AS (2014) CR 20
2014 ORDINARY SESSION
Monday 23 June at 3 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. Communication from the Committee of Ministers
The PRESIDENT* – We now come to the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly presented by Mr Elmar Mammadyarov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan, and Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers. After his address, Mr Mammadyarov has kindly agreed to take questions from the floor.
(The speaker continued in English.)
Before I give you the floor, Minister, I wish to welcome you to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in your capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan. Today, you will present to us the priorities of the chairmanship of Azerbaijan in the Committee of Ministers. We have already had the chance of a first exchange of views on this issue at the meeting of the Standing Committee in Baku in May 2014.
I assure you that you can count on our support in the implementation of the chairmanship’s priorities. Many of these – inter alia, combating corruption, including the manipulation of sports results; consolidating cultural diversity; combating discrimination and intolerance; supporting intercultural dialogue and its religious dimension; and supporting political dialogue and engagement with neighbouring regions – also fall within the scope of my priorities as President of the Assembly.
During the last two months, we have had a chance to meet bilaterally, first in Vienna at the ministerial conference, as well as in Baku and this morning in my office. I appreciate your frank and open approach and look forward to continuing discussions with you on the priorities of the chairmanship and on your country and its commitments. Your chairmanship will be a window of opportunity to accelerate the process of commitments that you have made. You have already taken several steps, but some remain.
I invite Mr Mammadyarov to address the Assembly.
Mr MAMMADYAROV (Minister for Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers) – Distinguished President, Secretary General, Members of the Parliamentary Assembly and ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to address this Assembly after my first encounter with some of you in Baku last month on the occasion of the meeting of the Standing Committee, where we had a frank and open exchange of views on a number of issues ranging from Azerbaijan-Council of Europe co-operation to international and regional developments. I am looking forward to another interesting debate with you on matters of mutual interest and concern today.
I would like to inform you about the key priorities of the Azerbaijani chairmanship and what has been done since we assumed this honourable task last month – including the important element of the 65th anniversary – as well as about developments that have taken place in the Committee of Ministers since your last session.
The key priorities of our chairmanship have been chosen in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They were identified taking into account some of the most pressing issues on the agenda of the Council of Europe, as well as the contribution that Azerbaijan might make in the light of its specific experience and strengths.
Combating corruption will constitute one of our priority tasks. As a country that has made considerable strides at the national level, we intend to contribute to the efforts of the Organisation in this area, notably by organising at the end of this month a high-level conference in Baku in co-operation with the Group of States against Corruption – GRECO – and the International Anti-Corruption Academy. The conference will provide a unique opportunity to exchange views on national experiences and best practices on the implementation of anti-corruption laws and preventive measures.
The manipulation of sports competitions, including football matches, constitutes an emerging challenge and a striking aspect of the corruption phenomenon. In this respect, I am very pleased that, last month, the Assembly gave its green light and provided comments on the current draft Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions, through Opinion 287 (2014) adopted at the Baku meeting of the Standing Committee acting on behalf of the Assembly. The ball is now with the Committee of Ministers, which is examining the texts in the light of the opinion mentioned above.
The Azerbaijani chairmanship will do its utmost to secure the adoption of the convention as soon as possible. For Azerbaijan, which will host the first European Games in 2015, the adoption of the convention during its chairmanship would constitute a source of great satisfaction, privilege and honour. Furthermore, my government will support the priority line by allocating financial support to the Council of Europe’s enlarged partial agreement on sport.
As a country with a centuries-long tradition of peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious communities, Azerbaijan has made the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue one of its foreign policy priorities. In recent years, Azerbaijan has been involved in numerous international initiatives and events, such as the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue and the Baku International Humanitarian Forum. The recent establishment of the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre is intended to streamline further my government’s contribution to the international endeavours in the field. Moreover, we are planning to host the high-level seventh United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Global Forum in 2016.
During its chairmanship, Azerbaijan will work towards the consolidation of culturally diverse societies based on mutual respect and understanding. We are looking forward to hosting the 2014 Council of Europe annual exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which will take place on 1 and 2 September in Baku. The meeting will provide an opportunity for debate involving leading religious and non-religious figures. It will focus on tolerance of religion and non-religious convictions in culturally diverse societies; their contribution to combating all forms of discrimination, intolerance and violence; and the contribution of religious cultural heritage to intercultural dialogue. I hope that representatives of Assembly will be able to attend and play an active role in such an important event.
Under that priority line of action, the Azerbaijani chairmanship will host several other events relating to culture, including a platform exchange on culture and digitisation at the beginning of July – the 2014 Cultural Routes Advisory Forum – and an event on heritage days, both due to be held in Baku in October. We will also hold the youth forum of the No Hate Speech Movement in Gabala in October.
Azerbaijan strongly believes that social cohesion is a fundamental precondition for the development and sustainability of stable, prosperous and diverse societies. Our chairmanship will therefore seek to complement the Council of Europe’s undertakings to ensure everyone’s access to social rights without discrimination. In particular, vulnerable groups should fully enjoy the rights provided for in various Council of Europe instruments. As it has experienced large-scale displacement due to foreign occupation, Azerbaijan will undoubtedly pay close attention to the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons – a vulnerable segment of the population – in the relevant chairmanship activities.
Young people’s enhanced access to social rights also deserves greater attention. My government has decided to provide financial support to the Enter 2 project, which is aimed at the development of youth policy responses to exclusion, discrimination and violence affecting young people.
Women’s rights cannot be neglected under any circumstances. In that context, the role that can be played by the national human rights institutions in ensuring women rights was debated extensively in the European conference of ombudspersons held just a few days ago in Baku.
Having made it a chairmanship priority to deal with social cohesion, we will organise a conference in Baku next September to review the Council of Europe social cohesion strategy and action plan. Moreover, as the logical continuation of Azerbaijan’s efforts to deepen further its interaction with the Council of Europe in that field, we have expressed our intention to host the next Council of Europe conference of ministers responsible for social cohesion in Baku.
We will also focus our attention on youth and education by placing particular emphasis on the need to nurture a generation of educated and responsible youth. At the national level, the policy pursued by the Azerbaijani Government is strongly youth-oriented, with special focus on their education. The GDP share of public spending for education increases constantly, and that is certainly being translated into the quality of the education and its closer integration into the European education system. At the same time, the number of Azerbaijani state-funded students studying in leading foreign – mainly European – universities will reach
5,000 by 2015. That is pretty good for a country with a population of 9.5 million.
The first event that we hosted in Baku under the Azerbaijani chairmanship dealt with education: the meeting of co-ordinators for the Council of Europe charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, which was held in May. The meeting was dedicated to the importance of making changes in the lives of children in vulnerable situations through citizenship and human rights education.
The promotion of well-educated youth was debated extensively in another chairmanship event, an international conference on local democracy and youth, which was organised jointly with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and took place in Baku last week. Special emphasis in discussions was placed on youth education, the active participation of young people in decision making and the implementation of their decisions at all levels of governance. The gathering allowed for the meaningful exchange of member states’ best practices relating to the issue.
Next October, we will host two important events: the fourth regional ministerial meeting on the implementation of the European Higher Education Area and the United Nations Global Forum on Youth Policies.
In concluding my remarks on our chairmanship activities, I must say how satisfied we are to see that many of our priorities will be shared by the upcoming Belgian and Bosnian-Herzegovinian chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers. All three countries committed themselves to strive together to foster co-operation and synergy between their respective activities in a number of fields related to the three key pillars of the Organisation, and with other international organisations such as the European Union and the OSCE.
I would now like to refer to the 124th session of the Committee of Ministers, which was held in Vienna on 6 May. I express my gratitude to the outgoing Austrian chairmanship for its hospitality and pay tribute for the perfect organisation of such an important meeting. I should add that the minutes of the session can be accessed by anyone as, for the sake of transparency, the Committee of Ministers has decided to declassify them.
In Vienna, ministers took a number of decisions in areas to which the Azerbaijani chairmanship attaches particular importance, such as the Council of Europe’s policy on neighbouring states and regions. Ministers expressed their determination to continue to develop policy on the basis of Council of Europe values. As a country located at the crossroads of two continents that enjoys strong historical relations with Euro-Asian states, Azerbaijan intends to support the Organisation’s efforts in that field. To that end, we will organise a high-level ministerial conference on the neighbourhood policy of the Council of Europe in Baku next September. The conference will provide a valuable forum for exploring the avenues for the long-term engagement of the Council of Europe with the countries covered by the neighbourhood policy, fully taking into account the ongoing debate in the Committee of Ministers on how to strengthen political dialogue with such countries.
At the Vienna ministerial session, the ministers also examined a report on cooperation with the European Union and expressed their satisfaction regarding the development of such co-operation. The Azerbaijani chairmanship will seek to strengthen that co-operation, as well as co-operation with other international organisations such as the OSCE and the United Nations.
Two items were particularly high on the agenda at the Committee of Ministers session and will remain priorities for the months ahead. The first was the situation in Ukraine, and the second was the Secretary General’s report on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, which was the first such report ever examined at ministerial level. Based on the findings of the Council of Europe monitoring bodies, the Secretary General's report has identified a number of important challenges faced by member states. The report also includes useful proposals for action that will now be considered by the Ministers' Deputies. In two weeks’ time, they will hold a thematic debate that should lead to the adoption of decisions that will provide appropriate follow-up.
On the situation in Ukraine, all participants in Vienna called for de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the crisis through dialogue and direct negotiations. Many colleagues reiterated firm commitment to respect for the territorial integrity, unity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. The ministers also welcomed the assistance provided to Ukraine by the Council of Europe, particularly regarding preparation for the elections, constitutional and judicial reforms and the work of the international advisory panel that was set up to oversee the investigations into the violent incidents that have taken place in Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. One can only be satisfied that last month's presidential elections were held with a high level of participation and in a peaceful atmosphere, in line with international commitments. In that regard, the Assembly’s contribution, including the sending of a delegation to observe the elections, was most appreciated. The Committee of Ministers will continue to provide all the assistance requested by the Ukrainian authorities, with a view to consolidating the country’s democratic progress. It will also continue to monitor developments in the region.
Beyond Ukraine, the Ministers’ Deputies have discussed other developments in member states since the last session. In April, they examined a new report from the Secretary General on the conflict in Georgia. In light of that report, they expressed their concern at continued human rights violations against those residing within the zones affected by the conflict, and reiterated their unequivocal support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.
Also in April, the Committee of Ministers reaffirmed its absolute opposition to the death penalty and reiterated the objective of creating a death penalty-free zone in Europe. In a declaration adopted on 28 May, the Committee of Ministers deeply regretted the most recent execution in Belarus and appealed to the authorities to commute the sentences of the two remaining persons sentenced to death in 2013.
Finally, in early June, the Committee of Ministers agreed by a vote to Kosovo's request for membership of the Venice Commission. As you know, member states remain divided on the subject of Kosovo’s status in international law. In that respect, the Committee of Ministers recalled that membership of the Venice Commission is without prejudice to the positions of individual Council of Europe member states on the status of Kosovo. The Council of Europe will continue to implement its activities in a status-neutral way, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Those are the developments of which I wanted to inform you. I should add that I attach high importance to the Committee of Ministers maintaining a frank and constructive dialogue with the Assembly. I will now respond with pleasure and dignity to the questions that distinguished members of the Assembly may wish to ask.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Minister, for your communication as Chair of the Committee of Ministers on behalf of Azerbaijan, which took over the chair a month ago.
(The speaker continued in French.)
We now move on to questions from members of the Assembly. I remind them that they have 30 seconds to put their question. The first question is from Mr Iwiński, on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr IWIŃSKI (Poland) – What is your vision of the Council of Europe’s role in finding a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict? Twenty-two years have elapsed since the war, and despite the efforts of the Minsk Group and initiatives taken under the presidency of the late Lord Russell-Johnston, almost 20% of Azerbaijani territory in Nagorno-Karabakh and seven adjacent areas is still under occupation.
Mr MAMMADYAROV – The resolution of the conflict was discussed in the Council of Ministers, which is still following the matter closely. All member states recognise that the Council of Ministers should bring more peace and predictability to the region. In my capacity as Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan, having been directly involved in the negotiations with my Armenian counterpart, I know that the plan for resolution is understood in international law and in the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, which are adopted by all member states of the United Nations. The Security Council is the main body in charge of maintaining international peace and security.
Four resolutions were adopted in 1993 with regard to the Armenia/Azerbaijan/Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, not just urging but demanding that Armenia should withdraw its troops immediately and unconditionally from the occupied territories of Azerbaijan. With all due respect to the Minsk Group co-chairs, who are promoting the peace, if we follow through with the implementation of those resolutions, it will help the development of the region. The sooner it happens, the better for the people living there. We expect the Council of Europe to stand by its support for territorial integrity, sovereignty and the inadmissibility of changes to international borders without consent. That will be helpful for the promotion and enforcement of peace in the region.
The PRESIDENT – Minister, I propose that you answer individually the questions on behalf of the political groups — there are four more on the list – and then answer other questions in groups of three.
The next question is from Mr Agramunt, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain)* – The Russian Federation is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the main provider of gas to Europe. The most recent project in that regard has been abandoned, which means that the European Union is having difficulty in reducing its dependence on Russian gas. Does Azerbaijan have a strategy to propose so that Europe is not fully dependent on the Russian Federation for its energy resources?
Mr MAMMADYROV – My understanding is that I should respond to that question in my national capacity, as it relates directly to Azerbaijan’s energy policy. Frankly, Mr Agramunt, I would put it slightly differently. What we are doing to develop our energy resources and our exporting of them corresponds to the national interest of my country. We have already managed to build up the oil pipeline that was inaugurated in 2005 and connected Azerbaijan through Georgia to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, which has the capacity to produce 1 million barrels of oil daily. It was a big project that was very successful, because it helped us to strengthen our independence and to build up and modernise the country when the in-flow of money into the budget became clearer.
As for the question about natural gas, you know that in December a final investment decision was signed in Baku on the construction of the pipeline through Georgia and Turkey, which is called TANAP – the trans-Anatolian natural gas pipeline. It would then run through Turkey, Greece, Albania and up to Italy, through another project supported by the European Commission and the European Union. It is a big project and there are different estimates of the investment, but it will involve no less than €45 billion. The first natural gas from Azerbaijan should reach the European markets at the end of 2017 or in 2018. The first destination to be considered was Italy, through the trans-Adriatic pipeline, but there are other options for how the natural gas can come to the markets of Bulgaria and some of the Balkan states. The next five years will be crucial. The capacity of the pipeline will initially be 16 billion cubic metres and once it is expanded that capacity will almost double. The position of Azerbaijan and my government is that the project corresponds to the national interests of Azerbaijan, so that we can sell our gas, our natural product, to the consumers in Europe, whom we consider to be part of our market.
The PRESIDENT – I call Sir Roger Gale to ask his question on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom) – Will the Foreign Minister reaffirm the Committee of Ministers’ condemnation of the Russian annexation of Crimea and can he add any further observations on the Committee of Ministers’ position on the situation in eastern Ukraine?
Mr MAMMADYROV – The Ukrainian crisis has been the subject of intense discussions in the Committee of Ministers, and we paid close attention to it. As I said in my statement, it was at the heart of our discussions in Vienna during the ministerial session and it was the topic of the informal working session. I should emphasise a few of the outcomes. When we talk about our approach to the crisis, we should consider the fairness of the principles and the rule of law as well as any openness towards dialogue and the question of assistance for the Ukrainian authorities. The assistance provided by the Council of Europe includes support for constitutional reform, support with the elections, support in reforming the judiciary, monitoring the situation for national minorities and effectively investigating the violent incidents that took place in Ukraine through the International Advisory Panel on Ukraine. The Committee of Ministers will continue to monitor the situation closely and to provide all the assistance requested.
Let me add one point that we have not discussed so far about the latest developments. As you know, the Ukrainian President has introduced a new peace plan that we believe – I am now speaking in my capacity as the Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan – is an important step forward in calming down the situation, which is good for the promotion of peace and stability in the region, particularly in Ukraine.
The PRESIDENT* – I call Ms Guţu to ask a question on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova)* – What does Azerbaijan intend to do as chair of the Committee of Ministers to seek to resolve frozen conflicts? I am thinking in particular of Transnistria, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. We have already talked about Nagorno-Karabakh and one might also think of Crimea as a future frozen conflict.
Mr MAMMADYROV – I do not want continually to repeat myself, but I believe that we have a common approach to what you called frozen conflicts, which are sometimes referred to as protracted conflicts. Because of our aspirations, we all face losing part of our territories. The most important element for Azerbaijan, Moldova and now Ukraine and Georgia is to stand on the principles on which we must build international relations and international law in the coming years. As a matter of principle, territorial integrity and sovereignty must be considered and it must be inadmissible to change internationally recognised borders without the consent of the federal government. That is a must, at least for us in Azerbaijan – I am again speaking on behalf of my country. There should not be any confusion. During the negotiations on a settlement with Armenia, for example, the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan was never, ever a subject for negotiation.
When we try to reach a settlement in bilateral discussions, sometimes with mediation – in our case from the United States, Russia and France – we must recognise that if we want to use the principle of international law that calls for self-determination, without even reading the Helsinki Final Act carefully one can see that self-determination does not mean the violation of territorial integrity. You can self-determine, as illustrated by many examples in Europe, within the existing boundaries recognised by the world, including those who have joined the United Nations, including both of our countries. I have no doubt that we will need to move. Of course we want to do that through peaceful means, because it is important to use diplomacy – I always say that, in conflict settlement, diplomacy cannot be exhausted. On the other hand, we must be consistent. The international community should therefore be consistent in recognising that if we change one principle, there will be a domino effect and we might lose a lot of elements that could ruin the rules of international law and international relations for this century.
The PRESIDENT* – I call Mr Petrenco, who will ask his question on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr PETRENCO (Republic of Moldova)* – On behalf of the group, let me draw your attention, Mr Minister, to the fact that in a series of countries there is a systemic illness of oligarchs that poses a threat. Those oligarchs have taken over power and fight the independence of the judiciary and freedom of speech, as well as controlling powers. Moldova is an example of this; it is corrupt to the core. What can the Committee of Ministers do to combat this systemic illness of oligarchs who have taken over the democratic systems in our country for their own profit?
Mr MAMMADYAROV* – As the question was put in Russian, I shall answer in Russian. This subject is certainly on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers. We understand that all member states of the Council of Europe, when acceding to the Organisation, take on board certain obligations and make certain commitments. In this regard, the situation is not improving as quickly as you – or as we all – might like. However, I can assure you that the issue is on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers.
The PRESIDENT – I call Ms Christoffersen from Norway.
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – Your Excellency, chairing the Council of Europe, our Organisation for human rights, is both an honour and a great obligation. What plans do you have to improve the protection of human rights in Azerbaijan during your chairmanship? Will you focus primarily on press freedom, freedom of speech and assembly, or the release of political prisoners?
The PRESIDENT – I now propose to take three questions at a time for the minister to answer.
Mr ROCHEBLONE (France)* – Minister, can you tell us whether the Committee of Ministers has dealt with the cancellation of the visa granted to our colleague, René Rouquet, who is chair of the French delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which prevented his attending the Bureau meeting convened in Baku? What measures are the committee advocating to sanction such an obvious violation of the international commitments entered into by your country?
Mr McNAMARA (Ireland) – Excellency, at our recent meeting at the Milli Majlis in Baku in May, I marvelled at your country’s remarkable economic progress but questioned your use of expensive and extensive lobbying. You replied that you did not invent the phenomenon of lobbying but merely used it. I should like to know whether, as chair of the Committee of Ministers, you believe it appropriate for member states, as opposed to mere corporations, to hire professional lobbyists to engage with other member states and their parliamentarians?
Mr MAMMADYAROV – I shall respond in both capacities. First, in answer to the question from the Norwegian deputy, I believe I made a statement about – and there are indications of – what we plan to do. There is also an action plan, which the Committee of Ministers approved with the Secretary General for 2014-16. As I have always said, we still call this the building of democracy. No one can say that there is a pure, absolutely clear democratic state. Democracy is a process and the most important thing is to be in that process. If you listen to the statement of our action plan, read it and look into the events that we, in our capacity as chair of the Committee of Ministers, are trying to promote, we are definitely playing a good role in strengthening democratic tendencies, not only in Azerbaijan but in the region. It is also important to look at the broader map.
I have to respond to the question from the French deputy in my capacity as Foreign Minister of Azerbaijan. The matter was discussed by the Committee of Ministers. It is important that the members of the Parliamentary Assembly, as people who deal with legislation – constructing and writing laws – recognise that a member should not be able to violate or disrespect the laws of a member state of the Council of Europe. You know that Mr Rouquet violated the law of the borders of Azerbaijan and illegally visited occupied territories, after which he was listed among those who are not welcome in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan is not the only country to do that; it is a very widespread practice, as I am pretty sure you know. We are following a pattern in international relations. In this regard, it is absolutely clear that if anyone is violating or disrespecting the law, even if he calls himself a legislator, the response of the government should surely be as was done there.
Mr McNamara asked me his question for the second time after his visit to Baku. I respect his question but I respond in the same way as I responded in Baku. Lobbying is not a phenomenon that was invented by Azerbaijan. It is a practice that is used here in Strasbourg frequently. It is a practice that members probably use themselves in different capacities and in different groups. Therefore, it is not a strange phenomenon; it is a reality of everyday life. I do not think I have to respond in a different way. I respond honestly: yes, everyone, all around the world, uses lobbying. It is a promoting of one’s interests.
The PRESIDENT – Now for the next three questions. First, Mr Flynn from the UK.
Mr FLYNN (United Kingdom) – I have met young Azeris who have been falsely accused and imprisoned for mildly criticising the government on their blogs. Following last year’s elections, the OSCE said that 58% of polling boxes had been tampered with in some way. Will Azerbaijan try to improve human rights in Europe by exhortation, as we have heard today, or by example, and bring their human rights up to Council of Europe standards?
Mr DÍAZ TEJERA (Spain)* – Minister, do you think that the European continent could learn something or change the way we work with the countries of the Caucasus on the basis of what has happened over the past few months or years, so that we do not end up with different approaches depending on the size of the country, and so that everyone – large and small – is treated on an equal footing?
Mr NIKOLOSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”) – Minister, I have a slightly different question. We see now the development of a crisis in Europe and the European Union has announced that the South Stream project is in question. How quickly do you think the trans-Adriatic pipeline, which is under the authority of Azerbaijan, will develop? What about the possibility of developing a chain through the Balkans, which could be a good supply of gas and an alternative to the South Stream? This is of interest to my country, Macedonia. Do you think it is possible that one line could go to Macedonia?
Mr MAMMADYAROV – In answer to the first question, I will instruct our mission here in Strasbourg to provide more information on activities to do with the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. Because of the question, I recognise that there is a lack of information, or there is one-sided information, about what is going on in my country on this important element. If not, perhaps the question is orchestrated in a different way, like a finger pointing, which takes me back to the issue of lobbying.
A national programme of action to increase the protection of rights and freedoms was adopted in December 2011. There is also a programme of targeted measures to further improve the legislative and regulatory framework, the performance of government agencies and the fight against corruption. ASAN is a special institution that is reducing the need for contact between the consumer and government bureaucrats. There is also a development concept, “Azerbaijan 2020: Look into the Future”, which provides consistent measures to build up civil society and develop mass media.
Speaking frankly as a foreign minister, I tell you that you should ask, look, investigate and research, even if only on the Internet. More than 70% of Azerbaijan’s consumers have access to the Internet and 100% have access to mobile phones. There is absolutely free Internet in Azerbaijan, so you will be able to see how critical our media are of government activity from time to time. I am speaking particularly about myself as a foreign minister and the foreign policy. I call on you to do that research. Perhaps our embassy in Strasbourg also needs to provide more information about those activities.
I applaud what was said about the strengthening of co-operation between the European Union and the South Caucasus, and equality among the people. I believe that we are moving in the right direction. Recently, President Barroso visited Azerbaijan and we discussed a range of issues of mutual interest. We signed the memorandum on strategic co-operation on energy issues and are looking at how to enhance that. There is a vision for strengthening co-operation between Azerbaijan and the European Union and its member states.
Mr Díaz Tejera is right that nobody should lecture. It is about equality. Everybody is equal. We should not follow the second part of the statement: “some…are more equal than others.” Equality and mutual respect are extremely important if we want to build a strong, prosperous and democratic Europe. I appreciate the question in that respect.
With regard to the trans-Adriatic pipeline, the member should consider what I said before. I believe that it will be a success story. The agreements have been signed. It will bring gas to the boundaries of the European Union and then further up to Italy. There is a huge opportunity, which has already been discussed, for the gas to go through the different interconnectors to the Balkan states. During the signing of the final investment decision on energy supplies in December 2013, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina often joined the group. I believe that there will be an opportunity for gas supplies from the Caspian Sea to get to the Balkan market.
The PRESIDENT – I would like the next three speakers to put their questions. Unfortunately, I will then have to close the list because we have to finish at 4 o’clock.
Mr FISCHER (Germany)* – Thank you for your statement, Foreign Minister, and for taking a very clear stand on the values of the Council of Europe. The question of territorial integrity figures in a number of Council of Europe documents. It appears that there is a blacklist of people who are undesirable and are not allowed to visit Azerbaijan. However, if the Council of Europe is to organise a meeting in Baku according to its treaties, it is clear that members of the Council of Europe must be allowed to enter the country. I would be keen to hear what your position is on that. I would also be grateful if you could say something about religious minorities in the country.
Ms de POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – Minister for Foreign Affairs, you mentioned human rights and democracy many times in your speech. I think that to defend those values, you have to start at home in your own country. How come the situation for human rights defenders in Azerbaijan is getting dramatically worse?
Ms PAKOSTA (Estonia) – It is essential that all human rights that are enjoyed offline are also enjoyed online. I am concerned that the violation of those rights is a daily reality in some Council of Europe member states. In March, Turkey blocked access to the social media sites Twitter and YouTube. The Russian Federation has introduced laws that give the government extra powers to restrict Internet content. In your country, bloggers and Internet activists are constantly prosecuted and imprisoned, even after Google searches. What has the Committee of Ministers done and what does it plan to do to address those serious problems and safeguard human rights online?
Mr MAMMADYAROV – I will respond to the questions one by one. I will begin with religious minorities, because I have already responded on the violation of our borders and illegal intervention on the territory of a member state of the Council of Europe, which is absolutely unacceptable from a legal point of view. That is the responsibility of those who are doing it. They should be held to account.
On religious minorities and, indeed, majorities, I think that religious tolerance in Azerbaijan is pretty high. Even though it is only a small piece of land, Judaism, Christianity and Islam have co-existed successfully for centuries. We are very proud of that and believe that it is what we need to promote. That is also what we are saying about multiculturalism. We have a more viable society when people respect each other’s consciousness, belief and religious aspirations. That is one of the biggest advantages that we have gained through the centuries. Religious minorities in Azerbaijan are fully protected and supported by the government, the state and, most importantly, the people.
I have already responded to the question put by the member from Sweden. You should gain more information from the sources that are available on the Internet.
That leads me to the third question. The Committee of Ministers has a keen interest in Internet freedom and attaches great importance to it. Recently, it adopted a recommendation to member states that contains a guide to human rights for Internet users, recalling the rights established by the European Convention on Human Rights. It includes freedom of expression online and the freedom to access information and the opinions and expressions of others. The guide states: “Any restrictions to this freedom must not be arbitrary, must pursue a legitimate aim in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights”.
By the way – I do not know whether Ms Pakosta knows this – we very much appreciate the efforts of the Estonian companies that are building a pretty good Internet service in Azerbaijan with full access and freedom. We very much hope that that co-operation continues.
The PRESIDENT – We must now conclude the questions to Mr Mammadyarov. On behalf of the Assembly, I thank you most warmly for your communication and for the answers you have given to questions. I look forward to continuing to work with you as Chair of the Committee of Ministers.
2. Free debate
The PRESIDENT* – Colleagues, we now come to the free debate. I invite speakers on the list to talk about a subject of their choice, but to stick to the allotted speaking time of three minutes. Any matters raised must not already be on the agenda of the part-session this week. The debate will finish at 5 p.m.
I first call Ms Palihovici, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Ms PALIHOVICI (Republic of Moldova) – I am grateful for the opportunity to address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on behalf of my group during a week that will likely be one of the most important in the young history of the Republic of Moldova, as well as in the modern history of Ukraine and Georgia. This Friday, the three countries will each sign an association agreement with the European Union. That is a step of monumental importance to us, and we believe it to be of great importance to all of Europe as well.
Over the past five years, Moldova has made a national, strategic and irreversible choice to pursue a European future. In 2010, we declared our desire to achieve an association agreement, a free trade agreement and visa-free travel with the European Union. We undertook difficult reforms to align our country’s laws and institutions with European standards. Europe has recognised our aspirations and our progress. In April, Europe lifted visa restrictions on our citizens, and this month we will sign our association agreement. Our country deeply appreciates the vote of confidence that those actions represent.
We are pursuing a European future in large part because of what it will mean for the daily lives of our people. We also seek a European future because it enhances our security. For most of the 20th century, Moldova had no real security, since it had been incorporated without free choice into the Soviet empire. Then, in the early years of this century, our security was eroded again, because a communist regime chose to isolate our country from Europe. During those years, we had no plan for or prospect of integration with Europe. That isolation deprived us of a real choice about our external policies. That has now changed. I want to stress that Moldova’s European aspirations, like those of our friends in Ukraine and Georgia, can contribute not simply to our own security but to that of Europe.
A major global debate is simmering beneath the surface of events in the world today. That debate is about how the world should organise itself. Europe has taken the side of a specific set of values and ideas, which revolve around individual freedom, human rights, limited government and national sovereignty. On the other side of the debate are various countries and global leaders who argue for a more authoritarian model, in which strong leaders dictate terms to their people rather than working in their service, and in which strong countries dictate terms to other countries in their neighbourhood.
By making a free and sovereign choice in favour of a European future, Moldova has cast a vote for the European model of governance. There are those who say that Moldova should not be free to make that choice. They have tried using economic blackmail to block us from making that free choice and they have used aggressive and inflammatory propaganda through various media to influence our people against making that free choice. If the opponents of our free choice were to prevail, it would strengthen the case globally for the authoritarian model of governance. By affirming Moldova’s right to choose, however, Europe has bolstered the global case for its own values.
We join our voice to Europe’s collective voice in support of a certain kind of international order: one that rejects unlawful acts of separatism, one that rejects the idea of land being taken forcibly by external powers –
The PRESIDENT – May I ask you to come to an end, otherwise other colleagues will not be able to speak in the debate?
Ms PALIHOVICI – Yes. We support an international order in which people have the right to co-operate together. I thank you for the opportunity to speak. I ask all member countries of the European Union to support the ratification of the association agreements of the three countries in their parliaments.
The PRESIDENT – I call Mr Seyidov on a point of order.
Mr SEYIDOV (Azerbaijan) – As leader of the delegation of Azerbaijan, I want to make a point of order about procedure, as in the agenda for the end of this morning’s sitting, we have witnessed a manipulation of procedure.
I will send an official letter stating that, during the voting – taking into account that it was at the end of the sitting, after 1 o’clock – Mr Wojciech Sawicki sent me an invitation to take part in a meeting organised by you, Madam President, to meet the Minister of Foreign Affairs of my country. At the same time, a question about my country was being discussed in the Chamber and put to the vote. That is manipulating procedure, which we are completely against. This style of behaviour involving my country only creates more obstacles.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Mr Seyidov, representative of the delegation of Azerbaijan. On behalf of us all, I refute your contention that that was some kind of manipulation of procedure. I must vehemently reject that argument. You know full well that we were holding a plenary meeting, which continued to sit as long as scheduled – in other words, until such time as the sitting was adjourned. I suspended proceedings at 1.05 p.m., whereupon we signed the partner for democracy agreement with the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. I believe that we have faithfully applied our rules.
Put another way, we first heard Mr Xuclà’s progress report on the activities of the Bureau and then we looked at the various references to committee. The decision taken by the Bureau was challenged and, therefore, we put the matter to a vote in the presence of all those in attendance right through to the end of the sitting. Ladies and gentlemen, that is why I urge you all to remain in the Chamber right through to the end of our debates. I wanted to set the record straight and to make that point. Thank you for bearing with me.
We now continue with the free debate. I call Mr Denemeç, who will speak on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr DENEMEÇ (Turkey) – I am confident that you are all following the tragic events taking place in the Middle East. In that context, I will brief you on recent developments in Iraq, the deplorable attack on the Turkish consulate-general in Mosul and the humanitarian situation.
ISIS – an abbreviation for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria – established a foothold in Iraq at the end of 2013, aiming to establish a so-called Islamic state in Syria and Iraq. It has recently intensified its attacks in northern Iraq and, between 8 and 10 June, its militants managed to seize a great portion of Mosul. After taking control of the city, 900 heavily armed ISIS militants raided the Turkish consulate-general on 11 June, ransacking the campus and detaining 49 Turkish citizens, consisting of consular personnel, their families, including babies, and the consul general. Further, 31 more Turkish citizens working as truck drivers were taken by ISIS the same day.
The Turkish Government is using every means at its disposal to deal with this sensitive issue and to ensure the safe return of Turkish citizens who are in the hands of ISIS. Turkey is in constant contact with Iraqi authorities, the Kurdish Regional Government and Turkmens, as well as the United Nations and NATO. We appreciate the message of support from the international community and our allies.
On 15 June, ISIS concentrated its attacks on the Tal Afar district of Mosul, which is mainly populated by Turkmens, and took control. Up to 150 000 Turkmens fled the district for safety. In addition, 500 000 civilians fled Mosul in the first week of the conflict. Basic health services, infrastructure such as water and electricity, and the food supply, collapsed in the city.
Turkey is reaching out to the people caught by the conflict. On 12 and 13 of June, Turkey sent tents, blankets, food and medical aid to the Kurdish border and, on 17 June, food packages for 20 000 were delivered to Turkmens who had fled. To ensure the safe return of our citizens and others in need, Turkish Airlines continues its planned flights with bigger planes and reduced rates from the five major Iraqi airports.
We are deeply concerned about the situation in Iraq, particularly its humanitarian aspects. Sporadic fighting continues in many provinces. Events in Iraq have the potential to change the status quo in the country. The move of the Kurdish Regional Government in Kirkuk and other disputed territories indicates those possibilities. This volatile situation could lead to an extended period of instability with repercussions for the whole region. It is therefore imperative that we show greater commitment to peace and stability in Iraq. I invite our European partners and the global community to show commitment to containing this crisis.
The PRESIDENT* – I now call Ms Guţu to speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms GUŢU (Republic of Moldova)* – I call your attention to an event that will take place on 27 June in Brussels – the signing of the association agreements between the European Union and Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine. It is a major event in the modern history of Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet empire.
The Eastern Partnership, which was launched by Sweden and Poland in 2009 for several ex-USSR countries – Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – was aimed at strengthening stability at the frontiers of the European Union by implementing projects aimed at underpinning the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions, and the economic relaunch of those countries. Five years later, that Eastern Partnership, which was also offered to Russia, is showing results.
It is true that only three of the six countries have shown the political will to modernise and become Europeans. Unfortunately, they have had to suffer for it. The Republic of Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine have been subjected to economic embargoes. We have only to look at the situation in Ukraine, which is torn asunder by guerrilla warfare – with a frozen conflict in the making – and by the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Under such conditions, including pressure from Russia on its former sister republics, those three countries have finalised their negotiations on their association agreements.
Of course, the three countries are only setting out on the way to progress. It is a difficult business to move from post-totalitarianism to democracy. They have problems with corruption, the effective functioning of their legal systems, standards and quality of life, but I congratulate the constitutional authorities in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia on that historic event. I am convinced that their national parliaments will immediately ratify the association agreements, and that the three governments will straight away start to implement the provisions of the agreements for the benefit of their citizens.
I also congratulate the citizens of Moldova, who since 28 April have been able to move freely using their biometric passports – without visas – in eastern Europe. It is thanks to the will of the citizens of those three countries that those progressive changes have begun. It is thanks to their exercising of their democratic right to elections, which have been closely monitored by our Assembly, that those changes have begun. As a university professor, I urge that we take up the timeless chant of “Gaudeamus igitur!”, or “Let us rejoice!”, for Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.
The PRESIDENT* – I call Mr Gür from Turkey to speak on behalf of Group of the United European Left.
Mr GÜR (Turkey) – On behalf of my group, I salute the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly and you, Madam President.
The situation in the Middle East requires our close attention as well as our profound analysis. The rise of conflict around the world not only claims the lives of thousands of men, women and children, but sets the scene for a black future. The traditional approaches of conflict resolution are no longer possible in the region. Nation state, ethnicity and religious-based approaches fuel and aggravate problems, and breed sectarian and ethnicity-based violence. That violates the rights especially of women and children, above all their right to life, although all minority peoples are under big pressure in the region. The rights of religious and ethnic minorities in the region are also being violated.
The situation is aggravated by the rise of ISIS. That radical Islam organisation was raised especially in northern Syria two years ago, but the western world’s eyes did not see it, and the western world did not put pressure on ISIS. It now controls the north of Iraq, especially Mosul. As you know, the organisation took over Mosul and attacked the Turkish consulate. Not only was the consul attacked but lots of staff, and the consul’s wife and children, were taken hostage. Unfortunately, many civilians were also taken hostage.
We urge the Council of Europe to take the initiative and call on ISIS to release all civilians. Attacking civilians is a deep concern to all of us. The Kurds in Rojava Kurdistan in the north of Syria have been fighting for two years against such organisations. Kurds in northern Iraq in Kurdistan are now under threat. Not only are the Kurds and the people of the Middle East under threat, but so are people in the western world. We know that many ISIS fighters came from Europe. Perhaps they will go back home after the war. I therefore call on the Council of Europe to work on the issue and show its concern about what is happening in the Middle East.
The PRESIDENT – I call Lord Anderson on to speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Lord ANDERSON (United Kingdom) – The Socialist Group wholly respects the decision to give priority to the Ukraine in Thursday’s debate, but, as a number of colleagues have noted, the consequence is that we have only this opportunity to raise the matter of the Middle East, with its multiple crises. The Middle East impacts massively on Europe in terms of migratory flows, counter-terrorism and a major humanitarian crisis.
After the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall, some talked about the end of history. No. Perhaps in the Middle East there is just too much history. So far as the Arab Spring is concerned, we recall the enthusiasm of Tahrir Square but now up to 200 members of the Muslim Brotherhood await execution in Egypt. We see the civil war in Syria. Perhaps it is only in the monarchies – perhaps also in Tunisia, a country you know very well, Madam President – where there has been a spirit of compromise and that there is good news for all of us. Some even now argue that, in Syria, President Assad is the lesser of two evils because ISIS will have no tolerance of minorities. It destroys churches and attacks those who do not agree with it. At least under Assad minorities had a degree of protection.
My conclusion is this: following on from what other colleagues have said, in the Middle East the foundations of the region are shaking. The frontiers drawn by the old colonialists – the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 – who ignored demography and geography are now being redrawn. We have heard that ISIS is overflowing from Syria into Iraq and wreaking violence and mayhem there. The question for us now is this: do we intervene and, if so, how? What are the interests we wish to preserve? What is the relevance of these events to the Assembly and the impact on us all? The starting point must be that we in Europe have limited influence, but that we can nevertheless act positively in terms of our values in respect of minorities, dialogue, governance through the Venice Commission and by seeking wherever possible to encourage consensus. Consensus, alas, is the ingredient sadly missing throughout much of the Middle East.
Ms DURRIEU (France)* – This is the fourth war in Iraq in 30 years. In 2003, Britain and France were pitted against Saddam Hussein. We are now seeing war break out between the Shia and Sunni Muslims, probably involving the ISIS group as well. This shows there is a great deal of rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In addition to all that are the jihadis with their dreams of a caliphate.
We have to learn a few lessons from history, the first being that changing a regime by force will not give you democracy. It is important to remember that, in a multifaith society, different stakeholders and actors will on occasion perhaps be able to find a meeting of minds. For example, Syria, Iraq and the Kurds on oil, and possibly Europe and Saudi Arabia, will come together faced with this new movement. Westerners should be called upon to look at whether they are in any degree responsible for the situation – certainly they are – but we are faced with a genuine emergency. That is why we have to get to grips with a number of fundamental issues. We need to try to ensure that Iraq and Syria find their rightful places in the region.
At the root of all this, of course, is the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Can we run the risk of international terrorism? Terror is gaining ground – there is a whole wave from the Sahel right through to Afghanistan and the end result will be chaos. We need to look at ways in which we can fight the good fight. Might is not everything. Various governments are the paymasters of the jihadis. They carry out international trafficking, they receive ransoms and they use new technology. All that means that the international community has to step up to the plate. Perhaps an international conference is called for. A representative of Turkey asked for such a conference a short while ago. There are two prerequisites: collective security and a guarantee of border security for all the countries I have mentioned. This is something we should all realise immediately.
Mr ROCHEBLOINE (France)* – As everybody here knows, the Council of Europe’s job is to promote the respect of public freedoms among its member States, including the basic rules of democracy. In doing so, the Council of Europe often behaves like a teacher, frequently lecturing governments and sovereign parliaments on the overriding interests of our common values. But for lessons to be learned and advice to be credible, the Council of Europe must, as far as possible, abide by the very same rules it calls on others to respect. I do not know whether this was really the case in the procedure for the appointment of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
If you are going to have a free election, you need a range of candidates but the Committee of Ministers was inclined to propose only one candidate to the Parliamentary Assembly, namely the outgoing Secretary General. In principle, that has to be out of the question unless we plan to transform elections into appointment by plebiscite. The second prerequisite is freedom of expression. Unless somebody is manifestly ineligible on the grounds of age, worthiness or incapacity, any limits to the freedom to stand for election have to be interpreted very strictly.
These principles apply to the elections we are talking about right now. The Committee of Ministers cannot engage in a detailed assessment of the merits of a given candidate, because in doing so it is encroaching on the prerogatives of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Committee of Ministers can only dismiss – and even then it must tread very carefully – applications that are manifestly inadmissible. It is not empowered to dismiss the candidature of a former President of the Parliamentary Assembly, a very experienced politician and one who, by the way, was supported by a government from a different political party to his own. This decision is political not legal and tantamount to pushing an official candidate. This is a procedure that has been roundly despised and condemned by the Monitoring Committee in all its monitoring activities in Council of Europe member States.
Finally, political administrative authorities should respect equality of treatment between candidates. In particular, one candidate must not derive undue advantage from the exercise of his office, especially not when he is standing for re-election. The behaviour of the outgoing Secretary General in recent months is not in keeping with these basic democratic standards. Forgive me if I am a little ironic in welcoming the Secretary General’s sudden and unprecedented interest in recent months in the activities of the Council of Europe. In the imperfect democracies we have, these are called “administered candidates”. That is why we should apply the very same rules, the breach of which by others we lament time and again in our debates. We need to look closely at a reception being given by the outgoing Secretary General on Wednesday when elections are being held tomorrow. This is unacceptable.
The PRESIDENT* – On the invitation, I merely remind members that the Secretary General has for years now traditionally held a reception in June. In order to save money, a reception was not held last year. Rather, it was decided that the traditional reception should be held every two years. It just so happens that the date of this year’s reception clashes or coincides with the date of the election, but I really do not think that you should see that as having any link whatsoever with the election to be held tomorrow. I thought I should point that out to you all.
Mr G. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – The Council of Europe must shine a bright light on the proposed EU-US free trade agreement – the so-called transatlantic trade and investment partnership – as it challenges our very core principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The rules for settling investor-State disputes, the rules by which multinationals can sue democratically elected governments for passing laws to protect their own citizens are, as we speak, being concocted by big corporations behind closed doors.
In essence, if democratically elected governments want to protect their citizens’ health with measures on smoking, sugar or fat or to protect their welfare rights or to shift the balance between nationalised and privatised utilities, they can be sued in arbitration panels that are hidden from public view under rules conjured up by the dark arts of corporate lawyers to protect profits instead of people. We see, for example, tobacco giant Philip Morris, whose cigarettes have killed countless people, suing Uruguay and Australia over anti-smoking laws that require warning labels or plain packaging for cigarettes. We saw Dutch insurer Achmea suing Slovakia because it reversed health privatisation policies. We see US fracking company Lone Pine wanting $250 million compensation from Canada owing to Quebec’s moratorium on fracking, and we see that Argentina has already paid more than $1 billion in compensation to US and French companies for freezing utility rates for energy and water.
If political parties such as the Labour party in the United Kingdom want to freeze energy prices or have a one-off tax on privatised utilities such as the Royal Mail or renationalise the railways or tax fizzy drinks to protect people’s health, they need to realise that the big corporations are preparing to sue them through investor-State disputes. In other words, these corporations threaten our very core values such as democracy as they intimidate and financially punish the will of the people. They also threaten the human rights, health and safety at work, social security and fair working conditions in our social charter and the rule of law itself, as investor-State disputes are decided in the shadow of darkness by arbitration panels, not under the shining light of justice in open court.
We may all welcome the shared fruits of trade, but let that not be at the expense of the social and economic justice our democracies demand.
Mr FOURNIER (France)* – I would like to raise human rights in China, 25 years after the dramatic events at Tiananmen Square. We may not know the exact figures, but we do know that hundreds or perhaps even thousands were shot dead at Tiananmen Square. For this sad anniversary, the Chinese authorities were taking no chances. They deployed great numbers of police, arrested 90 human rights militants, blocked Internet access and intimidated journalists, particularly foreign ones. Such brutal repression is a clear sign of the threat that an open and more demanding society represents for the Chinese Communist Party.
While the memory of Tiananmen is more apparent than ever, Beijing continues to deny the existence of this major political crisis. In the past 25 years, Tiananmen has been followed by thousands of mini-Tiananmens in which we have seen the same cycle of repression and normalisation. The Chinese Government’s decision in 1989 to refuse dialogue constituted the basis of, and established the need for, unending repression.
The human rights situation in China remains extremely worrying. The State continues to use the courts as an instrument to punish its opponents or even its detractors, in particular through long terms in prison and re-education labour camps. People who communicate on social networks or with foreigners in the outside world – in other words those who exercise the freedom of expression – are automatically found guilty of crimes that are as sinister as they are vague, such as endangering the security of the State, inciting subversion of the State or even divulging State secrets.
The possibility of receiving any protection from the law is considerably reduced by harassment and threats against lawyers. A fair trial remains an abstraction. Ill treatment and torture in detention are widespread. Arrests and arbitrary detentions are an everyday occurrence. Hundreds of thousands of people are put in administrative detention without any recourse to an independent judiciary. Human rights defenders – in the economic, social and cultural field in particular – are monitored, harassed and arrested. Capital punishment is handed down all the time: China executes more prisoners than all the other countries in the world combined. Expulsions of people from their homes are sudden and brutal, and the compensation and rehousing offered are limited. When legal safeguards exist, they are normally not respected and, in Tibet as in Xinjiang, religious and cultural rights are ignored and police brutality is frequent.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – As a representative of one of the frontier regions between Azerbaijan and Armenia, I would like to bring to your attention what has taken place in the region during the past four days and to urge the Assembly to increase its attention to this issue. In the last four days, the Armenian armed forces have violated the cease-fire. Armenian snipers have shot civilians living in adjoining villages. Four days ago, a civilian resident of Alibeyli village in the Tovuz region whom I represent as a parliamentarian, Anayet Alieva, was wounded when the Armenian armed forces shot at her house. Moreover, three days ago other civilians – 72 year old Garagiz Nagiyeva and her grandchild, the five-year-old Nurcan – were also wounded by the Armenian armed forces.
I call on the Assembly to require Armenia to stop these actions, which are damaging the negotiations conducted towards the resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The people living on the front line are waiting for us to implement Resolution 1416. I call on the Assembly to discuss this topic seriously and to accelerate its efforts.
I speak here on behalf of 1 million Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons who have not been able to return to their native lands and homes for 20 years. That is the worst violation of human rights in the European zone. The Assembly should not ignore the long-term occupation of one member State’s territory, Azerbaijan, by another, Armenia, and it should approach the issue seriously. When were the last discussions on this issue conducted at the Assembly? I cannot remember. The Azerbaijani refugees and IDPs call on the Assembly to conduct serious checks on the implementation of the resolution and documents it adopted, to implement more effective mechanisms, to protect people’s violated rights and to conduct discussions on this issue.
Turkey is a member of our Assembly. Our Organisation should adopt the document condemning resolutely the detention of 49 Turkish diplomats and 31 civilians by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and demand their immediate and unconditional release. We should also strengthen and increase assistance on this issue at an international level. It is true that Iraq is not a member of the Council of Europe, but we should be seriously concerned by developments there.
I bring to your attention the challenges facing representatives of 3 million Turkmens in Iraq. Recently, tens of civilian Turkmens have been killed in Iraq and hundreds of people have been forced to leave their homes. Iraqi Turkmens whose lives are in danger call on the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly to take an interest in their lives and increase efforts to resolve this dangerous situation.
Ms LOKLINDT (Denmark) – In October 2011, Palestine was granted the status of Partner for Democracy by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and in January this year an evaluation report on developments in Palestine was adopted to let Palestine continue as a partner for democracy in order to fulfil obligations to improve the path towards democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.
Since then, some improvements have been made with the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, between the West Bank and Gaza. However, it seems that this reconciliation has negatively influenced the peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. It is, however, clear that the illegal Israeli occupation is aggravating the human situation of the Palestinian people. On the West Bank, settlers continue to confiscate land and, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, more than 40% of the land is no longer available for the use of Palestinians. Israel controls the water in the West Bank and most of it goes to settlers and to Israel. Some is sold to Palestinians, and recently water storage belonging to the local Bedouins was destroyed in order to displace them.
Violence is increasing in the West Bank and in Gaza. In Gaza, crossings funded by the European Union have been dismantled by the Israelis, and the OHCHR estimates that 30 000 jobs have been lost by the closure of crossings and tunnels. Some 30% of the farmland has been removed and exports have been severely reduced. This means that in a country where 10% of the people used to need humanitarian aid, now 80% of the population need it. It is now a country where children go to school in three shifts because of the lack of classrooms.
Israel should make use of the window it has with the technical Palestinian Government, but instead we have a situation in which the – admittedly very sad – disappearance of three Israeli adults has increased tensions and caused the Israelis to detain more than 300 Palestinians, and there was a death yesterday. It is important that European countries keep our promise to accompany Palestine on the road towards democracy, but it is also important that we make it clear that we will not tolerate the violation of international humanitarian law on the part of Israel that takes place every day and creates a man-made situation of food insecurity in a country that could support its population with its own produce.
I would like the Assembly to urge Israel to respect international humanitarian law to the benefit of the daily life of the Palestinian population and to resume peace negotiations to the benefit of the entire region.
Mr FLYNN (United Kingdom) – May I be permitted a moment of reflection as the longest-serving member of the British delegation, having had the great privilege of being a delegate to the Council of Europe for the past 17 years? The last 20 years have been a golden age for the Council of Europe, and we can take great pride in our work. The lives of 820 million people are affected by our decisions here and, in the last 20 years, their lives have been immeasurably enriched by the example we have set in the Council of Europe and by the elevation of international standards.
I have two fears. One involves my own country, which has got itself trapped on an issue of protozoan insignificance – it does not matter at all – and that is prisoners votes. The present government has taken a stand – mainly to achieve some anti-European propaganda in the national press. But the issue is a dangerous one, because if we in the United Kingdom claim we are standing by our own traditions and saying, “Well, we’ve always done things that way” on a matter of no importance – no prisoner has ever complained to me about their voting status – other countries could say, “Well, we have our own traditions too. We’ve done things in a different way.” Many of the countries of the Council of Europe treat their prisoners very badly and there are huge areas for reform. I met a young woman in one country who had been sentenced to 35 years in prison for killing her abusive husband, and we know that the health conditions are very bad in some prisons.
My other worry involves Azerbaijan. We had a very disappointing response from the representative today. There are great weaknesses in Azerbaijan’s human rights and democracy, and in what happens to young people. If we get to a position in which the level of human rights in Azerbaijan becomes the norm, everyone’s standards will go down. We have to watch this year to ensure that our high standards are not eroded.
This week, we will mark the outbreak of the First World War. I am delighted and proud that we will be singing the European anthem. My father was very badly injured on the Messines ridge in the war and his life was saved by the kindness of a German officer, who carried him on his back to a field hospital. Otherwise, my father, who was a machine-gunner, would have bled to death in his foxhole. Had we had a European anthem in 1910 and later, and if we had all seen ourselves united as the people of Europe, we might have avoided all those terrible wasted deaths in the two great wars.
Ms QUINTANILLA (Spain)* – I want to make a plea to you all. There are still 200 children imprisoned somewhere in the jungle in Nigeria. The Council of Europe and our President took the lead in denouncing the terrible situation of Islamic terrorists kidnapping 200 girls whose only “crime” was wanting an education and to follow the Christian religion. On the ground of their Islamic faith, some radicals wish to deny women their freedom to receive an education. The same holds true in India.
There are systematic violations of women’s rights throughout the world, hence my plea to all of you. We must see to it that the Council of Europe looks closely at breaches of women’s human rights. Go back to your parliaments and make sure that you drive forward legislative initiatives to raise awareness among the international community and see to it that these 200 girls are freed from their captors in the jungle. Radicals are violating those girls’ fundamental rights in the name of God.
There has been an appeal in the Congress of the United States of America, but many countries with Islamic terrorist armies are violating the rights of women. That is why this afternoon I wish to echo the words of the Protestant pastor in the Second World War who said – I paraphrase – “They came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so they left me alone. I wasn’t a Jew, so I knew that they would not come for me. When they came for the Protestants, I was on my own.” We need to do something, even if it is just an institutional declaration on the part of the Council of Europe. More importantly, let us go back to our parliaments and act as the voice of the girls in Nigeria and all the women whose rights are constantly being violated.
Mr GUTIÉRREZ (Spain)* – In the light of the recent European elections, we are moving into a phase that we might call social Europe. I want to share a few thoughts, some old, some new, some about European history and some about human dignity. I always say that each individual’s life is unique and cannot be substituted for another. Individuals will always have different lives. We cannot rely on a god or on humanity as a whole, or even on ourselves. All we can say is that we are people living in communities and countries, and we must ensure that the people who live alongside us enjoy basic standards of dignity.
The economic crisis in Spain has meant that many people are now jobless and living in terrible conditions. The Council of Europe stands for the rights of individuals, and we must of course condemn such a state of affairs and be sure that all governments, including local and regional ones, afford decent, dignified living conditions to everyone.
In our plenary meetings, the Council of Europe will discuss reports on immigration – for example, we will be talking about the conflict in Western Sahara and we have talked about the massive influx of refugees and immigrants into Italy. We must come together and try to come up with common responses to structural problems such as war and starvation. Of course people will seek a better life elsewhere, so Europe is faced with two choices: either we condemn the government that allowed such tragedies to occur, or we adopt a position of fear because of unregulated migration.
We must give humanitarian aid, but our economic policies and our countries’ institutions are also central to the issue. That is why the Council of the European Union has invited the Council of Europe to take part in initiatives on immigration and human trafficking. Most importantly, we must stress the importance of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is of course at the very heart of what we do in the Council of Europe.
Ms GROZDANOVA (Bulgaria) – We often say that democracy is a never-ending process – that it is a journey, an everyday struggle for principles, limits and rights. Still, some politicians think that politics can be bigger than the opinion of our citizens; they still believe that democracy can have exceptions and hope that nobody will find out. They believe that democracy can be put on hold for a day or two. The latest European Union election in Bulgaria was one case that showed that that is not possible. We showed that nobody should take the confidence and trust of our voters for granted, and that we cannot and should not compromise with democracy in the hope that nobody will find out.
For the past year, Bulgaria has been governed by a government comprised of political parties that did not win the election. The Socialists, who lost the last parliamentary elections, opted for the support of the nationalist Ataka Party instead of admitting that democracy has a rule: those who lose stay in opposition. During the past 12 months, Bulgaria has been sinking into protests against the government. The society wanted more integrity in politics and decisive steps against corruption, but that was not important for the leader of both the Party of European Socialists and the Bulgarian Socialist Party. The government’s lack of legitimacy did not seem to him to be a democratic deficit; it was not a problem for Bulgarian democracy.
However, with the European Union elections a month ago, democracy punched back and showed that all the compromises with democratic principles cannot be hidden from the citizens. The Bulgarian Socialists recorded a huge loss in the elections, with the citizens reaffirming their support for our party – GERB – which had also won the parliamentary elections a year ago. All political parties that decided to use anti-European rhetoric in the campaign, including the Bulgarian Socialists, were punished by voters. The Bulgarian citizens showed that there can be no doubt about the political direction that Bulgaria took in 1992 when we became members of the Council of Europe. Anyone who questioned that idea has lost the support of Bulgarian society.
Democracy is something that we use and need every day; it cannot be put on hold for petty political games. As politicians, we are obliged to defend democracy every day and work for more of it. Anyone who forgets that principle will suffer in the same way as the Bulgarian Socialists and the PES president.
Mr ZOURABIAN (Armenia) – The Azerbaijani parliamentarians initiated a motion that calls for the suspension of the voting rights of the Armenian delegation, citing the “armed occupation of the Azerbaijani territory” by Armenia. Since the 1994 cease-fire, signed by Azerbaijan, Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh, negotiations on the settlement of the conflict under the auspices of the Minsk Group of the OSCE and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council have been under way on the basis of the 1993 UN Security Council Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884, and the 1994 Budapest OSCE summit.
Resolution 822 clearly identified the occupying force as “local Armenian forces” of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Resolutions 853 and 844 urged “the Government of the Republic of Armenia to continue to exert its influence to achieve compliance by the Armenians of the Nagorno-Karabakh region” with the Security Council demands. Resolution 884 notes that at least some occupation happened “as a consequence of the violations of the cease-fire and excesses in the use of force in response to those violations”. The UN Security Council’s resolutions thus show that it considers the armed Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to be an internal conflict between the Azerbaijani Government and Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians, in which the security zone around Nagorno-Karabakh has been taken by local Nagorno-Karabakh forces, not by Armenia. For peaceful resolution, the UN seeks the help of the Government of Armenia.
The basic 1994 Budapest OSCE summit document says on Nagorno-Karabakh that “the conclusion of a political agreement on the cessation of the armed conflict, the implementation of which will eliminate major consequences of the conflict for all parties and permit the convening of the Minsk Conference.” Such a conclusion “would also make it possible to deploy multinational peacekeeping forces as an essential element for the implementation of the agreement itself”. According to the document, the participating States “declared their political will to provide…a multinational OSCE peacekeeping force following agreement among the parties for cessation of the armed conflict.”
The roadmap to peace and return of any occupied territories is thus clear: first, reaching agreement in the negotiations led by the OSCE Minsk Group; secondly, the deployment of a multinational OSCE peacekeeping force; and thirdly, the implementation of the agreement, including the withdrawal of forces and defining the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh. The proposed motion runs counter to the decisions of the UN Security Council and the OSCE, and shows Azerbaijan’s intention to use PACE for propaganda purposes rather than to engage in productive negotiations.
The PRESIDENT – I will call Mr Blanco – I am sorry, I mean Ms Blanco – and Mr Chisu, and then we will have to conclude our debate for this afternoon. Ms Blanco, you have the floor.
Ms BLANCO (Spain)* – Thank you, Madam President. You called me “Mr”—perhaps people would listen to me more if I were a “Mr”, but never mind.
I want to talk about the revision of the abortion law in Spain – it is a bit strange, because its title is about the rights of the unborn, not just of pregnant woman, and that infringes women’s right to choose whether to give birth to a child. An amendment was tabled by the People’s Party before the bill landed on the floor of the Congress of Deputies, suggesting that there be an entitlement to abort a foetus only if the pregnant woman is at risk of serious illness. In other words, we are essentially returning to square one.
Ms Quintanilla said, and I agree with her, that we are being forced to re-examine the state of women’s rights throughout the world, because many Islamist and jihadi groups are harassing women and subjecting them to all kinds of breaches of their human rights. I dare say that the Council of Europe, of which Spain has been a member for a long time, is seeing some backsliding on women’s rights, particularly in Spain. There is a continuing process of undermining women’s acquired rights. If we start breaching women’s rights, everybody’s rights will ultimately be curtailed. That is why we have to continue to show solidarity with the most fragile in our society, but the new law will mean that women are no longer active subjects of the law.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Ms Blanco. I call Mr Chisu, Observer from Canada.
Mr CHISU (Canada) – I am always grateful to have an opportunity to contribute to the excellent work of the Assembly.
I would like to talk about the commitment that many countries have made to improving the health of mothers and children in the world’s poorest countries. Members will recall that the G8 countries made that an international development priority at the Toronto Summit in 2010, when Canada used its G8 presidency to draw attention to the issue and obtain commitments from member countries to address the problem. The result was the so-called Muskoka initiative, and the commitments arising from it are built upon the millennium development goals.
As the Assembly discussed in January in its consideration of a report on the MDGs, although much has been accomplished in meeting some of the goals, maternal and child health remains an area that has not seen the same progress. Every year, 16 million adolescent girls of 15 to 19 years of age and a further 2 million under the age of 15 give birth. Disturbingly, maternal mortality is the leading cause of death among adults and girls in many countries. Only 55% of pregnant women in developing countries receive the recommended minimum of four antenatal care visits, and in some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than 50% of women have skilled attendance during childbirth. Some 222 million women would like to prevent pregnancy but do not use effective methods of contraception, which is a leading cause of the approximately 80 million unintended pregnancies, 30 million unplanned births and 20 million unsafe abortions a year. Tragically, 800 women and adolescent girls die every day from preventable complications of pregnancy and childbirth, which represents an annual total of 287,000 deaths.
It now appears unlikely that MDGs 4 and 5 – to reduce child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters – will be met by 2015. In the face of the sobering statistics, we need to renew our commitments made in the MDGs. The Muskoka initiative succeeded in raising $7.3 billion in new funding for maternal and child health, and in my own country we have committed to providing $1.1 billion in new funding, making a total of $2.85 billion over five years.
Money alone, however, will not improve the situation of women and children who lack basic care. The international community needs to step up its efforts under the MDG framework. Our countries need to take leadership roles in promoting governance reforms, including by fighting corruption. It is at that level that we can foster conditions that promote women’s health, including gender equality, the eradication of violence against women and children, the creation of job opportunities and the promotion of favourable working conditions. Above all, as the Assembly resolved in January 2014, we need to work on reducing global inequality, which, sadly, is the root cause of many problems in developing countries.
The PRESIDENT* – I must now interrupt the list of speakers. Members who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak may submit their speeches to the Table Office, in typescript, for publication in the Official Report. They should do so within the next 24 hours.
The debate is closed.
3. Next public sitting
The PRESIDENT* – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved this morning.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 5.05 p.m.)
1. Communication from the Committee of Ministers
Presentation by Mr Mammadyarov, representing the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers
Questions: Mr Iwiński (Poland), Mr Agramunt (Spain), Sir Roger Gale (United Kingdom), Ms Guţu (Republic of Moldova), Mr Petrenco (Republic of Moldova), Ms Christoffersen (Norway), Mr Rochebloine (France), Mr McNamara (Ireland), Mr Flynn (United Kingdom), Mr Díaz Tejera (Spain), Mr Nikoloski (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”), Mr Fischer (Germany), Ms de Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden) and Ms Pakosta (Estonia)
2. Free debate
Speakers: Ms Palihovici (Republic of Moldova), Mr Denemeç (Turkey), Ms Guţu (Republic of Moldova), Mr Gür (Turkey), Lord Anderson (United Kingdom), Ms Durrieu (France), Mr Rochebloine (France), Mr G. Davies (United Kingdom), Mr Fournier (France), Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan), Ms Loklindt (Denmark), Mr Flynn (United Kingdom), Ms Quintanilla (Spain), Mr Gutiérrez (Spain), Ms Grozdanova (Bulgaria), Mr Zourabian (Armenia), Ms Blanco (Spain) and Mr Chisu (Canada)
3. Next Public 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*
Werner AMON/Christine Muttonen
Lord Donald ANDERSON
Danielle AUROI/Maryvonne Blondin
Gérard BAPT/André Reichardt
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA/ Sílvia Eloïsa Bonet Perot
José Manuel BARREIRO*
Ondřej BENEŠIK/Gabriela Pecková
José María BENEYTO/Carmen Quintanilla
Anna Maria BERNINI*
Maria Teresa BERTUZZI*
Mladen BOJANIĆ/Snežana Jonica
Nunzia CATALFO/Luis Alberto Orellana
Mikael CEDERBRATT/Mikael Oscarsson
Tudor-Alexandru CHIUARIU/Viorel Riceard Badea
Deirdre CLUNE/Olivia Mitchell
Carlos COSTA NEVES*
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Armand De DECKER*
Manlio DI STEFANO
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA
Peter van DIJK
Alexander [The Earl of] DUNDEE*
Lady Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Franz Leonhard EßL
Joseph FENECH ADAMI
Cătălin Daniel FENECHIU*
Axel E. FISCHER
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO
Sir Roger GALE
Francesco Maria GIRO*
Jarosław GÓRCZYŃSKI/Zbigniew Girzyński
Alina Ştefania GORGHIU
Fred de GRAAF*
Patrick De GROOTE*
Mehmet Kasim GÜLPINAR
Sabir HAJIYEV/Aydin Abbasov
Mike HANCOCK/Charles Kennedy
Ali HUSEYNLI/Sevinj Fataliyeva
Denis JACQUAT/Damien Abad
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Frank J. JENSSEN
Marietta KARAMANLI/Gérard Terrier
Ulrika KARLSSON/Kerstin Lundgren
Jan KAŹMIERCZAK/ Łukasz Zbonikowski
Serhiy KLYUEV/Volodymyr Pylypenko
Kateřina KONEČNÁ/Miroslav Krejča
Unnur Brá KONRÁÐSDÓTTIR*
Attila KORODI/Corneliu Mugurel Cozmanciuc
Alev KORUN/Nikolaus Scherak
Jean-Yves LE DÉAUT*
Trine Pertou MACH*
Meritxell MATEU PI
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER
Sir Alan MEALE/Geraint Davies
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA*
José MENDES BOTA
Rubén MORENO PALANQUES
João Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Hermine NAGHDALYAN/Naira Karapetyan
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON/Michael Connarty
Lesia OROBETS/Olena Kondratiuk
José Ignacio PALACIOS*
Eva PARERA/Jordi Xuclà
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA
John PRESCOTT/Paul Flynn
Mailis REPS/Liisa-Ly Pakosta
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Pavlo RYABIKIN/Iryna Gerashchenko
Laura SEARA/Alejandro Alonso
Arturas SKARDŽIUS/Algis Kašėta
Lorella STEFANELLI/Gerardo Giovagnoli
Björn von SYDOW
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Snorre Serigstad VALEN*
Petrit VASILI/Silva Caka
Klaas de VRIES*
Piotr WACH/ Grzegorz Czelej
Dame Angela WATKINSON*
Morten WOLD/Ingebjørg Godskesen
Tobias ZECH/Volkmar Vogel
Kristýna ZELIENKOVÁ/Marek Černoch
Marie-Jo ZIMMERMANN/André Schneider
Naira ZOHRABYAN/Armen Rustamyan
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote
Hans Fredrik GRØVAN
Héctor LARIOS CÓRDOVA
Partners for democracy
Mohammed Mehdi BENSAID
Mme Nezha EL OUAFI