AS (2014) CR 11
2014 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 7 April 2014 at 3.00 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
4. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Ms Brasseur, President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.05 p.m.)
The PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Changes in the membership of committees
The PRESIDENT* – There are proposed changes to the membership of committees, which are set out in Document Commissions (2014) 04 Addendum 1.
The changes are adopted.
2. Communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly
The PRESIDENT – I thank you, Mr Kurz, for once again being present in our Assembly. I congratulate the Austrian chairmanship on what it has organised; it is a challenging chairmanship, with which you are heavily involved. I also thank the ambassador, with whom I have excellent relations. Your chairmanship organised a number of events, such as the conference at the Austrian Parliament on 17 March commemorating the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was honoured to participate in that meeting and address the audience. We greatly appreciate your country’s involvement in the search for a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. We followed with great interest your recent visit to Kiev with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. Together with the Committee of Ministers, we welcome the immediate assistance measures for Ukraine that were presented last week by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The urgent debate on democratic institutions in Ukraine that we will hold later this week will provide further political input for that process. We must address in an appropriate manner Ukraine’s immediate priorities: constitutional reform and reform of the electoral legislation.
Earlier today, at an intra-institutional meeting organised by the Secretary General, we discussed the situation in Ukraine. We are now interested, Minister, in hearing your views and ideas about how collaboration between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly can be further developed on this crucial issue for the Council of Europe.
Mr KURZ (Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of Austria, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers) – Madam President, Secretary General and distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly, it is a great pleasure to be here for a second time in Strasbourg. I would like to present the priorities of the Austrian chairmanship. When I was here for the first time in January I tried to give you a preview of our intended programme. Now, a few months later, we can be proud of the successes and outcomes of the Austrian chairmanship.
Before I come to the thematic priorities, I wish to talk about Ukraine, which was hardly a planned focus for our chairmanship, but it continues to be of great concern to us. Of course, that has cast a shadow over our chairmanship. The situation has changed radically since January, becoming a major challenge not just for Ukraine and those living in Crimea but for all international organisations, particularly the OSCE and the Council of Europe.
I welcome the fact that certain initiatives have been taken by the Council of Europe. I thank Madam President for her commitment and the initiative taken with parliamentary colleagues. I should also refer to the mission undertaken with Secretary General Jagland at the end of the March. The aim was to offer a support package to the Kiev Government and to obtain its assent for that package. I am pleased to report not only that the Ukraine Government has accepted the Council of Europe’s proposals for support but that a number of the proposals are being rolled out in practice. We agreed that an international advisory panel be established to oversee investigations into recent acts of violence in the Maidan. It was not easy to come up with a solution accepted by all parties and all groups in Ukraine but I think that the idea that representatives of the Opposition, of the Government and of the Council of Europe sit on such a panel has been a success and has been broadly supported. That panel is now constituted and can start its work.
In discussions with the civilian population, the Secretary General and I gained the impression that these events continue to be at the forefront of the concern of people living in Ukraine, particularly Kiev’s inhabitants. I am pleased that the Council of Europe is taking the opportunity to provide assistance to ensure that there is a thorough and regular clarification of what occurred.
We also made proposals concerning constitutional reform. A working group has already begun work on that. I hope that the support of the Council of Europe will be deemed helpful by Ukraine in developing a new constitution. We set up a working group to examine and enhance the quality of legislation in Ukraine and that has been gratefully accepted by the Ukraine Government, but it is particularly important that experts on the issue of national minorities are in Ukraine. They were not able to go to Crimea, but they were able to visit the rest of Ukraine and take stock of the situation there. Their views are clear. At the moment, there is no threat to minorities in Ukraine. At the same time, the opportunity was taken to have discussions with representatives of Crimean Tatars outside Crimea. The situation of the Crimean Tatars does give cause for concern.
It is important to look at the situation of minorities throughout Ukraine. Indeed, I believe that Russia has consistently used the allegation of minorities not being properly treated in Ukraine as a pretext for the action it has taken. It is important to find out what the situation of minorities actually is. We must also look at the lawfulness of the referendum in Crimea. I believe that our decisions and actions in respect of Crimea must be based on all those factors, particularly if we are to tackle the conflict proactively.
We have been concerned with the situation in Ukraine. We have held various meetings, including with the Ministers’ Deputies. On 20 March a clear appeal was made to Russia to enter into direct dialogue with Ukraine. I hope that that appeal will not fall on deaf ears and that the signals given in the last few days concerning readiness to talk are positive. May I give my personal opinion? I think it will be right to avail oneself of the opportunity to set up an international contact group. The Germans have proposed that for some time now but it has not been possible to start such a contact group to date. However, we should not lose hope. The time frame is indeed now more appropriate than ever to start such an initiative.
I would like to cover the themes and priorities of the Austrian chairmanship. I will not cover all the events but pick out a few where we were able to be particularly successful. The conference on combating trafficking in human beings was put together with the OSCE under the heading “Not for sale”. There were more than 450 participants and I am particularly grateful to Mr Jagland for his participation. I am pleased that we were able not just to come up with an initial stock-take across the borders of a number of countries but examine the means of expanding our arsenal of instruments, for use on a broader front against trafficking in human beings.
Another priority of our chairmanship was the issue of Internet governance and rights on the Internet. I am pleased to report that the conference that was organised in Graz in March was very successful. It looked at specific measures to be taken to set standards that would apply on the Internet. We must protect personal privacy and at the same time comply with human rights online. The conclusions of the conference will, I believe, have your support. The current restrictions on freedom of expression are not just cause for concern but a clear signal that our priority was well chosen.
In a month, we will have the ministerial session organised by the chairmanship. There will be a further high-level conference before that on international anti-corruption efforts. That will be held in Laxenburg, near Vienna. We will be pleased if the Istanbul Convention enters into force as soon as possible. I call on those countries that have not yet ratified the convention to move to do so in the next few weeks. Eight countries have said that they are prepared to do so and we need at least two more to have the minimum number of 10 for entry into force.
I would like to make another announcement. The Council of Europe is nearing its 65th anniversary. Indeed, we have celebrations on 5 May in Vienna and the Committee of Ministers will meet on 6 May in that city. I invite all of you to our celebrations of the 65th birthday of the Council of Europe. I hope that we will all be able to engage in those celebrations. Sixty-five is an age when many people are thinking of retiring and of drawing their pension, but the Council of Europe is definitely not due for retirement. Indeed, events over the last few months have shown us just how important the Council of Europe is. It is an important organisation with a great deal to do. It is an inclusive, pan-European institution with binding legal instruments and clear values. We stand up for human rights and we hope to be able to turn the world into a somewhat better place day by day.
Speaking for the Austrian chairmanship, may I thank you for the co-operation from the Parliamentary Assembly and also the Secretary General of the Council of Europe? I look forward to continuing the work we have started under the chairmanship over the next few months.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you for your speech, Minister, and for the co-operation that we have enjoyed and, I am sure, will continue to enjoy beyond this chairmanship.
(The speaker continued in English.)
We now come to questions to the Minister. I remind you that questions must be limited to 30 seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make statements. The Minister has told me that he has to leave by 4 o’clock sharp by the latest. We have agreed that the speakers from the political groups will put their questions one after the other and the Minister will answer them individually. We will then take the rest of the questions in groups of three.
I call the first speaker, Ms Mulić, to put a question on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Ms MULIĆ (Croatia) – As we have witnessed, the approach of cornering Ukraine and forcing it to choose between the EU and Russia did not help it to overcome the political and social crisis. Do you think that the concept of neutrality can help Ukraine to regain its sovereignty over its entire territory, achieve integration and overcome the crisis? I would like to hear your opinion as the Foreign Minister of a country that has a tradition of neutrality in its security area and one that is presiding over the Council of Ministers.
Mr KURZ* – As for the possibility of Ukraine moving towards neutrality, it seems to me that it is really up to Ukraine to decide whether it wishes to belong to a particular bloc which is to be neutral or whether it wishes to enter any military alliance. This is a sovereign decision to be taken by the country concerned. We were told – and indeed noted – that there is currently an intense debate in Ukraine about the future of the country. There are forces that wish to move closer to NATO and some who believe that NATO could provide a protective backstop against incursions from the east. However, possible NATO accession might constitute provocation as far as Russia is concerned and might therefore cause further deterioration of the situation. Those are the terms of the debate that is currently under way in Ukraine. I believe it is Ukrainians who have to take that decision.
As far as Austria is concerned, I can give you my personal view. We have always enjoyed our neutral status in Austria. We have always had discussions about our status of neutrality, but there is clearly a core wish expressed by our population to preserve that neutrality. We have bilateral links with Ukraine and have been asked to provide assistance and give information about the advantages and disadvantages of neutrality. In fact, some of my officials have gone to Ukraine to provide their expertise and know-how on the ins and outs of neutrality. Of course, if people seek expertise, we in the Republic of Austria are delighted to stand by to provide such assistance. However, it is only right that the final decision lies with the Ukrainian people.
The PRESIDENT – The next speaker is Mr Agramunt, who will put a question on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain)* – What criteria were used by the Committee of Ministers under your chairmanship in presenting just two of the candidates for the post of Secretary General of the Council of Europe. I know that it is in strict compliance with the rules, but it seems to me that in this house of democracy it is not acceptable that a veto be given over any other name. There can only be a political explanation for it. I would like to ask you why one of the candidates has been excluded. It seems to me that it can only be for political reasons, but political considerations at this stage should not be vested in the Committee of Ministers. That would be a matter for members of this Assembly.
Mr KURZ* – I can reassure you that the procedure was entirely transparent and in compliance with the rules. I have every understanding that the Parliamentary Assembly has an interest in being able to choose between as many candidates as possible. Indeed, it is a matter for the Parliamentary Assembly to take the ultimate decision. All I can do is report that we from the chairmanship have abided by the agreement struck in 2010. The procedure was a regular procedure; indeed, it was as transparent as possible. I can tell you that the hearing was conducted fairly. All the candidates had an opportunity to present themselves for the same amount of time. Thereafter, as provided for in the rules, there was a secret ballot. The initial situation was fairly clear; we could but follow the rules that date from 2010.
When it comes to the vote, each country, including us in our chairmanship, had a vote to cast. You are aware of the outcome of that vote. If I may allow myself a personal comment, I am a member of the EPP family and I certainly have no interest in dealing with any candidate more unfavourably than any other; on the contrary, we gave an equally fair hearing to all the candidates. They had the same opportunities available to them, but the outcome of the vote is now known to you.
The PRESIDENT – I call the Earl of Dundee to ask a question on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom) – Following the Chaves recommendations made a few years ago, what progress has been made by your Austrian chairmanship, which you hand on to Azerbaijan? How therefore do you assess your performance in terms of Council of Europe reform and of its ability to enhance local democracy in Europe?
Mr KURZ* – I think that the Council of Europe has many opportunities to promote democracy. All member States subscribe to the same values, which they are obliged to respect, and we hope that they will implement them more and more in their own countries as time goes by. We are the human rights organisation. We have unparalleled expertise in that regard. Institutions such as the Venice Commission give us an opportunity to express an informed legal opinion on a set of facts. Not everyone likes our findings, but they give us an opportunity to provide an impartial opinion and to organise a discussion. By these modest steps are we moving towards more democracy and human rights in Europe. That is our contribution.
The PRESIDENT* – The next speaker is Mr Xuclà, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Mr XUCLÀ (Spain) * – The situation in Ukraine is now the major challenge. On 25 May its citizens will be called upon to elect a president. I think that it would be inappropriate for them to do so without knowing whether they are moving towards a system that is more presidential or more parliamentary. What are your views on constitutional reform in Ukraine and how that will impinge on the presidential elections?
Mr KURZ* – At the moment the 2004 constitution is in force, as was decided in February. A new constitution would obviously require work, and there is a broad consensus that that should follow a recognition among the people of Ukraine and its political circles that a new constitution is necessary. The discussions that Secretary General Jagland and I had with representatives of the Ukrainian Government demonstrated clearly that Ukraine has an interest not only in preparing a new constitution, but in relying on the Council of Europe’s expertise in so doing. I trust that the constitution will provide a solid basis for peaceful coexistence in Ukraine so that different community groups and minorities will be treated well and that that will provide a useful foundation for future political activity.
I hope that the presidential elections are carried out in good order, as with parliamentary elections, but there is a major challenge, because the country is large and there are still difficulties in the eastern part. I hope that no outside influence will be used to destabilise the country further, which would have a negative effect on both the parliamentary and presidential elections. I hope that it will be possible to produce the constitution as swiftly as possible. The intention is to have it ready for a first reading before the presidential elections, and the following steps would need to be taken in the autumn, but work on it has begun.
The PRESIDENT * – I call Mr Petrenco to put a question on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr PETRENCO (Republic of Moldova)* – Since the beginning of the year the media in Moldova have had access to plenaries of the Parliament. Some television stations were closed down by the authorities at least two years ago, forcing people in Moldovan territory to listen to Russian television, which follows very much in the footsteps of what has happened in Ukraine. Do you think that such violations are noteworthy, with censorship of the type we have seen in Ukraine happening in Moldova?
Mr KURZ* – Freedom of opinion is a most valuable achievement, and it is absolutely vital to protect and further develop it in Moldova and in many other parts of the world, not least Ukraine. We are talking about not only political and military conflicts, but information and media conflicts, where propaganda is used as a tool. I would very much like to see plurality of the media and freedom of expression granted to it. The protection of journalists has been one of the priorities of our chairmanship. For the remaining month of our chairmanship we will continue to seek to make a contribution to promote freedom of expression. Indeed, each member State is committed, under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, to protect freedom of expression. I believe that that commitment is not an abstract one; it is a practical commitment to afford people freedom of expression. It should apply not only to the traditional print media, radio and television, but online, where younger citizens develop their ideas. We should use the remaining time of our chairmanship further to promote the reality of freedom of expression, which will remain a core issue for the Council of Europe.
The PRESIDENT – We will now proceed by grouping questions in threes. The next speakers will be Mr Reimann, Mr Huseynov and Ms Durrieu.
Mr REIMANN (Switzerland)* – For many years the Council of Europe has sought to demarcate its work from that of other institutions, particularly the OSCE. We are now looking at Partnership for Democracy status for the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. It is a member of the OSCE, which has a pillar for democracy and human rights. Does the Committee of Ministers not view that as duplication of work already done?
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan)* – Since 2001, the issue of the deactivation of the Metsamor nuclear power plant – which operates with outdated technology, has suffered several accidents and is situated in a seismically active zone in Armenia – has been raised repeatedly in the Assembly. I would like to know the attitude of the Council of Ministers. In the event of an accident, not only Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and their neighbours but millions of human beings in other European countries will fall victim to a nuclear tragedy. What resolute and concrete measures can be taken in the shortest timeframe to address this horrible problem?
Ms DURRIEU (France)* – Minister, I raise the problem of freedom of expression in Turkey. We have just seen municipal elections there, and a few days previously the Turkish Government was blocking access to several Internet sites. The Justice and Development Party won the election and, following a decision of the Constitutional Court, some sites were freed, but YouTube remains blocked. This is a violation of freedom of expression for users of the Internet. What is the view of the Committee of Ministers?
Mr KURZ* – I thank members for their questions. The first question, from Switzerland, concerned the demarcation line running between the Council of Europe and the OSCE. It is vital that international organisations are able to organise, and specialise in, certain subject areas. The Council of Europe is the human rights organisation: it is right that it is so identified. Indeed, looking at what is happening in Ukraine, it is clear that there are special tasks that fall to the Council of Europe in areas where we have more expertise to offer than some other organisations. There are other areas with which it would be more appropriate for the OSCE to deal, because of its specific experience and knowledge.
As regards your comment on Kyrgyzstan, I will say that it was not a decision of the Committee of Ministers: it is a sovereign decision that falls to the Parliamentary Assembly. The Committee of Ministers did not seek to exert – and did not exert – any influence. Regarding the second question, there is no position of the Committee of Ministers on the nuclear power plant in Armenia because the matter of nuclear power is not something that is dealt with by Ministers or their deputies. However, I am aware of the Austrian position on nuclear power. All of us have a clear security and safety interest, and the past has taught us that nuclear power can be a very dangerous form of energy production. In Austria, we deliberately decided some years ago not to have any nuclear power stations in our country.
Of course we are concerned when we read safety reports concerning nuclear power plants in our immediate neighbourhood. To that extent, I very much empathise with your concern. I hope that all of us can agree that it would be more appropriate to have a greater focus on renewable energy sources, and I hope that in the medium to long term, we will not have nuclear energy used in Europe.
As far as the final question is concerned, I am firmly convinced that freedom of expression does not relate just to the print media, radio and television: it has to be afforded online as well, in the new media. Young people are the greatest consumers of the new media. The new social media of Twitter, Facebook and YouTube enable young people not just to exchange information but to get information and form their own picture of the world. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the other new media sites should not be restricted or prohibited: you cannot switch off or prohibit the Internet, which is just as well, because, as I said, freedom of expression should apply not simply in the traditional sense but to the new media as well.
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain)* – Thank you, President. It seems that it is the rule of the strongest that prevails, and that the strongest is not subject to the rule of law. How can you have a change in the sovereign power of a country without prior elections? We recognise rules and democratic values but unfortunately we are not able to overcome the power of the strongest.
Mr ARIEV (Ukraine) – The Russian aggression against Ukraine just confirms the words of Chancellor Bismarck that documents signed by Russia are not worth the paper they are printed on. The Budapest memorandum has been completely ignored and we face the breakdown of all international security systems and guarantees. What is your opinion on how to build a new system that will guarantee security for every country in the world?
Mr JENSSEN (Norway) – Minister, today we are witnessing disturbing activities in the storming and takeover of government buildings in eastern Ukraine. In March, you and Secretary General Jagland visited Kiev together, so you have been on the ground. Do you agree with the interim President of Ukraine, who is quoted today as saying that what is happening now in Ukraine is a second wave —Crimea was the first — of a more or less hidden Russian attempt to destabilise Ukraine and seize more parts of it? If so, what actions can we take to prevent such a development?
Mr KURZ* – Perhaps in my answer I can pull together the three questions, because they all turn on Ukraine. The annexation cannot be accepted. People are asking what can be done about it. The Budapest memorandum was mentioned. The question is whether Russia is seeking to annex territories that are not Russian. The international community and the States of the European Union are not looking away: on the contrary, they have taken a very clear position. It is essential that we take a decisive and clear view and do not look the other way when there are breaches of international law.
It was quite appropriate for the Heads of State and Government in the European Union to decide on a three-step plan to demonstrate clearly to Russia that breaches of international law will not be tolerated and that the European Union is prepared to back up its words with action. It is right and proper that international organisations such as OSCE and the Council of Europe were active from the outset and deployed all their efforts in order to have a positive influence on the conflict. It is right and proper not just to have an opinion, but to seek to ensure that the opinion is subjected to impartial scrutiny, so that we do not work on a basis of propaganda or misleading information.
The Council of Europe’s Venice Commission has become active in this area and given a clear view on the lawfulness of the annexation of Crimea by Russia. The Venice Commission clearly addressed the context in which the referendum was held in Crimea. Obviously, we would move to step two if Russia made no attempt to de-escalate. We are perhaps now seeing a second wave of territories being eyed with a view to Russification even though they are not Russian.
Russian troops have marched into Crimea, and we all hoped that they would go no further. Unfortunately, a country can be destabilised in a number of ways, not just by sending in regular troops. It can happen without troops being sent in, as we have seen in eastern Ukraine. We hope that the time available to us now will be used to de-escalate. I would very much view the acceptance of the OSCE mission by Russia as an important first step. We hope that a positive signal is being given by contacts between Russia and Ukraine and with the western powers as well. I look forward to a peaceful solution and the stabilisation of Ukraine.
On the Budapest memorandum, I can but endorse the position that has been stated. It would be a major signal for worldwide disarmament if, 10 years on, the Budapest memorandum was seen as a meaningless piece of paper. We were talking about the preservation of the sovereignty and integrity of the territory on the proviso that nuclear weapons be relinquished. That was indeed done, but 10 years later one of the five countries that signed the memorandum has sent troops into Ukraine. Obviously, in Ukraine, there is the very opposite of understanding for that action. Ukrainians must be quite cynical about the worth of treaties, and that is entirely understandable. Nevertheless, given what has happened in recent weeks and months, that should not be taken as a reason not to commit ourselves further to international disarmament. I am convinced that it was right then to give up nuclear weapons, but I have all the more understanding for the tremendous disappointment of Ukrainians now.
Ms ZOHRABYAN (Armenia)* – Minister, I am sure that you know that, on 21 March, Turkish troops attacked a town in Syria called Kesab, which is a majority-Armenian town. The soldiers bombed Syrian territory. This is an ongoing part of the genocide of the Armenian people. Our colleague from Azerbaijan, Mr Huseynov, has raised this issue. Do you not consider that the constitutional court should make it quite clear what is happening?
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – Minister, in violation of the ceasefire, a sniper from the Armenian armed forces shot and wounded Etibar Tagiyev, a civilian from my constituency. Similar incidents frequently take place. What is your attitude as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers towards such cases? Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people in Azerbaijan are unable to return to their homes because of the ongoing Armenian occupation. They have been waiting for the Committee of Ministers to support the restoration of their right to return to their homes by implementing Resolution 1416. Why is the Council of Europe not taking resolute steps to implement that resolution, which was adopted nine years ago? Do you, as Chairman, feel concerned about that issue?
Mr FRÉCON (France)* – On 27 February, the European Parliament in a resolution on the status of fundamental rights in the European Union demanded the establishment of systems to monitor compliance with European values and the criteria for admission – the so-called Copenhagen criteria – by all member States. MEPs demanded that an ad hoc committee composed of high-level independent experts in fundamental rights be set up. On 11 March, the Commission proposed a new mechanism to monitor the rule of law in the European Union. That is redundant; it is duplication. How will the Council of Europe respond to those proposals?
Mr KURZ* – I shall take the question on Syria first. Clearly, protecting the human rights of the civilian population is our primary interest. All groups of people deserve protection, whatever their ethnic group. Of course, an investigation into the incident that has been cited is required to understand how it came about and who was involved in those breaches of human rights. That is not fully clear at the moment.
On Azerbaijan, I am happy that the Minsk Group is continuing to work on a peaceful solution to the lengthy conflict there. Indeed, the meeting of the two presidents was a good sign. The foreign ministers of both countries are in contact. After their meeting in Vienna, we would be delighted to continue to use our good offices for the necessary reconciliation.
On the European Union proposal, I am aware that there is some scepticism in respect of the constitutional rule of law initiative. The Committee of Ministers considered the matter very carefully indeed. As has been said, we must avoid any duplication of effort. We need to strengthen the constitutional rule of law, which is in itself a good thing and much to be welcomed. Indeed, the EU will use the established expertise of the Council of Europe – in particular, the Venice Commission – in this respect. I therefore think that we can view the initiative as positive. I would not assume that there will be a duplication of effort; I would rather assume that our work can be complementary.
Ms BLONDIN (France)* – I would like to ask to what degree Kosovo is currently benefiting from Council of Europe activities, and where we stand on the procedure for its accession to our Organisation.
The PRESIDENT* – I do not see Mr Rouquet, so I call Mr Gopp.
Mr GOPP (Liechtenstein) – Minister, Austria has a lot of experience of immigration. Many immigrants came to our country and then returned, but often that is not the case today. Austria faces challenges – for example, in dealing with immigrants – and we too are trying to think of solutions. How do you see the whole question as it pertains to the Council of Europe?
Mr SHLEGEL (Russian Federation)* – Minister, on 21 February, Mr Yanukovych and the opposition in Kiev signed an agreement at which the foreign affairs ministers of many Council of Europe countries were present. I have a question about that event. When that agreement was violated – literally the next day – and a few days later there was a coup in Ukraine, why were all those countries so keen to recognise the new government so quickly?
Mr KURZ* – I will begin with the first question about the situation in Kosovo. It is very important that we consider Kosovo in the context of human rights and related matters. We must think about those issues from a European perspective, and Kosovo should profit from that. It is very positive that there is co-operation on this issue, that the Council of Europe actively provides support, and that numerous forms of activity are being conducted to support human rights and the rule of law. Thanks to direct contact it has proved possible to become active in combating human trafficking, for example, and I hope that such co-operation can be expanded further.
The second question by Mr Gopp from Liechtenstein concerned integration and migration, and the challenges they pose. In Austria, 20% of the population has a background that is in some way related to migration, but that does not mean that those people are equally spread over the whole territory. In Vienna, for example, 60% of children in our primary schools come from such families, and that is seen particularly in urban areas and in the percentages of young people and children, which is much higher in urban than in rural areas. That reflects the variety we have in Austria and many other countries of Europe. We should see migration as much more than just a problem or a challenge; I think it also contains huge potential and we should think about that and devote ourselves to the question of integration, which certainly does not happen on its own. We should think about the issue, and as soon as immigrants are in Austria we should help them as best we can to acquire linguistic skills and become integrated into the labour market. We hope we have created the right context, including with rules, so that before immigrants from third countries decide to come to us, they begin acquiring the language and understand the values that are important to us in Austria.
It is interesting to consider the percentage of immigrants who come as refugees and in other ways, and we should look at immigrants, migrants and those who have fled, and at the total number of foreigners. Some say that most of those who come to Austria have fled their country of origin, but the opposite is true. Two thirds of our immigrants come from other countries of the European Union, and a third come from third countries. Of the 130 000 to 140 000 individuals who come to Austria every year, only roughly 10% have come as asylum seekers. The rest come as migrants or in the context of the right of residence.
The third question concerns the agreement of 21 February in Ukraine and whether it will be further implemented, and it is important that further attention is devoted to many of the points anchored in that agreement. For example, the agreement on constitutional reform is being pursued little by little and the European Union can make a contribution. Another point concerns presidential elections, and the OSCE and the Venice Commission are actively providing support to ensure that those elections can be held freely and fairly.
The next point concerned looking into the acts of violence on the Maidan. Here too, Europe has become active and is making a contribution to help through the advisory panel, which is supposed to look into the alleged human rights violations that occurred on the Maidan. I am convinced that it made a lot of sense for the foreign ministers to get together. In fact, it is a task for all of us to provide an impetus so that those matters are pursued, and above all so that we help in shedding light on those acts of violence on the Maidan. It is a question of our credibility and of ensuring that the population of Ukraine perceives its politicians as having greater credibility, and I think that through those things the Council of Europe can make a major contribution.
Many thanks to all members of the Assembly for the time they have devoted to me, and I look forward very much to the remaining months of the Austrian chairmanship. (Applause.)
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you very much. You have heard from the applause that your answers were much appreciated.
(The speaker continued in English.)
I thank you warmly for your communication and for the answers to the questions you have given. Thank you again, Minister, and good luck for the rest of your chairmanship.
3. Free Debate
The PRESIDENT* – We now come to the free debate.
I invite the speakers on the list to speak on a subject of their choice and there is a time limit of three minutes. I remind members that the subjects on which they can speak cannot be those on the agenda for the current session of the Assembly.
The free debate will conclude at 5 p.m.
I call Mr Marias, who will speak on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr MARIAS (Greece)* – I would like to speak about a very serious subject that concerns the rights of Greek members of parliament who are members of our Parliamentary Assembly. According to community legislation, during the European elections there is incompatibility between the quality of a European member of parliament and that of a national member of parliament. Members of the Parliamentary Assembly from Spain, Cyprus and other countries can be candidates in the forthcoming European elections. If they are elected they are entitled to choose whether they wish to remain members of their national parliament or become members of the European Parliament as of 1 July 2014.
I have investigated the subject very thoroughly and had discussions with many colleagues from other member countries. Members of the national parliaments of European Union member States can be candidates in European elections but that is not the case for my colleagues from Greece. We have seven full permanent members and seven substitute members, on the basis of a law that will be voted on tomorrow in the Greek parliament. Candidates for European elections have to give up their seat in the Council of Europe or elsewhere and see what happens with the European elections. The situation runs contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. The European legislation talks about the fact that the situation is incompatible and our own legislation mentions the case. We are deprived of our vote as Greek members of parliament, which constitutes a violation of European legislation on being able to participate in free elections. Tomorrow I will defend that view, and will vote against the new provision.
I will give you an example, Madam President. I have a colleague who is a member of our parliament. You yourself, or your colleagues, could stand for elections in Greece, but I and my Greek colleagues cannot. That is a serious issue for our political groups. I wanted to inform you of it. We reserve the right to undertake court action to bring the issue to an end. Thank you.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you for that information. I will now give the floor to Ms Guţu, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova)* – Thank you, Madam President. On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe I would like to draw attention to the special situation that has arisen in the secessionist area of Transnistria, where there are constant violations of human rights. We have seen the violation of the fundamental right to education in the mother tongue. There are pupils at eight schools with Romanian as their mother tongue, but the authorities regularly persecute them. Not long ago, the headmaster of a school in Tiraspol was arrested for confiscating the money used to pay the salaries of the teachers there.
Those people are subject to constant pressures, such as having their schools encircled to prevent pupils from getting in on the day that they return to school. The most recent condition imposed by the self-proclaimed authorities is that teachers have to pay their taxes in the secessionist region even if they already pay taxes in the Republic of Moldova.
The situation is being constantly exacerbated. It has been exacerbated further by recent events. I am talking about the annexation of Crimea. That is being used as an instrument in this situation. The impact of any condemnation has been zero. Unfortunately, instead what has happened is that the eight Romanian-speaking schools will be closed as of 1 September 2014.
The situation is similar in Abkhazia and the Georgian secessionist regions occupied by Russia. In the area of Gali, pupils at Georgian schools are refused the right to use their native tongue in school assemblies and are threatened with expulsion if they continue to learn in their mother tongue. Russia continues to defy all resolutions passed by international organisations such as the OSCE, the EU and the Council of Europe that have called for the withdrawal of armed forces from the secessionist areas. I am referring to Transnistria and South Ossetia but we will shortly witness the same situation in Ukraine and Crimea.
In member States of the Council of Europe such as Georgia and the Republic of Moldova, there are children who, in those secessionist areas, have to fight every day to have access to education in their mother tongue, Romanian or Georgian. For them, to be able to use their mother tongue is an act of courage and resistance. That situation contravenes the European Convention on Human Rights and I call on the Assembly to show solidarity. That is the least we can do for them.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Guţu. The next speaker will be Mr Gür from Turkey, speaking on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr GÜR (Turkey) – We have been debating freedom of expression and the freedom of the media. Unfortunately that is under threat in Turkey. Forty four journalists are still in prison there. If you ask the government, it will say that they are all terrorists, but if you ask journalism organisations or organisations of humourists, they will say that those people have been imprisoned because of the work they have done. The issue is one of freedom of expression.
Füsan Erdoğan is one of them She is 54 years old, and was arrested and detained seven years ago. She is still in prison and is quite ill. She needs to be released as soon as possible. Just a month ago, the Turkish Parliament amended the law about long-term detentions. As a result many people have been released, but unfortunately a court has decided that she will not be. That is a complete violation of the law.
Füsan Erdoğan was the editor of Özgür Radyo, which is a small radio station in İzmir in west Turkey. She has been detained as a member of an illegal organisation for seven and half years. She has not been able to communicate with her family up to this time. She has received treatment for cancer. She needs to be released as soon as possible. But she is not the only one. There are hundreds of other trials of journalists pending in the Turkish courts.
Another problem is the banning of social media. Last week, the Turkish constitutional court made an important decision, as it lifted the ban on Twitter. We are expecting another good decision from the court about YouTube. But the area of social media is still problematic in Turkey, as social media are still under threat. I ask the Assembly to focus on freedom of expression not only in Turkey but in all countries that violate the rights of media freedom.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Gür. I now call Mr McNamara to speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr McNAMARA (Ireland) – Thank you very much, Madam President. Just a few moments ago we heard the Austrian Foreign Minister, the chairman in office, extol the role of this Organisation in promoting human rights across Europe. Yet as Azerbaijan prepares to assume the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers there has been an increase in arrests and detentions of persons active in public and political life in that country. Seven-year jail sentences have been handed down to two opposition politicians, Ilgar Mammadov, who is the leader of the Republican Alternative movement and the director of the Council of Europe School of Political Studies in Baku, and Tofiq Yaqubli, the deputy head of the Musavat Party. There has also been the pre-trial detention of Anar Mammadli, the head of the Election Monitoring and Democratic Studies Center, which was very active in monitoring the recent presidential elections.
According to Amnesty International, a reputable human rights non-governmental organisation, there are 16 detained activists in Azerbaijan who are prisoners of conscience; they have been arrested or imprisoned on criminal charges solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression and assembly. They include eight young activists from the NIDA civic movement. Mahammad Azizov, Bakhtiyar Guliyev and Shahin Novruzlu, the first NIDA activists to be arrested on 7 March 2013, spoke of being tortured by officials from the Ministry of National Security of Azerbaijan immediately after being taken into custody. Two days after their arrest, footage of what they claim to be forced confessions was aired on national television.
The Parliamentary Assembly and delegations from the European Parliament monitored recent presidential elections in Azerbaijan, though I point out that the monitoring mission inexplicably departed from the principles in the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation, endorsed by both bodies. In their report, they noted that “freedom of expression remains a serious concern” in Azerbaijan. In the aftermath of the elections, more legislative changes were introduced that curtailed freedom of association. Azerbaijan has also failed to honour its commitment to decriminalise libel.
In the light of Azerbaijan’s forthcoming chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers, it is essential that these concerns be addressed. It is inconceivable that the President of Azerbaijan could address this Assembly in its next part-session without having first addressed these legitimate concerns. Thank you.
The PRESIDENT – We now come to the speeches in the debate. I call Ms Karapetyan.
Ms KARAPETYAN (Armenia) – On 21 March, the ancient town of Kesab and 12 surrounding villages in north-western Syria that are predominantly populated by Armenians were brutally attacked by al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups that reportedly infiltrated the area from Turkey. More than 700 Armenian families – the majority of the population of Kesab – were evacuated by the local Christian community leadership to safer areas in the neighbouring town of Latakia. Some elderly people had to stay in Kesab, as they were unable to move. I visited Latakia with a group of Armenian MPs three days after these developments as part of a fact-finding mission, and met the refugees in Latakia’s church. Refugees from Kesab told us that extremist groups had desecrated Kesab’s Christian churches and caused significant damage to the property of the civilian population.
Armenians have lived in Kesab for several centuries, but some families moved there to try to avoid the Armenian genocide. Yet another nightmare of danger of loss of life is haunting them, just a century after those horrific days in 1915. People are again left with nothing but the clothes they wear; most of them have not even been able to take their documents with them. The church’s support will soon come to an end, due to limited resources. It was horrible to see children, older people, women and men without access to ordinary conditions of hygiene, who were in danger of contracting diseases, and who had no hope of going back to their home town. That situation is a gross violation of fundamental human rights, and of all international human rights treaties, including international humanitarian law.
It should be stressed that the issue of Kesab has been raised, with the support of the worldwide Armenian diaspora, but unfortunately a number of other villages, predominantly inhabited by Christian and other ethnic minorities, were wiped out by the forces in question before they reached Kesab. Before this high tribune, we call on the international community and all international organisations to safeguard ethnic and religious minorities affected by armed conflict in Syria, who have found themselves in an extremely vulnerable situation and have become prime targets.
As the humanitarian crisis continues, it is very important strongly to urge the Turkish authorities to take immediate measures to prevent further use of their territory by extremist groups. The use of force against the civilian population, regardless of their ethnic and religious identity, must be unequivocally condemned.
Ms BOURZAI (France)* – I shall speak about the particularly worrying security situation in the Sahel, where radical Islamic groups are strengthening their links with al-Qaeda. On 16 January last year, in the Tiguentourine gas facility close to In Amenas in the south of Algeria, people were taken hostage in an operation masterminded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was allied to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. That resulted in the death of 39 expatriates of various nationalities. Almost a year later, the situation remains exceedingly worrying. Most of those responsible have been eliminated: of the 32 assailants, only three are said to be alive, and they are said to have been arrested, but the mastermind is still at large.
Armed groups continue to thrive on the borders of Mali, Algeria and Libya. They make a living from trafficking of all kinds, including hostage taking – it is said that eight hostages are in their hands, including five Europeans – and spread jihad. A spectacular terrorist act remains possible. However, the context has changed. Operation Serval in Mali takes regular action aimed at preventing jihadist groups from setting up again in a lasting way, and from taking over a country and making it their sanctuary, as they did in north Mali.
Co-operation in fighting terrorism has been considerably bolstered. Co-operation is particularly strong between France and the United States, which has been heavily involved in the fight against AQIM since the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, which, on 11 September 2011, claimed the lives of four, including the ambassador. The challenges to which we must respond remain considerable. Radical Islamist groups are exceedingly mobile and are spread over a huge area. The attack on In Amenas, a protected site, demonstrates the great difficulty in monitoring borders in these places. Remember that the terrorists have not been wiped out; they have withdrawn so that they can take over when governments are weak or accommodating.
The situation in Libya has deteriorated considerably. The south of the country has become an area of great instability – a real black hole that escapes the authority of Tripoli. The Council of Europe, particularly through the intermediary of the Venice Commission, has a role to play in stabilising the southern shores of the Mediterranean. Through the Partnership for Democracy, it has for years been involved with the Parliaments of these countries. The same applies to the rule of law and respect for human rights in the region, which remains dangerous, not just for the security of Europe and the world, but, above all, for local populations.
Mr RZAYEV (Azerbaijan)* – The geopolitical situation across the world and in Europe shows that the system of international security based on international law is in crisis. To a large extent, that makes possible deliberate manipulation of the fundamental principles of international law, which leads to aggressive separatism and a violation of the sovereignty of independent States. An example is the abuse of the right to self-determination. Armenia occupies more than 20% of Azerbaijan’s territory. Under the United Nations declaration of 1970, Armenia should not be allowed to carry out ethnic cleansing and murders. The Helsinki text of 1975 prohibits the separation of a territory without the agreement of the territory’s State. There has been injustice, and it has created a precedent. Azerbaijan is a victim of a flagrant violation of international law and international principles by Armenia, but we still hope that we will see justice and peace in our region. The most important thing is to create a dialogue between the Azerbaijani and Armenian communities of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Council of Europe could play an important role in that.
Today, accusations have been levelled at Azerbaijan. There are problems in Azerbaijan regarding human rights, as there are in other countries, but we need to examine the issues closely, and should understand clearly what is going on before saying anything about it.
In response to Mr McNamara’s speech, I say that we need to study closely what is happening in Azerbaijan. I am hurt when I hear that part of Ukraine is occupied and there is also occupation in Georgia, but we should not forget the unfair and unjust situation in Azerbaijan. I want to draw the attention of Mr McNamara and other colleagues to the fact that we, too, are members of the Assembly and we, too, are victims of aggression of the type currently seen in Ukraine.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – Being the representative of one of the frontier regions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I want to bring the problems in the area to the Assembly’s notice and to urge the Assembly to increase its attention. Armenian armed forces have recently regularly violated the cease-fire and Armenian snipers have shot civilians living in adjoining villages. Nine days ago, Etibar Tagiyev, a civilian resident of a village called Alibeyli in the Tovuz region, was wounded after Armenian armed forces shot his house. Another civilian, Rashad Aliyev, and his family also faced the same misfortune. A few days ago, Ruhiyye Huseynova, Adil Musayev and Etibar Guliyev were also wounded by Armenian armed forces. Snipers are shooting civilians on other front-lines, too, and I could expand the list.
We call on the Parliamentary Assembly to require Armenia to stop actions that cause damage to the negotiations over the regulation of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Armenian armed forces have violated the globally recognised territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, including occupying one area for more than 20 years, ignoring the resolutions adopted by the UN Security Council and Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Today, they still do not leave occupied Azerbaijani territory and do not allow hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons to return to their native lands and snipers continue to shoot the civilians. People living on the battlefront are waiting for the implementation of Resolution 1416. I speak here on the behalf of the 1 million Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs who have been unable to return to their native lands and homes for 20 years. It is the grossest violation of human rights in Europe. The Parliamentary Assembly should not ignore the long-term occupation of the territory of one Council of Europe member State by another and should approach the issue seriously. Let us try to remember when this issue was last discussed at the Parliamentary Assembly – unfortunately, I cannot.
Recent events in Syria are certainly concerning for everybody. It is a pity that Armenia is benefiting from Armenian refugees from Syria through its aggressive foreign policy of resettling them not in Armenia but in the occupied Azerbaijani territories. Such action by Armenia contradicts Parliamentary Assembly documents and the appeals of the OSCE fact-finding mission, thus damaging the peaceful solution of the conflict. The Parliamentary Assembly should demand that Armenia stop such actions, which are incompatible with obligations undertaken by Armenia before this Organisation.
Dear colleagues, Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons are waiting for more from you. It is simply not enough to conduct discussions and to adopt documents. The people call for you to put in place serious controls over the implementation of adopted resolutions and documents, to implement more effective mechanisms, to protect their violated rights and to conduct discussions on the issue.
Ms ZOHRABYAN (Armenia)* – We have heard some amazing things from the other delegation. Some areas populated by Armenians have seen serious tragedies, including group attacks by armed men affiliated to al-Qaeda. Terrorists have crossed the border from Turkey without any difficulties and there are videos that show it. Turkish soldiers not only failed to detain them, but even helped them. Extremist groups have attacked Armenian churches, homes and other buildings, as happened in Kesab, but the Turkish authorities act as though they have seen and know nothing. A Turkish representative said that there is a diaspora in Syria, which means that there are undeniable links, but any violence aimed at the civilian population, whatever the race, creed or ethnic origin, is unacceptable.
We are soon to remember the centenary of the Armenian genocide and should not allow history to repeat itself. We should send an Assembly observer mission to Kesab as soon as possible, so that our colleagues can assess the situation and see what measures should be taken.
Ms SPADONI (Italy)* – I want to draw the Assembly’s attention to some serious facts about Italy. In choosing today’s subject from all the issues that have recently and dramatically affected our country, I thought that I would give the final word to the citizens through an online poll. The results will perhaps surprise you. While they did not surprise me, they show just how serious the situation is.
Just last week on 1 April, the cabinet unanimously adopted a constitutional reform of the senate, under article 15 of the constitution, that affects relations between the State and the municipalities. The new unelected body will be comprised of 148 senators, including 31 life senators. According to Prime Minister Renzi, it is a major reform of politics and institutions, so what will it mean for citizens? The new body is not what we expected after years of our bicameral system. It is a modification that infringes on our constitution. Many specialists have expressed their complete disapproval of the move, which is simply an attempt to change the nature of our republic by violating the constitution to set up an authoritarian system by giving certain powers to certain people. The change also violates rules on concentration of interests, which we thought we had left behind following the departure of Silvio Berlusconi.
Citizens’ rights will be limited by reducing the senate to an unelected body and a major contradiction will be created. The senate will simply participate in constitutional reform, changing the nature of the parliament. At the same time, the government can ask the lower house to decide whether particular bills should be deemed urgent and put on the agenda for discussion. If it is true, the solutions are various and include cutting politicians’ income, which we have been seeking. The Five Star Movement, however, has cut pay already, unprompted. We ought also to reduce the number of parliamentarians in both chambers. The change to the senate will mean that it will not represent the regions and will not allow for direct participation by citizens. It seems that citizens are to be excluded. When we think about various other bodies and the changes that have been asked for, we realise that too many decisions have been made behind closed doors. We know that, in fact, Renzi simply condemned Silvio Berlusconi. If we are not careful, laws will be automatically adopted. It maintains the tension. We must avoid that particular reform coming about.
Mr LE BORGN' (France)* – On the occasion of this free debate, I would like to deal with the painful issue of the conflict of parental authority that occurs when binational couples separate. The strengthening of exchanges in our peaceful continent, the free circulation of people from many countries and the fantastic success of the Erasmus programme, which has been running for more than 25 years, are factors that explain the development of happy stories and marriages of Europeans of different nationalities. We should welcome that. Today, 13% of couples in Europe are binational. Love is taking on beautiful hues in Europe, but that is not the case when break-ups occur. Transnational divorces all too often lead to family tragedies, which are nourished by conflicts of jurisdiction, the complexity of the law and equality of treatment, and the need to spend years and years before the courts. A transnational divorce may cause a parent to lose contact with their children, which is not wished for but is imposed by a justice system that is not up to speed with the international situation. Sometimes it has to be paid for by the parent who is of a different nationality to the culture of residence. Think of the thousands of children who are separated from one of their parents because of that drama. Those young lives are shattered for a long time – sometimes for ever.
We are gathered here to celebrate the European ideal. How can we accept the fact that some States do not recognise other States’ decisions about parental responsibility, and de facto legitimise the abduction of children? It is absurd to require a parent to prove that they do not wish to abduct their child simply to preserve the bond with their child. Colleagues, I want to talk about the reality of that suffering, which is so often ignored or never mentioned; this is not a new issue. I want to express my indignation about the non-execution of many sentences that have been handed down by the European Court of Human Rights. Action has not been taken. We should have a European definition. Council of Europe States that want to prevent that kind of tragedy should set up a shared law on parental responsibility. I launch an appeal to the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and all the member States of the Council of Europe to ensure that things change for those children – for their youth and their future.
Mr PALACIOS (Spain)* – In recent years the huge injustices and imbalances in some countries in the continent of Africa have been increased by wars. Many people are fleeing from the horrors, poverty, hunger and disasters of war. The hunger is not only physical but moral; it makes people dream of arriving in Europe so they can have a better life and be free, live in prosperity and enjoy healthcare. They know that on the other side of the Mediterranean, 8% of the world’s population enjoys considerable spending on health care.
We cannot condemn people for wanting to join that paradise. At the moment, in Morocco and Mauritania, 80 000 people from different countries in Africa are trying illegally to reach Spain through the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In that way, they intend to reach Europe. Those cities are the EU’s only two land borders with Africa. People know that anyone who reaches those cities is within the Schengen area, so can travel freely around the Schengen countries. Therefore, 6 metre-high barriers have been set up around those cities, which individuals try to overcome to reach their dreams. Those walls separate Morocco not only from Spain but from Europe. In 2013, 7 500 people entered Ceuta and Melilla illegally, and in the first three months of this year there have been nine massive assaults. More than 1 000 people entered illegally and 15 died in the attempt. Hundreds of Spanish police officers have been injured in the past two years defending the borders of Europe in those cities – 100 of them have needed medical treatment.
We are facing an emergency. The migratory flows have become dramatic. The Council of Europe cannot remain unmoved. Illegal migration is not just a local problem for the countries that are immediately affected; it is a matter for the whole of Europe. We need to tackle the root of the problem: the mafias who traffick human beings, and exploit and endanger the lives of their victims. We need to address that problem. We need dialogue with the countries of origin, transit and destination to combat illegal migration. We need to set up overall policies of growth to help those people and to ensure that migration is an option for them, but not a pressing obligation for their survival.
Ms A. HOVHANNISYAN (Armenia) – Many of you have heard the recent tiny reports on international TV channels and online media, and many more have probably seen the hashtag #savekesab on their social media timelines about Kesab. I am going to bring that hashtag to the Council of Europe, as I am obliged to raise a question that hardly anyone talks about in the media or in European political corridors.
The Kesab is a Mediterranean enclave of Christian Armenians, who have lived there continuously for at least 2 000 years. Two weeks ago, the town was attacked and was taken by the Islamic Front, the Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar ash-Sham, and other member terrorist organisations. The local population fled in a hurry, leaving behind their livelihoods, homes and heritage. About 30 elderly or sick people stayed behind in the chaos, and their fate is now unknown but predictable.
That is what some of you may have heard. You may have also heard that the well-armed terrorists – pardon me for not calling them “rebels”, as that is a term for domestic insurgents – attacked from the Turkish side of border with assistance and covering fire from the Turkish armed forces. They passed calmly through the Turkish border police checkpoints. The wounded attackers were evacuated back to Turkish hospitals by the Turkish ambulances. Videos confirming the statements I have just made have been produced by Ahrar ash-Sham itself and verified by experts. The facts are undeniable.
I come to the main question. Terrorists are terrorists. They are religious fanatics – evil with a human face. But what is Turkey’s role? The term “State sponsors of terrorism” that was coined by our American colleagues suits Turkey well. We are approaching a symbolic date – the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. There was no genocide in Kasab because the population managed to flee, but, just like 100 ago, the native population was deported from its land. Turkey is also pursuing other aims, and doing so it has resorted to assisting terror groups. There are credible reports that Turkey’s security services planned to use extremist networks to attack the Suleyman Shah's tomb complex – a tiny Turkish enclave inside Syria – as a pretext for war. What are we, as defenders of European values, going to do about that? Are we going to hold member States responsible in any shape or form?
What of Kesab? Kesab will be saved. Local Armenian volunteers, along with other self-defence Christian militia and the regular armed forces, are going to liberate the ancient town. That is certain. We, here in Europe, should stop acting as if nothing has happened, just like 100 years ago. We should take resolute action to condemn and to prevent such violations, with the absolute aim to have a century where crimes against humanity will not be committed.
Mr REIMANN (Switzerland) – I want to talk about the visit of President Joachim Gauck to Switzerland. That was a sign of the good relations between Germany and Switzerland, particularly since the Second World War. His visit is very interesting because Germany is a neighbour and we should try to correct any misunderstanding.
Mr Gauck spoke about the system of direct democracy that we have in Switzerland – referendums. We have had those for hundreds of years. On 9 February, Switzerland’s population took an initiative and he said that that kind of democracy can conceal dangers, particularly with regard to contentious issues. We in Switzerland do not share his reservations about that. People have been fighting for votes for many weeks. There have been many readers’ letters published and a media campaign. Every party has been involved. NGOs and the government itself have been involved. Everyone knows what the discussion is about and what is important.
President Gauck said that he hoped that Switzerland would not look askance at Europe. But what is Europe? It is not just the European Union. For me, the Council of Europe is Europe first and foremost and we have been members of the Council of Europe for many years. Europe is also the OECD and the OSCE. We chaired that body during a period of great unrest. Europe is also transit networks and the exchange of electricity and energy. That leads to great consistency on the continent.
For the last 500 years, Switzerland has had referendums and has been neutral. Neutrality brings about freedom because neutral States do not cause wars. I say that to President Gauck on behalf of the Swiss people.
Mr PETRENCO (Republic of Moldova)* – Exactly five years ago, on 7 April 2009, the democratic institutions in Moldova suffered an unprecedented attack, the consequences of which are still being felt by its citizens today. That has been reflected in elections and acknowledged by the whole of the international community. That attack was one of a number of actions aimed at taking over power. Former President Voronin managed to maintain his control of the territory and avoid a situation similar to the one that we witnessed in Ukraine.
Five years have passed. Various attempts have been made at a coup. Today, the judiciary is controlled. How can we have an independent inquiry when we can see that the judiciary has reached an agreement with the government? We can see that it is the oligarchs who hold the power. How can we talk of the independent participation by respected institutions when the Minister of Interior Affairs is one of the organisers of the events of 7 April? It is clear that we cannot take part in such a thing. We cannot accept such a situation.
How can one achieve genuine justice? How can we achieve a lasting solution to the problems? On 7 April, there was a deep crisis in Moldova. In Chisinau, Kiev or any other part of the continent, the issue is a very difficult one. Much has been destroyed since 7 April. Since that event, the parliament has been controlled. We must insist that an independent and impartial committee of inquiry look into the events of that April. We seem to have a short memory. Let us not forget what happened. We must not encourage impunity. We must ensure that the organisers of what happened be brought to justice.
Ms TURMEL (Observer from Canada)* – I thank you, Madam President, for allowing me to speak on the constant difficulties that women come up against and on gender equality in the labour market. It is with pleasure that I deal with the subject because gender equality is a fight that has been at the heart of my political commitment. The undermining of gender equality, particularly in the labour market, is an important issue. It is not just a fundamental right – our economies need the expertise and dynamism of women.
In Canada the gap has lessened in the past 20 years between the rate of participation in the labour market of women and that of men. None the less, women have much lower salaries. In 2011 their annual revenue was only 67.7% of the annual revenue of their male colleagues. That situation leads to a loss of revenue, which could be as high 125 billion Canadian dollars.
It has been shown that women are more likely to choose a career that makes it possible for them to reconcile work and their family responsibilities and that they are more likely to choose part-time work. We can see from the polls that 12% of women have chosen part-time work in order to be able to deal with their children or other members of the family, whereas only 3% of men follow that example. The decision to work part-time means a drop in annual income for women.
Other inequalities that women are the victim of at work are sometimes much more subtle. We see that women make progress much less rapidly than men at work. Before they get to the top of the hierarchy, they all too often come up against the glass ceiling. For example, negative stereotypes persist with regard to the aptitude of girls and women in maths and the sciences. To help us to overcome that, we feel that it is necessary to have an affordable child care service. It would also be good to benefit from access to collective negotiations or collective bargaining. The gap between the hourly rates paid to women and those paid to men is greater in the case of non-trades union work.
Finally, we should take note of what has happened in Quebec in ensuring obligations to put in place rules and regulations concerning any undermining of gender equality. It is thanks to the courage and persistence of the latest generation of women that they have achieved certain victories on the road to equality.
The PRESIDENT* – We have to wind up at 5 p.m., so I call the last speaker in this afternoon’s debate.
Mr G. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – I rise to alert colleagues to the threat of gay-to-straight conversion therapy now at large in the United Kingdom. It is based on the false assumption that people can and should be converted from gay to straight in their sexual orientation. In Britain today, anyone can set up as a psychotherapist without training and practise gay conversion therapy. This is because the Conservative coalition government in Britain flatly refuses to regulate psychotherapists and counsellors as it does other health professionals. That is why I have introduced a parliamentary Bill to regulate psychotherapists and ban gay conversion therapy.
Being gay is not a disease that needs treatment; it is not a moral disorder that needs correction; it is a sexual orientation that needs freedom and equality of expression. This is a human rights issue on which the Council of Europe should act. What is more, gay conversion therapy causes enormous psychological trauma for the vulnerable people it is inflicted upon, while its existence and promotion offer a false promise to those who are bullied or oppressed for their sexuality and who seek therapy for an alternative. Instead, it just offers a licence for unregulated fundamentalists and cranks to practise their voodoo on innocent and vulnerable victims. Instead of that, patients should face accredited therapists practising evidence-based therapy.
At a time when gay sex is punishable by death in seven countries and illegal in many more, we in Europe must assume the moral leadership and champion human rights. We must identify and help to remove the creeping cancer of prejudice that threatens to infect our progress. We must return to our countries and help to root out this sickness that masquerades as cure by banning gay conversion therapy through regulation and evidence-based therapy. Together we must lift high the torch of human rights so that it shines beyond the footprint of freedom that is the Council of Europe. Complacency is the greatest threat to progress, so I urge you to join me in the struggle for change.
The PRESIDENT* – I thank the last speaker in the free debate, which is now closed. I regret that some members were unable to speak, but I remind them that they can hand in their speeches, if typed, to the Table Office for publication in the official report.
Many suggestions were made during the free debate. It should be understood that the rapporteurs or committees responsible for those issues will certainly take them on board. Indeed, I would like to make two comments in particular. First, Mr McNamara talked about prisoners in Azerbaijan. I would like to inform you that I have sent a letter to the ambassador of Azerbaijan about making it possible for the Standing Committee to visit some of the prisoners during our visit to Baku. I would also like to inform Mr Geraint Davies, who has just addressed the Parliamentary Assembly, that, as I am sure he knows, he will be able to raise this issue with the general rapporteur on non-discrimination against homosexuals. We have a general rapporteur on this issue who is very active and to whom you can direct the suggestions you have made in the debate. I thank you all for your speeches.
The debate is closed.
4. Next public business
The PRESIDENT* – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10.00 a.m. with the agenda that was approved this morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 5.05 p.m.)
1. Changes in the membership of committee
2. Communication from the Committee of Ministers
Presentation by Mr Kurz, representing the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers
Questions: Ms Mulić, Mr Agramunt, Earl of Dundee, Mr Xuclà, Mr Petrenco,Mr. Reimann, Mr Huseynov, Ms Durrieu, Mr Díaz Tejera, Mr Ariev, Mr Jenssen, Ms Zohrabyan, Ms Pashayeva, Ms Blondin, Mr Gopp, Mr Shlegel
3. Free debate
Speakers: Mr Marias Ms Guţu, Mr Gür, Mr McNamara, Ms Durrieu,Ms Karapetyan, Ms Bourzai, Mr Rzayev,Ms Pashayeva, Ms Zohrabyan, Ms Spadoni, Mr. Le Borgn',Mr Palacios, Ms Hovhannisyan, Mr Reimann, Mr Petrenco, Ms Turmel, Mr G. Davies
4. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk
Alexey Ivanovich ALEKSANDROV*
Lord Donald ANDERSON
Danielle AUROI/Jean-Pierre Michel
Egemen BAĞIŞ/Suat Önal
David BAKRADZE/Giorgi Kandelaki
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA/Silvia Eloïsa Bonet Perot
José Manuel BARREIRO*
José María BENEYTO
Anna Maria BERNINI*
Ľuboš BLAHA/Darina Gabániová
Eric BOCQUET/Maryvonne Blondin
Mladen BOJANIĆ/Snežana Jonica
Anne BRASSEUR/ Marc Spautz
Gerold BÜCHEL/Rainer Gopp
Mikael CEDERBRATT/Lennart Axelsson
Tudor-Alexandru CHIUARIU/Viorel Riceard Badea
Henryk CIOCH/Grzegorz Czelej
Carlos COSTA NEVES*
Joseph DEBONO GRECH
Armand De DECKER*
Manlio DI STEFANO
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Ioannis DRAGASAKIS/Spyridon Taliadouros
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE
Lady Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Franz Leonhard EßL
Joseph FENECH ADAMI
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU*
Daniela FILIPIOVÁ/Pavel Lebeda
Axel E. FISCHER*
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO*
Sir Roger GALE*
Tamás GAUDI NAGY*
Nadezda GERASIMOVA/Olga Kazakova
Francesco Maria GIRO*
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU
Fred de GRAAF*
Patrick De GROOTE*
Arlette GROSSKOST/Frédéric Reiss
Mehmet Kasim GÜLPINAR*
Maria GUZENINA-RICHARDSON/Jouko Skinnari
Andrzej HALICKI/Beata Bublewicz
Davit HARUTYUNYAN/Naira Karapetyan
Alfred HEER/Maximilian Reimann
Adam HOFMAN/Zbigniew Girzyński
Anette HÜBINGER/Johann Wadephul
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sahiba Gafarova
Vitaly IGNATENKO/Evgeny Tarlo
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Frank J. JENSSEN
Josip JURATOVIC/Gabriela Heinrich
Ulrika KARLSSON/Kerstin Lundgren
Bogdan KLICH/Marek Borowski
Serhiy KLYUEV/Volodymyr Pylypenko
Unnur Brá KONRÁÐSDÓTTIR*
Dmitry KRYVITSKY/Igor Chernyshenko
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT*
Christophe LÉONARD/ Pierre-Yves Le Borgn'
Lone LOKLINDT/Nikolaj Villumsen
François LONCLE/Bernadette Bourzai
Trine Pertou MACH*
Meritxell MATEU PI
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA*
Ivan MELNIKOV/Robert Shlegel
José MENDES BOTA
Philipp MIßFELDER/Thomas Feist
Rubén MORENO PALANQUES
João Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Philippe NACHBAR/Jacques Legendre
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON/Joe Benton
Sandra OSBORNE/Geraint Davies
José Ignacio PALACIOS
Dimitrios PAPADIMOULIS/Olga-Nantia Valavani
Eva PARERA/Jordi Xuclà
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN*
Cezar Florin PREDA
John PRESCOTT/David Crausby
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Pavlo RYABIKIN/Iryna Gerashchenko
Vincenzo SANTANGELO/Maria Edera Spadoni
Arturas SKARDŽIUS/Algis Kašėta
Björn von SYDOW/Jonas Gunnarsson
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Snorre Serigstad VALEN*
Mark VERHEIJEN/Marjolein Faber-Van De Klashorst
Anne-Mari VIROLAINEN/Jaana Pelkonen
Vladimir VORONIN/Grigore Petrenco
Klaas de VRIES*
Dame Angela WATKINSON
Barbara ŽGAJNER TAVŠ*
Guennady ZIUGANOV/Vassiliy Likhachev
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Hans Fredrik GRØVAN
Ernesto GÁNDARA CAMOU
Partners for democracy
Mohammed Mehdi BENSAID
Nezha EL OUAFI