings.

Ales Bialiatski has been given a long prison sentence just because he has served as a channel of donations from outside the country to victims of human rights violations inside Belarus. It is outrageous that such a person should be locked up, and under such very difficult circumstances. There are also other people who should not be in prison who are being treated very badly in Belarusian prisons.

May I be frank? I do not think that the European Union approach has been particularly successful. Sometimes it has even sent contradictory signals. However, this is not an easy situation to deal with, especially given the reactions from the highest levels in Belarus.

We must continue monitoring developments in the country. We must also continue to state our opinions on developments there and encourage greater involvement by neighbouring countries, not only Poland and the Baltic States – Lithuania has always played a key role in respect of Belarus – but the Russian Federation itself. If we were to manage to send a unified message on human rights to the leaders in Belarus, we might make an impact. So far, however, the responses from Belarus have not been very encouraging.

THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – That brings to an end the questions to Mr Hammarberg. I thank him most warmly on behalf of the Assembly for his statement and for the remarks he has made in the course of questions. He has been most candid.

Dear colleagues, I would like to remind you that there will be a Joint Committee meeting at 7 p.m. this evening in room 5. I draw your attention to Rule 55 of our Rules of Procedure, which provides for the attendance of one member representing each national delegation.

6. 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 which was approved on Monday.

The sitting is closed.

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


1.       Written declarations

2.       Report of result of challenge to Ukrainian credentials

3.       Changes in membership of committees

4.       Current affairs debate: The Russian Federation between two elections


Mr Gross (Switzerland)

Ms Lundgren (Sweden)

Mr Kox (Netherlands)

Mr Frunda (Romania)

Mr Binley (United Kingdom)

Mr Pozzo di Borgo (France)

Mr Slutsky (Russian Federation)

Ms Hostalier (France)

Ms Beck (Germany)

Mr Skinnari (Finland)

Mr Tsiskarishvili (Georgia)

Mr Vyatkin (Russian Federation)

Mr Sasi (Finland)

Ms Taktakishvili (Georgia)

Ms Goryacheva (Russian Federation)

Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden)

Mr Sudarenkov (Russian Federation)

Mr Fritz (Germany)

Mr Minashvili (Georgia)

Ms Čigāne (Latvia)

Mr V. Fedorov (Russian Federation)

Mr Zingeris (Lithuania)

Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)

Mr Aleksandrov (Russian Federation)

Ms Papadimitriou (Greece)

Mr Hancock (United Kingdom)

Mr Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova)

Mr Zhidkikh (Russian Federation)

Ms Guţu (Republic of Moldova)

Mr Kandelaki (Georgia)

Mr Seyidov (Azerbaijan)

Mr Popescu (Ukraine)

Mr Agramunt (Spain)

5.       Annual activity report 2011 by the COE Commissioner for Human Rights

      Statement by Mr Hammarberg, COE Commissioner for Human Rights


Mr Santini (Italy)

Mr Gross (Switzerland)

Mr Heald (United Kingdom)

Ms Reps (Estonia)

Mr Villumsen (Denmark)

Mr Rochebloine (France)

Ms Zohrabyan (Armenia)

Mr Ghiletchi (Republic of Moldova)

Mr Kalmár (Hungary)

Mr Harangozó (Hungary)

Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan)

Mr Haugli (Norway)

Ms Bilgehan (Turkey)

Mr Gaudi Nagy (Hungary)

Ms Guţu (Republic of Moldova)

Mr Vyatkin (Russian Federation)

Mr Flego (Croatia)

Ms Postanjyan (Armenia)

Ms Huovinen (Finland)

Mr Chope (United Kingdom)

Ms Andersen (Norway)

Ms Beck (Germany)

6.       Date, time and agenda of the next meeting


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*



Viorel Riceard BADEA

Gagik BAGHDASARYAN/Zaruhi Postanjyan

Pelin Gündeş BAKIR



Meritxell BATET*


Marieluise BECK

Alexander van der BELLEN*









Roland BLUM/Françoise Hostalier

Jean-Marie BOCKEL

Eric BOCQUET/Bernadette Bourzaď


Mladen BOSIĆ*

António BRAGA*


Márton BRAUN*

Federico BRICOLO/Giacomo Stucchi



Patrizia BUGNANO/Giuliana Carlino


Sylvia CANEL*


Mikael CEDERBRATT/Kerstin Lundgren


Vannino CHITI/Anna Maria Carloni

Christopher CHOPE


Desislav CHUKOLOV/Yuliana Koleva




Deirdre CLUNE*

Georges COLOMBIER/Alain Cousin

Agustín CONDE*


Igor CORMAN/Stella Jantuan



Cristian DAVID*


Giovanna DEBONO*

Armand DE DECKER/Fatiha Saďdi





Karl DONABAUER/ Edgar Mayer

Gianpaolo DOZZO/ Paolo Corsini

Daphné DUMERY*

Alexander DUNDEE*

Josette DURRIEU*


József ÉKES


Lydie ERR

Nikolay FEDOROV/ Vladimir Zhidkikh



Doris FIALA*

Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Tomáš Jirsa




Gvozden Srećko FLEGO

Stanislav FOŘT*



Jean-Claude FRÉCON/Frédéric Reiss

Erich Georg FRITZ

Martin FRONC*


Giorgi GABASHVILI/Giorgi Kandelaki


Roger GALE/ David Davies

Jean-Charles GARDETTO



Sophia GIANNAKA/Georges Charalambopoulos


Michael GLOS*




Martin GRAF*

Sylvi GRAHAM/Řyvind Vaksdal

Andreas GROSS*





Carina HÄGG/Lennart Axelsson


Andrzej HALICKI*


Margus HANSON*



Norbert HAUPERT*

Oliver HEALD

Alfred HEER*


Andres HERKEL*






Andrej HUNKO*




Stanisław HUSKOWSKI*

Shpëtim IDRIZI/Kastriot Islami



Tadeusz IWIŃSKI*

Denis JACQUAT/Yves Pozzo Di Borgo

Michael Aastrup JENSEN*


Birkir Jón JÓNSSON

Armand JUNG*

Antti KAIKKONEN/Jouko Skinnari



Michail KATRINIS/Alexandros Athanasiadis


Bogdan KLICH

Haluk KOÇ

Konstantin KOSACHEV/Oleg Lebedev

Tiny KOX

Marie KRARUP/Nikolaj Villumsen

Borjana KRIŠTO

Václav KUBATA/Dana Váhalová


Jean-Pierre KUCHEIDA*

Dalia KUODYTĖ/Egidijus Vareikis

Ertuğrul KÜRKÇÜ


Henrik Sass LARSEN

Jean-Paul LECOQ*






François LONCLE*

Jean-Louis LORRAIN




Philippe MAHOUX*


Nicole MANZONE-SAQUET/Bernard Marquet




Meritxell MATEU PI




Michael McNAMARA*




Ivan MELNIKOV/Oleg Panteleev




Jean-Claude MIGNON/Christine Marin



Krasimir MINCHEV/Petar Petrov


Andrey MOLCHANOV/Alexey Ivanovich Aleksandrov


Patrick MORIAU/Ludo Sannen



Arkadiusz MULARCZYK*


Philippe NACHBAR

Adrian NĂSTASE/Tudor Panţiru

Gebhard NEGELE/Leander Schädler

Pasquale NESSA



Tomislav NIKOLIĆ*

Aleksandar NIKOLOSKI*






Vassiliki PAPANDREOU/ Elsa Papadimitriou




Johannes PFLUG


Lisbeth Bech POULSEN


Cezar Florin PREDA*

John PRESCOTT/Joe Benton


Gabino PUCHE*

Milorad PUPOVAC*

Valeriy PYSARENKO/Volodymyr Pylypenko




Mailis REPS


Gonzalo ROBLES


Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*





Branko RUŽIĆ/Elvira Kovács

Volodymyr RYBAK/Oleksiy Plotnikov

Rovshan RZAYEV




Giuseppe SARO*

Kimmo SASI








Ladislav SKOPAL*






Fiorenzo STOLFI*

Christoph STRÄSSER



Björn von SYDOW


Vilmos SZABÓ/ Gábor Harangozó




Vyacheslav TIMCHENKO/Natalia Burykina



Latchezar TOSHEV



Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ


Konstantinos TZAVARAS/Dimitrios Papadimoulis









Vladimir VORONIN*

Konstantinos VRETTOS

Klaas de VRIES*



Piotr WACH


Robert WALTER/ Jeffrey Donaldson

Katrin WERNER*



Gisela WURM Martina Schenk

Jordi XUCLŔ*


Kostiantyn ZHEVAHO/Yevgeniy Suslov

Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Guennady ZIUGANOV*


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

Reinette KLEVER

John Paul PHELAN

Luz Elena SANÍN





Hervé Pierre GUILLOT


Martha Leticia SOSA GOVEA

Partners for democracy: