AS (2017) CR 14
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday 26 April 2017 at 10.00 a.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
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The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Mr Djurović, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 10.05 a.m.)
The PRESIDENT – The sitting is open.
1. Protecting refugee women from gender-based violence
The PRESIDENT – The first item of business this morning is the debate on the report “Protecting refugee women from gender-based violence”, Document 14284, presented by Ms Gisela Wurm on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, with an opinion presented by Ms Petra de Sutter on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Document 14297.
I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 11.50 a.m. to allow time for the replies and votes.
I remind colleagues that speaking time is limited to three minutes.
I call Ms Wurm, the rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and the reply to the debate.
Ms WURM (Austria)* – The report is about protecting refugee women and girls from gender-based violence. What does that title cover? We should remember that we are dealing with the destiny of millions of women. The work on the report started in 2015, when more than 1 million people were travelling the roads of Europe fleeing conflict zones in a quest for a safe place. At that stage it was primarily young men making the perilous journey to Europe. However, things changed in 2016, when the number of women fleeing conflict increased dramatically. Many women were with their children or elderly parents, with no belongings apart from a small bag, often a plastic carrier bag. They came up against all sorts of dangers, including, often, in their own countries. They were obliged to protect their integrity. I am talking here about rape, forced prostitution, sexual harassment and other abuses.
Those women came to Europe and were accommodated in reception centres. All too often, they found themselves in conditions that did not meet their specific needs. It would have been so simple to have brighter lights so that at night they could go to the toilet and did not have to fear sexual attacks on the way to the bathroom. However, such basic provisions – separate sleeping quarters and separate washing facilities – were not available.
During questioning of women refugees arriving in host countries, it is important to ensure that female officials and female interpreters work with the women as they tell their stories. They need female doctors and female social workers. That is essential for women who have suffered rape. It is also important to address the education needs of those women and to train staff in the centres, so that the women can trust the staff they are dealing with. Another important point is to ensure that women have the opportunity to turn to staff for help to deal with their issues of trust. That is essential when they make their statements, for example.
We organised fact-finding missions to Berlin and Sweden. During our visits, it emerged that whenever families are questioned the staff always started by asking the man, not the wife or the woman. It is essential to have a separate question session for the woman. That is another important point that the report focuses on.
We organised fact-finding missions to Berlin, elsewhere in Germany and Sweden. Why did we select those two countries? It was above all because they have hosted the most refugees. We wanted to take a first-hand look at what things were like for the refugees, how integration was being implemented, whether the level of preparation was sufficient to receive those women and young girls, many of whom are profoundly traumatised, whether health care provision was adequate, and whether they had access to the facilities they needed to feel secure. All those points were important for us.
We also organised hearings here in the Council of Europe, or in Brussels, and we listened to women tell us terrible stories. Having listened to their terrible stories, I am all the more convinced that this report is of paramount importance.
We are all aware of the impact of the refugee crisis in Europe, and many critical voices have been raised in our countries, but we should never forget that we are talking about the fate of human beings. Our belief in human rights must apply to them.
I thank Elodie Fischer who, unfortunately, is not with us today because she is about to give birth. I express very warm words of thanks to her, because without her help the report would not have been possible. I also thank the secretariat in general for the fantastic support they have given me. I thank the co-rapporteur and everyone else who has contributed to our work to ensure that the report is the comprehensive tool we wanted it to be.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Wurm. You have six minutes remaining. I call Ms de Sutter, the rapporteur from the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons to present the committee’s opinion. You have three minutes.
Ms de SUTTER (Belgium) – I congratulate Ms Wurm on this excellent report. The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons only had minor comments to make. I therefore express my strong support and hope that members will vote in favour of the report.
The committee proposed a few additional amendments to the draft opinion, mainly to emphasis existing standards and commitments already made by member States. It is important that “girls” are included in the title, because female refugees under 18 are often victims of sexual assault, trafficking and child marriage in their home countries and on their migration routes. As Ms Wurm points out in paragraph 2 of the report, those girls deserve special attention and higher protection standards.
The committee also recommends that all women and girls have the same access to affordable and adequate healthcare services. It explicitly states that girls should be free to decide for themselves – they should not require any authorisation to access sexual and reproductive health services. When protecting women against gender-based sexual violence, girls must not be forgotten.
The Istanbul Convention includes girls, but we wanted to make special reference to the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Women and girls are especially vulnerable and are often at risk from gender-based and sexual violence, so they should enjoy full protection, including refugee status, and a safer transit through the implementation of legal pathways.
Gisela Wurm said in her report that refugee women’s protection has been largely overlooked until now. She is right, and that is really shameful. First, therefore, we firmly recommend the creation of safe reception facilities – on rescue ships, for example, such as the Aquarius in the Mediterranean – especially for pregnant women in transit. Secondly, we truly encourage gender-sensitive asylum procedures for women and girls with a well-founded fear of violence, as recommended in the report. Let us not forget that the migration crisis is far from over. We must still urge our member States to much more effort, in particular for that vulnerable group.
We must not forget that our support for women and girls, especially of their sexual and reproductive rights, is more important than ever. Alternative facts, such as claiming that women and girls cannot decide for themselves or that men will stop raping them when we stop funding sexual and reproductive healthcare, are simply not true. They have never been proven, so let us not accept them. Let us show the world that we and women and girls around the world will not tolerate the alternative facts that are being used as a pretext to leave vulnerable women and girls to themselves.
Let us fight for empowerment, structural funding and confidence – confidence in women, including refugees, among social workers, interpreters, police officers and counsellors. That would empower us all. Let us reinforce that mutual confidence and trust in each other in order to achieve better protection for refugee women and girls.
Ms BARTOS (Hungary, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – The growing migration crisis that we have witnessed over the past few years has drawn our attention to the huge scale of the human tragedy – wars, conflict and more pronounced political tensions have turned the lives of some communities into hell. Human weakness, however, is apparent in other things as well. I therefore thank the rapporteur for directing attention to the problem she presents in the report, the gender-based violence that affects refugee women and girls.
As the report states, personal tragic stories lie behind the numbers. We should condemn any form of violence or criminal offences against refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls. As we all know, the solution is not simple, because the problem is complex, and a clear distinction is needed between the different dimensions of time, location and human character.
Location involves the questions of whether women victims of violence can be accommodated in their country of origin, on their journey or in the host country. Subject to that, solution and support might vary. Prevention of a violent attack, mitigating the consequences of a trauma, and managing future possibilities all belong to the time element. Finally, however, the human factor must not be ignored – the origin country’s physical and human conditions need to be addressed as well. The victims themselves are an important part of the solution.
The report describes in detail the fact that refugee and asylum-seeker women and girls often hide any trauma. Both their knowledge and their mental health might prevent them revealing their cases. Through education and psychological support we can help them, including not to become victims again later. However, the physical and moral competence and necessary skills of the assistance and support organisations should not be ignored. Their readiness and professionalism is a significant element of any help.
The issue is therefore a very complex one, with multiple actors. For that reason, I emphasise the proposal in the report: general standards and cross-border protection mechanisms are needed. I also believe that it is important to share experiences and best practice with each other. Unfortunately, gender-based violence against women and girls is only one aspect of this phenomenon. One sentence in the report refers to the fact that men and boys have also been identified as survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and regrettably that is not the end of this human tragedy.
It is a painful and condemnable fact that some individuals try to benefit from the misery of others. The traffickers and their organisations see people as a tool that they can manipulate, and they endanger them for profit by forcing them to undertake needlessly long journeys and risk their lives. It is of the utmost importance that the international community vigorously raises its voice against those actions, too.
Ms STRIK (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – I congratulate Ms Wurm on a good and most welcome report, and Ms de Sutter on her accurate amendments.
Debates about refugees are mostly held in gender-neutral terms, but in practice the situation of male and female refugees is different in many ways. Men are more easily recognised as refugees, for instance, and the specific acts of persecution that women face, such as systematic rape in wartime or genital mutilation, are not easily accepted as grounds for protection. Women who oppose a regime that is especially oppressive towards women also face difficulties in being recognised as refugees. I underline the point that we should make our immigration services more sensitive to, and knowledgeable about, the specific backgrounds of female refugees and their independent grounds for protection. Those services should refrain from automatically treating them only as wives of male refugees.
Once they have managed to flee their country, female refugees face specific challenges. Residing in refugee camps leads to insecure and unsafe situations, as Ms Wurm has adequately described. In many transit countries, even camps are lacking, so they must find shelter, food and safety on their own, making them extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. We should therefore support transit countries in protecting refugee women adequately.
If women need to travel long distances to seek a safe destination or reunite with their family, they are more vulnerable than men, especially if they travel alone. Smugglers know that, and they tend to abuse the situation of women who lack the financial resources to pay for their journey. Those women even run the risk of being trafficked.
Even on journeys within countries of the Council of Europe, female refugees are exposed to unsafe situations and violence, and they lack sufficient privacy and security. They often feel physically threatened, because they are forced to sleep in facilities with hundreds of single men, and they are sometimes beaten or abused by national security officers. We need to guarantee their safety and privacy, and the presence of an accessible, confidential institution that they can turn to.
Nobody should have to take dangerous refugee routes in the first place, so the best way to avoid abuses and exploitation by smugglers is to have safe ways and more resettlement and relocation. At the same time, we must ensure that we have swift family reunification procedures, both within the Dublin Regulation and for those coming from outside the European Union.
We must ensure that there are gender-sensitive asylum procedures and guarantee that people will be supported in their integration. If they are granted derivative asylum status, we must ensure that they then receive asylum independently, if necessary, so that we avoid a situation in which women do not dare to separate from their husband despite domestic violence.
All the requests and statements set out in the draft resolution lead to only one conclusion: we must ensure that all countries of the Council of Europe ratify the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible. It is shameful that only 22 member States have ratified it. We urge all delegations to ensure that their parliaments ratify the convention this year. That will be the best signal that we no longer accept violence against women. Refugee women are among the most vulnerable, so I hope for full support for Ms Wurm’s draft resolution.
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) –I thank the rapporteur, Ms Wurm, and the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination for the report. The issue it covers is very important in Europe.
As the report says, the main aim behind it is to raise awareness of the vulnerable situation of women refugees and asylum seekers and the widespread discrimination against them. In the past two years, more than 1 million asylum seekers have come to Council of Europe member States, having left war-torn countries after suffering violence and witnessing atrocities. They have taken serious risks to come to Europe, where their presence has been welcomed at times but often criticised – they have been the targets of hate speech, and they have been made scapegoats for any problem that has arisen.
As the report mentions, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported last year that there had been a shift, and that women and children were starting to represent the majority of arrivals. Many refugee and asylum seeker women and girls who have come to Europe in recent years have been exposed to gender-based violence of different forms. In transit and upon arrival, they face common problems such as a lack of safety, not enough information on the assistance services that are available, the absence of female interpreters and a lack of general and post-trauma medical care.
In addition to being at risk of violence on their way to Europe, refugee and asylum seeker women can also feel unsafe when they reach their destination country. They can be victims of multiple discrimination based on their gender, and they are still too often looked down on by the majority of the population, who do not see the benefits of diversity for their society. Protecting those women from gender-based violence is only a first step; combating and condemning multiple discrimination is an increasingly important element in future integration at every level.
As general rapporteur on violence against women, I would like to draw members’ attention to one of the main problems encountered by refugee and migrant women and girls. They have limited access to education, which is generally one reason for the high unemployment in that group. It is well known nowadays that access to an appropriate education is one of the basic requirements for access to employment. I strongly believe that the problem should be considered not solely as an economic challenge but as a human rights issue that has a considerable impact on migrants, refugees and the host population. The Parliamentary Assembly should study best practice in member States on access to education and employment for migrant and refugee women.
I congratulate Ms Wurm and thank her for the report.
Ms RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ (Spain, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – On behalf of ALDE, I thank the rapporteur for dealing with such a specific and important issue. In the various recent military conflicts and other tensions in countries of origin, we have seen a weakening of human rights protection, especially for women, so the report is crucial.
The last report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that 40% of refugees who have come across the Mediterranean to European shores are women and children. We endorse the rapporteur’s proposal to include girls in our consideration, because the problems of female genital mutilation, violence and so on have nothing to do with age. Some 20 000 women requesting asylum have come from countries where FGM is practised. The common denominator in all the problems is fear, and it is important that the European Union provides backing to women who are fleeing. Those people’s lives should not be undermined, which is why there is so much for us to do. What we are seeking to do is guarantee the right of these people, and to avoid smuggling and the various other dangers faced by the female population. We need to provide protection for this vulnerable sector of the population, especially girls and women with disabilities.
In many cases, there are cultural factors, and it is very important for the interpreter to be female, so that they can understand these concerns. When it comes to understanding death, forced disappearances and so on outside European borders, a register is needed that is individual and specific to refugee women. All the necessary documentation should be provided, guaranteeing both their personal safety and freedom of movement, as well as access to their fundamental needs.
We also think it essential for all member States of the Council of Europe and the European Union to ratify the convention and underscore the need to combat violence against women. As has been said, the recipient countries have a lot to do, and things such as well-lit bathrooms and separate sleeping areas are required. There is still a lot to be done, but with only a little we can do a great deal to protect these women, who have not chosen to be refugees but have been driven out by necessity and fear.
Ms SANDBĆK (Denmark, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – I would like to congratulate Ms Wurm on this excellent report, and Ms de Sutter on her amendments. Given that protection of refugee women and girls from violence has not been considered a priority in the management of the refugee crisis, it is timely that a report has now been written on this very important subject.
The brutalisation of women and girls is a deplorable and persistent trend that includes coercion, survival sex, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, domestic violence, harassment and extortion. Sadly, ignorance of how to protect women and girls from gender-based violence is surprisingly great, as shown clearly in this report, even in Germany and Sweden. The explanation might be that these two countries have, admirably, received an overwhelming number of refugees, without sufficient time to learn how properly to protect such women and girls. Still, I was surprised to read in the report that in Sweden protection of refugee and asylum-seeker women and girls has not yet reached the international standard. For instance, not all reception facilities have separate bathrooms. The idea, so the rapporteur was told, was to expose asylum seekers to the Swedish culture of non-segregation of women and men, and to promote gender equality. Yes, she was actually told this, even if it is hard to believe.
Ideas such as these expose refugee women and girls to all kinds of sexual assaults, including rape; or, girls enter what is called a “protection marriage”. Alarmingly, the abuse is not only perpetrated by male residents of the camp, but can also be carried out by national migration administration and humanitarian staff.
There is a great need for the comprehensive information given in this report on how we can best protect women and girls who have come to us precisely in order to be protected. Imagine finding yourself in a place that was supposed to give you refuge, but that ends up causing more fear than the violence that forced you to leave your home.
Providing protection from gender-based violence must be made a priority, in line with the provisions of the Istanbul Convention, which, as stated in the report, should be ratified and implemented without further delay. The report states exactly what is needed, and is a must-read for everybody who deals with refugee women and girls.
Ms de SANTA ANA (Spain)* – According to United Nations information, half the women and girls in the world who have had to leave their homes and livelihoods because of violence, political or religious persecution or natural disasters do not have protection, and often they do not have a family structure. Some of them have to flee their countries and become refugees, such as the thousands of Syrian women, fleeing war and arriving in Europe, Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan. Others go to safer places within their own borders and become internally displaced persons.
All of them are vulnerable, not just because they are refugees or IDPs, but because of their gender. Women and girls who are migrants or refugees face serious threats throughout their flight – many of them on arriving in places where they feel they will actually be protected. The people working in the field alert us to the fact that female refugees, migrants and asylum seekers suffer violence, physical aggression, sexual exploitation and harassment throughout the various stages of their journey, including within the European territories.
Amnesty International points out in a report that traffickers home in on these refugee women, knowing that they are especially vulnerable. Even worse, when they do not have financial resources, or those resources are used to pay for their journey, they often face the tragedy of sexual exploitation and the extreme violation of human rights. Many of them are attacked in the areas or settlements where they have sought sanctuary. The lack of privacy increases the risk of abuse, and poorly lit premises also lead to increasing insecurity.
Tens of thousands of women and girls throughout the world require assistance. The United Nations calculates that they account for one in every four asylum seekers, and yet hardly any specialised attention is devoted to them. We should view their protection as a priority and provide them with assistance throughout their transit. As other speakers have said, they should have safe, separate areas for sleeping, and separate toilet facilities. We also need more measures to localise and detect refugee women, especially the most vulnerable, who are in the greatest danger. We need to set in train processes and special services to guarantee the protection of their basic rights and safety.
Ms HEINRICH (Germany)* – I begin by extending very warm thanks to my colleague Gisela Wurm for this excellent report. You really have put your finger on the issue of the dangers that women face when fleeing conflict zones. The report sets this out in terrible detail.
At the same time, it is also clear that fundamental prerequisites must be fulfilled if we are to protect from sexual violence women who come to Europe – for example, the need for locked toilet doors and showers. We hear so much about sexual attacks in refugee centres. We have to ask ourselves serious questions about this. Surely, those are things that all of us take for granted, but we do not necessarily apply that view to refugee women.
Gisela Wurm also points out that focusing on gender-related issues must no longer be enough. It is essential that women going through the various different interviews involved in the refugee process can to speak openly and with trust to female officials. These women have experienced terrible persecution and suffering. They are constantly on the watch for the risk of sexual violence, or forced to sell their bodies. We have heard about growing numbers of young girls being forced into early marriages. At the same time, we learn of the desperate efforts of families to protect their young girls, in the camps and on the route to Europe.
We in Germany must also look deep into our own hearts. In March, my country finally initiated ratification of the Istanbul Convention, and by the end of the year 100 signatures should be ready for implementation for women’s protection. Once again, we must bear in mind what is at stake. We must ensure that legislation is adopted and that funding is made available. There are enormous numbers of committed volunteers helping refugees, but their work alone is not enough.
I would like to talk about something else referred to in the report. I think that we can all imagine just how dangerous the journey is. It was therefore not surprising that initially it was mostly young men who embarked on the journey to Europe. Obviously, they all hoped that afterwards they would be able to bring over their wives and children. If we refuse to allow family reunification, I think that we must then bear a share of the blame if women are exposed to sexual violence back in their home countries or in the camps. We share the blame if women set out on the journey alone to try to join their husbands. Just imagine for a moment that they were your wives, your daughters or your sisters.
Ms KYRIAKIDES (Cyprus) – I congratulate the rapporteurs on their excellent and extremely thorough report, although I must say that I found reading it quite upsetting. It brought home the reality of what is actually happening on the ground to women and girls. There is so much that we could say, and the report is so full in all aspects.
Due to the overwhelming influx of refugees to so many countries over the past few years, the gender dimension has been overlooked. That has placed a population that was already at risk in yet greater danger. Women who have fled their countries to avoid forced marriages, women who are in danger of female genital mutilation and women who are victims of abusive relationships and violence have found themselves in reception camps unable to find people there to support them, and without access to trained people who can listen to them. Often, as we read in the report, young girls are married before they get to the camps as an attempt to protect them.
Can you imagine the risk factors involved? We have a population of refugees and asylum seekers. We have a population of women and girls, some of whom have disabilities, which places them at even higher risk of violence once they reach the reception camps. We need to do much more to meet international standards. I do not underestimate for one minute the great efforts made by many countries that have taken in so many refugees and asylum seekers, but we need to support those countries and put the gender perspective into all our policies. Women need to be protected during the painful journey that they find themselves on, in unknown territory and in a world full of uncertainty. We need to ensure that they are not re-victimised. The report highlights all those points.
I will end by repeating what other colleagues have said already: we need to advocate the signing and ratification of the Istanbul Convention by all countries that have not yet done so. It is an important convention that will protect women and girls from all forms of violence. We need to do that in order to provide women and girls with the dignity and protection that they deserve. Once again, I congratulate the rapporteurs on this excellent report.
Baroness MASSEY (United Kingdom) – I, too, welcome this comprehensive, detailed and hard-hitting report, and I heartily congratulate the rapporteur. Ms Wurm includes, in interviews, the celebration of courage among refugee women, and speaks of the impact of degrading practices. We read that, “The protection of refugee women from violence has…not been considered a priority in the management of the refugee crisis”. Refugees, including women and children, have fled war-torn countries and persecution and, looking for a safe haven, have travelled to Europe in difficult conditions. They face hardship before, during and after their travels. Such hardship includes abuse, discrimination and other forms of violence, including sexual violence.
The report reminds us of the provisions of the Istanbul Convention, which has already been mentioned many times. The convention states that protecting women from gender-based violence, irrespective of their status, should be a priority. That is supported by declarations from the United Nations and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, among others. The work of non-government organisations has of course has been fundamental in challenging gender-based violence and supporting women and children.
I wish briefly to highlight the 2016 report by the World Future Council on protecting refugee women and girls from violence. The report provides information of good practice and seeks to facilitate experience and encourage dialogue and inspiration. The report’s recommendations are important. They are divided into the three areas of governance, awareness and services. Governance involves the responsibilities of national, regional and local authorities to protect women, safe and effective reunification systems, resettlement, and safe and legal channels of support. Awareness involves providing refugee women and girls with information on their rights, awareness raising and involving refugee women and girls in the design and implementation of such initiatives. Services should be gender-sensitive and should focus on the empowerment of women, counter barriers that women face – for example, linguistic and cultural barriers, and the inclusion of childcare options – and target the long-term needs of women refugees, not just their short-term needs.
In conclusion, I strongly support the rapporteur’s draft resolution, which urges the Assembly to call on the Council of Europe’s member States to take concrete measures to address protection gaps and mitigate risks. The rapporteur provides 17 examples of concrete measures, all of which could be evaluated for impact. Again, I congratulate her on her approach, salute her and welcome this powerful report.
Ms KALMARI (Finland) – Dear colleagues, the issues addressed by the rapporteur, Ms Gisela Wurm, are a reality for too many women and girls. I have often heard talk about why only men are seeking asylum. Perhaps the sad story is that women are too scared to embark on the dangerous and horrible journey to reach European soil and their country of destination. Measures to protect women during the journey are very hard to implement, but examples of good practice in reception centres mentioned in the report, such as separate living areas and sanitary facilities, are easier to arrange. I am amazed that such separation between men and women is not already a requirement.
However, much can be done, especially in adult education, as the asylum seekers arrive at their destination. Education about the laws and rights of every person living in the country is important from the start. The European values of individual rights and the total condemnation of any kind of harassment or abuse are important lessons for newcomers. Basic sexual health education, without taboos and in separate gender groups, could be one method of educating both men and women about the European way of thinking. Working confidentially in small groups is also a safe way for asylum seekers to raise concerns, ask questions and talk about things they might have experienced in the past, such as female genital mutilation or rape. Being part of a group can also serve as protection for women during their journeys. The authorities should help lone women find female groups to provide a safer environment during their journeys.
The PRESIDENT – I call Mr Stroe, the first man on today’s speakers list.
Mr STROE (Romania) – It is worrying that an increasing number of refugees worldwide are women and children. In many cases they are forced to leave their homes because of armed conflicts, insecurity or general violence. The migration experience for women and girls is shaped by features that have roots in the various gendered forms of violence they may face throughout their journey. Women are exposed to sexual and gender-based violence, and once they reach their destination they still face risks because of limited access to support services.
I take this opportunity to express my solidarity with countries that are under migratory pressure, and I support efforts that are aimed at finding a valid and sustainable solution to the current crisis. I also welcome the entering into force of the Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence – the Istanbul Convention – which is an important tool to help and protect asylum seekers and refugee women. I want to point out my country’s efforts; it is focused on measures to ensure the necessary reception, accommodation and protection facilities for refugees that will be relocated to Romania. Moreover, we have already signed and ratified the Istanbul Convention; I encourage those States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify it without further delay, because we must work together on a common approach to this issue.
Women and children now represent the majority – more than 60% – of refugees arriving in Greece, for example, according to data provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It is important that the reception and resettlement facilities are designed and operated in compliance with gender standards. This situation underlines the need for a more coherent and comprehensive approach to ensure a gender-sensitive response that conforms with human rights standards.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria)* – It is rare to have a report to which one can subscribe to every line. Thank you very much for the report, Ms Wurm. Four years ago, I visited refugee camps as part of my work for the Union for the Mediterranean. I was truly shocked, and in Brussels, Geneva and Paris – everywhere I travelled – I tried to raise awareness of the situation of women and young girls. Women’s trauma begins in the conflict zones and continues when they are in transit; once they arrive in refugee camps, they are not safe. In Za’atari, for example, the men decided that they would not install lighting in the women’s toilets, which were known as rape zones. The United Nations admitted that it had erected football pitches so that fewer women were raped, but that cannot be the stance of an international organisation. There are the al-Jabhat militias and the situation with Boko Haram – refugees are being attacked and a huge number of women are being enslaved along the transit routes, right through into Libya.
Gisela Wurm’s report shows that we cannot confront and traumatise women with male guards, staff, officials and police officers. It is crucial that we show special understanding towards such women and provide them with female staff. First and foremost, as a matter of extreme urgency, we need safe camps and facilities that are exclusively for women and young girls. My colleague, Ms Heinrich, has referred to the fact that it is not only migrant children who are subjected to brutality. Looking at the situation across Europe, we see many 12 and 13-year-olds who are pregnant. We have to deal with that situation as well.
In the October part-session we should perhaps carry out an update, and all member States should declare whether they have signed the Istanbul Convention in the meantime. We need to bring maximum pressure to bear on our authorities. That is our responsibility here. We should possibly write to all member States – Mr Jagland could do that – to up the pressure. Perhaps we can hear an interim report in October.
Ms HETTO-GAASCH (Luxembourg)* – I congratulate the rapporteur, Gisela Wurm, on her excellent report, which enables each and every one of us to better understand the traumatic situation faced by refugee and asylum-seeking women and girls in our respective countries. This is not a new phenomenon, but it is growing. Women take major risks to be safe with their children, and many of them risk their lives during their journeys. In the countries of transit during those journeys they are exposed to multiple forms of violence. Unfortunately, the authorities and humanitarian workers are not always aware of such atrocious violence, whether because of a lack of information about the crimes or the reluctance of victims to speak about their painful experiences.
The report stresses the need for better protection for women and girls and highlights the gender aspects of this matter. It is crucial to recognise the risks that are faced, and to do everything possible to prevent gender-based violence. As it says, more female personnel should be hired for interviews, to help people to be reintegrated, and to work as interpreters. We also need to improve access to justice, and the complaints mechanisms, and need to allow them to have residence permits so that they can be separated from violent spouses.
In Luxembourg every benefit of international protection is given – an individual residence permit. Divorce has no impact on that; divorced people continue to enjoy those rights. When it comes to family reunification, a wife joining her husband has an independent residence permit. A particularly difficult situation that requires that is when they can no longer live together because of gender-based violence between them. According to the Luxembourg Reception and Integration Agency, the host structures endorse the report’s recommendations, such as separate sleeping and separate toilet areas. In Luxembourg we also have a sanctuary that is especially for women refugees, girls and young mothers, who are completely supported by female personnel.
During the Cologne visit, in preparing my report on violence against women, I was given a Handlungsleitfaden, which is given to people in Germany and is a compendium of all the resources available to victims of domestic violence. Lastly, above all it is crucial to highlight a real state of affairs from the outset, by ensuring people receive the rules of good conduct in the host country, especially when it comes to gender – in host structures violence against women must be a no-go.
The PRESIDENT – Mr Blanchart and Ms Yaşar are not here, so I call Ms Anttila to take the floor.
Ms ANTTILA (Finland) – I thank the rapporteur, Ms Wurm, for her excellent report, and her presentation on this highly important and topical matter. I would like to raise a few important points. Violence against women and girls remains one of the most prevalent human rights violations in the world. It has no social, economic or national boundaries, and although it has been estimated that one in three women will experience physical or sexual abuse in her lifetime, there is still a culture of silence around it.
Violence against women is an expression of the power inequalities between women and men. There are various forms of violence, as Ms Wurm points out in the report. Violence, direct or indirect, is always used as a tool to control women and restrict their free will. Without a doubt, gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of its victims. There is increasing evidence that gender-based violence is a major issue for migrant women and girls, as Ms Wurm points out in the report. Sexual and gender-based violence is identified as both a reason why refugees and migrants leave their country of origin and a reality along the refugee migration route.
Despite the evidence that we have, protecting women has not become a priority in the management of the refugee crisis. That needs to change. To protect women, we need concrete measures, both preventive and educational, as well as post-trauma medical and physiological support and care. I agree with Ms Wurm that there can be no more delay in the ratification and implementation of the Istanbul Convention; every one of our member countries must do that.
Ms CROZON (France)* – In asylum, as in other areas, generic and gender-neutral terms such as “migrants” and “refugees” conceal the fact that this is very much a gender issue; there are millions of men and women on the road of exile, seeking international protection, but the men are not exposed to the same dangers as the women. In the past quarter of a century, women have become the majority of the displaced persons and refugees under the protection of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. For 15 years, since 2002, this Organisation has made recommendations that the specific needs of refugee women be taken into account, but as the rapporteur stressed, not enough action is taken on these recommendations by the signatory States to the Geneva Conventions.
The measures that we are considering are often an assertion of principles, such as the explicit recognition of gender as a characteristic of a social group exposed to persecution, that were forgotten by those drafting the 1951 convention. We are talking about explicit recognition of gender-based violence, especially sexual violence, rape, forced prostitution and domestic slavery – just some of the means of persecuting and enslaving women.
We are also talking about extremely practical measures to allow free speech on the subject; talking about such violence is personal for women, who often do not talk about it, so there are calls for international protection. I had the honour of introducing a number of such measures into our national law when we reformed our asylum system in 2015. There is also the principle of each adult having an interview without their spouse being present; the right for a minor to request an individual hearing; the right to request in camera hearings where proceedings relate to sexual violence – this was already in place in the French judicial system – and the right to request that a person’s protection officer and interpreter be of the same gender as them. There is also the issue of ensuring that all protection officers are trained on gender-based violence issues, so that they are more sensitive to them.
We need to intervene to prevent this violence, For women more than for men, this persecution may not have taken place in the country of origin; that may not be the reason for leaving it. Violence occurs throughout the journey, at the hands of smugglers, other refugees or corrupt authorities. A parallel economy arises – a market in human beings prospering from despair. That is why we cannot content ourselves with determining the right to asylum on arrival. We can no longer tolerate unscrupulous trading in women and children. We must work towards a common asylum regime that determines the rights of each and every person and take better account of the specific needs of victims of gender-based violence. For women, the asylum regime is a necessity, as the rapporteur said. Thank you so much, Ms Wurm, for your outstanding report.
Mr MULLEN (Ireland) – I compliment the rapporteur on the report. It is really important that women and children in particular do not become the victims of bureaucracy. In my country, Ireland, asylum seekers live under a system known as direct provision, in which they are given a minimal amount of money, and basic services are provided in a rather paternalistic fashion; people are served their meals, and are provided with allocations of daily supplies. Very often, they are accommodated in situations that are absolutely not suitable, particularly not for families. I have visited some of these direct provision centres. Women have told me that they have been required to share a room with someone whom they do not even know, and families have said that they do not have the ability to do basic things like prepare a meal for their child, because they are not allowed cooked meals in the hotel room in which they are accommodated under the direct provision system.
There is much talk of how the system needs to improve. There are protocols in place, and the government periodically tells us how the situation is improving, but the fact is that once you take a bureaucratic approach to immigrants and refugees, what starts out as an attempt to manage an immigration problem invariably involves cost to human dignity. We see that in the area of violence against refugee women, because violence can take many forms. It can take the form of being threatened by somebody whom you do not know, but who lives in close proximity to you in a direct provision centre.
There has been doublespeak and doublethink in our attitude to prostitution over the years. Thankfully, Ireland recently criminalised the purchasers of persons in prostitution, but we still have lap-dancing clubs in great numbers in our cities, and it is still considered the laddish thing to do to visit these from time to time. However, we know that behind them is a very dirty, seedy industry that is invariably linked with violence against women. It may take the form of prostitution or the abuse of trafficked women, who often come to the country not speaking the language and with no friends and so on. Even though our laws are improving, we continue to have this doublethink about how the sex industry treats women, and we need more work in that area. Those are my reflections from Ireland on the subject.
Ms BLONDIN (France)* – Gisela and Petra, you have done an excellent job. Everyone in the Assembly is aware of your hard work on protecting women and young girls. Thank you for the quality of this report. The main idea is about finding new ways of protecting female refugees from the many forms of violence that they are subject to in transit and reception centres during the asylum process, or when participating in economic and social integration programmes. To achieve electoral success by highlighting recent migratory flows in Europe, certain populist movements have claimed that the migrants are primarily men. That is simply not true and never has been true in France. According to the United Nations, between 2000 and 2015 the total number of migrants was 244 million, approximately half of whom were women, but that has been ignored. Few measures have been implemented to address their needs due to a lack of resources. Like you, Ms Wurm, the United Nations has highlighted the danger of sexual violence against women at every stage of the migration process.
Ms Wurm, you also focused on the situation in the Calais and Grande-Synthe migrant camps, both of which are now closed. There have been marginal improvements in France, but the situation persists. That is why the French Government adopted a specific plan between 2017 and 2019 to provide improved protection for female migrants who are victims of sexual violence, including improved access to healthcare and other services and training programmes for officials who work with migrants. That is very much in line with what you advocate. Moreover, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless people – OFPRA – which is responsible for ascertaining whether people should benefit from refugee status, has also been rolling out special programmes to train staff in how to provide protection for particularly vulnerable groups, and thematic programmes are now being rolled out in French refugee camps. The risk of violence is specifically referred to in asylum requests, including FGM, forced marriage, domestic violence, inter-family violence, or sexual violence in refugee camps. Women and children represent more than 41% of people under OFPRA protection. In 2016, OFPRA managed to prevent just over 5 000 young girls from being subjected to FGM. The likely continuation of the chaos in the Middle East means that we have to take the problem seriously, and we have to adopt the Istanbul Convention.
Ms BÎZGAN-GAYRAL (Romania) – It has been an honour to be here at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for the first time this week as a newly-elected member of the Romanian Parliament following the elections of December 2016. I represent a new party, the Save Romania Union, which won almost 9% of seats in parliament only six months after its creation. USR is based on a citizens’ initiative, founded and funded by citizens, and built on two pillars: transparency and reconstruction. We represent the new generation of European citizens in my country. We are well aware of our rights as well as our obligations, and we have a new consciousness of active and engaged citizenship. Being here has been a tremendous learning experience for me, and I am proud and grateful to have become a member of the “Parliamentary Network Women Free from Violence”.
I think we can all agree that we cannot control the migration of people in general. At the same time, we can all agree that, now that we face such movements of people, the best and most sustainable way to protect women from violence is to ensure that all of us, in all of our countries, have already made every effort to align the local needs of women with the legislative action required by our obligations following the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. However, resistance is strong. Culture, traditions, mentalities, and sometimes even law enforcement authorities form the opposition. We still have a lot of work to do.
Moreover, recent developments in many countries, including Romania, show that societies are going backwards on gender equality and that violence against women is on the rise. Populist politicians everywhere cultivate and promote outdated patriarchal models for family life. An increased demagoguery intrinsically and often explicitly encourages violence at all levels of societies, from language to medieval legislative initiatives that are well funded by international organisations and that try to reduce the woman to a reproductive and domestic servant. In that context, the prevention of domestic and gender-based violence becomes a priority in promoting gender-based relational models. We risk having the Istanbul Convention remain a noble aspiration for many women if we do not turn its principles and standards into vigorous action. We need new solidarity, and joint work between legislators, activists and NGOs is more necessary than ever. It is vital to push reforms in areas and institutions with critical relevance to the fight against violence, such as the police, justice, health and social work.
I feel inspired and empowered by the strong voices I have heard today. I am new to this business and this environment, but I am eager to contribute. One of the best things that I have found in the Palace is the exhibition dedicated to inspiring women, and I will conclude with one of the most enlightening quotes that I read on the posters there: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” It does not even matter who said it – Eleanor Roosevelt, Confucius, or someone else – what matters to me, and to us all, is the emphasis on constructive and efficient actions. We live in an age of blustering cursing. It is time to stop that and to start building. Lighting the candle is the founding brick.
Ms O’CONNELL (Canada, Observer) – I thank the rapporteur for her comprehensive and detailed report on this important topic and for recognizing Canada’s commitment to Yazidi women and children. Canada is committed to integrating gender considerations in our refugee settlement and integration policies, and we encourage other countries to do the same. By the end of the year, our Government will be sponsoring 1 200 vulnerable Yazidi women and children, as well as other survivors of Da’esh who are still living in Iraq, along with their family members.
Generally, people must be outside their country of origin to be accepted for resettlement. However, due to the particular vulnerability of women and children, Canada has established a unique programme to accept individuals who are internally displaced. They face unimaginable atrocities, including gender-based violence, at the hands of Daesh. Reintegrating their communities may be difficult and the specialised care and services they require may not be available where they currently are in Iraq. Canada and other countries, such as Germany, are offering a fresh start to these women and girls and their families.
Our actions are not limited to Yazidi women and girls. Canada has an urgent protection programme to assist women refugees who may not otherwise qualify for resettlement. Generally, factors such as limited language skills, lack of community contacts in Canada and dim employment prospects would hurt the chances of many women refugees who want to settle in Canada. The urgent protection programme acknowledges the realities that many refugee women and girls face and makes it easier for those facing risks such as sexual violence to be resettled. Women and girls who apply for asylum from within Canada also benefit from gender guidelines that were implemented more than 20 years ago. These guidelines are in place to ensure that women and girls receive a fair hearing, as called for in the rapporteur’s report. As Canadians, we are committed to assisting refugee women and girls and their families to integrate into Canadian society and to providing the support they require to do so.
Our society can only gain from such efforts, as demonstrated by the many contributions refugees have made to Canada. One needs to look only at two of our recent Governors General, Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean, both of whom came to Canada as refugees. Our current Minister of Immigration is a refugee, as is our Minister of the Status of Women.
I look forward to hearing about initiatives in other countries, and I again applaud the rapporteur for her work on the report.
Mr THIÉRY (Belgium)* – I congratulate Ms Wurm on her excellent report, which she finalised at the end of a long process, and we had some extremely rewarding discussions in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. This is a subject that is underestimated and perhaps not so well known. I pay tribute to the huge courage shown by asylum seekers and displaced persons, such as members of the Yazidi community who came along yesterday to give a first-hand account of the way in which women have escaped violence. They are sharing their story in order to raise awareness of gender-based violence and to emphasise the need to protect them more effectively.
At our meeting in March in Paris, I said that given the turn events were taking in Syria there was little likelihood of women refugees wishing to return to their countries of origin. Very few countries have proper arrangements in place to host refugees, but all countries need to meet refugees’ basic needs. The problems of women asylum seekers and refugees are not limited to sexual violence in destination countries. Women need sufficient support to overcome the traumas experienced in their countries of origin or transit, and it is in the light of those considerations that we call on all member States to take measures to facilitate the integration of women refugees in humane conditions.
Those conditions are listed in detail in the resolution, and include learning the language of one of the host countries and family reunification. I asked a question in committee, and I understand that those are the basic premises for implementing this resolution, which also provides practical measures for dealing with the traumas that have been experienced by refugee women. I am grateful to Ms Wurm for the work that she has done, which allows us to send a hard-hitting message to member States and to call on all countries to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention.
Mr FRIDEZ (Switzerland)* – I join in congratulating the rapporteur, Ms Wurm, on her outstanding report, to which Petra de Sutter also contributed. It is an important issue, and the report covers all the key elements. We must accept and implement the proposals in the resolution.
We are accustomed to saying that refugees are the victims of a sort of double penalty, but here we need to talk about triple penalties for women migrants and refugees. The first penalty is what they have suffered in their own countries, such as Syria where the whole population is subject to the atrocities that have occurred. The second is the problems experienced during transit, which can be terrible – imagine a woman with her children and all the hassle that that involves. The third is all the atrocities inflicted on women when they have actually arrived – they are victims of sexism, pressure and abuse. Sometimes they have to prostitute themselves or worse. That is all unacceptable – three forms of penalty, which is far too much.
In our democratic countries, we tend to say that we judge a country by the way in which it caters for the weakest among their ranks, and we need to address the situation of women who come into our countries and help them to integrate, become independent and live worthy lives. This is an excellent report that I wholeheartedly support.
Ms HUOVINEN (Finland) – I congratulate and thank the rapporteur for this timely and important report. Although we have discussed the refugee crisis a great deal over the last few years, we can never talk too much about especially vulnerable groups such as children, people with disabilities and women. We all know that refugee girls and women are subjected to various forms of pressure, harassment, exploitation and even violence. The report rightly states that in spite of that the position of girls and women has still not been at the centre of the refugee crisis. It is excellent that we now have a comprehensive report on this.
In my speech, I want to highlight two points in particular. First, it is of the utmost importance that people who have experienced exploitation and violence can be identified and helped early enough. The draft resolution offers many concrete ways to do this – for example, providing female social workers, police officers and interpreters in the member States or producing information for victims of violence so that people understand that help is available. It is particularly important to identify and assist victims of sexual violence. Too often, their experiences are so severe that it is difficult for women to reveal them without help.
Secondly, I wish to emphasise the link between the topic of the report and effective integration measures. Just yesterday, the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons approved my report on sharing good practice in the integration of refugees among member States. In June, the report will be discussed by the Assembly. My report raises the need to take into account particularly vulnerable groups. Sufficient social and health services play a key role. Even those who have experienced difficult things can, with adequate and timely support, move forward in their lives and find their place in their new societies. In time, they can perhaps become important peer supporters for others in a similar position.
An open debate is important even on difficult issues. Harassment, exploitation and violence experienced by women, in particular sexual violence, are too often silent topics. Our great responsibility as decision-makers is to take care of those who cannot stand up for their own rights for one reason or another.
Mr KRONBICHLER (Italy)* – The very first thing I should do, as many other speakers have done, is to express my thanks and congratulations to the rapporteurs, Gisela Wurm and Petra de Sutter. I compliment their work, not just as rapporteurs or for the amendments they have submitted, but specifically for their presentation of the report this morning.
Anybody who listened to that presentation would have got a real sense of the grave nature of the situation – the terrible suffering of these women and girls, who go through the horrors of fleeing conflict zones, emigration and surviving in emergency zones. Petra and Gisela, you deserve our congratulations. Your report has opened our eyes to this terrible problem and sketches out a new approach to the long-standing issues of migrants and refugees. Until now, there was no gender dimension to this problem for most of us; in the popular imagination, refugees were primarily male but genderless none the less. We now better understand a new migration phenomenon.
As a member of the Italian Parliament, I am also grateful to the rapporteurs for the specific chapter on migrants or refugees in Italy. Clearly, there are similarities with other countries. What is striking is that practically the only people doing anything when it comes to protection for gender issues are volunteers, who take on the task of helping the weakest of the weak in this situation: women. Perhaps the tendency to pass the buck to volunteers when it comes to difficult, sensitive issues is specific to Italy. Far too often, State institutions simply do not have the courage to deal with the problem – that is why our State has not yet found solutions. There is always a tendency to look away. The report forces us all to wake up to the truth.
Ms OHLSSON (Sweden) – Syria, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo: the list could go on when it comes to conflict-related sexual violence – rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, forced sterilisation, forced marriage and any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity perpetrated against women and girls that is directly or indirectly linked to a conflict.
Many refugee and asylum-seeking girls who have come to Europe in recent years have been exposed to such gender-based violence, both in their own countries and during their flight from them. The protection of refugee women and girls from violence has not thus far been our priority. Now it must be, in line with the Istanbul Convention, which should be ratified and implemented without further delay. We Council of Europe member States must take concrete measures to ensure the protection of refugee women and girls from violence. They have come to our countries to seek protection from gender-based violence, but in many cases that continues during their journeys, in transit, in refugee camps and in refugee accommodation centres.
I thank the rapporteurs Gisela Wurm and Petra de Sutter for their excellent report. We must do everything we can in our countries to protect women and girls from violence. We must have zero tolerance for such gender-based violence and fight it everywhere it happens. The report mentions the situation in Sweden; I have met the women at Somaya, the non-governmental organisation that provides shelter for women and girls and comes across victims of gender-based violence every day. Let us together do everything we can to protect refugee women and girls from this ongoing violence. This report is a good tool to begin with. There is no excuse for doing nothing.
Ms CHRISTODOULOPOULOU (Greece)* – I congratulate the rapporteurs on their interesting report on the refugee crisis, which dominates the international arena; it shows that violence against women and girl refugees should be at the heart of our concerns. This is not a feminist issue, but a tragic reality that we must address. We are talking about women and girls who have no chance to speak out.
Those who are violent against women wear many faces. Sometimes the smugglers commit violence against these young women and girls in transit countries. Others may seem to be civilised people – officials, members of the women’s families or other refugees. We must act: we are not journalists who describe this phenomenon, but politicians, who are duty bound to change the plight of these women. We must come up with proposals and make demands.
I agree with the report’s recommendations. We must speak on behalf of all these women who dare not speak out about the issues. We must say that women and girls are vulnerable. We have a duty to find safe corridors for them to travel through and to arrange special visas so that they are not mistreated. We must expedite procedures for family reunification and help in the relocation of all these vulnerable women. We must stop the hypocrisy and put an end to these practices – not just by taking the women and girls in, but by giving them access to women interpreters and women police officers. We must also fundamentally change the conditions that generate such violence. We can change the situation by speaking on behalf of all these women and girls. That is the duty of the Council of Europe.
Ms GASTÉLUM BAJO (Mexico, Observer)* – Thank you for this opportunity. Mexico is pleased to be able to take part in this debate about gender-based violence and the protection of refugee women. I congratulate the rapporteurs on putting the issue on the agenda and talking about the vulnerability of girls and women in this crisis. I think that we are all aware of the figures. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reported that 49% of refugees are women and girls.
This report gives Europe as well as Latin America an opportunity to shed light on a number of conflicts that we are experiencing; we also have a problem with organised crime and narco trafficking in Mexico. That is why we need to open safe corridors. The Istanbul Convention gives us a framework to cater to the needs of refugee women who have been the victims of violence. We need to apply that everywhere there is discrimination and violence against women and girls, including violence against those in transit to a destination country and fleeing violence. There are other problems, of course, such as trafficking, early forced marriage and sexual violence. There are interesting figures on women victims who are trafficked and whose bodies are bought and sold.
The Secretary General of this Organisation talked about women being an important driving force for democracy and development. That is why it is important that we fight to safeguard women and girls and ensure that they are afforded protection and are safe. We are committed to that goal in Mexico.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I now call Ms Alqawasmi
Ms ALQAWASMI (Palestine, Partner for Democracy) – I thank the rapporteur for this excellent report. Almost half of Palestinians are refugees. About 3 million female Palestinians are refugees living in camps. Whole families are living in accommodation of 50 to 70 sq. m, without privacy and sanitary facilities, on low incomes and suffering severe poverty. Some refugees have lived in those conditions for 70 years, others for 50 years. They are based in different countries. Some have been forced to move many times from one country to another, given the complicated, unstable conditions in the Middle East in recent years. We have heard stories of families who were refugees in 1948 in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. After that, they were refugees in Iraq and, after the war in Iraq, they were refugees in Syria, which is now under the influence of Daesh.
I want to focus on Palestinian women who are living in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, where they were victims of Daesh and its rules. Many generations of women have been born into that situation. They are living with memories of loved ones such as their grandmothers, in harsh situations, hoping for a better future. They hope to live in peace, to love, to be loved, to work, to have and raise their kids in a peaceful situation. Would your respective committees kindly focus on Palestinian female refugees and their suffering so that the report can be more comprehensive? Please focus on the suffering of Palestinian women. I thank you for your attention.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. That concludes the list of speakers.
We have time for contributions from anyone who wishes to speak and was not on the speakers list. I call Mr Rafael Huseynov.
Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – In the early 1990s, an American journalist, Betty Blair, in preparing an article about life in the refugee camps of Azerbaijan, distributed a lot of single-use cameras to the refugee and IDP (Internally Displaced Person) children. She asked them to take photos of the most impressive scenes of their hard life. One of those photos made a very deep impression on me. One child had taken a close-up photo of his mother’s horny hands. The photo touched me so much that I went to that refugee camp and found that woman and her family, who had to live in harsh conditions: in the plains, in a tent in the summer heat and winter cold.
With over 1 million refugees and IDPs, Azerbaijan in the early 1990s was at the start of the problematic stage of its independence and suffered considerable economic hardship. Now not a single refugee camp exists due to the large-scale, consistent policy implemented by the State with respect to refugees and IDPs. The woman whose hands had been photographed was working in a field. When I went up to her, she left her work unfinished in order to meet me and shook my hand. It was like shaking the rough hands of the man engaged in heavy physical labour. Those calloused fingers did not look like elegant female hands at all.
That woman had been driven out of her house and homeland. She was born to be loved, cared for and praised, but she had been sentenced to spend her life in inhuman conditions. Most of those women with horny hands and hearts failed to deal with such severe conditions; they died or grew old before their time. More than half a milion Azerbaijani women have borne the stamp of being a refugee and IDP for over 25 years. The Azerbaijani State has created normal living conditions for them. However, that could not save them from being refugees and IDPs. The bump in the heart is deep – they continue to be refugees and IDPs, living that bitter fate.
Let us imagine for a moment our mothers, sisters, wives and daughters being in the situation of that woman. I am sure that we will not be able to. We would not even want to think about it. For that reason, refugee women still exist in Azerbaijan, Europe and other parts of the world. For that reason, the most terrible knot in their lives could not be untied. Today, in debating the issue on the agenda and protecting refugee women from gender-based violence, let us raise our voices against this phenomenon, which is a stain on humanity, and against the general existence of refugee women.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. Does anyone else wish to speak? That is not the case.
I call Ms Wurm to take the floor. You have six minutes remaining.
Ms WURM (Austria)* – I am grateful for all the words of praise that have been heaped on me this morning. As Bruno Kreisky, the former Austrian Chancellor, said, I can never get enough praise, so thank you. I thank all those people who have taken part in the debate.
Stefan Schennach proposed that we appeal to all countries that have not done so to sign the Istanbul Convention; 22 countries have signed so far and there are 47 members in the Council of Europe. Let us step up the pressure and try to get the convention signed by all members to enable us to act.
Why is comprehensive protection from violence against women so important? Quite simply, it is for all the reasons that are described in the report. The convention must become binding on those States. It is so important that it be rolled out in all the member States.
Ms Crozon told us that France had succeeded in adopting legislation on separate interviews for women. That is a big step forward. We heard from Ms Ohlsson how important it is for us to value voluntary work. In Sweden we visited a house run by women volunteers, which was a fantastic project. They were helping refugee women to create a new life. The project gave us a sense of optimism, as it did for the refugee women.
Courage and hope are the key words to emerge. Baroness Massey, the speaker from the United Kingdom, talked about courage. Despite the horrific events that women have been through, many still show courage. For example, a woman from Iraq who is now in a Berlin reception centre told us what forced her to leave her country. Her partner was shot in front of her eyes and, as if that were not enough, the killers suggested that they might force her 12 or 14-year-old daughter to marry, so the woman left with practically nothing. In Berlin, however, she has managed to find a safe haven.
When we met such women, we asked what they wanted more than anything else in the world – “What do you want from your life? What do you hope to find in the place you have come to?” – and the first thing they all said is, “Peace, peace, peace.” They all desperately hoped to stay in the places they had reached.
Ms Gafarova, when you spoke on behalf of your political group, it was good of you to mention the importance of education in the fight against violence against women. It is important, for example, that young girls have the opportunity to go to kindergarten. Children can also provide an excellent way of helping women to integrate.
Another suggestion was that we need follow-up reports, and that was made by Ms Heinrich and by Susanna Huovinen from Finland. All such suggestions help us to ensure that those women can indeed continue to find a safe haven here in Europe.
In a few minutes, the President of Greece will address the Chamber. Greece is one of the countries to be a first port of call for refugees. The Greek President said recently that as long as people are unable to find safety and security in their home countries they are welcome with us. That could be said of Italy as well. Our colleague Mr Kronbichler talked about Italy, and we all know how difficult the situation there is given the massive influx of refugees. There, too, volunteers play a vital role. The important point, however, is that those countries on the frontline facing the wave of refugees should not be left alone.
We must remember that all countries have to demonstrate solidarity – our duty is to help each other, rather than simply to create a fortress Europe with impermeable external borders. We have to show solidarity with all those people, men and women, who need our support. We simply cannot allow people to starve to death at the doors of Europe.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Wurm.
Does the Chair of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Ms Centemero, wish to speak? You have two minutes.
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy)* – On behalf the whole of my committee, I thank and congratulate Ms Wurm on her report, as well as Ms de Sutter for her opinion.
The documents address an extremely important issue and we have had many speakers in the debate, representing many different countries. Obviously, I fully endorse the powerful words we have just heard from Ms Wurm. We cannot forget that in the face of the ongoing crisis caused by the flows of refugees in our countries, the southern ones in particular, the only possible answer must be rooted in the values of the Council of Europe – human rights and the rights of women. That is the only way in which we can act effectively.
I agreed with several speakers that the Istanbul Convention must be ratified, although ratification must lead to practical, concrete action. Women in refugee camps, migrant women and refugee women in our societies play a key role in integration. That is why we should strive particularly hard to guarantee the safety and security of women refugees. Everything listed in Ms Wurm’s report must be done to ensure that such women may live with a sense of security and find asylum in our countries.
The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination supported this work unanimously. I commend Ms Wurm’s report to the Assembly, and I ask you all to support it unanimously.
The PRESIDENT – The debate is closed.
The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has presented a draft resolution to which eight amendments have been tabled.
The chairperson of the committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 1 to 7, which were approved unanimously by the committee, be declared agreed by the Assembly. Is that so, Ms Centemero? That is the case.
Does anyone object? As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 1 to 7 to the draft resolution have been agreed.
We will now vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 14284, as amended.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14284, as amended, is adopted with 95 votes for, 3 against and 1 abstention.
(Sir Roger Gale, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Ms Djurović.)
2. Address by Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic
The PRESIDENT – We will now hear an address by Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic, after which he will take questions from the floor.
Mr President of the Hellenic Republic, it is a great honour for me to welcome you to this house of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, in which the elected members of 47 countries’ parliaments come together.
We are especially honoured, Sir, to welcome you here in Strasbourg at a decisive moment for our continent, in which the current challenges and the growing divisions between our member States pose challenges to what we have been building since 1949. In the face of these enormous humanitarian, social and economic challenges, the Greek authorities and the Greek population have stayed united and demonstrated the exemplary solidarity that is an intrinsic part of your identity.
Mr President, by saying to refugee children in February of this year “You are part of us”, you have shown in your own words the warm generosity that your country continues to extend. In these difficult times, Europe needs more than ever leaders who work actively for solidarity, mutual recognition, intercultural dialogue and respect. It is especially these values that we all need to find together in order to build a more inclusive, welcoming and tolerant wider Europe. Your visit here today, Sir, is therefore highly symbolic.
Mr President, I now give you the floor. We look forward to hearing your message.
Mr PAVLOPOULOS (President of the Hellenic Republic)* – Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, members of parliaments throughout Europe, I feel a particular honour – indeed, I am quite moved – to find myself here before you today as President of the Hellenic Republic. This emotion is all the more intense because of the fact that for 20 years, I was a member of the Hellenic Parliament, and I had the experience of contributing in this Chamber. I am aware of the major contribution of the Parliamentary Assembly to the work of the Council of Europe, and I simply will not forget, as I speak to you at this moment, that you provide the democratic legitimacy of the Council of Europe. Through the popular will that you express, you give the Council of Europe its weight and gravity. This Assembly’s mission and origins demand the reverence that I wish to bestow upon you today.
I have chosen as the topic of my presentation not an issue that concerns my country, such as the refugee issue, or an issue of the politics of our times. That might have been interesting for all those who follow the activities of this Assembly, but as I am addressing you I wanted to choose something more general but absolutely compatible with the role of the Council of Europe.
Ladies and gentlemen, members of parliament, we live in very turbulent times that touch the broader European space as well as the narrower world of the European Union. There is a great victim in these times – human beings and their rights. The role of the Council of Europe in that regard is absolutely necessary, because it is imperative that we defend human beings and their rights in these critical times. If we did not defend human rights and dignity, and if we did not have discussions with other cultures and civilisations in order to achieve peace in the world, our civilisation – western civilisation and European civilisation as we know it – would not be able to survive. The role that the Council of Europe plays in that is clear. It serves fundamental human rights, and its obligation at this time is to fight for those rights and to find the causes of the undermining of human rights.
Human rights function not outside any institutional framework but within a particular one, so I begin by simply saying that representative democracy as a system of governance was born out of fundamental human rights, which are the safeguard for the exercising of what is necessary to keep that system in place. Putting human rights at risk also puts democracy overall at risk.
What does representative democracy mean for human rights, what risks exist that undermine it, and how can we detect those risks and get rid of them effectively? And what is the role of the Council of Europe in all this? Of course, we all know what representative democracy means – it is common sense. It is a system of governance in which authority is exercised by directly elected individuals or bodies. Through the legitimacy of these elected individuals, a representative democracy can exercise authority, but within a democratic framework and respecting human rights.
Very important here is political freedom. Political liberties allow the election process to take place, but they are the source of everything, including all human rights and the institutions that defend them. So, elected bodies and individuals allow for the exercising of an authority that incorporates within it respect for human rights and representative democracy – all within the broader framework of a State under the rule of law. Representative democracy was born as a system of governance – it is of course the best one to defend human rights – and thereafter, it supports the rights of individuals, which are an integral part of that system. There is no question about that whatsoever.
We are talking about a system of governance that is the most effective in exercising, protecting, defending and bolstering human rights. Any power that wants to impinge on human rights can be dealt with only through a system of representative democracy and the institutions that crystallise as a result of it. It allows the exercising of democracy and deters all those who would like to abuse power and impede individuals exercising their rights. Representative democracy helps individuals to exercise their rights and defends human rights against any risk or threat, which may come not only from State authority, but from private, non-governmental entities. In this globalised world, such entities have become stronger – stronger sometimes than governments themselves – and have usurped power to a certain extent.
Why is representative democracy the best form of governance for defending people against the threats to their rights coming from State institutions? An institutional system of checks and balances makes representative democracy the best, because nobody is completely in charge, in that one institution checks the other. If these institutions function, as they should, according to the constitution and international law, the system of checks and balances blocks any violation of the exercising of individuals’ rights, particularly when it concerns the Executive. The Executive are blocked when they want to overstep their authority.
Representative democracy is based on the principle of minority and majority, which is its strength when compared with direct democracy. The latter is a system whereby the minority view has no weight whatsoever, whereas the opposite is true of representative democracy. The minority does not simply exist institutionally; it can control, monitor and supervise. In the system of checks and balances under representative democracy, the operation of a State under the rule of law is extremely important. This goes hand in hand with representative democracy. These concepts and principles are linked: they cannot be separated.
What do we mean by a State under the rule of law? The rule of law involves not only rules under which the exercising of power takes place – in other words, rules and regulations that involve legislative and judicial aspects – but sanctions and penalties. A system of sanctions is in place, should there be an infringement or overstepping of authority. So we have this system of control, and a system of sanctions, should institutions of the State overstep their remit.
I will move on from the system of regulations and pause on the issue of sanctions. Numerous different mechanisms bolster a State under the rule of law. For example, there is administrative self-control, or parliamentary control, through which parliament checks and monitors. But these forms of control have been shown to be not completely effective and for that reason, in my opinion – it is also a general opinion – the best sanction mechanism for implementing the rules and regulations of a State under the rule of law is an institutionalised judiciary system. There is no question about that whatsoever. An independent judiciary makes possible an effective and just system of sanctions, and all within the framework of representative democracy. So, the State is controlled and its legitimacy maintained. In order to do that, numerous different controls are in place, but the most important is the judiciary, which must function effectively, so that it truly defends the rights of individuals. That is the supremacy, if you like, of representative democracy compared with other forms, when it comes to controlling State authority.
Numerous different problems have arisen in these globalised times. It is not only the overstepping of State authority that causes a problem; other, legal entities are capable of violating the rights of individuals. Representative democracy has its particular power: it can set up these deterrence mechanisms to protect individuals from other people and from other such entities. It is clear that we have the necessary legislation in place. We have rules, regulations, national constitutions and international and European law, which function against not only the State but any individual entity that may be violating the rights of other individuals. In representative democracy we have certain mechanisms that place a coat of mail around human beings, protecting them from such threats.
What are these guarantees? In summary, in all constitutions, including that of the Hellenic Republic, there are laws that fall within the constitutional framework and that have to be compatible with European Union and international law. We need laws that deal with all those various aspects, but within the framework of international law.
However, rights are not one-sided; they have two sides. There is the core, which is the social dimension, and there are other dimensions. Every right is exercised within a particular social framework. Therefore, in order to be exercised legally and appropriately, every right ought not to lead to the annulment or obliteration of the rights of others. That is why we need national solidarity, which is the concept that lies behind this. When you exercise your rights, yes, you must meet your needs, but in doing so you cannot infringe upon the rights of others. The first parameter is what is set out in legislation and the constitution. The second parameter is the social dimension and coexistence, within a legislative framework. That second parameter is underpinned by the extremely important principle that the abuse of rights is prohibited. Abusing rights works like a boomerang: it might seem good at first, but in the end everyone loses. We have seen that so frequently in our times.
It is not enough simply to declare that certain rights exist and that we all have them; the State has to secure the conditions under which all individuals can exercise their rights without abusing the rights of others. Without that equality, the exercise of rights could simply become an intellectual exercise. Once again, representative democracy has its role to play in protecting individuals. The social welfare state, under the rule of law, has to enable the weak and vulnerable in society to exercise their rights effectively. Otherwise, we do not have the equal exercising of the rights of individuals, which is the foundation of representative democracy.
When those who are economically stronger in society – everybody has a different starting point in life, of course – can somehow impose their will on others, the exercising of rights does not work. We see that right now in our societies. It is representative democracy that will protect us from all that. On the one hand, we have the protection of individuals from the arbitrary use and abuse of authority, and on the other hand – within the social dimension – we have the protection of individuals from the arbitrary exercising of rights by their fellow human beings who happen to be more powerful, either economically or in some other way. All those limitations have to be enforced through legislation. Once again, prohibiting the abuse of rights has to exist in the social welfare state, and it is the responsibility of the social welfare state to protect individuals from the abuse of rights by others. That is what representative democracy has to do in order to protect human beings, to create that protective coat of mail.
We have seen things change. We have seen representative democracy being undermined in such a way that human rights are not protected. We face numerous threats that are undermining the very foundation of representative democracy. Its institutional and political structures must therefore be vigilant. What are these threats? We have to detect them in order to get rid of them. That is the role of the Council of Europe. All those institutions that support and defend human rights have to be protected at this point.
What are these threats, where do they come from, and why have they appeared now to undermine democracy by eating away at its core? What we have seen, particularly in these times of crisis, is that we have a kind of despotic governance in place. In other words, we do not have the balance of powers that is necessary in a representative democracy. In order to function properly, a representative democracy needs balance between the three branches of government. The executive, the legislature and the judiciary all have to function equally. What we have seen, however, is the executive creeping in and grabbing more power than it ought to have, by taking over the legislature and controlling the judiciary. There ought to be a balance in the way a parliament legislates, following an initiative proposed by the executive – that is how it works in most countries.
However, countries in crisis, such as Greece, have serious problems indeed. The executive has assumed powers that did not exist in the past. The executive, simply because there is a crisis, has moved forward in such a way that it is taken as a given that it has to have more power. We have decrees being issued, which systematically excludes the legislature and prevents its participation in legislating, so there is an imbalance. The essential balance in a representative democracy – between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary – is being skewed. In these times of economic crisis, we once again see the executive taking over. Once again, what we have is arbitrary behaviour on the part of the executive. That has serious consequences for human rights, and for rights overall. This threat to individuals comes from the executive. That is the first aspect that we ought to look at: in other words, despotism in government.
The second issue, which is very serious in our times, particularly in countries that are in crisis, such as Greece – which shows us once again how a representative democracy and a State under the rule of law is being undermined – is the ineffective operation of the most important mechanism: the judiciary. A State that is truly under the rule of law has mechanisms in place for sanctions and penalties, and the judiciary is the steward of that. However, in these times of crisis, the judiciary has found itself under attack. It finds itself in a position in which is can no longer deliver justice. It cannot operate in this new environment of decrees, where the executive has encroached upon the authority of the other branches of government. We have seen numerous examples of that inability to deliver justice as it ought to be delivered in a truly democratic State and a truly representative democracy.
Frequently, in times of crisis, there is such a need to resort to justice that cases multiply and there is great delay in the issuing of justice. You are all familiar with that. There are numerous cases in the European Court of Human Rights concerning violations of the provisions or principles of the charter of human rights. Where there are particular concerns with the issuing of true justice in home countries, people go elsewhere in search of it. There is a great delay in the delivery of justice, and we essentially have a system where people remain in limbo and are simply disappointed. In the end, people simply accept, in a passive fashion, the fact that justice is not being issued – that there are no rulings or they are terribly delayed. There is a serious threat there.
In delivering justice, which is absolutely necessary in a representative democracy, we have a system where people are left in limbo and there is no intermediary phase, so they do not know what to do in the period before a judgment is issued. There are certain systems of temporary judicial protection during that waiting period, but they do not exist everywhere. In numerous countries issuing temporary judicial protection is extremely difficult. Since rulings are delayed, and with the delayed issuing of temporary protection on top of that, in the end when those rulings come, after great delay, they are almost theoretical. Sometimes the issue has gone – evaporated – and no longer exists, so there is essentially theoretical justice. A decision is issued, but then there is no implementation. Sometimes there are mechanisms to enforce implementation, but often no such mechanisms are in place.
With the crises that exist throughout Europe, rulings are frequently not implemented. Often, those concern the protection of human rights. On the one hand we have despotism, and on the other we have the ineffective or delayed issuing of justice. That causes serious problems for representative democracy and the operation of an overall system. We have frequently seen all that happen in the name of broader social good – I say that, to a certain extent, facetiously.
My third point is that there are supranational entities functioning in this globalised world that have no democratic legitimacy whatever and are not subject to any rules, laws, regulations or constitutions. With globalisation we have seen new forms of intervention in the international economy, directly affecting human beings and nations, which do not have the necessary legislative framework in place either to operate democratically or to confront those supranational bodies. I have a couple of examples. The first is what we call markets – the market. There are markets, and then there are markets. There are markets that adhere to international law, but then there are extreme forms of markets that do what they want and can essentially overturn an entire country or government. They can do what they want and manipulate situations as they like. Of course, the most vulnerable suffer first.
There are also the rating agencies. There has to be some sort of framework whereby rating agencies function and there has to be a way of judging them. In other words, those who judge have to be judged. For example, rating agencies set a grade on some sort of undertaking in the United States. It then emerged that that undertaking had been involved in the mass embezzlement of funds and different types of financial corruption, but it already had that grade. We need a system in place that will control such supranational entities. The agencies and markets affect international development. We have to have an overall system of checks and balances in place to deal with the new types of institutions and structures. There has to be control. We cannot, on the one hand, speak of a State under the rule of law and check the various institutions of the State when, on the other, we have entities under private law that have the ability to control the world and wipe entire nations off the map.
Finally, another element is the collapse of the social state. One of the pillars of western civilisation – of European civilisation – is the social state. We know that the welfare state was established after the horrific events of the First World War – we first saw that in the constitution of Weimar in Germany. We had the creation of the foundations upon which the European Union and institutions such as this one were established. From the primordial, embryonic form of the social state the European Union and all the entities whose role is to protect human rights have developed.
If we do not have a social state that supports those individuals who are the victims and the weak in society, what sort of exercising of rights are we talking about? The social welfare state is not only an issue of social justice and does not only concern social cohesion; it is an issue of real democracy. A real democracy – a representative democracy – has to serve human beings; however, if it is impervious to the weaker in society, because of a non-existent or poorly functioning welfare state, that unfortunately does not hold. Anatole France said that for some equality means they have the ability to sleep under a bridge over the Seine. With those ironic words, we must be clear and understand that we cannot have development, progress, monetary unity or any sort of properly operating structures unless we have in place a social welfare state to protect individuals’ rights.
Those four threats – despotism, an ineffective judiciary, unbridled globalisation and the lack of a social welfare state under the rule of law – undermine human rights in general. That is where the Council of Europe’s role comes in.
What are we going to do today? We all participate in this emblematic Organisation, which it should be recalled is much larger than the European Union. It is a kind of antechamber through which we have to pass in order truly to exercise democracy. Countries that want to become members of the Council of Europe have to pass through this antechamber. We have to detect threats, raise our voices against them and get rid of them, because they undermine democracy, our civilisation, our culture, and the ability of the West and the European Union to play the global role that they ought to.
Europe has a broader role than simply that of protecting its peoples. I do not want to underestimate the strength of any other country or continent, but Europe is best placed to protect the basic principles on which our culture and civilisation are based: humanism, peace, democracy and justice. If Europe collapses, who will better defend these valuable principles? Our role is a historic one, and we cannot forget or be unresponsive to that. We cannot give in to populism, which leads, and has led, to alienation and isolation. The fourth report of the Secretary General touches on the dangers of populism for Europe and representative democracy. In these times, it is important for us to understand the threat that populism poses to representative democracy. The role of Europe is to protect our culture and civilisation and these important principles.
The Council of Europe has to understand that it defends not only our countries, but Europe and the world. Of course we represent our countries, but we also represent something far greater, and we have to be aware of that. It is important that we protect this institution. There are numerous problems, including within the European Court of Human Rights, but it is possible for us to move forward, beyond primary law, and to transcend all existing problems. It is extremely important for the European Union to participate as a legal entity in the Council of Europe. The path is there, because the jurisprudence of the Court has stated that human rights law and the Council of Europe are a source of inspiration. If that is not paving the way for the European Union to be here, I do not know what is. The European Union has to be present here.
The Council of Europe has to look at the European Social Charter, which at this point looks like lex imperfecta, or lex minus quam perfecta. I understand and respect the effort made by the European Commission within the framework of the Council of Europe. However, if under the Council of Europe some rights are protected by the Court, but other social rights, which are extremely important for the social welfare state, are not protected by the same jurisprudence and legal structures, there is a problem – a lacuna to fill. The European Social Charter has to have the regulatory authority that it deserves, so that the social welfare state is protected. The social welfare state is the pillar of our continent, our culture, our civilisation.
The ideas behind representative democracy and human rights have to go beyond the borders of Europe and become part of humanity in its entirety. There are many lessons to learn from our experience and the way in which the West and Europe have functioned over the past couple of years. Representative democracy will not be transplanted simply because that is what we want. We have to take serious account of the idiosyncrasies of other cultures and peoples, because if we try to do that transplanting with a sense of hegemony or superiority, we will undermine international peace. We do not want to do that. Democracy is so precious; we have to protect it, as though it were the apple of our eye. We have to understand that this transplanting can take place only through dialogue and discussion, and not through an attitude of, “We decide and implement as we like.” We need cultural dialogue within an atmosphere of peace, and that can take place only where there is mutual understanding and respect. This forum is the best place for us to learn this major truth about conveying the principles of democracy to the entire world.
We have to defend human beings, who are the source of everything and of all these systems. We have to protect, very tenderly, everything that has been created. Once again, I thank you for the extremely valuable work that the Council of Europe and its Parliamentary Assembly do.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr President, for your truly illuminating address. Representatives of the party groups wish to put questions to you. I remind colleagues that questions are limited to 30 seconds, and should be questions, not speeches.
Mr FEIST (Germany, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party)* – Thank you, Mr President, for once again making clear to us the basis of everything that we do: representative democracy, which depends on participation. I am pleased that you talked about economic and social participation. We cannot speak only to people who have completed high school; we have to speak to all sectors of society. Ought we to do more in terms of vocational education and training?
Mr PAVLOPOULOS* – Of course, it is a given that we have to work through education. Everything begins with school, and with those tender, young years. That is when equality can be instilled in individuals. Equality is found where it is cultivated, and the principles of democracy have to be instilled in people from a very young age. We have to fight populism at its root. We see how the message of populism is being delivered by the media and the Internet, and how it tries to undermine young people from very early on. You are absolutely right; in education, we have to emphasise excellence. We Greeks have been familiar with the concept of excellence since the time of Homer. He was the first person who spoke about excellence. Excellence does not mean elitism; it is justice that it should be delivered to all, and it includes the ability of people to empathise and give what is best in them. As you said, everybody has to begin, at school age, to defend democracy and equality, and we have to bring the best out of individuals. I wanted to touch on education, including vocational education, so thank you for giving me the opportunity to do so.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – I thank the President for his impressive speech, and I thank Greece for taking care of thousands of refugees. In the context of concerns from NGOs and Pope Francis, what European and international support does Greece need to guarantee the human rights of all refugees and, in the light of the previous debate, to protect women and girls from gender-based violence?
Mr PAVLOPOULOS* – The first thing that Greece would like is solidarity between the peoples of Europe regarding the distribution of refugees. Greece has made major sacrifices and cannot bear accusations of not protecting sea or land borders. What are our partners in Europe teaching us when they say that? We do not want financial support; we want practical support. We want to be able to share refugees and to help these individuals, because Greece cannot deal with the situation alone. We have not only refugees but numerous illegal immigrants. The phenomenon that we are experiencing right now – the people who have died at sea and the horrific images we see on television – is difficult for us to bear. What Greece needs above all is for refugees to be distributed so that they have better prospects. We need support for special groups and for individuals who need particular help. We also want some recognition of the work that we have done, not just a barrage of criticism. People regularly work day and night to deal with the situation. We want to feel that we have some support from our family – from Europe as a whole. We want that support.
Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom, Spokesperson for the European Conservatives Group) – Following your remarks, Mr President, all of us recognise and greatly appreciate the migration crisis burden that Greece in particular has shouldered since 2015. Almost 1 million migrants have made their way via Turkey to Europe; Greek islands are still confronted with daily arrivals of around 30 to 60 migrants; and you currently host a population of 60 000 migrants across the country. On the tackling of organised criminals who smuggle or traffic migrants and refugees, it was heartening to learn that arrests were made last month owing to joint work by Greece and the United Kingdom and that 130 migrants were rescued. To crack down on the problem, a great deal more must be done. What further plans does Greece have, including co-operative measures with other States and relevant agencies, both to reduce migrant crime and to improve systems for receiving migrants among our Council of Europe States?
Mr PAVLOPOULOS* – I thank you because you have pointed out that Greece is hosting not only refugees. If we only had Syrian refugees, we would be able to deal with the problem effectively, because it is easy to integrate refugees into the population. The major issue is the illegal migrants who have arrived in our country. Such people are often not looking for a better future; they are criminals. Greece has to make that distinction and act as it has to act. What is missing from the responses of the European Union and NATO, which was involved in the agreement that we forged with Turkey? We need better control of our ports in order to control trafficking and, as you will understand, it is difficult to control sea borders effectively. Turkey is also part of the agreement, and I will not say that it has not done its part. We live side by side. We all know how many millions of refugees are in Turkey right now, and we have to recognise that and express our gratitude. However, we need to co-operate on the apprehension of traffickers, and we need Europe’s help.
Europe forgets that the framework of the European Union contains a policy on illegal migration. It has been in place since 2008, but it has not been implemented. The text states that the European Union should forge readmission agreements with countries that are the source of illegal migrants so that they can be sent back home. I am not speaking about refugees or the illegal migrants who are dying; I am talking about other elements – criminal for the most part – that do not come under the category of migrants or refugees. The 2008 agreement must be implemented. Excuse me for having gone on about this, but I was Minister for the Interior at the time and we said then that we must work with countries in Northern and sub-Saharan Africa to put in place a system so that people stay in situ. However, we did not do anything after those discussions. Absolutely nothing has been done, and we are not really thinking about it even now. We should help those African countries with technical aid and economic support. All that was discussed on 18 October 2008, and the things that were discussed then have been regurgitated in recent times, but nothing has been done.
Mr COMTE (France, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – Cyprus is highly topical because negotiations are under way between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots about the unification of the island, and Greece plays an important role in the Cypriot question. What is Greece’s view on the negotiation process? What contribution would Greece like to make to resolve the situation?
Mr PAVLOPOULOS* – I reassure you that Greece and Cyprus are ready to contribute to a resolution of the Cyprus issue. It has been an open wound since 1974, and a foreign army is occupying part of Cyprus. It is not a national issue of Greece or Cyprus; it is a European and international issue. Where does the disagreement lie? The Cyprus issue must be resolved on the basis of European law. Cyprus is a member of the European Union and is in the eurozone, too, so the solution has to come from within European legislation, because only then will the acquis apply to the entire island. For that to happen, we have to respect primary European laws about the sovereignty of a member State of the European Union. Paragraph 2 of Article 4 of the Treaty on European Union States what sovereignty entails, and it is clear that an occupying army is totally incompatible.
We have a kind of precedent in the reunification of Germany, and those of you from Germany will be very well aware of what took place. We are all aware of how long-winded and difficult the process in Germany was before real reunification, after the reunification in 1990, as far as the implementation of the acquis communautaire was concerned. There was a key moment in March 1993, when the last former Soviet Union soldier left eastern German territory. It has been mentioned on numerous occasions when discussing Cyprus – the President of the Federal Republic, Mr Steinmeier, made mention of it recently.
The resolution of the Cyprus issue has to take place within European legislation, but it cannot include occupation. If it includes occupation and the archaic system of guarantees, none of it will really work. You cannot have third parties guaranteeing the sovereignty of a country. That does not exist in our times or within the framework of European legislation. For those that insist that there have to be guarantees in place and an occupying force, they do so because they have interests there – but which European country would accept that? It is necessary for us to deal with this situation. It has been an open, festering wound since 1974, but we will never commit the crime of accepting a solution that undermines the sovereignty of a member State of the European Union, its unity and its ability to defend the members of its family. We are not only defending ourselves on the Cyprus issue: we are defending primary European law and the acquis communautaire.
I say that with all due respect for Turkey. You all know what our position is with regard to Turkey and Cyprus. Turkey too has much to gain from a resolution of the Cyprus issue, because the Turkish Cypriot community and the Greek Cypriot community within a federal State – we are speaking about a federation, not a confederation – would be European citizens and enjoy all the rights of European citizens. Only in that way will Cyprus be able to move forward effectively into the future. The non-solution, the troops on the island and the system of guarantees from the past, is not compatible with resolution of the issue.
Mr NICOLINI (San Marino, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – Your country is a paradise for tourists, but like most Mediterranean countries it is a real hell for animals. As a defender of animal rights, I am in contact with many Greek volunteers. Many animals have a miserable existence, tied on short chains under a merciless sun. Stray dogs and cats are systematically exterminated in painful ways on the sole ground that they exist. Your country has taught civilisation to the whole world: please do something to reform the mind-set of the new generation, train the police to stop cruelty and ensure that European funds for animals are properly spent.
Mr PAVLOPOULOS* – I share your views and I am very sorry, but over the last couple of years major efforts have been made to create legislation. This type of behaviour towards animals has been penalised and our courts have been quite active on this front. We have also initiated a campaign to sensitise people and make them aware of this issue, especially young kids from an early age.
I do not say that everything is a bowl of cherries. There are problems and we are doing what we can, irrespective of the difficulties we confront. We can use how people behave towards animals to judge individuals, a culture and a civilisation. It is not only for the image that we present abroad: we have to understand that our culture and tradition are important and we have to protect them. We also have to protect animals within that framework.
The PRESIDENT – From the cradle of democracy, Mr President, your reminder that representative democracy is the cornerstone of our existence is very timely, especially as we are about to be tested in France, Germany and, of course, in the United Kingdom. We are deeply grateful to you for your address and for the manner in which you have answered our questions.
3. Next public business
The PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting this afternoon at 3.30 p.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 1.05 p.m.)
1. Protecting refugee women from gender-based violence
Presentation by Ms Wurm of the report of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Document 14284.
Presentation by Ms de Sutter of the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Document 14297.
Speakers: Ms Bartos, Ms Strik, Ms Gafarova, Ms Rodríguez Hernández, Ms Sandbćk, Ms de Santa Ana, Ms Heinrich, Ms Kyriakides, Baroness Massey, Ms Kalmari, Mr Stroe, Mr Schennach, Ms Hetto-Gaasch, Ms Anttila, Ms Crozon, Mr Mullen, Ms Blondin, Ms Bîzgan-Gayral, Ms O’Connell, Mr Thiéry, Mr Fridez, Ms Huovinen, Mr Kronbichler, Ms Ohlsson, Ms Christodoulopoulou, Ms Gastélum Bajo, Ms Alqawasmi, Mr R. Huseynov.
Draft resolution in Document 14297, as amended, adopted.
2. Address by Mr Prokopios Pavlopoulos, President of the Hellenic Republic
Questions: Mr Feist, Mr Schennach, Earl of Dundee, Mr Comte, Mr Nicolini.
3. 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 ŕ l’article 12.2 du Rčglement.Le nom des personnes remplacées suit celui des Membres remplaçant, entre parenthčses.
ĹBERG, Boriana [Ms]
ĆVARSDÓTTIR, Thorhildur Sunna [Ms]
ALLAVENA, Jean-Charles [M.]
ANDERSON, Donald [Lord]
ANTTILA, Sirkka-Liisa [Ms]
ARENT, Iwona [Ms]
ARIEV, Volodymyr [Mr]
ÁRNASON, Vilhjálmur [Mr]
ARNAUT, Damir [Mr]
BALIĆ, Marijana [Ms]
BARTOS, Mónika [Ms] (CSÖBÖR, Katalin [Mme])
BAYKAL, Deniz [Mr]
BEREZA, Boryslav [Mr]
BERNACKI, Włodzimierz [Mr]
BĒRZINŠ, Andris [M.]
BİLGEHAN, Gülsün [Mme]
BILLSTRÖM, Tobias [Mr]
BÎZGAN-GAYRAL, Oana-Mioara [Ms] (BRĂILOIU, Tit-Liviu [Mr])
BLANCHART, Philippe [M.]
BLAZINA, Tamara [Ms] (ASCANI, Anna [Ms])
BLONDIN, Maryvonne [Mme]
BONNICI, Charlň [Mr] (FENECH ADAMI, Joseph [Mr])
BOSIĆ, Mladen [Mr]
BRASSEUR, Anne [Mme]
BRUYN, Piet De [Mr]
BÜCHEL, Roland Rino [Mr] (MÜLLER, Thomas [Mr])
BUTKEVIČIUS, Algirdas [Mr]
CENTEMERO, Elena [Ms]
CEPEDA, José [Mr]
CHRISTODOULOPOULOU, Anastasia [Ms]
CHRISTOFFERSEN, Lise [Ms]
CILEVIČS, Boriss [Mr] (LĪBIŅA-EGNERE, Inese [Ms])
COMTE, Raphaël [M.] (FIALA, Doris [Mme])
CORLĂŢEAN, Titus [Mr]
CORSINI, Paolo [Mr]
CROWE, Seán [Mr]
CROZON, Pascale [Mme] (ALLAIN, Brigitte [Mme])
CRUCHTEN, Yves [M.]
CSENGER-ZALÁN, Zsolt [Mr]
DALLOZ, Marie-Christine [Mme] (MARIANI, Thierry [M.])
DEBONO GRECH, Joseph [Mr]
DIVINA, Sergio [Mr]
DJUROVIĆ, Aleksandra [Ms]
DUNDEE, Alexander [The Earl of] [ ]
EBERLE-STRUB, Susanne [Ms]
ESTRELA, Edite [Mme] (ROSETA, Helena [Mme])
EVANS, Nigel [Mr]
FABRITIUS, Bernd [Mr] (HENNRICH, Michael [Mr])
FARMANYAN, Samvel [Mr]
FAZZONE, Claudio [Mr] (BERNINI, Anna Maria [Ms])
FEIST, Thomas [Mr] (OBERMEIER, Julia [Ms])
FOURNIER, Bernard [M.]
FRANKOVIĆ, Mato [Mr]
FRESKO-ROLFO, Béatrice [Mme]
FRIDEZ, Pierre-Alain [M.]
GAFAROVA, Sahiba [Ms]
GALE, Roger [Sir]
GAMBARO, Adele [Ms]
GHILETCHI, Valeriu [Mr]
GIRO, Francesco Maria [Mr]
GODSKESEN, Ingebjřrg [Ms] (WOLD, Morten [Mr])
GOGA, Pavol [M.] (MADEJ, Róbert [Mr])
GONÇALVES, Carlos Alberto [M.]
GONCHARENKO, Oleksii [Mr]
GORGHIU, Alina Ștefania [Ms]
GORROTXATEGUI, Miren Edurne [Mme] (BALLESTER, Ángela [Ms])
GOSSELIN-FLEURY, Genevičve [Mme] (KARAMANLI, Marietta [Mme])
GOY-CHAVENT, Sylvie [Mme]
GUTIÉRREZ, Antonio [Mr]
GUZENINA, Maria [Ms]
HARANGOZÓ, Gábor [Mr] (MESTERHÁZY, Attila [Mr])
HEER, Alfred [Mr]
HEINRICH, Gabriela [Ms]
HERKEL, Andres [Mr] (MIKKO, Marianne [Ms])
HETTO-GAASCH, Françoise [Mme]
HOFFMANN, Rózsa [Mme] (VEJKEY, Imre [Mr])
HOLÍK, Pavel [Mr] (MARKOVÁ, Soňa [Ms])
HOPKINS, Maura [Ms]
HOWELL, John [Mr]
HUOVINEN, Susanna [Ms] (VIROLAINEN, Anne-Mari [Ms])
HUSEYNOV, Rafael [Mr]
JENIŠTA, Luděk [Mr]
JENSEN, Michael Aastrup [Mr]
JENSEN, Mogens [Mr]
JENSSEN, Frank J. [Mr]
JORDANA, Carles [M.]
JOVANOVIĆ, Jovan [Mr]
KALMARI, Anne [Ms]
KARAPETYAN, Naira [Ms] (ZOHRABYAN, Naira [Mme])
KARLSSON, Niklas [Mr]
KAVVADIA, Ioanneta [Ms]
KERESTECİOĞLU DEMİR, Filiz [Ms]
KESİCİ, İlhan [Mr]
KIRAL, Serhii [Mr] (LABAZIUK, Serhiy [Mr])
KLEINBERGA, Nellija [Ms] (LAIZĀNE, Inese [Ms])
KOÇ, Haluk [M.]
KORUN, Alev [Ms]
KOX, Tiny [Mr]
KRIŠTO, Borjana [Ms]
KRONBICHLER, Florian [Mr]
KÜRKÇÜ, Ertuğrul [Mr]
KYRIAKIDES, Stella [Ms]
LE BORGN’, Pierre-Yves [M.]
LE DÉAUT, Jean-Yves [M.]
LEITE RAMOS, Luís [M.]
LOGVYNSKYI, Georgii [Mr]
LOUCAIDES, George [Mr]
MAHOUX, Philippe [M.]
MAMMADOV, Muslum [M.]
MARAS, Gordan [Mr] (BEUS RICHEMBERGH, Goran [Mr])
MARKOVIĆ, Milica [Mme]
MAROSZ, Ján [Mr]
MARQUES, Duarte [Mr]
MASIULIS, Kęstutis [Mr] (ŠAKALIENĖ, Dovilė [Ms])
MASSEY, Doreen [Baroness] (CRAUSBY, David [Mr])
MAURY PASQUIER, Liliane [Mme]
MAVROTAS, Georgios [Mr] (KASIMATI, Nina [Ms])
MEIMARAKIS, Evangelos [Mr]
MESIĆ, Jasen [Mr]
MULARCZYK, Arkadiusz [Mr]
MULLEN, Rónán [Mr] (COWEN, Barry [Mr])
MUNYAMA, Killion [Mr] (HALICKI, Andrzej [Mr])
NÉMETH, Zsolt [Mr]
NENUTIL, Miroslav [Mr]
NICOLETTI, Michele [Mr]
NICOLINI, Marco [Mr] (GATTI, Marco [M.])
NISSINEN, Johan [Mr]
OBRADOVIĆ, Marija [Ms]
OBRADOVIĆ, Žarko [Mr]
OHLSSON, Carina [Ms]
OMTZIGT, Pieter [Mr] (MILTENBURG, Anouchka van [Ms])
OOMEN-RUIJTEN, Ria [Ms]
PACKALÉN, Tom [Mr]
PALIHOVICI, Liliana [Ms] (BULIGA, Valentina [Mme])
PALLARÉS, Judith [Ms]
PANTIĆ PILJA, Biljana [Ms]
PAŠKA, Jaroslav [M.]
PECKOVÁ, Gabriela [Ms] (KOSTŘICA, Rom [Mr])
POCIEJ, Aleksander [M.] (KLICH, Bogdan [Mr])
PODOLNJAK, Robert [Mr] (HAJDUKOVIĆ, Domagoj [Mr])
POLIAČIK, Martin [Mr] (KAŠČÁKOVÁ, Renáta [Ms])
POMASKA, Agnieszka [Ms]
POSTOICO, Maria [Mme] (VORONIN, Vladimir [M.])
PREDA, Cezar Florin [M.]
PRITCHARD, Mark [Mr]
PRUNĂ, Cristina-Mădălina [Ms]
PSYCHOGIOS, Georgios [Mr] (ANAGNOSTOPOULOU, Athanasia [Ms])
QUÉRÉ, Catherine [Mme] (BAPT, Gérard [M.])
REISS, Frédéric [M.] (ZIMMERMANN, Marie-Jo [Mme])
RIGONI, Andrea [Mr]
ROCA, Jordi [Mr] (BARREIRO, José Manuel [Mr])
RODRÍGUEZ HERNÁNDEZ, Melisa [Ms]
ROJHAN GUSTAFSSON, Azadeh [Ms] (GUNNARSSON, Jonas [Mr])
ROUQUET, René [M.]
RUSTAMYAN, Armen [M.] (ZOURABIAN, Levon [Mr])
SANDBĆK, Ulla [Ms] (BORK, Tilde [Ms])
SANTA ANA, María Concepción de [Ms]
SCHENNACH, Stefan [Mr]
SCHNABEL, Paul [Mr]
SCHNEIDER, André [M.] (ROCHEBLOINE, François [M.])
SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER, Elisabeth [Mme] (LOMBARDI, Filippo [M.])
SCHOU, Ingjerd [Ms]
SCHRIJVER, Nico [Mr]
SCHWABE, Frank [Mr]
ŠEPIĆ, Senad [Mr]
SEYIDOV, Samad [Mr]
SILVA, Adăo [M.]
ŠIRCELJ, Andrej [Mr]
SOBOLEV, Serhiy [Mr]
SOTNYK, Olena [Ms]
SPADONI, Maria Edera [Ms] (CATALFO, Nunzia [Ms])
ȘTEFAN, Corneliu [Mr] (CIOLACU, Ion-Marcel [Mr])
STRIK, Tineke [Ms] (MAIJ, Marit [Ms])
STROE, Ionuț-Marian [Mr]
SUTTER, Petra De [Ms] (DESTEXHE, Alain [M.])
THIÉRY, Damien [M.]
TILKI, Attila [Mr] (GULYÁS, Gergely [Mr])
TRUSKOLASKI, Krzysztof [Mr]
VÁHALOVÁ, Dana [Ms]
VALEN, Snorre Serigstad [Mr]
VAREIKIS, Egidijus [Mr]
VARVITSIOTIS, Miltiadis [Mr] (TZAVARAS, Konstantinos [M.])
VEN, Mart van de [Mr]
VENIZELOS, Evangelos [M.] (BAKOYANNIS, Theodora [Ms])
VERCAMER, Stefaan [M.]
VOGEL, Volkmar [Mr] (WELLMANN, Karl-Georg [Mr])
VOVK, Viktor [Mr] (LIASHKO, Oleh [Mr])
WENAWESER, Christoph [Mr]
WERNER, Katrin [Ms]
WOJTYŁA, Andrzej [Mr]
WURM, Gisela [Ms]
XUCLŔ, Jordi [Mr] (BILDARRATZ, Jokin [Mr])
YAŞAR, Serap [Mme]
YEMETS, Leonid [Mr]
ZAVOLI, Roger [Mr] (D’AMBROSIO, Vanessa [Ms])
ZELIENKOVÁ, Kristýna [Ms]
ZINGERIS, Emanuelis [Mr]
Also signed the register / Ont également signé le register
Representatives or Substitutes not authorised to vote / Représentants ou suppléants non autorisés ŕ voter
AST, Marek [Mr]
BRUIJN-WEZEMAN, Reina de [Ms]
CORREIA, Telmo [M.]
HIGGINS, Alice-Mary [Ms]
JANIK, Grzegorz [Mr]
LEŚNIAK, Józef [M.]
LOMBARDI, Filippo [M.]
MULDER, Anne [Mr]
OSUCH, Jacek [Mr]
OVERBEEK, Henk [Mr]
RIBERAYGUA, Patrícia [Mme]
Observers / Observateurs
DAVIES, Don [Mr]
DOWNE, Percy [Mr]
GASTÉLUM BAJO, Diva Hadamira [Ms]
LARIOS CÓRDOVA, Héctor [Mr]
MALTAIS, Ghislain [M.]
O’CONNELL, Jennifer [Ms]
OLIVER, John [Mr]
ROMO MEDINA, Miguel [Mr]
TILSON, David [Mr]
Partners for democracy / Partenaires pour la démocratie
ALBAKKAR, Khaled [Mr]
ALQAWASMI, Sahar [Ms]
AMRAOUI, Allal [M.]
IUSUROV, Abdumazhit [Mr]
KHADER, Qais [Mr]
SABELLA, Bernard [Mr]
Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of
the Parliamentary Assembly)/ Représentants de la communauté chypriote turque
(Conformément ŕ la Résolution 1376 (2004) de l’Assemblée parlementaire)