AS (2014) CR 20
2014 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 23 June 2014 at 3 p.m.
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr OSCARSSON (Sweden) – In the Council of Europe and in the member countries that we represent, we seriously need to draw attention to religious persecution.
Eight out of 10 victims of religious persecution are Christians, according to the International Society for Human Rights. Every 11 minutes, seven days a week, 365 days a year, a person is killed because of his or her Christian faith. There are a total of 200 million Christians in 139 countries in the world who are denied the freedom to practise one’s religion that is guaranteed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
According to the international relief organisation Open Doors, 70,000 Christians live in labour camps in North Korea, and every Sunday they are forced, through beatings and torture, to deny their faith. In Somalia, Christians are direct targets of the Islamist group al-Shabaab. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram is responsible for murdering 3,000 believers since 2009. The Christian population in Iraq has fallen from 1.2 million in the early 1990s to 330,000 today. A grim example is Saudi Arabia, where conversion with representatives of any religion other than Islam is associated with the death penalty. Practising Christians live in an environment where deportation and torture are constant threats. The list of countries where Christians are persecuted is alarming.
Although the majority of the world's Christians live in poverty and are at the bottom of the social hierarchy, the image of Christianity has been characterised for a long time by nice rural churches and lovely continental European cathedrals. Preconceptions have led to a situation where the persecution of Christians has continued. It is time to take the persecution of Christians seriously. Strong measures and targeted sanctions must be considered against countries that violate religious freedom. Europe must put pressure on countries that encourage or allow the persecution of Christians by linking aid to religious freedom.
The persecution of Christians is, in the words of British minister Baroness Warsi, a Muslim, a global crisis which requires a commitment to act – not because it is Christians who are being persecuted, but because it is fellow human beings who are being persecuted.
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – The best way to prevent any undesirable incident is to react in a timely manner. If the necessary action is not taken right at the start, it has serious implications for the development of the process. In some cases, the precedent arising from such a delay, or from indifference, causes an even more terrible chain reaction, leading to new and similar developments. We do not need to think very hard to find obvious examples.
If the international community had voiced its resolute opposition when separatism broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh, resulting in the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territories in the early 1990s, or if the Council of Europe had laid down stricter conditions in the early 2000s by demanding a swift end to the conflict when accepting the occupying country as one of its members, it is most likely that today we would not be speaking about an ongoing conflict, but about a closed chapter of history.
The delayed counteraction against the above-mentioned obvious example of separatism and occupation, as well as the non-application of the strictest of stances against this aggression, gave birth to the gravest of consequences. One negative experience has generated new hotbeds of conflict, cases of separatism and incidents of aggression, and no one knows when it will all end. Consequently, we should learn lessons from this negative experience.
The recent disturbing developments that took place on the Azerbaijani-Armenian frontier, in Kazakh, Tovuz and Nakhichevan, call for urgent action to be taken immediately. The Armenian armed forces have begun to seriously violate the cease-fire regime in the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan which has been blockaded by Armenia for the past 25 years. In particular, the assaults launched by the Armenian side in the direction of Sadarak, Julfa and Shahbuz using various types of weapons run the risk of enlarging the scope of hostilities. In view of the open Armenian statement of territorial claims and intentions of occupation with respect to the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, the seriousness of the situation becomes clearer.
The Council of Europe should urgently react to this issue and put serious pressure on Armenia, which, on joining the Organisation, undertook the commitment not to intensify the conflict and extend its occupation, but to settle the issue through diplomatic channels. The problem is that the recent assaults launched by Armenia against the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan could lead to a real escalation of the military conflict on an international scale: the Treaty of Kars concluded in 1921 between Turkey and the South Caucasus republics legally enables Turkey to get involved in this matter if it becomes apparent that Nakhichevan is under threat.
Thus Armenia, which occupied 20% of Azerbaijani territories with the help of external forces, insists on continuing its policy of aggression. The Council of Europe should react firmly to Armenia’s recent intensified assault against the Nakhichevan region of Azerbaijan, using all the legal tools it disposes of to restrain rampant Armenia. If you do not want to be accused of double standards, then we should spare no effort to impose the same sanctions now against the occupying country of Armenia as were once actually applied against Russia. Today, the sound of Armenian shootings at the Nakhichevan border of Azerbaijan should be heard in Strasbourg and provoke an appropriate course of action. Let us at least react on time. Tomorrow will be too late!
Mr STROE (Romania) – The crisis we witnessed in Ukraine calls for a diplomatic and economic push to resolve a fundamental issue for Europe and for its future stability and development. Facilitating diversified gas supplies in order to create a competitive gas market for the European Union and for the region at large must become our priority.
At present, about 24% of the European Union's gas requirements are covered by Russian gas, which translates roughly as 15 member States that are dependent clients. The price at which Russian gas is purchased in different European countries tells a simple story. States in Eastern Europe that are quite heavily dependent on Russian gas pay up to $500 per thousand cubic metres, compared with the United Kingdom or Germany, which pay $300 to $370, because there we have a complete domination of the “gas-to-gas” market. Looking into the future, the forecasts of the European Commission expect Europe’s gas consumption to increase from 502 billion cubic metres in 2005 to 815 billion cubic metres in 2030.
What solutions are in sight? We must take a pragmatic approach to our current and forthcoming situation and ensure that Europe’s energy security is guaranteed by integrated and diversified gas supplies. First of all, the European Union needs to engage Russia in a fair and straightforward manner, based on the complementary character and mutual benefits of this relationship. The energy cuts that we witness in Ukraine, which Kiev rightly views as politically motivated, are worrying. The risk of stopping gas supplies once more does not benefit anybody. Everyone is a loser in this stalemate: it is damaging Russia’s reputation and it is lending the European Union a hand to adopt tougher reductions on gas dependency. A solution in this sense can only come from a stronger integration of energy markets.
Secondly, over and above the question of integration, the European Union must strive to diversify gas and energy supplies. The Southern Gas Corridor that links Azerbaijan’s Shah Deniz gas field with the European Union without having to depend on Russian transit, is one of Europe’s best options for natural gas diversification. The challenge now is to reinforce the corridor's role as a major avenue for alternative supplies. This can only be done by better integrating the central and south-eastern European region countries, which are the most vulnerable to the manipulation of gas prices and supply. But let us not be deluded. The southern corridor, which will start functioning in 2018, cannot replace all the gas coming from Russia, even in an expanded form. Nevertheless, its gas will inject competition into all European gas markets and this can only limit the negative effects of energy monopoly.
In conclusion, we must look at energy supply in Europe from a long-term, short-term and in-depth perspective: long-term because Europe needs trusted and diversified energy suppliers to avoid being blackmailed; short term-because at our very borders, Ukraine’s situation may affect us directly; and in-depth because we must find solutions for alternative energy in our own backyards. We just need to do our best to succeed!
Mr BADEA (Romania) – In the last few days, the international media has published a significant number of articles relating to the case of a teenager belonging to the Roma community who was literally lynched by 12 people in a Parisian suburb for allegedly committing an offence. It is undoubtedly an unspeakable and an unjustified act against a human being. I want to strongly condemn such villainous deeds which illustrate the worrying environment that exists in France today, which favours racist and xenophobic attitudes.
Against this background, I call upon the competent French authorities to make every effort to bring to justice those responsible for committing such a grave act that showed such complete disregard for the physical integrity of this teenager. It is our duty, as parliamentarians, to take a firm stance against behaviour such as this which represents a threat to the very foundations of the Council of Europe core values.
Mr V. HOVHANNISYAN (Armenia) – Today, I want to speak only in the language of facts. Just a few minutes ago, members heard the priorities and values of the country which is chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. The problem is that the reality in that country tells a completely different story. Shahin Novzrulu and other members of NIDA, a youth action group that fights against the violation of human rights in Azerbaijan, were arrested and tortured after organising a peaceful meeting via Facebook. On 6 May, an Azerbaijani court sentenced eight members of the NIDA Civic Movement to prison terms of six to eight years for participating in anti-government demonstrations in 2013.
According to the statement made by David J. Kramer, president of the American human rights organisation Freedom House: “The decision by an Azerbaijan court to send to prison eight young men who protested corruption and lawlessness exposes the authoritarian character of the government and the corruption of the country’s judicial system…Democracies should hold the government of Azerbaijan accountable for its poor record on human rights, an even more serious problem as Azerbaijan prepares to take the chairmanship of the Council of Europe.”
Independent journalist Rauf Mirkadirov, a member of the Institute for Peace and Democracy, was deported from Turkey to Azerbaijan where he faces charges of treason. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Mirkadirov is already the eighth journalist who has been arrested, specifically after criticising the Government of Azerbaijan and the protection of human rights there.
Sadig Soltanov, the editor-in-chief of the journal Mizan Terezi, was murdered shortly after his colleague, the editor-in-chief of the journal Monitor, Elmar Guseynov, who was famous for his publications criticising the Government of Azerbaijan.
The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, has often declared that human rights in Azerbaijan are being violated and that the levels of protection are in decline. In his speech on the results of Azerbaijan’s implementation of the recommendations, Mr Muižnieks stated that the situation concerning freedom of speech, assembly and association in Azerbaijan was getting worse. He cited several examples, such as the arrests of journalist Parviz Gashimli, online activist Abdula Abilov and blogger Omar Mamedov, as well as the judgments made against the journalist and human rights defender Hilal Mamedov, the vice-president of the opposition party Musavat, Tofig Yagublu, and the leader of the movement “Real”, Ilhar Mamedov. He went on to express his concerns over the situation of non-governmental organisations, the demolition of houses and the protection of the right to property.
These are just a few examples, as there is not enough time to present the true human rights situation in Azerbaijan, which is now chairing of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, an Organisation whose main aim it is to promote democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights and freedom throughout Europe.
Our delegation has no questions for or expectations from this country: we do not believe in anything they say or declare. Moreover, a country with such a bad human rights record should never be allowed to be a member of the Council of Europe. But what about you, dear colleagues? Do you not have any questions to ask them?
Having said that, I draw your attention to another fact – the results of the recent European Union elections. They show that people are moving towards radical parties and choosing nationalism against union, as they do not believe in the politics that Europe has been linked to, or the policy of double standards and cases of arbitrariness, or sometimes indifference where action should have been taken. They are expecting certainty from you, from all of us, and that is our goal and main prerogative. This coming year will show how committed Europe actually is to the protection of human rights, the implementation of new legal guarantees and to the establishment of the rule of law in all areas throughout Europe.
Ms KARAPETYAN (Armenia) – On 19 April, a prominent Azerbaijani journalist, Rauf Mirkadirov, was arrested on espionage charges. On 29 April, two other human rights activists, Arif and Leyla Yunus, were summoned by the police for interrogation. These persons were among the few Azerbaijanis who participated in Second Track/Citizens’ Diplomacy efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. It is quite evident that the espionage charge, which carries a potential life prison sentence, could make further contacts between civil society activists in Armenia and Azerbaijan impossible.
The projects in which Mirkadirov and Leyla and Arif Yunus participated were supported by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the British and Polish Embassies, the European Union and other international organisations, with the sole aim of encouraging peace. The circumstances surrounding the interrogation of Leyla Yunus cast a shadow on the claims of Azerbaijan to be one of the most tolerant countries of the Council of Europe.
Just to give you an example: at the police station, while going to the ladies room, Leyla Yunus was accompanied by a law enforcement officer, who stayed there with her. In response to the journalist’s question about the ethics of an officer following a woman into the ladies room, one high-ranking police officer commented that she was not a woman, she was an Armenian. I wonder whether such a policy of hatred and hate speech fits into the priorities of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers as expressed a moment ago by the Azerbaijani Foreign Minister?
Many international organisations have reiterated their deep concern at the detention of Rauf Mirkadirov and the circumstances surrounding the interrogation of Arif and Leyla Yunus. Did the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe react in any way? Apparently not.
Second Track contacts are important confidence-building instruments that help prepare our societies for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. My Azerbaijani colleagues spare no effort to accuse the Armenian delegation of being unconstructive and reluctant to engage in dialogue within the Parliamentary Assembly, which is a clumsy attempt to divert attention from the Azeri authorities’ real policy of harassing those who, unlike the government, are trying to bring about peace.
Before Azerbaijan assumed the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, there was a little hope that the country would address all the legitimate concerns expressed by international organisations and improve its human rights record. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. It is deplorable that in the run-up to, and during the country’s chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, the situation has become even worse.
The Parliamentary Assembly should be seriously concerned about Azerbaijan’s persistent failure to honour its obligations and commitments and to take adequate action to help consolidate democracy and the rule of law in the country.
Mr KAIKKONEN (Finland) – Nowadays, there is a lot of tension in the world. For example, the current situation in Ukraine and Iraq is far from stable. Events in these countries have recently gained the full attention of the international community. I do not mean to say that they should not be monitored and observed carefully but it is crucial to keep in mind that, at the same time, we are dealing with a much bigger crisis that affects us all. I am talking about the biggest threat to the global world: climate change.
In March 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adopted a report that covers the impact on and the risks to the world caused by climate change. Reading it is a real eye-opener. The message is that climate change represents a serious threat to the well-being of humans and nature all over the world. It jeopardises people’s health and livelihoods, water reserves and eco-systems, both on land and at sea. Even though the effects can be seen everywhere, poor countries with low abilities to adjust to the changing climate will carry the biggest burden.
Last November, I participated in the Warsaw Climate Change Conference. The results were not encouraging. The conference was expected to work as a step forward towards a binding, ambitious international climate agreement. Unfortunately this did not happen. Fortunately, we have another shot at it next year, when an extremely important United Nations Climate Conference will be held in Paris. At that conference, it will be crucial to keep in mind that we will not have unlimited access to second chances. For the sake of our planet and future generations, we have to come up with a globally binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to stop global warming.
In order to create a global agreement, the input and commitment of every country is needed. I strongly encourage both the European Union member States as well as the Council of Europe member States to work as hard as possible and to act as an example for others to achieve this common goal. Negotiations have already started and the most important thing now is for the preparations to proceed as fast and as far as possible in the course of the current year.
The human and material costs of damage control are considerably higher than the cost of preventing climate change. Consequently, we must do everything in our power right now to succeed in creating a binding and comprehensive agreement at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. We must do it for the sake of ourselves, our planet and for future generations.
Mr SHAI (Israel) – Eight days ago, three Israeli boys were kidnapped while hitchhiking. I would like to take this opportunity to appeal to you to exert every possible effort in order to help return the three abducted Israeli teenagers.
This is a brutal act perpetrated by Hamas, recognised as a terror organisation by the European Union. Terror threatens Israel as much as it threatens Europe. This kidnapping goes against every basic human right which the Council of Europe has pledged to defend. We should all join forces to combat this threat against innocent civilians, grown-ups as well as women and children.
Terror endangers the peace process and every sign of desired progress. In this context, I would like to refer to a statement made by President Abu Mazen at the Arab Nations conference of foreign ministers in Saudi Arabia last week: “Those who are behind the kidnapping did it in order to destroy the Palestinian Authority.” Time is running out: We must act quickly!