AS (2017) CR 35
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 12 October at 4.30 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. The text of the amendments is available at the document centre and on the Assembly’s website.
Only oral amendments or oral sub-amendments are reproduced in the report of debates.
4. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
5. 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.
(Mr Ghiletchi, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 4.35 p.m.)
The PRESIDENT – The sitting is open.
I call Mr Psychogios on a point of order.
Mr PSYCHOGIOS (Greece) – I would like to clarify that my vote on “prosecuting and punishing the crimes against humanity or even possible genocide committed by Daesh” was an abstention by mistake. I now declare that my vote was in favour.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I take note of your point of order. You have succeeded in getting your point on the record in the Official Report.
1. Current affairs debate: The need for a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia
The PRESIDENT – The first item of business this afternoon is a current affairs debate on the need for a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia.
The debate is limited to one and a half hours, and speaking time is limited to three minutes for all members except for the first speaker, Mr Hunko, chosen by the Bureau, who is allowed 10 minutes. The debate will therefore end at 6 p.m.
In the debate, I call first Mr Hunko. You have 10 minutes.
Mr HUNKO (Germany)* – Today we are discussing the need for a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia. The title of the debate reflects the fact that we must use political means – that is, talking – to find a solution, and it is good that we are making a start in that direction by discussing the situation.
This year, Spain celebrates its 40th anniversary of membership of Council of Europe, which it joined in 1977. It acceded to the European Convention on Human Rights in 1978. The Spanish constitution was adopted in 1979 and accession negotiations started with the EU. Despite all the problems, given the repercussions of the economic and financial crisis, those 40 years are considered successful, with development that only a few optimists could have imagined in 1977. People in Catalonia have had a share in that political and economic progress, so my hearty congratulations to all Spaniards.
On 1 October, I observed the controversial vote as part of an international observation mission. It was not an official election observation mission, such as those that the Council of Europe and the OSCE engage in, and neither did the Catalan authorities declare it as such. I can therefore say nothing about the referendum’s legitimacy, legality or significance, but I can give a first-hand account.
Some 500 polling stations were stormed by the Guardia Civil to confiscate the ballot boxes. I witnessed such a storming in a school in the immediate vicinity of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. I saw rubber bullets used against peaceful demonstrators and I was there when the wounded were taken away in ambulances. The use of rubber bullets against peaceful demonstrators is totally unacceptable. In several European countries, the weapons are rightly banned or not used on demonstrators because they can lead to serious injury. Indeed, Catalonia has banned rubber bullets.
I also believe that police forces should not charge demonstrators. According to the authorities, some 800 were wounded on the day. I thank Sir Roger, who will speak later: as the oldest Vice-President of the Assembly, he condemned excessive violence. I also thank Nils Muižnieks, our Human Rights Commissioner, who called for an independent investigation into the events. I certainly support that request.
I do not want to talk about just the violence on 1 October. Over the years, I have observed some 20 elections for the Parliamentary Assembly in different countries, but I have never seen such passion in carrying out a basic democratic process. The people of Catalonia are divided on independence and the result of 90% cannot be considered representative, but I think that the overwhelming majority in Catalonia want a referendum, just as the people of Scotland or Quebec had referendums.
Some people carried Spanish flags into polling stations in order to show that they were against independence. They were clapped by those present, because they were availing themselves of the opportunity to cast their vote. I saw the spirit of Voltaire: “I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The strong, profoundly democratic energy that came to the fore is a political reality that we cannot ignore. That is not the problem, but it could be part of the solution, irrespective of what that solution might be. It is not for the Council of Europe or any other international institution to decide what form that solution should take, but it is clear that the current situation is the consequence of the failed 2004 statute of autonomy adopted by the Catalan and Madrid Parliaments. That led to an official, binding referendum in 2006, in which 80% of Catalans who voted supported of the statute, but it was then overturned by the Spanish constitutional court, which resulted in moves towards independence becoming a socially relevant force in Catalonia. Constitutions are drawn up by human beings and they can be changed if they no longer correspond to social circumstances or social reality. I welcome the fact that Prime Minister Rajoy and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, have alluded to the possibility of changing the constitution.
It is also clear that violence is no solution. It was totally irresponsible for the Spanish government’s spokesperson to discuss, at an official press conference, the fate of Lluís Companys in 1934. He called for a federal republic of Spain, but following Franco’s victory he had to flee to France, where he was captured by the Nazi Gestapo and extradited to Spain. He was tortured and, following a quick trial that lasted only a day, he was placed before a firing squad.
The solution to the current crisis lies in dialogue. The international community and in particular the Council of Europe have to shoulder their responsibilities. The European Convention on Human Rights obliges us to look at the current crisis as a common problem. There is room for discussion and debate. The Council of Europe has a panoply of tools to offer assistance, including the Venice Commission, which has expertise in constitutional matters, the Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary General. I appeal to them all to continue to follow the situation closely and to offer assistance. The Committee of Ministers should also take up the issue.
It is not just among politicians and institutions that dialogue should take place; civil society also needs to be involved. I was encouraging to see 10 000 people – young people in particular – take to the streets a few days ago as part of the Hablamos Parlem initiative. They wore white and called for people to come together and talk to one another. They were not demonstrating for or against Catalonian independence, but rather for discussion and a peaceful solution.
In conclusion, I hope that in the 40 years to come, Spain and Catalonia will develop in such a way that only few optimists can imagine today.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Hunko, for starting the current affairs debate on the need for a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia.
We come now to the speakers’ list. I call first Mr Daems.
Mr DAEMS (Belgium, spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – The fundamental principles of the Council of Europe are human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Let us consider how those three elements apply to Catalonia.
The police violence is not compatible with human rights or freedom of opinion, speech, assembly and expression. I am very happy that we have strongly condemned those actions, but I deplore the fact that neither the Prime Minister nor the King of Spain has done so. On the other hand, we cannot accept intimidation and threats from either side in Catalonia. We can never accept violence and neither can we accept other things that are unfortunately happening there.
Forcing one’s opinion on another is not compatible with democracy or respect for the free will of the people, or with a dictatorship of a potential majority. Society should not be separated and split into “good” and “bad”. Catalonia is not one solid block – as a whole it is neither for independence nor the opposite. We should acknowledge that reality, as the Council of Europe has done.
The rule of law guarantees democracy, so it should not be disrespected or ignored. The rule of law, however, is not the same as standing still. Constitutions and laws progressively change and so do our societies. What do we do in our parliaments? We constantly change laws and, once in a while, constitutions. We close the gap between law and social reality, which should also be done in Catalonia.
I believe that the Council of Europe has to take sides in Catalonia: it should firmly take the side of all, not some, Catalonians. That is why the political leaders in Madrid and Barcelona need to find a political solution through dialogue and negotiation. They should set aside their personal pride and their personal political calculations. Perhaps we should go back to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, where he basically said we should have “government of the people, for the people, by the people”. In Spanish, that is “gobierno del pueblo, por el pueblo, para el pueblo." That should be the message.
Mr KOX (Netherlands, spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – Thank you, Assembly, for allowing this very relevant debate on the need to find a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia.
I thank my colleague, Mr Hunko, for his balanced introduction to the debate. Many of us were shocked when we saw the unexpected, brutal and violent reaction of the Spanish authorities to citizens of Spain exercising a democratic right given to them by the constitution and by the rules of the autonomous community of Catalonia. We do not want to see that reaction in any member State – not in Spain, not in the Netherlands, not in Russia and not in Turkey.
We have learned that the Spanish authorities’ argument for this excessive use of violence against citizens was that the referendum was unconstitutional. It is not up to my group or the Assembly to decide that – that is for the democratic institutions of Spain – but you cannot de facto block people from casting democratic votes. It was enough for the Government to say that they would not accept the result of the referendum. Everything would have been clear; we would have had a result and we could have continued the debate.
Mr Hunko recalled that it is 40 years since Spain acceded to the Council of Europe. I was in Spain, and that was celebrated. Accession to the Council of Europe meant accession to the European Convention on Human Rights after so many years of Francoism and authoritarian fascist rule. It was a great moment when the people of Spain entered into the democratic space. It is bad that in the same year as that anniversary we see the government reacting with so much violence towards people exercising a right that is given to them and is protected by the Convention.
I hope we will see no more violence in the near future, whether that is police violence or violence from Spain using Article 155 of the constitution to take away all the powers from Catalonia. That would not make sense. I hope for more wisdom. I think it was wise on Monday that the Catalonian authorities decided not to call for immediate independence. I am happy that Prime Minister Rajoy and the opposition leader Mr Sánchez now call for at least a debate on the possibility of amending the constitution. After 40 years, that would not be a strange question.
I totally agree with what Andrej Hunko said in his final remarks. Violence cannot be the solution in any Council of Europe member State. I call for this Organisation to offer all its good services to Spain. Mr Hunko mentioned several of those services. This Assembly has to follow closely what is happening in Spain and offer its good services to the citizens and authorities in Spain.
Mr DIVINA (Italy, spokesperson for the Free Democrats Group)* – We as the Free Democrats Group do not want enter into the merits and the legality or otherwise of the idea of a referendum. Nor do we want to discuss the right to secede or the issue of the State’s territorial integrity. Instead, we would like to draw the Assembly’s attention to the Spanish Government’s response. I believe it was the wrong response. Using the police – the Guardia Civil – to stand in the way of the democratic process was a total aberration. It runs counter to any democratic rule to use violence against women and elderly people who merely want to cast a vote and express their opinions. It runs counter to the very principles of this Assembly, which upholds freedom of expression, freedom of opinion and freedom of speech. Violence as a political instrument prevails only in dictatorships and not in democracies.
The constitutional referendum could have been allowed to proceed and then declared illegal, null and void. It was wrong to use the police and the army to prevent it from taking place. That is not just a written rule, but common sense, and the same situation applies in football. If you have an uprising in the stands or on the football pitch, the ref can put an end to the match and declare the result void. That avoids clashes and unfortunate incidents. We should ensure that all the instruments available to this Organisation are used to condemn the actions of the Spanish Government, which has not shown the political maturity that a democratic country should show.
Mr ROCA (Spain, spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party)* – Spanish democracy is experiencing some of the most serious moments in its recent history. What is happening in Catalonia has nothing to do with the customary political debates and disagreements of democratic countries. These attitudes and actions go beyond that. We are witnessing an unprecedented challenge to the foundations of a modern democratic mature State, which include the rule of law and the existence of a law-based State, freedom and long-term peace. We are seeing the deliberate disruption of peaceful co-existence.
What happened on 6 September was not a regular parliamentary session; it was a fraud vis-à-vis the law, and many constitutional standards were broken. On 7 September, the transitional law was passed based on an illegal vote. The outcome was predetermined. The agenda was changed and the opposition were deprived of their legitimate rights, preventing them from proposing amendments, thereby expelling half the representatives from the Catalan Parliament. The transitional law indefinitely concentrates all executive and legislative power in the hands of one political figure, including the power to nominate judges without any democratic oversight.
The transitional law was adopted with a report that went against the secretary of the parliament and the statutory rules of Catalonia, which call for laws to be constitutional. Both laws attack the Spanish constitution, the Spanish autonomous statute and the self-government provisions, whose precepts were violated on 6 and 7 September. The Constitutional Court suspended both laws, and on 27 September the Venice Commission affirmed that the referendum would not comply with democratic standards.
Mr TORNARE (Switzerland, spokesperson for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group)* – Just a while ago, we heard some people talk about the fundamental values for which we created the Council of Europe. For all those of us who hold those values dear, the spectacle that we see in Europe, from the Atlantic to the Urals, is a cause of great suffering for those who believe in democracy and respect for human rights for minorities, for cultures, for religions and for pluralism. The question is how we can live together better and peacefully within this great house of Europe. In debate after debate we hear here and elsewhere reproaches, searches for victims without introspection, and speech that verges on hatred. There is a mix-up between nationalism and patriotism. Francois Mitterand said that nationalism equals war. For as long as we do not find answers to those questions we will not be able to find solutions to problems such as the conflict between Catalonia and Spain.
What is happening in Spain is also a source of great suffering for all of us. Madrid and Barcelona have said this. They have said that it is an issue that concerns all of Europe. Mistakes have been made on both sides, but let us stop worrying about the past. Let us start to apply reason rather than emotion. What is being said is cast in stone; it is being put through the concrete mixer. Some in Madrid have an almost religious or theological approach to the application of the constitution. They say that the constitution must be respected to the letter with no concessions. Montesquieu said, yes, there is the law and the law is necessary, but there is also the spirit of the law. On the Barcelona side, independence seekers are very interested in symbolic gestures but without really thinking hard about the consequences of what they are doing. In the meantime, the residents of Spain and Catalunya are suffering.
One must stop saying that mediation is not possible. The Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group has called for this in no uncertain terms. Otherwise this could all descend into violence or even civil war such has been experienced by the Basque country. Europe should say to Spain and to Catalunya, “We love you both, but come to the table and discuss with us.” It is easier to engage in invective than to concentrate on what brings us together. As in a marriage, there must be concessions on both sides within the Iberian peninsula with the help of Europe. The only solution is a road map that would lead to conciliation and resolution.
Sir Roger GALE (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – I congratulate Mr Roca on his excellent speech, which said most of what needed to be said.
On 2 October, following a weekend of violence in Catalonia, I issued a statement. I would like to put that statement on our record here in the Assembly:
“From reports it has become clear that considerable and some cases excessive violence was used during attempts to control or prevent the consultation, whether legal or not, called by the Catalonian authorities, and that scores of people were injured as a result.It
It is not the place of PACE to comment upon or interfere in the internal affairs of any sovereign state and I do not seek to do so. It is, however, the clear duty of PACE to seek to ensure adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights on the part of its Member States.
The rights of freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly lie at the core of our democracies. They must be adhered to, guaranteed and exercised in line with the Convention. Violence cannot be justified: where it has occurred, it must be properly and thoroughly investigated and its perpetrators, whether on the part of the authorities or the demonstrators, brought to justice.
It is necessary for all sides to restore calm, order and peaceful adherence to the law, and to re-establish the dialogue that is the only way that, in a democracy, progress can be made and a resolution reached.”
We have faced this problem in the United Kingdom. Fairly recently, the people of Scotland called for, and were granted by the Government of the United Kingdom, a referendum. It was hard fought and the arguments were robust, but it was fair and democratic, and the result was acknowledged, recognised and accepted by all parties to that discussion. It can be done. If it can be done in the United Kingdom and it can be done in Scotland, then it can be done in Spain. I believe that the people of Catalonia, whether I agree with their cause or not – I do not seek to make a point – have as much right to have their voice as have the people of Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Mr GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ (Spain)* – We have heard a lot of magic lessons this afternoon from people who have no political responsibility in their countries but have been giving fine advice to everyone. We have heard a German questioning what a constitutional court is. We have heard a Dutchman proposing a referendum and asking why we should not hold one. Well, in November 2014 we had a referendum. This sort of thing is dangerous for everyone. I could also pick up on the words of the colleague who spoke previously, who talked about a referendum for Scotland.
I would like to speak about the spirit of the Council of Europe. Why do people not follow peaceful resistance? Why do people violate the law and deprive people of the fundamental right to say what they think and do what they think right? In 2017, the Venice Commission said that any referendum must be convened and held in full compliance with domestic law and the relevant conventions. The referendum of 1 October in Catalonia sought to apply illegal legislation. This was neither innocent nor spontaneous, and it was certainly not democratic or peaceful. It was the last episode – we have to recognise this – in a political strategy intended to impose by totalitarian methods on the whole of Catalonia and Spain a policy that is not desirable for all. That is the case because all these laws were declared unconstitutional by a constitutional court. It could have been attempted constitutionally but people did not try.
There was a precedent in November 2014. The vice-president – the Generalitat himself – requested that the Catalan referendum law should be an exceptionally good regime. However, it was incompatible with all the rules regarding financing of referendums in Spain. In other words, it ran counter to the constitution. Then, on 27 September, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe once again asserted that this was an illegal referendum in violating the election law. The constitutional court ruled that the referendum should be suspended. All of you who go to electoral observations in all our countries need to bear in mind that there was no census, no proper official declaration, and no proper electoral authorities. No country should recognise this. We must recognise and defend the rule of law. We need to do this with a clear-cut voice and not defending the interests of others.
(Ms Kyriakides, President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Ghiletchi.)
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – Spanish and Catalan citizens are both losing in the escalating confrontation following last Sunday’s referendum. It hurts on both sides. There cannot be a winner in this unrolling conflict. Political leaders should have thought twice and, instead of nourishing the conflict, they should have opened dialogue.
Ms Colau, the mayor of Barcelona, has taken responsibility by bringing together different political parties, but I regret that Mr Rajoy did not do so until very recently. He has an important responsibility for what happened. Because of his attitude, nationalism is back with all its ugly features. Consequently, political disagreement is back, too, and it will affect the stability of the Catalan region of Spain and of Europe at large.
We are stranded in a situation in which no compromise seems possible. In one week we have arrived in a cruel world in which only enemies exist and the police use violence against citizens who want to exert their democratic right to vote, a world in which the Prime Minister continues to use threatening words. The situation is deplorable because everyone is losing, including the majority of Catalans who did not vote or who voted no. The referendum clearly cannot be called democratic, as it originated outside the law and does not comply with the rules of the Venice Commission. However, let us not forget that Mr Puigdemont has now said that the conflict can be resolved in a calm and agreed manner if everyone acts responsibly.
There can be a positive way out if dialogue leads to a political solution and not only a legal solution. Applying Article 155 is the worst thing that could happen. It is good that there now seems to be an opening for debate. A possible way out could be amending the constitution to allow a binding referendum, but that is not the only way out. If Spanish and Catalan representatives really listened to the people, they would know that we need a solution that goes beyond the law. The law is important, but democratic participation is even more important. The international community can help to reach a political solution, if only the Spanish and Catalans would accept such mediation.
If necessary, my country could help to find a solution. We have large experience of peaceful dialogue between different regions. It is not always perfect, but at least it is peaceful and avoids the inappropriate use of harmful force against civilians.
Ms SANTA ANA (Spain)* – Spain’s 1978 constitution was supported by 88% of Spaniards, but it was even more strongly supported by Spaniards living in Catalonia, to the tune of 91%. Our constitution defines Spain as a common and indivisible homeland that recognises, defends and guarantees the right to autonomy of the various regions. Catalonia is an autonomous community, along with 16 others that comprise Spain. Spain is a mature democracy in which everyone can defend their legitimate ideas within the law.
Without respect for the law, there is no coexistence or democracy. No one in Spain can override the law. No one is prosecuted or persecuted in Spain for their ideas. The national police and the Guardia Civil oversee the values championed by the Council of Europe, which guarantee freedom, democracy and the rule of law. The Commissioner for Human Rights and the Committee against Torture have visited Spain many times, and they assert that the security and police forces are consistent with the values of the Council of Europe.
There are no historical, political, legal or economic factors in Spain that validate an independence referendum. The Spanish constitution has modification mechanisms, and the Spanish Government has on countless occasions invited the Catalan Government to come to parliament, where national sovereignty is vested, to work within the context of the constitution, and always within the law. The present and future of Spain are decided by all Spaniards under the auspices of the constitution.
The Council of Europe respects the sovereignty of States, and the resurgence of populisms and nationalisms is a looming, lurking danger that is undermining all our democracies. In this House the Venice Commission has already reminded Catalan independence activists and the Catalan President that there can be no vote and no referendum in violation of the Spanish constitution, which underpins what the Spanish Government has already stated and affirmed.
Ms RODRÍGUEZ RAMOS (Spain)* – I will not talk about the rights of territories and peoples, which is the language of the nationalists. For us, territories do not have rights. Only citizens have rights, so I will talk about the female and male citizens of Spain and Catalonia who over the past few days have experienced and are experiencing a difficult and traumatic situation because the government of one autonomous community in my country – one part of the State – has overridden the law, violated the constitution and infringed the very statute of its autonomy. It has infringed the law that gives it its legitimacy.
The response of the Spanish State can be validated by what all your constitutions say. In responding to this challenge, the Spanish State has sought to restore the rule of law, which means restoring democracy. The Spanish State is duty bound serenely and sensibly, but also firmly, to re-establish legality, because the rights of Catalans and Spaniards are vested in the rule of law. The Assembly knows only too well that whoever attacks the rule of law attacks democracy and freedom.
The Spanish people reject violence, and the Spanish police act in compliance with judicial orders, as happens in any democratic State. If there are excesses in such acts, it will not be a Chamber such as this but an investigating judge and court that will say so – that is where responsibility lies. The Catalan Parliament has to comply with orders from judges, and it did not do so, which is a matter for the courts.
If the Council of Europe wants to help us, it should encourage Catalonian independence activists to come to the table of dialogue. Democrats work through dialogue. Yesterday, the secretary general of the Socialist Party announced in parliament an agreement with the Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, to open up constitutional reform. We will all sit down, including the independence activists, to discuss how we can better arrange our territorial organisation. All 46 million Spaniards will vote for that because they have confidence in our democratic State, but I beseech you all to place your trust in the Spanish people and the Spanish nation. After 40 years of dictatorship we gained the right to establish a robust democracy, which allowed us to deal with the 1981 attempted coup.
Mr KÜÇÜKCAN (Turkey) – Europe and our institutions have already confronted many challenges, and I do not think that we need more challenges, crises and conflicts. In Spain, however, we are facing yet another challenge. The regional government behind Catalonia’s referendum initiative on 1 October sparked a heated controversy, and the following important developments merit particular attention from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We witnessed a national issue of great importance for the Spanish people that captured an international agenda. I believe that the current debate provides an excellent opportunity for us to consider those developments in the framework of our Assembly, and so far we have heard some excellent speeches.
First and foremost, the territorial integrity of Spain must be respected. I hope that this issue, which is an internal matter for Spain, will be resolved within the framework of Spain’s constitution and laws. I believe that the Spanish people and institutions are mature enough to deal with the issue without entering into deeper conflicts. In that process, it is important to comply with the laws of Spain, and avoid resorting to violence, whether violence on the streets by Government forces, or by the protesters. We all condemn any violence, and I believe that Spain will manage this situation through a democratic approach and dialogue.
In that context, it is important to recall that Spain suffered from dictatorship for almost 40 years and declared its democracy in 1978. Since then we have seen improvements and great achievements in Spain. As has been said, Spain’s constitution was approved by 88% of its people, and I believe that the robust and solid democratic will of the Spanish people will be more than enough to address the current challenge. There is no doubt that violence has no place in this issue, and regardless of their views on independence, I am certain that all Spanish and European citizens condemn violence in any form.
Following recent developments, I believe that third-party mediators will not be of much assistance in addressing this controversy – as I said, the Spanish people and institutions are mature enough to deal with this issue. Rather than relying on mediators, dialogue must be conducted in a bilateral manner. Therefore, all relevant actors should move from confrontation to dialogue as soon as possible, and avoid a further escalation of the use of force. Once more I emphasise the importance of allowing this issue to be dealt with by the Spanish people in accordance with Spanish legislation. We do not need any more conflicts; we have more than enough in Europe and the world in general.
Ms RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ (Spain)* – I speak on behalf of the free and democratic opposition party in Catalonia. On 7 September, not only was there a coup against Catalan democracy; there was a coup against the autonomy statute of Catalonia. The rest of the opposition may not have said this, but not a single amendment was tabled. As members of the Assembly know, in our countries when any sort of law is drafted, the opposition is at least given the chance to amend it. We do that many times a day, but in this case the opposition was silenced simply because it did not think the way of the majority.
Over the past few days we have discussed the independence and values of this Assembly. Independence can be secured only when we open our ears and hear all the versions and see all the pictures. We must have a grasp on reality because for some people there is only one rule of law, according to the pictures they see. Europe and its values – the values of this Assembly – should be shared and not broken. We talk about building bridges, not erecting frontiers. We are talking about defending the rule of law because that guarantees that all our citizens and countries are covered and people are allowed to express their views freely and in different ways. What is happening in my country is to no one’s liking; no one is happy about it. The use and abuse of politics, and the extremism within that, has led to the break-up of many families and friends. There has even been disruption of many aspects of peaceful co-existence in Catalonia. We must be very careful with our policies. This is not an abstract issue; it affects the daily lives of every citizen.
Like my colleague, I believe that the judges must decide what has been done properly by the politicians and what has not. We must all submit to their judgments so that we do our best. Notwithstanding the great wounds that it has inherited from the past, my country has managed to establish a constitution and respect all people and their differences, safeguarding the rights of each and every one of us. The constitution was ratified by 88% of Spaniards, and 91% of all citizens of Catalonia. Of course we need to evolve and transform, and the process is slow – perhaps it does not move as fast as the citizenry. However, all reforms must be predicated on the rule of law and respect for the views of all citizens. No State can be blackmailed. Last Sunday in Catalonia there was a demonstration in which three flags were flown because we want Catalonia to avoid erecting new borders.
Ms SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER (Switzerland)* – Time and again we find ourselves discussing conflicts that involve minorities in our own countries. My country, Switzerland, chose the model of a federal State precisely because it is made up of minority states – we call them cantons. In Switzerland, 26 cantons enjoy a considerable degree of political autonomy, and every canton has its own democratic institutions – it has its own constitution, parliament, government and courts. We even elect our Senate on the basis of cantonal provisions, and when it comes to a vote, a majority at the level of the cantons will decide whether draft legislation is approved or rejected. Federalist powers or competencies are fiercely defended in Switzerland, and wherever possible, laws are enacted at cantonal level. Although over the years much legislation has been enacted at federal level, huge areas such as the education and health systems, and the police and criminal justice system, continue to be regulated at cantonal level. Where differences between the cantonal systems constitutes a problem, a solution is found and an agreement reached between the cantons. Only in extreme situations do we consider centralised federal legislation without immediately entrusting the cantons with responsibility for implementation at a practical level.
The federal system is often discussed in Switzerland. Differing regulations or legislation in 26 cantons is not always effective; it costs a lot and that adds to the red tape. However, Switzerland – quite rightly – still supports its federalist system because we have a lot of minorities. We have four language regions; we have urban cantons and mountain regions. We have economically strong and economically weak cantons, and in many cantons we find differing mind sets and ethnic groups. When decisions are taken over the heads of a minority, frustration can grow to dangerous levels. That is happening now in Catalonia, as well as in a number of minority regions in other countries. A lot of conflicts have arisen only because minorities have not been taken seriously, instead of them being given a bit more margin so that they can enjoy greater autonomy. Here the Swiss model could serve, and Switzerland would certainly be prepared to stand by and make its experience available.
Ms M. OBRADOVIĆ (Serbia) – I remind the Chamber that we are in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the home of human rights that has as its basic principle the rule of law. If we follow just that one principle, our position on Catalonia is clear.
Serbia’s position is that we strongly support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Spain. We believe that foreign interference in the internal affairs of Spain is unacceptable. Serbia is well aware of what kind of damage making exceptions may inflict – that is, disregard for territorial integrity and international law. Serbia knows it because of the dangerous precedent made in the case of Kosovo and Metohija.
Once again, I remind you that deviation from respect for international law in the case of Catalonia would surely open a path to similar crises in Europe and the world.
Mr BILDARRATZ (Spain)* – I am a very proud member of the Basque national party. It is in that capacity that I want to speak. Obviously our situation is different from that of Catalonia but I have great understanding for the situation because we obviously have had our problems in Euskadi – the Basque country – ourselves over the past 50 years, but I want to talk about this issue of compliance and non-compliance with the law and the reality of the situation from a variety of different perspectives.
I would like you all to ponder one issue, which was raised by our colleague Ms Santa Ana. When the constitutional referendum was put to the Spanish, Catalonia was the region that voted most massively in favour – 94% plus – of the constitution. We need to ask ourselves why more than 2 million people went out to cast their ballots on 1 October and, when they did so, why so many said they wanted independence. Why, back in 1978, did more than 90% of people vote in favour of the Spanish constitution when, fast-forwarding to today, we find ourselves in a situation where more than 2 million people voted in favour of this ballot paper saying Catalonia should be independent?
What accounts for that is a lack of dialogue down the years for negotiation. Dialogue for negotiations; negotiating for dialogue – without those two things you cannot have agreement. Back in 2006 Catalonia voted in favour of its statute, which was approved by the Spanish Congress and the Senate. The people of Catalonia then ratified it. Millions of people voted in favour of the statute for Catalonia. The present government decided to refer the statute to the constitutional court – 12 individuals – who decided to strike down a statute that millions of people had decided to support. In other words, the government did not heed the will the people.
We need to heed the will of the people. Yes there is a problem in legality, but legality has to be legitimate. If something is to be legitimate it has to be anchored in social reality. That is what we need to bear in mind when we talk about democracy.
Mr BUSTINDUY (Spain) – This debate is obviously not about our opinions on the independence of Catalonia, but about how a democratic State should deal with a political crisis of this magnitude. In a democratic State a political crisis cannot be solved unilaterally or through impositions – certainly not through the use of violence and repression of the population. They need to be solved democratically, through dialogue, negotiation and respect for fundamental rights and freedom.
This is not how the Spanish State reacted to this crisis. We all saw the shocking images from 1 October, from a referendum that had already been suspended by the Spanish courts and thereby had no legal effect. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression, the Vice-President of this Assembly and the Commissioner for Human Rights for the Council of Europe all expressed worry and condemnation of the indiscriminate use of violence against peaceful citizens. To this day in Spain no one has resigned or taken responsibly for those events.
In the previous days we saw police forces entering newspaper offices, searching the headquarters of political parties without judicial warrant. We saw judges banning public meetings and debates. Some 700 mayors were threatened with judicial prosecution. Civil servants and public officers were arrested. Just two days ago we heard open calls from the ruling party to illegalise political organisations calling for independence. These are all unprecedented restrictions and measures against the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties. It is obviously true that the political situation in Spain is dire and complex, but the Spanish constitution and the rule of law cannot be defended by jeopardising our civil and political freedoms. On the contrary, we are putting them at risk by doing so.
This week, the Catalan Government suspended the declaration of independence and asked for negotiation and mediation. However, the Spanish Government is refusing to engage in any sort of dialogue or offer a way out of the crisis. It refuses even to acknowledge that there is another side – an interlocutor – and ignores the fact that 80% of the Catalan population want to decide democratically their future as a people. Turning a blind eye on this reality or trying to repress it by force will obviously lead us nowhere. On the contrary, this logic is deteriorating our democratic system along the way.
Make no mistake: I am not in favour of the independence of Catalonia. I love my country – Spain – and I am proud to consider myself a patriot. But the country I love is one that puts democracy at the core of its identity and the essence of its bond. It is country that stays firmly true to its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. It is the country of the thousands of citizens who took to squares across Spain last weekend holding white flags, united under a very simple banner, “Hablemos” – “Let’s talk”. In that spirit, I ask the Assembly, each and all of its members, and all of our friends and allies in the international community to help us solve this crisis democratically through dialogue in peace.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – People who have known me for years know that I like political jokes. I often like paradoxes. So when some people came to me a few days ago and asked me, “Mr Vareikis, you know everything, who will win the Catalonian case?”, my answer was, “Do you think there is a war?” I said, “No. Democracies do not start wars.” We know it from the handbook. If war is started by Catalonians, the police or someone else foreign I do not know, Spain is no longer a democracy. If Spain wants to be a democracy it cannot start wars.
We are in a very paradoxical situation. I am really surprised. If something happens in non-democratic countries or countries under monitoring we always know what to do. We think of resolutions or recommendations. We are very clever. When things happen in a democratic country we suddenly are lost and do not know what to do.
We can get different opinions, but on what we can do, I said to my friend who asked me who will win, “My wish is not to have a victorious force, but to have peace and make people happy. I do not know in which country, but my wish is to make agreement and peace in that situation.”
The kingdom of Spain is a sensitive country. History shows us that it is more sensitive than some other countries in Europe. That is important and its people have their sympathies and antipathies. Sympathy is not measurable. There are also problems of law, feelings, history and future visions. All those things are on one hand stable, but on the other hand, everything can be changed if we want to make people happy. Sympathies can turn into antipathies and law can turn to war if it is ill-suited to the situation. People simply have to think about identity and what the kingdom of Spain is. I have a few different ideas, so I ask you, and especially people from Spain: is the kingdom of Spain the united kingdom of Castilians, Catalonians, Basques, Galicians and so on, or is the kingdom of Spain the kingdom of ethnic Spanish people and ethnic minorities? That is very important. You have to think about your relations with history and with the European Union institutions.
Finally, you are clever people and I hope you will find victory not through war, but through a peaceful solution.
Mr De BRUYN (Belgium) – On 1 October, the Catalan independence referendum took place; it was considered legitimate by the Catalan Government and unconstitutional by the Spanish constitutional court. We witnessed an escalating climate of tensions, threats, sanctions, repressive measures and intimidation in the run-up to the referendum, as well as ongoing tensions between both governments and the escalation of unrest alongside massive street protests in Catalonia.
On the day of the referendum, thousands of Spanish police troops marched down the streets to stop people from voting. I was shocked by the violence used by Spanish policemen against civilians who were acting peacefully, with close to 1 000 people injured as a result. The Belgian Prime Minister was the ﬁrst political leader in Europe to express his concerns by sending a message on social media stating, “Violence can never be the answer! We condemn all forms of violence and reafﬁrm our call for political dialogue.” That concern has been echoed by many others since then. I refer inter alia to the statement by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, both of whom called for an impartial investigation into all the violence, emphasising that police interventions should be proportionate and necessary.
Dear colleagues, we are not assembled today to discuss Catalonian independence as such; it is up to the Catalan people to decide their future. Our message both to our Spanish and Catalan colleagues and friends should be clear: a political issue can only be resolved through political dialogue. Therefore, a process of de-escalation should be initiated without further delay and a facilitating role by the international community should be welcomed by both the Catalan and Spanish Governments. I have heard the call for international mediation from the Catalan Government. Unfortunately, I have not yet heard the same from the Spanish Government.
Mr XUCLÀ (Spain)* – Last weekend the French centrist politician, François Bayrou, said that when people are attacked in the streets in a democracy, they end up winning at the ballot box. We talk about democracy in various Council of Europe member States and what has happened is clearly a source of concern.
On 1 October we saw the entirely disproportionate use of violence by the Spanish police – it was so disproportionate that it drew the attention not only of the human rights bodies of the United Nations and the Council of Europe, but of Human Rights Watch, which also expressed concern about the violence. A series of organisations cited Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which sets out the right to vote as well as rules regarding the media and the publication and non-publication of certain things. The fact is that those in favour of the referendum met in public places, which the police closed down. They also closed down 180 websites. You cannot put barbed wire fences around fields, as we say in Spain. This is ultimately a political debate, but there has been a lack of political proposals from the Spanish Government.
More than 40 years ago, there was a referendum on the Spanish constitution. What we need now is another referendum to see whether voters think that the Spanish constitution is still valid in Catalonia. We must have the opportunity to vote. I think we should follow the example of Britain, which found a solution to the Scottish problem. The same happened in Canada with Quebec, where a referendum was held. The citizens of Catalonia should have the opportunity to say yes or no, but neither the party in power nor, indeed, the opposition in Spain has proposed that as the way forward.
Do we want dialogue? Of course we do. We want dialogue rooted in a powerful popular movement, which first took shape following the ruling from the constitutional court of Spain rejecting the statute. It is the first time in 40 years that a law validated by a referendum has been rejected by the constitutional court. That was a terrible blow to the people of Catalonia who, for seven years, have been sending out a powerful message to Spain through street demonstrations. But they wanted something even more powerful than demonstrations in the street; they wanted a secret vote. In Spain a series of local authorities and important figures have been calling for the right of self-determination in Catalonia. We cannot just turn a blind eye to the reality. The fact is that the Catalan Government – the Generalitat – has been calling for dialogue since the proclamation of the results on 1 October. The only way we can achieve a result now is through dialogue.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan)* – We believe that the tensions in Catalonia as a result of the independence referendum should be resolved within the framework of the territorial integrity of Spain, and we support efforts in that regard. In principle, we unconditionally support the territorial integrity of all member States of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Any problems in that respect can only be resolved within the remit of the law, because the strengthening of separatist movements can constitute a significant threat to Europe and the world.
Unfortunately, during our discussions in the Assembly, some members of the Armenian delegation have been trying to use the developments in Catalonia to serve their own interests. They have been trying to justify Armenia’s policy of occupation in Karabakh, and we are very saddened and concerned to see that. We should not allow such dangerous steps because what is happening in Karabakh has nothing to do with what is happening in Catalonia. The Karabakh issue is a result of the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijani territory, as is clearly stated in Resolution 1416, which was accepted by this Parliamentary Assembly.
We should not allow there to be double standards regarding territorial integrity. We have to remember that separatist actions can have dire consequences, so we should openly support Spain. A significant number of people did not support the results of the referendum in Catalonia and we should hear their voices as well. We saw some of them protesting in the streets. It is very important to resolve this problem fairly and this must be done within the framework of the territorial integrity of Spain and in accordance with international law. It must also be resolved peacefully.
In that respect, our Parliamentary Assembly should play a more active role. That would certainly contribute to a peaceful resolution of the problem. Any further escalation of the situation in Spain as a result of the Catalonian referendum could create disastrous results, so we must make sure that we make strong appeals for the resolution of the problem and its de-escalation.
Today, many people are watching us, in Europe and elsewhere. Separatist movements are also watching us. We should send the right message. We must respect everyone’s rights and respect the territorial integrity of countries – otherwise, we will be confronted with significant problems.
Mr SIMMS (Canada, Observer) – I had absolutely no intention of being involved in the debate, as we are observers, but I saw what happened on Sunday and felt compelled to talk. In this three minutes, I do not represent the Government of Canada nor my delegation, of which I am head. This is just me. I would like to bring out two of my lived experiences of self-determination – who we are as people and how we identify ourselves in our community.
I am from a little island province on the east coast of Canada called Newfoundland. In 1949, we had a referendum. We had a choice, and it was a stark contrast. We either became our own country – our own dominion – or we joined the country of Canada. My grandfather, whom I miss dearly – he passed away several years ago – decided he wanted nothing to do with Canada. It was, to him, a disease. It was that bad, and he supported his own country. Today, his grandson stands here as a member of parliament in Canada.
I bring that issue to you because when the referendum was done, and by 51% we decided to join Canada, my grandfather made a conscious decision that, although he did not want to be there, he had to be there for the sake of his family and his community, and he had to be involved.
I move to my next example, which was brought up before: Québec. I lived in Québec in 1995 and I voted no. Following that referendum, families were torn apart, friends did not speak to each other for quite some time, but we respected each other. We kept respecting each other – we kept talking. Many of the demands of Québec as a nation have now been resolved. We worked through them and addressed the devolution of power in our federalist state. That devolution took place peacefully, because we respected each other, despite our different opinions.
Am I naïve in this debate? Absolutely. I have spoken about two referendums, and I am not recommending a referendum, but saying that we need to recognise the fundamental principle of who we are. Earlier, someone said, “Trust Spain to make the right decision”. I do. However, I am asking you, as politicians, to trust your citizens to do what is right. I quote some other comments from around the Chamber: “compromise is not possible”, “mediation is not possible”, “excessive violence was used”, “breaking up family and friends”. Please do not stop talking; whether it is with the Catalonians living in Spain or with the Spanish living in Catalonia, we have a responsibility to keep the dialogue going. I stress the need to do that, for the sake of your entire community.
By the way, my grandfather died a proud Canadian.
Mr R. HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – An attempt to make a change in the political map of the world is like stirring up a volcano. Any such attempt provokes unwelcome tragedies. The developments taking place in Spain today require that the world’s leading States and influential international organisations intervene in the process without delay and take measures to prevent big losses and tragedies. From our distant and recent history, we are aware that delayed intervention or the holding of standby positions in such cases inevitably leads to bitter consequences.
Catalonia wants independence. At the same time, dreadful activities towards establishing an independent state of Kurdistan are being observed. Though outwardly it seems to be the desire and initiative of those Catalans or Kurds, or any other nation, that is expressed in the breaking away, the gaining of independence and the establishment of their own state, we should always remember that behind such actions are the black hands of the great powers, secretly kindling bonfires. We should not forget that those forces are trying to further ensure their own global interests, through dividing, creating conflicts and pitting countries and nations against one another, cunningly swinging their batons behind the curtain each time.
The developments currently taking place in Catalonia have been familiar to us for 30 years, so we can see how the scenario will progress. In the late 1980s, the Nagorno-Karabakh Autonomous Oblast was the region with the best living standards in my country. Catalonia, a region with autonomous status, has the highest living standards in Spain. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the separatist movement initiated in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan via the instigation and dictation of foreign forces led to bloody warfare between Azerbaijan and Armenia, the loss of thousands of lives and the endless tragedy of millions. Nagorno-Karabakh did not gain independence; Armenia and its protectors failed in creating the second artificial Armenian state in the South Caucasus. However, Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia, in addition to all the losses, was also denied further development, for decades.
We know from history lessons that separatism that is not silenced but stimulated is a very dangerous example. The spark could easily jump to other countries, thus lighting similar bonfires. Today, Catalonia is one of the undesirable fruits of that toxic seed planted once upon a time. Separatism is not a disease that can be cured through treatment, therapy and admonition; it is necessary to take surgical interventions and cardinal measures via the joint efforts of the international community.
Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain)* – Distinguished colleagues, the debate this afternoon is being held in the home of democracy and the rule of law. What has been taking place in Catalonia since 6 September, culminating in the farce that was the referendum on 1 October, is a rebellion against the rule of law. It is a rebellion against democracy, against freedom and against respect for the law, and this afternoon’s debate is all about respect for the rule of law.
What the Spanish Government has done is identical to what any other democratic government in the Council of Europe or elsewhere in the world would have done. It is defending European values against nationalist populists – the kind of people who oppose the supremacy of the law, law-based States and European values. That is why I would like to expressly thank the Spanish police for everything they did and their professionalism in defending the law and well-being of the people.
Respect for the law is the basis not only of co-existence in Spain, but of co-existence in Europe. Last week, there was a similar debate in the European Parliament, which was called for by the extreme right. This week, here, it was the extreme left that proposed this debate on Catalonia. Just look at the kinds of fellow travellers that the Catalan pro-independence activists have across Europe.
Nationalism has brought horror and bloodshed to this continent – we must not forget that. Nationalism is equivalent to supremacism, racism and xenophobia. This afternoon we have heard it said many times that we must negotiate. However, one cannot negotiate on the unity of Spain and one certainly cannot negotiate under the threat of the unity of Spain being broken. It is the Spanish people as a whole, via their democratically elected government and their representatives, who must mediate.
A million people demonstrated peacefully in Barcelona against independence. It is important to say that. They were there waving the Spanish flag. It is important to remember that.
If you would allow me to say my final words, Madam President, I just remind you of something my colleagues have said. On 1 October, the authorities were obeying the orders of the Catalan courts. The President interrupts me.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Agramunt, we are out of time.
That concludes the list of speakers.
I remind you that at the end of a current affairs debate, the Assembly is not asked to decide upon a text; but the matter may be referred by the Bureau to the responsible committee for a report.
(Mr Corlăţean, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Kyriakides.)
2. The use of new genetic technologies in human beings
The PRESIDENT – The next item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report titled “The use of new genetic technologies in human beings” (Document 14328) presented by Ms De Sutter on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
In order to finish by 7 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 6.50 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.
I call Ms De Sutter, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – Mr President, dear colleagues, thank you for being here.
Medical technologies are advancing at a rapid pace. Genetic technologies in particular are changing medical practice rapidly. Today, a couple who are at risk of having a severely genetically affected child have various options. They can go for prenatal diagnosis and interrupt the pregnancy if they need to or they can have their embryos tested and select only embryos that are not affected. Tomorrow, we will be able to screen for other diseases that are less severe or for medical conditions that affect people only later in life, such as diabetes or colon cancer. That is much more controversial.
The day after tomorrow, we could go even further. Some modern-day philosophers like the Australian Julian Savulscu plead for a revival of the old concept of eugenics, now called enhancement, which would lead to designer babies. He believes that it will be necessary for the survival of humankind. I suspect that most of us here would not endorse that view. I certainly do not.
Where should we draw the line? Genetic technology has very recently entered a new era. Now, we can not only select embryos after screening, but modify them. The new CRISPR-Cas9 technique allows us to cut out a piece of DNA and replace it with another in an easy, cheap and effective way. Many applications are being made in different fields of medicine that do not raise ethical questions because they are dealing with somatic cells, such as those in blood or tissue. It is different when dealing with sperm, eggs or embryos. In such cases, you not only modify the embryo itself, but all descendants ever to be born from that individual. Does that seem scary to some of you? Let us examine why we might be scared by that idea.
First, the technique seems to be effective, but mistakes are certainly possible and perhaps even likely at this stage of development. Those mistakes might be off-target, thus affecting other pieces of DNA than those we want to modify, with unpredictable side-effects. It is therefore clearly inadmissible today to consider transferring a genetically modified embryo into a womb and letting a child be born. Everybody agrees with that. There is also another reason we should not want this technology to develop without any regulation or legislation. Even if it would be safe, who would decide what can be modified in the genome of a particular embryo and what cannot?
Consensus guidelines produced by different scientific bodies such as the Hinxton ethics group, the US National Academy of Sciences and the European Society of Human Genetics all advise that editing the human germline – that is, sperm, eggs or embryos – can be justified for the scientific purpose of research into fundamental biology. However, they also say that substantial basic research is needed to check the safety, accuracy and feasibility of genome editing as a potential clinical tool. Therefore, clinical applications may be considered only after strong research groundwork has been done, and then only in cases that are deemed acceptable after careful examination of the alternatives and – this is important – further societal debate. That is what the scientific community says.
Dear colleagues, we must have no illusions: these developments will go on and genetically modified babies will be born in some countries, and possibly in member States of the Council of Europe. It has happened recently with the so-called three-parent child. The first child was born in Mexico and the second in Ukraine. If this is to happen again with genetically modified children, please let us think about what is acceptable and what is not.
Colleagues, our work here really matters. A recent scientific article in “EMBO Reports” regrets that our current report, which we still have to vote on, reaffirms the Oviedo ban on germline genome editing in humans. The authors consider paragraph 5.1 to be especially outdated and in sharp contrast to recent international scientific developments. I understand their opinion, because scientists are interested in the science, but we should also be interested in the ethics. To quote Rabelais, “science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme” – science without conscience is just the ruin of the soul.
Where does that leave us? For us, it is clear: we have the Oviedo Convention. For those who do not know it, it is a small booklet. Please read it, because it is the first and only legally binding treaty on bioethics. The Oviedo Convention is clear. Article 13 states that the transfer of a genetically modified human embryo, leading to the birth of a child, is not allowed. Fundamental research is possible, but the red line is the birth of a child. However, Article 32 leaves open the possibility of amendment after appropriate public discussion, as stated in Article 28.
Perhaps members know that the Oviedo Convention celebrates its 20th anniversary in a few weeks, but it has been ratified by only 29 member States. Those who did not ratify it had reasons other than those we are discussing today. The report urges member States to ratify the convention, but if they do not, at least to put in place legislation to ban the establishment of a pregnancy after genome editing of an embryo.
As members can see from the recommendations, the report also asks for the establishment of a regulatory and legal – it must be binding – framework to define acceptable medical indications.
Members may ask, why those three proposals? Colleagues should read the recommendations as three different levels of regulation. Plan A is the ratification of the Oviedo Convention. For those member States that refuse to do that, perhaps for different reasons, we have a plan B, which would ban the transfer of a genetically modified embryo to establish a pregnancy. Still, some countries might not want to do that, and we should also take care of their citizens. The framework in paragraph 5.4 – if amendments are accepted, it will be paragraph 5.2 – constitutes a plan C.
We should have a broad discussion with all stakeholders and reach a common conclusion. That is the only way of avoiding what I would describe as “genome editing tourism” – patients travelling to countries where what is not allowed in their countries is permitted or, as in the Mexico case, scientists travelling to more permissive countries to do things that they could not do in their own. This is already happening for many other treatments in reproductive medicine such as egg donation or surrogacy. That is not what we want.
A recent editorial in the scientific magazine, “Nature”, states: “Regulators, funders, scientists and editors need to continue working together to define the details of the path forward for germline genome editing, so that the valuable resources and tools now at our disposal are used with good judgement.” I would add politicians to that list. We have a huge responsibility to make the right decisions in regulating and legislating for this rapidly evolving field.
Thank you for supporting the report.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms De Sutter. You have three and a half minutes left. I call Mr John Howell.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – As the rapporteur said, one of the biggest issues we need to guard against is the use of new genetic technology for eugenics. There is a fine line between eugenics and work to help eradicate disease. It is clear where the genetic techniques are used to achieve a result that is not required by medicine, but we need to be careful and ensure that rules are in place to prevent that.
The report sets out the current situation and several recommendations for the Assembly to consider. I will not repeat them, but no one should want regulation for its own sake. However, the report sets out the context for those regulations as well as those for ensuring the health and safety of individuals undergoing the treatments.
The trouble with a common regulatory and legal framework is that developments in genetic technology move so quickly, as the rapporteur explained. It is crucial that regulation and the law are flexible and updated to take account of those developments.
The Nuffield Council in the UK has just published a guide to bio-engineering, in which it sets out four points to provide a framework. The first is that we need to build and maintain trust. Secondly, we need to ensure that research addresses the needs of society. Thirdly, we need to promote responsible health policy, and fourthly, we need to show real international leadership.
It is right to move at a slow pace on this matter and to share the results over a long time to ensure that nothing interferes with individuals’ lives and health. It is also right to adopt a precautionary principle. That is not to deny the benefits of the new technology or to be anti-science, but science needs to be put in the context of humanity.
Mr GRIN (Switzerland, spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – I thank Ms De Sutter for her relevant report on genetic technological advances in human beings and her recommendations for providing a code of conduct for those new technological advances.
The development of new genetic technologies proceeds apace and is quicker than the drafting of laws that are needed for a code of conduct. To avoid intentional changes in the human genome, which would cross lines that are judged to be beyond the pale, it is important to develop a clear, shared regulatory and legal framework, as the report suggests.
IVF has already made great progress. Human embryo transplants allowed the resolution of certain problems such as sterility, which some couples experienced who could not have a baby in the normal way. Then the development of genetics allowed us to identify in genes the origin of certain serious hereditary diseases or conditions. In my country, Switzerland, last year we had a passionate debate about the pre-implant diagnosis of human embryos and a draft law allowing that. The law was accepted in a referendum. However, religious and ethical rather than political debate led to many lively exchanges about the pros and cons.
Although the transfer of an embryo that involves intentional changes to the genome should be banned, diagnosing an embryo before implantation to see whether it carries a disease should be possible, and that is exactly what the Swiss law now allows for any couples using IVF. If they wish, they can ask for pre-implant diagnosis, and that permits some couples to avoid the difficult decision after 12 weeks of pregnancy of whether they should abort if the embryo has a hereditary disease. Medically, the disease can now be detected before implantation. That is a positive advance in recourse to new technologies. However, it should not be about choosing the gender, hair colour or eye colour of a child or trying to have children who are geniuses or perfect. The law is very strict about that and provides for swingeing punishment for those who would carry out genetic manipulation for other reasons.
For the future, we need new laws to govern the various possibilities of when we can use new genetic technologies in human beings. That is why the Council of Europe should develop a common regulatory framework, to avoid any medial tourism for procreation and people going to more permissive countries for the new genetic technologies. Of course, as far as Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is concerned, every country should have a democratic debate on the issue, to thrash out a clear national position on the practical use of genetic technologies. As Ms De Sutter has said, time is against us, because medical advances are more rapid than parliamentary debates.
Ms SANDBÆK (Denmark, spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – First, I congratulate Petra De Sutter on her excellent report. It is so complete that I want to focus on and flag up only one point, namely the precautionary principle and why it is so important.
This planet is like a web of living organisms, animals and plants, all connected to one another in ways we know very little about. One example of that is what happened when the wolf was reintroduced in Yellowstone park. The ecological impact of its reintroduction is stunning. As the wolf population in the park has grown, the elk population – their favoured prey – has declined, which has resulted in changes in flora, specifically willows, cottonwoods and aspens along the fringes of heavily timbered areas. The constant presence of wolves has pushed elk into less favourable habitats, raised their stress level and lowered their nutrition and overall birth rate.
After their reintroduction, the wolves became significant predators of coyotes, which naturally suppress foxes, so the diminished coyote population has led to a rise in foxes. That in turn shifts the odds of survival for coyote prey such as hares and young deer, as well as for the small rodents and ground-nesting birds that the foxes stalk. Those changes affect how often certain roots, buds, seeds and insects get eaten, which can alter the balance of local plant communities and all the way down the food chain to fungi and microbes.
The presence of wolves has also coincided with a dramatic rise in the park’s beaver population. Elk browse more widely, diminishing their pressure on stands of willow – a plant that beavers need to survive the winter. The renewed presence of beavers in the ecosystem has substantial effects on the local watershed, because the existence of beaver dams evens out the seasonal runoff pulses, stores water for recharging the water table, and provides cold, shaded water for fish. Beaver dams also counter erosion and create new pond and marsh habitats for moose, otters, mink, wading birds, waterfowl, fish, amphibians and more.
Similarly, the wolves’ reintroduction benefited Yellowstone’s grizzly bear population, as it led to a significant increase in the growth of berries in the national park. Wolf kills feed a wide array of animals, including but not limited to ravens, wolverines, bald eagles, golden eagles, grizzly bears, black bears, jays, magpies, martens and coyotes.
The top-down effect of the reintroduction of the wolf is an example of trophic cascade. If the introduction of a wolf can change a park so dramatically, we should be very much aware of what may occur through the use of genetic technologies in human beings.
Baroness MASSEY (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group) – This is a very important and informative report and I congratulate the rapporteur on being so clear and concise. She has given us notice of huge confusion and complications unless action is taken on regulations.
The hub of the dilemma, and the reason we may become confused, is that medical technology is developing very quickly. The report addresses fears about misuse and abuse of technology in gene therapy for genetic enhancement. The Oviedo Convention, which the rapporteur mentioned, does of course offer guidance.
The rapporteur has highlighted the need to be vigilant in relation to the constant renewing of knowledge from research and practice, and the current ability to move quickly from theory to application. The report clarifies issues related to genetic engineering and warns that the current prohibition on interventions aimed at modifying the germline in human beings in all EU and many Council of Europe member States is not going to stop genome-edited babies being born elsewhere. Therefore, action on our part is essential and internationally agreed regulation crucial.
We should, of course, welcome developments that enable us to diagnose, treat or possibly eradicate diseases whose progress cannot yet be reversed or slowed down.
I want to talk about two particularly important aspects of the report. The first is the rapporteur’s concern that “science provides knowledge, but it should not be left to scientists alone to decide on research policies…and how the research is used.” Moral and ethical considerations must be applied to these complex and sometimes controversial areas, and public debate should accompany developments. That means educating the public so that dialogue is not founded on prejudice or lack of knowledge.
The second important issue is, “The necessity of international regulation and respect of the precautionary principle”. The report states that the precautionary principle should not be overruled by the prevention principle; otherwise progress will be delayed. The report on human gene editing in the US set out overreaching principles and highlighted the need for comprehensive regulation. The rapporteur says that that should be international, taking into account national perspectives and based on a Council of Europe model. We agree. Such regulation may deter unethical practice.
It is of course true that safeguards are needed, for the future will demand amendment and reconsideration of what science and medicine are developing and which safeguards must be applied.
The rapporteur’s five steps for action are admirable and we again applaud her for her comprehensive, humane approach to the issue. I hope that her recommendations will progress speedily.
Mr TILSON (Canada, Observer) – The ethical, legal and scientiﬁc complexities of genetic technologies in human beings is indeed a most important issue. Canada’s current policy direction is in line with the recommendations under discussion. I want to focus speciﬁcally on Canada’s actions as they relate to the Oviedo Convention.
Jurisdiction over health matters in Canada is split between the federal and provincial governments. On the federal level, Canada’s policies on human genetics, genetic testing and related scientiﬁc research are similar to those in the convention. In 2004, after many years of public consultation and parliamentary debate, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act was passed. Prohibitions listed in that legislation include germline genetic alteration, or, as described in the convention, modiﬁcation of the genome would be permitted only if it does not modify the genome of any descendants. The legislation also prohibits human cloning, the creation of embryos for research purposes and sex selection in medically assisted procreation. That is similar to the Oviedo Convention and its protocols. Just this year, Canada’s Parliament also passed the Genetic Non-Discrimination Act, which prohibits anyone from requiring an individual to undergo a genetic test or to disclose the results of a genetic test as a condition of employment or insurance or any other provision of goods or services.
Federally funded research involving humans, which includes research on genetic technologies, is subject to the standards established under the “Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans”. That document includes strict requirements for the ethical review of protocols and patient consent, as well as speciﬁc guidelines for research involving embryos.
In Canada, the provision of medical services is under provincial jurisdiction. Accordingly, each province has implemented legislation pertaining to patient consent. That legislation covers the conditions under which predictive genetic tests are used, how the results are given to patients and whether genetic counselling is offered. While the provision of health services is under provincial authority, the federal government must ensure the safety and efﬁcacy of drugs and therapies, including genetic therapies. Genetic therapies involve genetic manipulation that is not passed from one generation to the next, so it is not prohibited in Canada, but such genetic therapies must be assessed at the federal level for safety, quality and efﬁcacy before they can be sold in Canada.
(Ms Trisse, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Corlăţean)
Mr DE BRUYN (Belgium) – I would like to congratulate Ms De Sutter on this excellent report. It deals with a very sensitive issue in a balanced way. We learn from the report how quickly genetic technologies are developing and how recent discoveries relating to the human genome have opened doors not only to new opportunities, but to new ethical concerns. The Oviedo Convention offers a framework to deal with those concerns. Unfortunately, too many member States still have not signed and ratified it, and they have made it very clear that they will not do so in the near future.
The ﬁve-step plan set out in this report offers a challenging but realistic approach. In my opinion – I am not a medical professional – step two will be of the utmost importance. That step is to organise a broad and informed public debate on the medical potential and the possible ethical and human rights consequences of the use of new genetic technologies in humans. To make that happen together with the other elements in the five-step plan, I ask you all to support this excellent report.
Mr WHALEN (Canada, Observer) – You have already heard from one of my Canadian colleagues, and you will hear from another after me. You will get a full briefing on how Canada addresses issues related to genetic technologies and their use in human beings. We take a lot of lessons from our time here in Europe, and I hope we can share some of our insights.
With respect to the proposed five-step plan, I can say that Canada has banned germline-related assisted reproduction as well as cloning, so at least in that regard Canada is on the same page. The fact that three Canadians are here making speeches demonstrates that fostering a broad public debate is important to us. We also approved an Act recently to prevent genetic discrimination.
In terms of next steps, having a broad regulatory framework that addresses future issues should be a concern for the entire world, and we applaud the initiative being taken here at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. We are thankful for the opportunity to participate.
In respect of the other things we are doing in terms of ethical limitations and ethical review, since the 1990s federally funded research involving humans has been subject to policy guidance that is revised periodically. The most recent version of the policy is “Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans”, which was published in 2014. It includes a specific chapter on human genetic research. I commend the rapporteur on her comments. As you proceed on this issue, some additional guidance could be put into that document.
The Assisted Human Reproduction Act was passed over a decade ago and should probably be reviewed. That legislation acknowledges that as these issues and technologies evolve, all the rules and regulations need to be reconsidered, and that includes the convention itself. In that context, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s working group on stem cell research developed the guidelines for human pluripotent stem cell research. They govern research using adult, fetal and embryonic stem cells. Those guidelines have been integrated into our “Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans” guidelines and include a mandatory review of all funding requests for stem cell research by a stem cell oversight committee. The standing ethics committee of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research issued a report in December 2016 – it is not quite a year old – entitled “Human Germline Gene Editing: Points to Consider from a Canadian Perspective”. I commend that report for your future work.
As new genetic technologies are developed, we can expect that the debate will continue in Canada and here in this Chamber. We welcome the opportunity to be part of this global discussion, because without a global framework the issue will continue to evolve without proper oversight.
Mr WELLS (Canada, Observer) – Thank you for the opportunity to be part of this important debate on the use of genetic technologies in human beings. I would like to provide an overview of Canada’s timeline in implementing legislation on this issue. As everyone here today is aware, this subject is fraught with ethical considerations in addition to biomedical ones. The journey to implement a legislative and regulatory framework has been lengthy, and the situation continues to evolve.
Canada’s effort began in 1989 when the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies was created with a mandate to provide recommendations on the policies and safeguards that would be necessary in this new and at that time unregulated area. The commission conducted a thorough study and consulted broadly on the new and emerging genetic and reproductive issues. In 1993, the commission issued its ﬁnal report, entitled “Proceed with Care”. The approach recommended in the report included the criminalisation of several activities. With respect to genetic technologies, it suggested a criminal prohibition against cloning, but it did not include germline genetic alteration.
In 1995, the Canadian Government announced a voluntary moratorium on certain human reproductive and genetic technologies while it consulted on and drafted legislation. Proposed legislation based on the federal government’s criminal law power was tabled in 1996. It sought to prohibit the activities that were at the time covered by the moratorium. However, parliament was dissolved in 1997 before the bill was passed.
In 2000, the federal government held public consultations on an approach that would prohibit some activities while regulating others – an approach that would have to balance federal jurisdiction against provincial jurisdiction in matters of health. Following consultation with the public, stakeholders and provincial governments, the federal government’s draft legislative proposal was sent to the House of Commons Health Committee for further study and consultation in 2001.
Comprehensive proposed legislation was tabled in May 2002. Finally, after many years of work that included a royal commission, an unsuccessful attempt to pass legislation, a parliamentary committee report, several advisory committees and public consultations, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act received Royal Assent in 2004. The law prohibits several activities with respect to genetic technologies. Human cloning, sex selection for non-medical purposes and germline genetic alteration are all prohibited in Canada.
I appreciate the opportunity to be involved in this important debate and to provide a brief summary of Canada’s legislative journey on this issue.
The PRESIDENT* – That concludes the list of speakers.
Rapporteur, would you like to reply? You have three and a half minutes.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – I thank everybody for their contributions. It was a short debate for a subject that I, as a scientist, reckon to be one of the most important issues that we could discuss in this Assembly, because it is about the future of our children and grandchildren and the future of humankind.
One of the major dilemmas in the whole issue is always the precautionary principle. That has been mentioned by different persons. Ms Sandbæk brought us into a different world, but talking about ecological equilibria is the same thing. With the precautionary principle in medical technology like this, involving genetics, genomes and embryos, you will always have people who say, “You’re stopping scientific progress.” It is not a black or white thing. We need medical progress – of course, medicine is doing nothing else but progressing – but we always need to ask the right questions. Is this to the greater benefit of society, of humankind, of all patients? Is there justice involved? Or are we going into a world where genetic modification of embryos will enhance babies to create designer babies that will only be affordable for the happy few? Is the future that we want? It is definitely not the future that I want. Are we really all going to be cyborgs in a century, with bionic limbs and increased brain content? Of course, we will then edit our own genome and help human evolution. Is this the future of mankind? It is definitely not the one that I would want to see.
On the other hand, you could say, “Let’s stop all the technology and not continue in this direction.” Then you will miss opportunities to alleviate human suffering, because for the medical indications that we are talking about, we will have new tools to alleviate suffering. Mr Grin talked about pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, which is embryo selection on the basis of genetic risk. You could even see genome editing as an ethically superior way of addressing this because you do not destroy embryos any more – you will literally heal them.
This is a complicated ethical debate. We will not solve it today, and that is not the point of the report. The report asks for a public and a political debate, and for the regulatory and legal framework at an international level, as we discussed. Science should go together with ethics. You can think about legislation or regulations at member State levels that oblige scientists in these domains – stem cell research, genetic modification research, and reproductive medicine – always to work hand in hand with ethicists and to have a public and a political debate like we had for the three-parent child technology in the UK. We were all waiting for the baby to be born in the UK, and it was born in Mexico; the second one was born in Ukraine. We have to realise how fast things are going. Indeed, legislation always comes later, but let us try, as politicians, also to be in the debate while the science is evolving.
The PRESIDENT* – Does the Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development wish to reply?
Mr G. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – I want to say a couple of words of thanks. First, I thank our excellent rapporteur, Ms Petra De Sutter, who has presented an excellent, very complicated report. She has had to negotiate a number of difficult compromises, and she has done that in good spirit with great intellect. Secondly, I thank the former chair – our new President, Ms Stella Kyriakides – who steered the report through many controversial areas to reach the unanimity we have today.
We all know that it is simply not safe to go ahead with these new genetic technologies with regard to human beings. The moratorium on this is currently holding. However, there will come a time – we are all aware that it is quite soon – when these new genetic technologies will be deemed safe for use. It will then be too late to stop the genie, or the genome, coming out of the lamp. So we need to take action now. First, we must urge member States, including my own, the UK, to ratify the Oviedo Convention without further delay and, at a minimum, to put in place a national ban on establishing a pregnancy with germline cells or human embryos having undergone intentional genome editing.
Secondly, we must foster a broad and informed public debate, sooner rather than later. Thirdly, we must ask the experts, the Council of Europe Committee on Bioethics, to assess the attendant ethical and legal challenges. Fourthly, we must develop a common regulatory and legal framework. We must recommend that States, on that basis, take these steps and develop a clear national position on the practical use of new genetic technologies, setting out the limits and promoting good practices. I hope that we can agree and press forward with these recommendations unanimously so that humanity is driving the science rather than science driving humanity.
The PRESIDENT* – The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development has presented a draft recommendation to which five amendments have been tabled. I understand that the Committee on Health, Social Affairs and Sustainable Development wishes to propose to the Assembly that amendments 1, 4 and 5 to the draft recommendation, which were unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.
Is that so, Mr Davies?
Mr G. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – Yes.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone object?
Amendments 1, 4 and 5 to the draft recommendation are adopted.
We will therefore now consider Amendment 2. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support Amendment 2, which is, in the draft recommendation, paragraph 2, replace the third sentence with the following sentence: “However, other techniques such as pronuclear transfer technology, which is used to avoid maternal inheritance of mitochondrial disease, have been used and resulted in the birth of two babies (one of them for reasons other than the treatment of mitochondrial disease), despite considerable ethical controversy and scientific uncertainty about the long-term effects.”
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – As Ms De Sutter explained, the main use of new genetic technologies, according to this report, would be to treat diseases. In order not to open the door to using these techniques for aims other than treating diseases, I propose to replace the last sentence of paragraph 2. I am also in favour of the sub-amendment tabled by Ms De Sutter.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?
I call Ms De Sutter to support Sub-amendment 1 on behalf of the committee.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – The sub-amendment adds the words, in brackets, “the three-parent technique” after the words “pronuclear transfer technology” in order to make this explicit.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the sub-amendment?
What is the opinion of the mover of the main amendment?
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT* – The committee is obviously in favour.
I shall now put the sub-amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
The sub-amendment is agreed to.
Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment as amended? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT* - I shall now put the amendment as amended to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 2, as amended, is adopted.
We come to Amendment 3, “In the draft recommendation, paragraph 4, delete the last sentence.”
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support the amendment. You have 30 seconds.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – The last sentence of paragraph 4 gives the impression that the Oviedo Convention is not efficient in every State, and we know that not every State has ratified the convention. However, keeping this wording might cast a shadow on the convention, so it would be better to delete the last sentence.
The PRESIDENT* – We now come to the sub-amendment, tabled by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, which proposes, “In amendment 3, after the words ‘paragraph 4’ delete the words ‘delete the last sentence’ and insert the following words: ‘replace the last sentence with the following sentence: “There is currently a prohibition on interventions aimed at modifying the germline in human beings in all European Union and many Council of Europe member States.”’” I call rapporteur Ms De Sutter to support the sub-amendment on behalf of the committee.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – The sub-amendment would ensure that the whole sentence was not deleted, as that would lose the reference to the current prohibition in the European Union and many Council of Europe member States on interventions aimed at modifying the germline in human beings.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the sub-amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of Mr Ghiletchi?
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT* –The committee is obviously in favour of the sub-amendment.
I shall now put the sub-amendment to the vote.
The vote is open.
The sub-amendment is adopted.
Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment, as amended? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the Committee?
Mr G. DAVIES (United Kingdom) – In favour.
The PRESIDENT* – I shall now put the amendment, as amended, to the vote.
The vote is open.
Amendment 3, as amended, is adopted.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 14328, as amended. A two thirds majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 14328, as amended, is adopted, with 40 votes for, one against and no abstentions.
3. Promoting the human rights of and eliminating discrimination against intersex people
The PRESIDENT* – The next item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report titled “Promoting the human rights of and eliminating discrimination against intersex people” (Document 14404) presented by Mr De Bruyn on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.
The debate must conclude at 8 p.m. I will interrupt the list of speakers at around 7.40 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.
I call Mr De Bruyn, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr DE BRUYN (Belgium) – Every single day, children are born in the member States of the Council of Europe with sex characteristics not exclusively male or female. Nevertheless, the public, decision makers and even medical professionals and healthcare providers know little about these children’s needs and the situation of intersex people in general. Although I regret that lack of knowledge, as it is directly linked to serious violations of intersex people’s human rights, I do not feel the urge to blame anyone for this uncomfortable situation. However, we cannot remain silent any longer. We must take a firm stand on this sensitive issue. There have been reports by various international human rights bodies, national ethical committees and parliaments, but I believe this is the first report of an international parliamentary assembly that exclusively addresses the rights of intersex people and the efforts needed to eliminate discrimination against them.
I must admit that writing this report has been a challenging journey into a world mostly unknown to me, but nevertheless it is a reality for thousands of intersex people across Europe and beyond. I am pleased to present my report, which includes not only a resolution but a set of recommendations. This is a sensitive issue, and the different approaches in different member States make it clear that not only should many member States make rapid progress but the Council of Europe should develop standards and guidelines.
To understand the problems faced on a daily basis by many intersex people, it is crucial to take a holistic view. For this, the report looks not only at the important medical concerns at stake but at the full range of human rights issues, including the right to physical integrity, and questions about informed consent, legal gender recognition, human dignity, et cetera.
The terminology used in relation to any sensitive topic is often subject to debate. I have chosen to use the term “intersex” in this report, as that is the term currently in widest use among human rights defenders and activists who are directly concerned by the issues at stake. Because their bodies present biological differences, intersex people are frequently considered as having medical “problems” that need to be “fixed”. Throughout Council of Europe member States, invasive and irreversible interventions, including sterilisation, hormonal treatments and surgery, are carried out on intersex children, neglecting the fundamental principle that interventions in the field of health must not be carried out without the free and informed consent of the person involved.
Sex-“normalising” surgery and treatments, in combination with raising a child in accordance with the social pattern of their assigned gender, often results in physical and emotional suffering, including shame because intersex children are often told not to talk about their variations of sex characteristics. We should always be aware of the difficult position of intersex children’s parents. As the legal representatives of their children, they are often put under pressure by society and medical professionals to make urgent, life-changing decisions on behalf of their child. Too often those decisions are taken to avoid or minimise social problems rather than medical ones.
Considering all those elements, the resolution calls on Council of Europe member States to prohibit medically unnecessary sex-“normalising” surgeries and other interventions on intersex children without their informed consent. Treatments that seek to alter the sex characteristics of the child should be deferred until that child is able to participate in the decision, based on their right to self-determination and the principle of free and informed consent. Member States should ensure that health care is offered to all intersex persons by specialised, multidisciplinary teams that take a holistic and patient-centred approach over their entire life. At the same time, psycho-social support mechanisms should be available not only for intersex people, but for their families as well.
According to the growing concern about respect for private life, including of newborns, birth registration systems should allow sufficient flexibility, and member States might consider making the registration of sex on birth certificates optional for all people. In line with recommendations in Council of Europe Resolution 2048, a transparent and accessible legal gender recognition procedure is of the utmost importance for intersex people, because they might feel at some point the need to align their recorded gender with their gender identity. That should never intervene with the right to respect for private life, and intersex people should never be prevented from entering or remaining in a civil partnership or marriage due to their legal gender recognition.
When combating discrimination against intersex people, States should ensure that existing anti-discrimination legislation effectively applies to and protects intersex people, either by inserting sex characteristics as a specific protected characteristic in all anti-discrimination legislation, or by expressly ensuring the possibility of dealing with discrimination against intersex people through the protected characteristic of gender or on any other grounds.
From the very beginning we felt the need to collect more data and to carry out further research into the situation and rights of intersex people, including the long-term impact of sex-“normalising” treatments. Member States should therefore keep records of all interventions carried out on children’s sex characteristics. Without blaming individual doctors or judging medical protocols from the past, I feel that member States should conduct an inquiry into the harm caused by past invasive sex-“normalising” treatments practised on individuals without their consent, and they should consider granting compensation to individuals who have suffered from such treatment. Finally, the resolution recommends that member States carry out campaigns to raise awareness among concerned professionals, as well as the general public, about the situation and rights of intersex people.
Dear colleagues, my journey has not come to an end with the presentation of this report. As General rapporteur on the rights of LGBTI persons, I feel that a close follow-up on this topic is needed, and the first step should be to support this report and adopt the recommendation.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr De Bruyn. You have four minutes remaining in which to reply to speakers in the debate.
Mr BEUS RICHEMBERGH (Croatia, spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) – I thank Mr De Bruyn for a great job and his fantastic efforts in preparing this report, resolution and recommendations. During this process and through his work in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, he highlighted an issue that has been hidden or silenced for so long. It seems that the Council of Europe will be the first high-level international organisation or institution that talks about, thinks about, and proposes recommendations and solutions for those people who are suffering so much. This is a new chapter in the book of human rights. It is a process of recognising intersex people without prejudice, and combating the discrimination that these people are faced with from birth.
During the hearings organised by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination we have learned a lot, especially about the suffering that intersex people are faced with almost every day, and the challenges that pass through their life. The Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe strongly supports the proposed resolution, and we consider it our duty not only to bring those people hope, but to advise all member States to ensure legal recognition of intersex people, and to stop the invasive and sometimes very aggressive medical practices against their will and needs. Let us stand up for their equality, and combat discrimination against people who deserve our help and understanding.
Mr PSYCHOGIOS (Greece, spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – I also thank the rapporteur for his excellent work.
The debate before the Assembly is very important, not only for the promotion of rights and freedoms that the Council of Europe upholds, but from the point of view of the political principles and humanitarian values that are central to the work of the UEL group of the PACE. It also coincides with a significant development in the Greek Parliament, which, two days ago, passed a progressive piece of legislation on the legal gender recognition of intersex and transgender people, where the cries of agony of the parents of children were clearly heard. All this happened despite fierce opposition from the conservative segment of the political and social spectrum and the media in the country.
The new Greek law is compatible with the modern view of human rights protection and is directly reflected in the report we are discussing. The law provides for a simplified process for the correction of the initially declared gender of intersex people based on the right of self-determination and self-specification. This process must be fully separated from any surgical gender change, focusing instead on the actuality of how a person experiences their own gender. It should be a liberating move, empowering intersex people and allowing them freely to decide for their lives, granting them access to social benefits and personal interactions, as well as any economic transactions or legal functions.
The report in front of us incorporates those fundamental principles – for that reason it has our full support – while leading to the strengthening of the rights of intersex people, a social group that, among many others, has been marginalised for years. After all, the Council of Europe is about securing more freedom for those who are most in need. There can be no doubt that in even the most open and tolerant societies, intersex people face violations of their basic rights, insults to their personality and all sorts of discrimination, not to mention hate speech and violent attacks against them.
In the green European reality, where neoliberal austerity meets the reawakening of fascism, we must set an example of how progressive ideas can make a difference and change people’s lives. To conclude, I mentioned that civil and political rights are, as we all know, of equal importance to social and economic rights. We always have to bear this mind. However, initiatives such as the one we discuss today constitute small victories in our everyday struggle for a world without shadows and the exploitation of man by men, and which brings us closer towards our strategic goal – human emancipation.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova, spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – I thank the rapporteur for presenting this report and for highlighting the largely unknown situation of intersex people, who are certainly in need of our support as an Assembly.
I think we are in full agreement when we say that we need the best standards of health care for intersex people and that effective support should be made available to intersex people and their families. I also agree that more studies need to be undertaken, and that member States should collect more data and carry out further research in this complex area. However, there are a few aspects of the draft resolution that I believe the rapporteur has introduced in good faith, but I find very concerning, not only for the well-being of intersex people, but for our wider society.
First, there are recommendations that member States introduce procedures that allow people to change their legal gender by self-determination. There are very good reasons why there need to be procedural safeguards in place when these processes are allowed by member States. A system based on self-determination is open to abuse. A system such as this has the potential to facilitate criminal activity. It would also allow opportunistic men easy access to women-only areas such as changing rooms, which makes me extremely uncomfortable as a husband and a father of a daughter. Only a very small number of countries in Europe have adopted this approach and it cannot be recommended as the best practice before there have been detailed studies into its effects, particularly in the light of the significant security concerns.
Secondly, the resolution has introduced a number of recommendations that concern the ability of doctors to care for intersex patients. While I understand that the rapporteur may have responded to historical cases that did not deal well with intersex people, we have to understand that medical science in most of our countries has come a long way and that there are usually multidisciplinary teams acting in the best interests of the child in consultation with the parents.
Doctors who have worked with intersex cases say that treatment will be determined on a case-by-case basis, and that often there is a need to act quickly in the best interests of the child to avoid negative long-term effects. We have to ensure that our doctors, who are already subject to strict medical and ethical codes, are given the ability to act in the best medical interest of their patients. The resolution as it stands seeks to tie the hands of doctors in a number of situations, and it is institutionally inappropriate for us as politicians to force certain medical decisions without the full understanding of the individual cases.
We certainly need to uphold the dignity of intersex people, but also to ensure that they are able to receive the best medical care. A number of amendments have been made to the draft resolution that seek to resolve these issues. I hope they will be supported. Without addressing these very serious concerns, the resolution cannot be said to be appropriately responding to the needs of intersex people and I would have to encourage my colleagues to vote against it in this case. However, I am very thankful to the rapporteur for raising this issue and allowing us the opportunity to debate it.
Ms MAURY PASQUIER (Switzerland, spokesperson for the Group of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens)* – “Is it a boy or a girl?”. That is the first thing you ask new parents, quite often even before the child has been born these days. That testifies to social pressure and the way we categorise people on a binary basis – men and women – and to give them a sex as quickly as possible, even if that sometimes means violating their fundamental human rights and entailing deep suffering.
Today in Europe and elsewhere children whose sex does not match the traditional norms of male and female or anatomical standards are often forced to go through painful and repeated operations that have lifelong impacts without medical consultation and without informed consent from the parents. Since the parents are often badly informed there is pressure to normalise children – in some cases even sterilise them. This is a fundamental violation of their physical and mental rights. Victims often find themselves surrounded by taboos that can entail all sorts of serious psychological damage, as well as physical impacts such as infertility, incontinence, pain or the loss of sexual sensations. Intersex persons are also subject to multiple forms of discrimination, which is quite often due more to ignorance and a lack of understanding than spite.
Decisions and resolutions from the Council of Europe, the United Nations and other international bodies have advocated deferring such mutilating operations. However, the fact is that in certain countries, including my own, Switzerland, such operations are still carried out without any pressing medical needs on intersex children who were too young to participate in the decision. This resolution calls on member States to act to prevent this happening and to ensure that medical and psychosocial support is provided to intersex persons and their families, but also to facilitate procedures for registering sex and sex changes, tighten up antidiscrimination isolation, promote awareness raising or provide for compensation for victims of these traumatising operations, which are often unjustified.
One of these victims, Daniela Truffer, who is co-founder a Swiss organisation for intersex persons and who was herself subjected to operations on several occasions as a child – she was transformed into a girl without knowing what was going on – said, “The problem was not so much been raised as a girl, but the problem was that at my birth I was considered to be lacking something and as a result was mutilated.” On behalf of the Socialist Group, I call on you to state our refusal to allow these operations to continue. I call on you to accept Mr de Bruyn’s resolution without watering it down in any way.
Mr HOWELL (United Kingdom, spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Let me also congratulate the rapporteur on an excellent report.
The report concentrates heavily on the rights of the child, quite rightly, and talks of the secrecy, stigma and shame faced by a child born with intersex characteristics. Those factors are also shared by the parents of children born in that way. Indeed, it is often at the insistence of the parents, perhaps advised by some doctors, that medically intrusive operations are carried out. That raises so many issues, including issues of harm, ethics and the practicality of dealing with the situation.
Leaving the regulatory framework aside for a moment, this is where we should spend our time: educating and understanding, and providing psychological advice and proper healthcare. There is much we can do to help parents who have a child that they love who has intersex characteristics. We can raise public awareness and help them to face the huge prejudice and ignorance that they often come across. It is right to concentrate on the human rights of an individual and ensure that they are of an age to understand the impact of any surgery that they might be offered or might wish to have. It is also right to set this issue in the context of strengthening children’s rights in a bioethics framework. Although this is a subset of that framework, it is an important one, which we need to keep our concentration on.
We have a long way to go to ensure the integrity of the individual and that parents receive the necessary counselling to understand the situation and make sure that it works. We need to move away from seeing this as a medical problem and look at it in a human context, and we need to move from the long tradition of seeing this as a phenomenon that needs correction to a position of understanding.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – It is not a shame to be born intersex. It is not a shame to develop different genitals or to have a patchwork of cells with XX chromosomes and other cells with XY chromosomes. It is not a shame to grow up and notice that your sexual characteristics become more male or female during puberty, or even during adulthood. It is not a shame at all.
There is shame, however, in parents being forced to choose for their children at a young age to have an operation to “fix” the problem and to make a girl or a boy when no serious health risks are involved. Intersex people are physically healthy people. Surgery is the first thing people usually think about when talking about intersex, but psycho-social help would be much more appreciated. Human Rights Watch genuinely considers that so-called “normalising” surgery at too young an age is a human rights violation. Minors should not undergo surgery that is not medically necessary. This is true for all kinds of surgery, but specifically for genital surgery, as the right to physical integrity is particularly violated with serious consequences, as Ms Maury Pasquier enumerated. In so many decisions we wait until the child is able to participate in the decision him or herself, based on the right to self-determination and on the principle of free and informed consent, but would we not wait to define the sex of a child if that is not clear?
I fully support this important report because it focuses on the right recommendations: self-identification and self-determination are key and discrimination based on sex and gender identity should not be allowed. It therefore seems important to me to adapt anti-discrimination laws in all our member States to make sure that discrimination against intersex people is stopped. I also believe that it is really important that the Committee on Bioethics draws up guidelines for medical staff to protect the physical integrity of minors and to grow respect for the principle of free and informed consent and self-identification.
This report also helps us not to think in a binary way, but broadens our perspectives and acknowledges the continuum of many different genders. This continuum could be legally recognized, as suggested by Resolution 2048 of this Assembly in 2015. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, it would be unacceptable to amend this, the purpose being to take out references to that resolution from the current report. It would be a regression of the acquis of this institution in this domain, and it would completely destroy the spirit of the report.
I conclude by congratulating the rapporteur on an excellent, milestone report.
Mr TORNARE (Switzerland)* – I congratulate Mr De Bruyn from Belgium on having really freed up this word. The problem has always existed, even during the Third Reich: a lot of films show that intersex children were either killed in specific places or were mutilated for experiments, or because of sadism. We know about the neo-Nazi ideology regarding the disabled and anyone who does not match up to the norm.
I have heard some people say that because of progress in the field of medicine, one might think that the problem had lessened, but that is not true. Archetypes and stereotypes have been in the public mind for centuries and it is very difficult to change mindsets. In terms of the social approach, there is often rejection. People do not talk about it and nor do the press. Politically there is distrust and fear. People do not want to talk about it in certain Parliaments; I have found that to be the case in my canton and in my city in Switzerland. Fortunately, people like Liliane Maury Pasquier have drawn attention to these issues.
You have a heard several things about the scientific approach. The international institutions in medicine are not necessarily very avant-garde or progressive. Take the World Health Organisation, for example, which is based in Geneva. It was only at the beginning of the ‘80s that the WHO recognised that homosexuality was not a disease. We have to avoid these mutilations, which can be disastrous. There is a categorical imperative there, as many speakers have said. What counts are the interests of the child and respect for the child’s identity, and not the opinion of those around the child, who may be led to a hasty decision. This is something that other colleagues have said.
Although there are not many of us here this evening, we need legislation in all our countries that is adaptable and anti-discriminatory. The European Convention on Human Rights should take that into account. In conclusion, it is vital that we ban surgery related to this issue on those of a young age. That is categorical.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Tornare. I call Mr Usov. He is not in the Chamber, so I call Mr Parviainen.
Mr PARVIAINEN (Finland) – This report has been through a thorough process in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. I thank the Committee and Mr De Bruyn for their work on the report. If adopted, the draft resolution will be historic and can help us protect the human rights of thousands of individuals in each of our member countries.
The resolution takes nothing away from anybody; it merely promotes the equality of all individuals, regardless of their personal gender characteristics. The resolution encourages member States to respect intersex people’s right to control their bodies. It discourages and aims to prohibit the use of often invasive and irreversible so-called sex-normalising surgeries and hormonal treatments for intersex people, without their informed consent. That means that we would particularly respect children’s rights and would wait until they are old enough to choose for themselves.
The resolution also encourages member States to take measures to strengthen the legal position of intersex people and stresses the need for adequate psycho-social support for parents of intersex children and intersex children themselves. Determined measures are needed to promote the rights of people belonging to gender minorities and we need more comprehensive information on intersex issues and gender diversity. Some countries have already taken measures in the right direction – Malta has probably the most progressive policies in Europe on the topic. In my home country, Finland, our national, social and health ethics advisory board has suggested, among other things, that intersex children’s rights should be respected and harmful procedures should be avoided.
A small child is a small child, regardless of gender. All of us know that each child is unique. We should embrace diversity without fear and let them decide, if there is a need for it, when they grow older. We should encourage each child to find their own path, and we should not give in to prejudice or fear. That is an inclusive society.
The draft resolution should be adopted the way it is, along with the technical Amendments 1 and 2. The other amendments would destroy the whole purpose of the resolution and would de facto accept discrimination against intersex people, which would be against the whole idea of the European Convention on Human Rights and the purpose of this Assembly.
I sincerely hope that we will accept the draft resolution tonight. It is for a better future and for human rights.
Ms JOHNSSON FORNARVE (Sweden) – First, I want to thank the rapporteur for an excellent report on the rights of intersex people, which is an important and sensitive issue. If adopted it will be the first statement of its kind in an international representative body anywhere in the world. That is a major and historic step in the right direction when it comes to strengthening rights for intersex people.
Intersex people are persons whose gender identity does not easily fit into one of the two fixed categories of boy or girl, male or female. Intersex persons may have atypical genitals or sexual glands, or a hormone set that is not common to either sex. Some intersex variations are seen at birth and others do not occur until the person is older.
There is no exact data on how many people are intersex and the unregistered number of cases is assumed to be large. According to an international research report from 2000, it may be as many as 1.7% of all new-borns. Amnesty International’s report shows that, in some countries, it is common for children that are born intersex to be subject to surgical and/or hormonal interventions that are not medically necessary. In many cases, those interventions are both irreversible and traumatising. In some cases, the children are forced to undergo sex-normalisation treatment, in order to fit into one of the binary categories of boys or girls, without any medical justification. That medical practice can lead to serious violations of intersexual rights, in particular the right to the highest achievable health, the right to bodily integrity, the right to physical self-determination and the right to privacy.
Against that background, it would be completely wrong to delete paragraphs 7.1.1 and 7.1.2, since those paragraphs recommend member States prohibit forced sex-normalisation treatment and defer treatments that seek to alter the sex characteristics of intersex children until they are able to participate in the decision themselves. We have to keep those paragraphs. By doing that, we are strengthening the rights of intersex people, especially children, which is a group that has been marginalised for far too long. I fully support the report.
The PRESIDENT* – That concludes the list of speakers and I now invite the rapporteur to reply. You have four minutes and 20 seconds.
Mr DE BRUYN (Belgium) – Thank you. I will not take all the time left but I would like to say a few things.
First, I want to pay tribute to all the intersex people I have met during the last year. They are brave people, all with their own stories. They suffered a lot. They felt ashamed. They were bullied and treated terribly, and I would like to pay tribute to all of them.
I would also like to thank all of you, colleagues. It has been a very intense journey into a world almost unknown to many of us. Two principles that have already been accepted by the Assembly are at the heart of the resolution; they are two principles that mean a lot to us.
The first is the principle of informed consent. That is not new to us. We accepted that in Resolution 1952, which dealt with the physical integrity of young children. What we are doing now is taking that principle and applying it in relation to intersex people. Let us be clear however that it is not something new. We already agreed, as the Parliamentary Assembly, how important that principle is.
The second principle I would like to remind you of is the legal recognition of gender identity, based on self-determination. That principle was also accepted by a large majority of the Assembly when we accepted Resolution 2048 on discrimination against transgender people. The context might be slightly different but the principle of a gender recognition system based on self-determination has already been accepted by us and should be implemented for intersex people as well.
Bearing those two principles in mind, we can be positive about the remarks made by colleagues. I am pretty confident that by adopting the resolution, we take a huge step forward in implementing human rights for all people. We are not asking for specific rights for a specific group, but for human rights for all people whatever their situation; we should continue to do that.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr De Bruyn. Does the vice-chairperson of the committee wish to reply?
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary)* – In looking at the situation and rights of intersex people, Mr de Bruyn’s report concerns essential issues pertaining to the integrity of children, as well as discrimination and the right to a private life, which are crucial for all individuals. This is the first report of such breadth that has been reported in an international organisation and I commend the rapporteur for all his hard work and for being able to raise awareness of the issues.
Mr de Bruyn’s report underscores the fact that there are lasting repercussions for intersex children who are subject to irreversible medical procedures without their consent when they are otherwise in good health. Intersex people find themselves confronted with violations of their right to a private life, as well as discrimination in all walks of life.
What can we do to uphold their rights? As the rapporteur has said, we should prohibit irreversible interventions practised on intersex children without their consent that are not medically necessary. We should allow children to take part in the decision-making process, when it comes to their bodies. We need to protect their private lives. We should be gathering more data on the situation. We also need to tighten up our laws on non-discrimination and raise awareness among practitioners and professionals, as well as the general public, of intersex people.
The draft resolution before us was adopted unanimously by our committee; as members of the Assembly, here to defend human rights and to breathe life into the values of equality and non-discrimination for intersex people, who badly need our support, I invite you to do so by supporting our resolution and recommendations.
The PRESIDENT* – The debate is closed.
The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has presented a draft resolution to which six amendments have been tabled, and a draft recommendation to which no amendments have been tabled.
We will first consider the amendments to the draft resolution. I understand that the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment 2 to the draft resolution, which was unanimously approved by the committee, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly.
The committee also unanimously agreed Amendment 1. However, I must call that amendment individually as another amendment in the Compendium has consequences for it.
Is that so Ms Hoffmann?
Ms HOFFMAN (Hungary)* – Yes.
The PRESIDENT* – Are there any objections? That is not the case.
Amendment 2 is adopted.
The other amendments will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium of amendments. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support Amendment 3.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – As I mentioned in my speech, I am convinced that the future will prove that gender self-identification on demand is an extreme and disproportionate solution, with very concerning legal, practical and security implications for wider society. To avoid that, I propose to delete the second sentence in paragraph 5.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms HOFFMAN (Hungary)* – We are against.
The PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 3 is rejected.
We come now to Amendment 6. If Amendment 6 is adopted, Amendment 1 will fall.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support Amendment 6.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – Paragraph 7.1.1 will prohibit “other treatments”. How can we prohibit treatments for children? Do we not trust doctors and medical assistants? It is very important not to tie the hands of doctors. Let us trust science; let us trust medicine. For this reason, I propose that we delete paragraph 7.1.1.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr De Bruyn to speak against the amendment.
Mr DE BRUYN (Belgium) – I ask colleagues to vote against the amendment. This paragraph is the very essence of our resolution. We must not allow this kind of invasive surgery to happen to young children. It has nothing to do with not trusting doctors and everything to do with defending the human rights of young children.
The PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms HOFFMAN (Hungary)* – The committee is against.
The PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 6 is rejected.
I call Ms De Sutter to support Amendment 1.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium)* – This amendment is primarily linguistic in nature. We have asked for inclusion of the words “without medical necessity” in the French language version of the text.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms HOFFMAN (Hungary)* – We are unanimously in favour.
The PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 1 is adopted.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support Amendment 5.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – Dear Mr De Bruyn, every instance of surgery is invasive. Why do we make just one exception when there is no immediate risk to the life of the child? There should be trust in doctors. They should make the decision, together with the parents and a multidisciplinary council, in the best medical interests of the child. For that reason, I propose that we delete paragraph 7.1.2.
The PRESIDENT* – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Ms De Sutter.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – To answer Mr Ghiletchi, there have been many examples in the past in which doctors have done the wrong thing while thinking that they were doing the right thing. I therefore cannot agree with his argument. Children’s rights should be taken into account. That is what the whole report is about, because we have not done that in the past. That is at the core – it is the very spirit – of the report, so we cannot accept the amendment.
The PRESIDENT* – What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms HOFFMAN (Hungary)* – The committee is against the amendment by a large majority.
The PRESIDENT* – The vote is open.
Amendment 5 is rejected.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to support Amendment 4.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – I believe that it is up to member States to decide whether to simplify legal gender recognition procedures. We should respect the right of member States to have legal frameworks or regulations, because we are dealing with complex, not simple issues. There should not be simple attitudes or approaches to complex issues.
Just a short reply to Ms De Sutter: with all due respect, if we do nothing, it does not mean that we care about the child. I have the best medical interests of the child at heart. Yes, mistakes were made, but we need to act in good faith when we propose something in the best interests of the child.
The PRESIDENT*– Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? Ms De Sutter, next time I will not even ask – I will just give you the floor.
Ms DE SUTTER (Belgium) – I have to respond. In 2015, we voted, with a large majority, for a resolution that states exactly what is in paragraph 7.3.2. If we now vote against it, we will not be consistent with what we decided two years ago. The language that we have developed and the positions that we have taken must not regress. I cannot understand why we would agree to delete the paragraph.
The PRESIDENT*– What is the opinion of the committee?
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary)* – The Committee is against, again with a large majority.
The PRESIDENT*– The vote is open.
Amendment 4 is rejected.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 14404, as amended. A simple majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14404, as amended, is adopted, with 33 votes for, three against and no abstentions.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 14404. A two-thirds majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 14404 is adopted, with 31 votes for, one against and one abstention.
4. Next public business
The PRESIDENT– The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 7.50 p.m.)
1. Current affairs debate: The need for a political solution to the crisis in Catalonia
Speakers: Mr Hunko, Mr Daems, Mr Kox, Mr Divina, Mr Roca, Mr Tornare, Sir Roger Gale, Mr García Hernández, Ms De Sutter, Ms Santa Ana, Ms Rodríguez Ramos, Mr Küçükcan, Ms Rodríguez Hernández, Ms Schneider-Schneiter, Ms Obradović, Mr Bildarratz, Mr Bustinduy, Mr Vareikis, Mr De Bruyn, Mr Xuclà, Ms Pashayeva, Mr Simms, Mr R. Huseynov, Mr Agramunt
2. The use of new genetic technologies in human beings
Presentation by Ms De Sutter of the report of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, Document 14328
Speakers: Mr Howell, Mr Grin, Ms Sandbæk, Baroness Massey, Mr Tilson, Mr De Bruyn, Mr Whalen, Mr Wells
Draft recommendation in Document 14328, as amended, adopted
3. Promoting the human rights of and eliminating discrimination against intersex people
Presentation by Mr De Bruyn of the report of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Document 14404
Speakers: Mr Beus Richembergh, Mr Psychogios, Mr Ghiletchi, Ms Maury Pasquier, Mr Howell, Ms De Sutter, Mr Tornare, Mr Parviainen, Ms Johnsson Fornarve
Draft resolution in Document 14404, as amended, adopted
Draft recommendation in Document 14404 adopted
4. Next public business
Appendix / Annexe
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the register of attendance in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure.The names of members substituted follow (in brackets) the names of participating members.
Liste des représentants ou suppléants ayant signé le registre de présence, conformément à l’article 12.2 du Règlement.Le nom des personnes remplacées suit celui des Membres remplaçant, entre parenthèses.
ÅBERG, Boriana [Ms]
AGRAMUNT, Pedro [M.]
ANDERSON, Donald [Lord]
ARNAUT, Damir [Mr]
BARNETT, Doris [Ms]
BAYKAL, Deniz [Mr]
BEUS RICHEMBERGH, Goran [Mr]
BILDARRATZ, Jokin [Mr]
BİLGEHAN, Gülsün [Mme]
BRASSEUR, Anne [Mme]
BRUIJN-WEZEMAN, Reina de [Ms] (MULDER, Anne [Mr])
BRUYN, Piet De [Mr]
BÜCHEL, Roland Rino [Mr] (FIALA, Doris [Mme])
BUDNER, Margareta [Ms]
BUSHATI, Ervin [Mr]
BUSTINDUY, Pablo [Mr] (BALLESTER, Ángela [Ms])
BYRNE, Liam [Mr] (MEALE, Alan [Sir])
CHRISTOFFERSEN, Lise [Ms]
CORLĂŢEAN, Titus [Mr]
DAEMS, Hendrik [Mr] (BLANCHART, Philippe [M.])
D’AMBROSIO, Vanessa [Ms]
DAMYANOVA, Milena [Mme]
DAVIES, Geraint [Mr]
DE TEMMERMAN, Jennifer [Mme]
DESTREBECQ, Olivier [M.]
DIVINA, Sergio [Mr]
EBERLE-STRUB, Susanne [Ms]
ESTRELA, Edite [Mme] (ROSETA, Helena [Mme])
GAFAROVA, Sahiba [Ms]
GALE, Roger [Sir]
GARCÍA HERNÁNDEZ, José Ramón [Mr]
GERMANN, Hannes [Mr] (HEER, Alfred [Mr])
GHILETCHI, Valeriu [Mr]
GILLAN, Cheryl [Ms]
GOLUB, Vladyslav [Mr] (LABAZIUK, Serhiy [Mr])
GONÇALVES, Carlos Alberto [M.]
GRIN, Jean-Pierre [M.] (MÜLLER, Thomas [Mr])
HAJIYEV, Sabir [Mr]
HEINRICH, Gabriela [Ms]
HERKEL, Andres [Mr] (NOVIKOV, Andrei [Mr])
HOFFMANN, Rózsa [Mme] (VEJKEY, Imre [Mr])
HOWELL, John [Mr]
HUNKO, Andrej [Mr]
JANSSON, Eva-Lena [Ms] (GUNNARSSON, Jonas [Mr])
JOHNSSON FORNARVE, Lotta [Ms] (KARLSSON, Niklas [Mr])
KALMARI, Anne [Ms]
KERESTECİOĞLU DEMİR, Filiz [Ms]
KESİCİ, İlhan [Mr]
KLEINBERGA, Nellija [Ms] (LAIZĀNE, Inese [Ms])
KOX, Tiny [Mr]
KÜÇÜKCAN, Talip [Mr]
LĪBIŅA-EGNERE, Inese [Ms]
LOGVYNSKYI, Georgii [Mr]
LOUHELAINEN, Anne [Ms] (PACKALÉN, Tom [Mr])
MALLIA, Emanuel [Mr]
MARKOVIĆ, Milica [Mme]
MASSEY, Doreen [Baroness] (WINTERTON, Rosie [Dame])
MAURY PASQUIER, Liliane [Mme]
MUNYAMA, Killion [Mr] (HALICKI, Andrzej [Mr])
NISSINEN, Johan [Mr]
OBRADOVIĆ, Marija [Ms]
OBREMSKI, Jarosław [Mr] (MILEWSKI, Daniel [Mr])
OHLSSON, Carina [Ms]
PALLARÉS, Judith [Ms]
PARVIAINEN, Olli-Poika [Mr] (PELKONEN, Jaana Maarit [Ms])
PASHAYEVA, Ganira [Ms]
PSYCHOGIOS, Georgios [Mr] (KAVVADIA, Ioanneta [Ms])
RIBERAYGUA, Patrícia [Mme] (JORDANA, Carles [M.])
ROCA, Jordi [Mr] (BARREIRO, José Manuel [Mr])
RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ, Melisa [Ms]
RODRÍGUEZ RAMOS, Soraya [Mme]
SANTA ANA, María Concepción de [Ms]
SCHENNACH, Stefan [Mr]
SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER, Elisabeth [Mme] (LOMBARDI, Filippo [M.])
SCHWABE, Frank [Mr]
SHARMA, Virendra [Mr]
SILVA, Adão [M.]
SOBOLEV, Serhiy [Mr]
SOTNYK, Olena [Ms]
STELLINI, David [Mr]
SUTTER, Petra De [Ms] (MAHOUX, Philippe [M.])
TORNARE, Manuel [M.] (FRIDEZ, Pierre-Alain [M.])
TRISSE, Nicole [Mme]
UNHURIAN, Pavlo [Mr] (YEMETS, Leonid [Mr])
USOV, Kostiantyn [Mr] (ARIEV, Volodymyr [Mr])
WENAWESER, Christoph [Mr]
WOJTYŁA, Andrzej [Mr]
XUCLÀ, Jordi [Mr] (GARCÍA ALBIOL, Xavier [Mr])
Also signed the register / Ont également signé le registre
Representatives or Substitutes not authorised to vote / Représentants ou suppléants non autorisés à voter
CORREIA, Telmo [M.]
HUSEYNOV, Vusal [Mr]
NAUDI ZAMORA, Víctor [M.]
Observers / Observateurs
SIMMS, Scott [Mr]
TILSON, David [Mr]
WELLS, David M. [Mr]
WHALEN, Nick [Mr]
Partners for democracy / Partenaires pour la démocratie
Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of
the Parliamentary Assembly)/ Représentants de la communauté chypriote turque
(Conformément à la Résolution 1376 (2004) de l’Assemblée parlementaire)