AS (2017) CR 17
2017 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 27 April 2017 at 3.30 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are reported using the interpretation and are marked with an asterisk.
3. The text of the amendments is available at the document centre and on the Assembly’s website.
Only oral amendments or oral sub-amendments are reproduced in the report of debates
4. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
5. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the report.
(Mr Rouquet, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.40 p.m.)
The PRESIDENT* – The sitting is open.
1. Announcement of the 2017 Europe Prize
The PRESIDENT* – The Sub-Committee on the Europe Prize has awarded the 2017 Prize. There were five finalists: Bamberg in Germany; Issy-les-Moulineaux in France; Ivano-Frankivsk in Ukraine; Lublin in Poland; and Ravenna in Italy. It is my honour to announce that the winner of the Europe Prize 2017 is Lublin in Poland. We offer our congratulations to Lublin on its engagement with Europe and to our Polish friends.
2. The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities
The PRESIDENT* – The first item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report “The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities”, Document 14260, presented by Mr Valeriu Ghiletchi on behalf of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.
I remind members that speaking time in this debate is limited to four minutes.
I call Mr Ghiletchi to present the report. Mr Ghiletchi, you have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate. Mr Ghiletchi, you have the floor.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – It is a great honour and responsibility to present this afternoon the report “The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities”. Even though this Assembly has approved a number of resolutions making sure that religious freedom is respected, with some progress being noted, my report highlights the fact that religious freedom for all is far from being guaranteed, and discrimination on the basis of religion is still a problem. This applies in particular to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right of parents to provide their children with an education in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.
One of the key issues being addressed by this report is the tendency of States to unduly limit and restrict the rights of parents in bringing up their children in accordance with their own religious beliefs or philosophical convictions. Governments cannot prohibit that and must not implement policies that will drastically reduce parents’ rights in educating their children according to their own religion. On the contrary, governments must make sure that parents have autonomy in offering religious education, both at home and in religious communities. Parents must have the right to guide the religious future and education of their children.
Another important aspect, which sometimes I feel is neglected, is the fact that some minority religious groups are very small in size. In the near future some may be vulnerable to extinction. Thus, by placing restrictions on parents in bringing up their children, the States are accelerating their disappearance. A strong State interference would represent a threat of undermining the religious practices of the minority groups as they exist today. Governments should not try to silence the parents, but should give a voice to these parents when it comes to teaching the practices of a particular belief system. Therefore, the Assembly must affirm the rights of parents and children of religious minorities to live in social environments that respect and support their way of life as far as possible.
The burden should be placed on the State to demonstrate that the religious practices would result in harm to public safety, peace, order or welfare. Only by establishing and maintaining a high standard can we be sure that the State would not easily override the religion rights of the parents. It is also important to emphasise the fact that parents’ rights in bringing up their children in accordance with their own religious beliefs or philosophical convictions trump any conflicting preferences of the children, except where the children are at risk of serious harm. This viewpoint is supported by Mr Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who told the Parliamentary Assembly, in response to my question regarding a child custody case in Norway, that the best interest of the child is almost always to be with the parents and “only in extreme and exceptional cases, where the child can come to serious harm because of the parents’ behaviour, should a child be taken away temporarily from the parents”.
The education of children in public schools is where the rights of parents are most at risk of being violated. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Mr Heiner Bielefeldt, specifically noted that the environment in schools may present particular challenges for families from religious minorities. More should be done to ensure that the State uses less restrictive measures for accomplishing its objective of ensuring adequate education for our children. Today’s school systems are rather rigid and do not allow for “reasonable accommodations” to be put in place in order to reflect the religious diversity of the population.
It is important to emphasise that this report is about ensuring equality for minority communities. As an Assembly, it is our responsibility to promote tolerance and respect in our society, and support peaceful co-existence between people of all different backgrounds and cultures. The draft resolution and draft recommendation aim to protect those in minority communities who may find it hard to have their voices heard, and to ensure that they are not discriminated against purely because they are minorities.
This morning in the Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination, a number of amendments were proposed by members of the Assembly who wanted to see changes to the report. While members are always welcome to suggest changes that they feel might strengthen the report, the majority of the committee felt that the amendments went against the changes originally agreed when the report was considered last year, and they seemed to be upset by that. Personally, I would have supported the amendments, but I felt it was important to have a strong consensus on this issue, which appears to be very sensitive for some members. I therefore spoke with the proposers of the amendments and asked whether they would be interested in withdrawing them to ensure that the draft resolution and recommendation on which we will be voting today is the same as what the Committee on Equality and Non-discrimination agreed originally.
It is important to send the message that a compromise is necessary if we are to have a good resolution. The proposers of the amendments graciously agreed to withdraw them, which leaves us with the original wording approved by the committee. I urge you to support the resolution and recommendations, because they will show that the Assembly is committed to the task of promoting equality among minority communities. Thank you for your attention.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you, Mr Ghiletchi. You have six minutes left to respond to speakers in the debate.
Ms HOFFMANN (Hungary, Spokesperson for the European People’s Party)* – I congratulate Mr Ghiletchi for his choice of the ever-topical subject of his excellent work. I wish to refer to two unimpeachable principles and fundamental values of the Council of Europe: freedom of religion and the neutrality of the State on religious matters.
We must not forget that, throughout its millennia-long history, Europe and its peoples have suffered a great deal from the cruelty of conflicts and laws of religion. Conversely, one should also not forget that political authorities have made several attempts to assuage differences of opinion and aggression and create religious peace, and I want to highlight the importance of the first significant example.
In January 1568, the Hungarian National Assembly in the small Transylvanian town of Torda declared for the first time in history that religion is God-given and that each human being is entitled to practise his or her own religion, both privately and in religious communities. Some 30 years later, in 1598, Henry IV of France promulgated the Edict of Nantes, which bore a substantial resemblance to the Torda declaration. Lastly, after the Second World War, on 10 December 1948, the United Nations put forward the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Council of Europe. In 1950, the European Convention on Human Rights placed emphasis on each individual’s freedom of religion.
It is unacceptable and even tragic that, following those positive events, it is not at all rare today for many people to suffer and even die as a consequence of their religious conviction – especially those belonging to religious minorities in certain countries where the majority follow a different religion. The Council of Europe must unstintingly raise its voice against this phenomenon and unreservedly condemn it, whether the minorities are Catholic, Protestant or Muslim.
Freedom and religious peace will be complete only if the State remains neutral on religious matters. That has been the case for a long time in most European countries, and I highlight the example of Hungary. Under our education system, each child is entitled to be brought up according to his or her world view or religious conviction. It is above all the institution of the ombudsman that monitors and observes the pre-eminence of the fundamental right. The neutrality of the State is one of the guarantees of the protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities.
Ms BONET (Andorra, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group) – I commend Mr Ghiletchi for all the hard work he has done on this report on an important issue. The Socialist Group feel that members are raising awareness of the existence of the problem in debating this report. However, we may not share the rapporteur’s view on how we find a solution.
There are more than 4 200 religions in the world, and most by definition are minority religions. A majority religion in one place will be a minority religion somewhere else. Nobody in the Chamber would call into question the principle of freedom of religion – of course people are free to practise their religion and hold their beliefs. What we disagree on is whether the State and its public bodies such as the education system should preserve that right. What is clear is that the State should include all the different religions in its school curricula; that might be the right question to ask.
Given the more than 4 200 religions, I struggle to see how absolutely everyone could be accommodated. If you afford rights to one, you would have to deny them to others. Families, of course, are responsible for transmitting religious values and beliefs, or a lack of them. All these matters should stay in the private sphere and all the State should do is serve as an enabler in making sure that in the private sphere religious groups can practise their faiths. All of us would have different views on the best way of doing that.
As the Socialist Group discussed yesterday, the State should not interfere in religious matters; it should be guaranteeing equality for all and making sure that everyone is able to pass on their values in the private sphere, with no distinction being made between individuals. We think that that is the best solution. We should be seeking solutions rather than creating more problems, which might then pose a threat to co-existence. The best way of resolving this issue is to confine it to the private sphere.
We also discussed the concept of “reasonable accommodation” – an ambiguous phrase that might ultimately be harmful to human rights. Instead we should view this freedom as a universal right whereby we have equality and all citizens, regardless of their religious beliefs or otherwise, can exercise their rights.
Although we acknowledge that there is a problem and that we need to solve it, we do not necessarily believe that it is the State that should be providing such guarantees. All it would do, if it acted according to the report, is create more problems. That is why the Socialist Group decided that it was unable to support the report.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. I do not see Mr Kiral, so we move to the next speaker.
Ms GAMBARO (Italy, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – I congratulate the rapporteur, Mr Ghiletchi, on his work. He calls on member States of the Council of Europe, at a time of growing religious, ethnic and faith differences, to ensure that within the framework of national legislation it is possible to express religious differences. The terrible news recently regarding the persecution of religious minorities by majorities forces us to move in that direction. Given that evidence and other facts, the Assembly must ensure that the fundamental principles set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, which call on States to defend a pluralist form of education and training, will be respected.
The Assembly has dealt with the rights and duties of religious minorities in the past. That is closely linked to the great diversity of our continent. We must preserve that; it is an inheritance for the world as a whole.
That diversity enriches our continent, rather than being a problem. Diversity gives individuals the possibility, individually and with their community, to develop. Discrimination towards religious minorities is a major problem in many parts of the world outside Europe, but here too there is a risk of the majority forcing its views on the minority. That risk is just around the corner, as we have seen recently in the Assembly when we talked about religious intolerance and hate discourse.
With the draft resolution and recommendation, we send a signal not just to our citizens but to the rest of the world, which sees Europe as a model of peaceful co-existence underpinned by freedom. As a result, I commend the report on behalf of ALDE.
Ms JOHNSSON FORNARVE (Sweden, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – I thank the rapporteur for his efforts on the report, which addresses the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities. Social unity is a necessary condition to make our societies more tolerant, peaceful and flourishing. That cannot happen by neglecting the rights of religious and non-confessional minorities. We should resolve to keep working at all levels to promote religious neutrality and equality rights. We should garner all efforts to improve education policies, but also regulate school funding to eliminate violations of equality rights.
School funding schemes enable church-controlled or other religion-dominated primary schools to exist. However, those funding schemes also give room for discrimination, as religion can still be used as an admission criterion. Unfortunately, that means that only the dominant religion is part of the school ethos.
States should instead establish in all schools the tradition of inclusivity and welcome pupils from differing faith traditions and from no faith backgrounds, with qualified class teachers teaching comparative religion, a valuable tool for familiarising oneself with the faith systems of the major global religions and for promoting respect for others’ beliefs. However, the UEL cannot support the resolution in its current form, because the possibility of opting out of compulsory state religious education programmes that are in conflict with personal, moral or religious beliefs can give rise to separatist thinking and behaviour, instead of supporting non-confessional teaching of religion and providing information on a plurality of religions and ethics programmes. We consider that to be a much better approach, which should be encouraged in order to reflect the complexity and reality of the ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse societies in which we live.
Unfortunately, the current resolution and recommendation are not enough to help to organise our societies with respect to religious minorities so that they reflect the needs and demands of all citizens. Some parts of the report may harm inclusive education, which is needed to continue to address the social pressures of our communities, which have become even more stratified and diverse because of migration.
Mr SCHNEIDER (France)* – The question of parental authority and how it interacts with freedom of conscience is especially significant at a time when several countries in our Organisation are turning to authoritarianism and nationalism. Recently, I read an article about the departure to Portugal of a part of Istanbul’s Jewish community which had lived there for decades. The right to educate and to bring up one’s children according to one’s religious or philosophical convictions seems essential if we wish to preserve democratic debate in our societies. Imposing a religion and refusing to recognise difference is just the sort of thing that stokes hatred and radicalisation.
I agree with what the rapporteur said. The denial of those parental rights is symptomatic of widespread infringements of fundamental freedoms. In Alsace, the concordat allows for constructive inter-religious dialogue and the protection of enhanced minority religious rights, while respecting the values of the republic. That will not resolve all the problems, but I am convinced that it is an interesting model for the rest of Europe.
Like the rapporteur, I am wedded to respect for family life. That is a principle that I always defended in the school where I was headmaster. School teaches, but it is parents who bring us up and we must respect their choices. That is especially true when the school reflects cultural and denominational diversity. However, as the title of the report stresses, the protection of the rights of parents must go hand in hand with respect for the rights of children. All religious practices and convictions are acceptable, unless they impair the well-being of the child. Home-based schooling is possible, but it must not culminate in the children’s being socially alienated. Likewise, the practice of prohibiting certain food, fasting or the refusal of certain medical treatments must never endanger the health of the child.
In France, we have worked a great deal on the issue of lost childhood through sectarian excesses. That is a reality, even if there is no consensus on the notion in our Assembly and if in certain countries what we in France consider sectarian movements are deemed to be minority religions. We must remain alert to the issue, while always keeping in mind one concept, on which I am sure we can all agree: the interests of the child. Subject to that condition, there will be genuine protection of the rights of parents and children from religious minorities.
Ms LE DAIN (France)* – The rights of parents to bring up children as they see fit is vital. In religious education, that right is not under threat, but they have to exercise their right. It goes without saying that parents should have a role in shaping children’s religious views, but they should do so in private. It is not down to public authorities to take care of that, and that is by no means a trivial matter.
A colleague was talking about various minority religions, w will survive only if parents take care of religious education. Peaceful co-existence is necessary. What we are discussing can add to that, but it cannot be decreed from on high at the State level. At the beginning of the 19th century in France a Dominican priest, Henri Lacordaire, held that, between the strong and the weak, the rich and the poor, and the master and the worker, freedom oppresses and the law liberates. The freedom of the individual is not under threat – quite the opposite, because the freedom of the powerful is what can oppress.
We need to be extremely careful in dealing with this issue. Children are a blank page, and they place their trust in their parents and their teachers, but they have to be allowed to make choices for themselves. If they have State-mandated religious education at school, they will no longer have that freedom to choose or oppose religion. That is a matter for their parents and, later on, when they are teenagers or even later, they may want to leave a religion – they may return to it, too. They will, however, have had their religious education in the private sphere, in their families or churches, in whatever religion that might be.
In countries of the Council of Europe peace is at stake: peace within our societies and families, and peace between our countries. The neutrality of the State and our public institutions is a fundamental guarantee. Secularism is an achievement by humanity, although religions have a role in a secular system. The sole responsibility of the State is to guarantee the freedom of each and every one of us to exercise our religion, but in a private setting.
Religion cannot be tolerated in the public sphere or in education, because children do not belong to religious majorities or minorities. It is up to parents and families to take responsibility and to provide religious education in the private sphere, in families, without asking anything of the public authorities. Various opportunities exist for dispensations – mention was made of the concordat here in Alsace, and other exemptions are made – but in France the system is that religious education is dispensed outside school. Children are free not to attend religious education lessons.
It is therefore vital that those principles apply. The situation in France now is complicated, but practical solutions are being found, such as for those who have certain dietary prohibitions: we now have a system in which two different dishes are offered to children and they may choose for themselves. That is quite simple. Straightforward solutions can be found and we should not be claiming any rights, which is why I cannot support the text in the report.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. I cannot see Mr Gutiérrez in the Chamber, so I call Mr Reiss.
Mr REISS (France)* – Respect for private and family life is part of the body of rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. Freedom of conscience, however, which is a pillar of any democratic society, must be defended and protected within the context of a family. Families should not be prevented from bringing their children up in the faith they wish, although that should not be in contradiction with public order, health or morality. The idea of depriving a child of healthcare for religious reasons is unacceptable, as is the idea that a child could be kept from science or sport lessons.
Moreover, signs of religious proselytism, whatever the religion involved, should be outlawed in public spaces. The balance between religious freedom, which is part of the private sphere, and neutrality, which applies to the public area, should enable all citizens to live their faith actively while in peaceful co-existence with others. I have my doubts about what the report describes as “reasonable accommodation” with signs of religious faith in cases of “serious conflict” with the State. A difficulty within the field of public service would be that every individual might cite religious grounds to refuse to carry out certain tasks.
The report focuses in particular on the question of schools and the teaching of religion in them. Since 1905 in France, our rules on laïcité or secularism have created the separation of Church and State. Nevertheless, since the Debré Law of 1959, parents may choose to put their children in faith schools that have a contract with the State or in a public and therefore secular school. It is interesting to note that non-public schools in France are known as free schools, which underlines the importance in our democracies of the exercise of freedom of conscience.
In Alsace-Moselle, because of the concordat to which the previous speakers have referred, classes on the history of religion are taught in public schools. Parents who do not wish their children to attend such classes may ask for an exemption. I therefore have serious doubts about the question of home schooling, because in those conditions the rights of parents from religious minorities are respected, but the social isolation of the children is a risk.
When we talk about protecting religious minorities’ rights, how can we not refer to the increasingly dangerous situation facing Christians in the Middle East, in Egypt, Iraq and Syria? How can we not spare a thought for the Copt parents who, despite the bombs, continue to carry the flame of freedom of conscience in the very heart of the Middle East? Thank you for the report. Despite a few doubts, I will support it.
Mr TORNARE (Switzerland)* – Like Mr Ghiletchi, I am very vigilant when it comes to respect for religious minorities. Perhaps members will not believe me, but I can give an example from when I was Mayor of Geneva, which was a ruling by the Federal Tribunal, the Supreme Court, on graveyards for Jews and Muslims in order to respect freedom of religion. I can therefore understand the great deal of zeal exhibited in the amendments, but I do not agree with how that has been done.
For 180 years my country has followed a practice that I will describe. It has allowed for peace and a lack of confrontation between the various Churches. Switzerland is a very diverse country with four religions, as well as a lot of atheists and agnostics, but there is religious and social peace. We have achieved that through rules and standards that override everything else: the general standards of freedom of conscience and thought are enshrined in the Constitution of Switzerland – a constitution that we enforce, which is not the case in many countries in Europe. It is not just a question of words – it is about freedom of conscience and thought, applied not just to religion but to democratic debate and to the teaching of the sciences. Even in the United States, we see science teachers being banned in some States. As Immanuel Kant said, freedom of conscience and thought is a “categorical imperative”.
In some member States, I do not think there are religious minorities. In Switzerland we have gone from having state atheism to having religious freedom. However, people sometimes fail to understand that we should protect all minorities, not just religious minorities. For example, there are sexual minorities, as we discussed the other day in the context of the North Caucasus, and ethnic minorities. Some member States of the Council of Europe guarantee religious freedom for minorities such as Evangelists but hound Jews. We need an overriding standard guaranteeing freedom for all minorities, whatever they may be.
The separation of Church and State has been mentioned. I am a secularist, even though I am a Catholic, and I agree with Victor Hugo, who said, “I want the State to be secular, exclusively secular.” I want what our founding fathers wanted, but that is often not what happens. I do not want to read ulterior motives into the report, but it may be that religion and religious teaching are being mixed up. In schools in Geneva, for which I was responsible, I imposed the teaching of the history of religion, but not the catechism, which as far as I am concerned should stay outside the public schools.
I conclude with the point made by my friend Mr Schneider, the member from Alsace. It is true that some parents, particularly those who belong to sects, impose tyrannical religious methods on their children. We do not want that, but such excesses are not denounced in the report. How can I vote for the report when there is no clarity on that point? I advise members not to vote in favour of the resolution.
The PRESIDENT* – Mr Pleșoianu is not here, and Mr Valen wishes to waive his speaking time, so I call Ms Christoffersen.
Ms CHRISTOFFERSEN (Norway) – Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right, and in that respect the title of the report is unproblematic. As soon as we go deeper into the issue, though, a lot of dilemmas come to the surface. The type of dilemma probably varies from one country to another. Belonging to a religious minority with strict rules of conduct in a secular society raises one set of dilemmas, and being a secular person in a country run on strict religious legislation raises others.
The European Convention on Human Rights should provide our guidelines when we are confronted with questions such as whether the rights of parents and children are always the same when it comes to methods of upbringing, reproductive health, blood transfusions and vaccination programmes. What about gender equality in patriarchal congregations, or children who present themselves as LGBT persons? What about forced marriages or genital mutilation?
The rights of members of religious minorities are not without limits. In paragraph 5.2 of the report, Mr Ghiletchi uses the words “within the limits defined by legislation”. However, many aspects of what some people consider religious conviction might be in conflict with legislation. One such example is how children are brought up and disciplined. In the explanatory memorandum, there is reference to one particular parental custody case in Norway. That case will be included in a separate report in a later part-session, so at this point I will limit myself to making it perfectly clear that in Norway hitting children as part of their upbringing is prohibited by law and completely unacceptable, regardless of their parents’ religious beliefs or national and cultural background.
Another issue raised in the report is that of exemptions from compulsory State religious education programmes. Norway has – rightly, in my opinion – been criticised in this Assembly for our long-standing tradition of having a State Church. We have, however, started the process of separating Church and State by changing the constitution. In public schools, religion is taught in a non-confessional way. Students learn about the plurality of religions, humanism and ethics. Confessional teaching is seen as a private matter, although within legislative limits. However, Christianity is given more attention than other religions, as part of our cultural heritage. That does meet with resistance, however. Last week the national congress of the Labour Party, my party, decided that we wanted to change that situation to get a better balance.
Norway does allow private schools based on religious beliefs. Personally I deplore that, as it could lead to segregation and limit children’s ability to take their own stand on religious and other matters. An even more worrying trend is that nationalist groups and politicians hostile to immigration tend to embrace Christianity not as a matter of religious belief but as a marker of national identity. They misuse it for the sake of Islamophobic propaganda. It is therefore of the utmost importance to provide children and adolescents with balanced and respectful knowledge of different religions, views of life and cultural backgrounds. The best place to do that is in a public school for all children.
Mr DIVINA (Italy)* – I share the opinions that Mr Ghiletchi expresses in the resolution, but I would like to make a number of additional points. We have to be particularly careful about one issue – I will explain that later, but first I would like to follow up on a number of issues that Ms Christoffersen touched on.
In Europe, there are certain safeguards for liberty, tolerance and human rights, and there are rights for numerous different minorities. There are some countries where that is not the case, but they are not part of our Assembly. I therefore believe that some of the points that have been made about violations of minority rights have been exaggerated to a certain extent. We must also consider the issue of violence related to minority groups.
We have a constitutional charter, and of course every constitution has its preamble. In the preamble there is mention of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, in order to maintain a certain understanding and sensitivity for the people who live in Europe. It is about respect for the culture, history and tradition of the individuals who live in Europe, and their diverse religions and confessions.
The key issue is tolerance. Tolerance is the cornerstone, and if it is not a key principle we cannot adapt to situations in which there are numerous different faiths and confessions.
Some 98% of the population of Turkey is Muslim, and the Ministry of the Interior dictates the various religious rules that apply, where a mosque is constructed and where different places of worship are located. It is not really clear whether this system provides proper respect for the various confessions and minorities. Dictating where or whether places of worship are to be built is an issue that touches on allowing individuals to practise their faith with freedom.
We Europeans, with our culture of tolerance, want maximum liberty for all. At the same time, we have to be very careful about dictating to countries that do not follow this principle – in other words, countries where there is sometimes no freedom whatsoever as a consequence of a lack of religious freedom.
The PRESIDENT* – Thank you. Ms Yaşar is not here, so I call Mr Corlăţean.
Mr CORLĂŢEAN (Romania)* – I have studied the resolution carefully and I am trying to avoid any kind of prejudice or mistaken interpretation of it. Of course, this is a very important and sensitive issue, and its having already given rise to much debate and controversy is testimony to that. It is not that there is ideological opposition to this view; there may be some subjective opinions on the subject, but there are some important yardsticks to guide us: Parliamentary Assembly resolutions, the European Convention on Human Rights and case law from the Court. All those documents essentially agree that freedom of religion and belief exists, as does the right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their religious convictions. Those fundamental rights are guaranteed and enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, and that is no surprise because they are an integral part of the fundamental values of our societies.
Secularism is very important. We discussed it in our political group, but what I am sharing with you now is my personal view. The principle of secularism is accepted across Europe – and within this Organisation – in that we have separation of Church and State. In Romania, my country, the constitution enshrines the freedom of religious groups from the State, but the rapporteur says that there exists a fundamental right of children to be provided with a critical and pluralist education, alongside everything else. That is a crucial point, because that freedom does mean doing away with the right of parents to educate their children in conformity with their own moral, cultural and religious principles. That fundamental right is enshrined in article 29.6 of my country’s constitution.
That is why I believe that we should continue to respect that right. I acknowledge that my position is a minority one within my political group – you will be aware that the Socialist Group remains consummately democratic – but I submit that in a democratic country founded on a principle of secularism, with which we would all agree, we do not want children to belong to the State rather than their parents, to take that position to its extreme. I would certainly disagree with that position, which we see in a number of European countries.
I wonder whether there is a case for enshrining in our constitutions this right of parents. Of course, various States do not have that right. We should continue to respect the right of parents to educate their children, and that applies, by extension, to members of religious minorities. A number of cases have shown that there is a great deal of diversity across Europe, and that diversity should be respected.
This issue is important to the millions of Romanians living in Italy and elsewhere outside Romania. They have a spiritual Christian identity that goes far beyond the religious dimension; it is linked to their religious and national identity, and safeguarding that in a foreign society. Italy and Spain have given us some very positive examples, and all these efforts are very much appreciated by my country.
I welcome the conclusions of the report, which are more finely balanced than this debate would so far suggest, and that is why I will support the resolution. Those conclusions are based on the European Convention on Human Rights, the judgments of the Court – case law – and the convictions held by millions of Romanians living abroad.
(Sir Roger Gale, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair in place of Mr Rouquet.)
Mr OLIVER (Canada, Observer) – Thank you for allowing me to participate in this important debate on protecting the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities. I thought I would comment on Canada’s compliance with the draft resolution.
Protecting religious freedom is a cornerstone of the human rights framework, and in Canada we strive to embrace the diversity of religions present in our country. Freedom of religion is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Paragraph 5.2 of the draft resolution calls for the “reasonable accommodation of…moral or religious beliefs”. This is in line with Canada’s approach to protecting religious freedom. In Canada, reasonable accommodation is embodied in section 1 of the charter, which mandates that all rights are subject to reasonable limits, prescribed by law, as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
The notion of “reasonable accommodation” is a judicial creation. In judicial claims concerning discrimination on religious grounds, the burden of proof shifts to the State, employer, landlord or service provider, who has to prove that the potentially discriminatory rule is necessary, and that accommodating the grievance-holder creates an undue hardship for the rule-maker.
In Canada, the concept of “reasonable accommodation” highlights the importance of the successful integration of cultures, rather than assimilation into a dominant culture. It highlights accepting and tolerating different spiritual beliefs, rather than the cultural domination of another’s beliefs by the majority.
Perhaps the most complex application of religious freedom is the balancing of the rights of parents with the rights of their children. As proposed in the draft resolution, the lens of “reasonable accommodation” must also be applied to actions that are detrimental to the rights of others. For example, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognised a limit on parents’ freedom to make religiously motivated health care decisions for their children if those decisions infringe the child’s right to life and to health.
On a more negative note, I believe that Canada would fail to meet the requirement set out in paragraph 5.3 of the draft resolution. The dominant Christian majority in Canada continues to manifest itself by holding advantage in Canadian public policy. Public funding for religious-based separate schools, limited to either Roman Catholic or Protestant, is mandated by section 93 of the Canadian Constitution and reaffirmed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That is despite the United Nations declaring in 1999 that Ontario, my province, was in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by exclusively funding Catholic schools over other faith-based schools. A recent poll in Ontario showed that 71% of people were opposed to expanding faith-based funding to non-Catholic religions. That exclusively Christian-based public funding arrangement remains in place today.
I believe that Canada would also fare poorly with regard to paragraph 5.4. Two years ago the province of Ontario introduced sex education as part of the mandatory education programme in the Catholic and public systems. The curriculum included education about factors that might affect the development of a child’s understanding of themselves. It addressed how stereotypes, such as homophobia, and assumptions about gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture and physical ability can affect how a person feels about themselves, their feeling of belonging and their relationships with others. A poll showed that as many as one in six Ontario parents were so unhappy with the province’s new sex education curriculum that they were actively considering pulling their children from class.
In the end, the government allowed parents to withdraw their children from those important education classes voluntarily. Personally, I think that was a regrettable decision. It is commendable that the committee bravely voted against an amendment to paragraph 5.4 that would have broadened parents’ rights to obtain exemptions not just from State religious education, but from non-religious education programmes. Given the strong ties between Canada and Europe, I hope that my discussion of the Canadian experience regarding religious freedom as it relates to the draft resolution has been helpful.
Mr KRONBICHLER (Italy)* – Mr Ghiletchi, I am grateful to you for raising the question of religion here in the Parliamentary Assembly, which claims to be a powerful advocate of human rights in general and religious rights. The relationship between religious faith and the State merits debate, even if that debate leads to controversy. The situation is a work in progress; politics change, religions change, and the relationship between the two changes. I would therefore like to thank you for giving us the opportunity to discuss this.
However, that is where my appreciation ends. I will be voting against the draft resolution. I have already spoken against it in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, where we had a broad majority against all the proposed amendments, many of which would actually make the report worse. Ultimately, the report would lead us to endanger the secular State, which is essential, together with a social State based on the rule of law. We have always supported that, along with the concept of the State being laica, or secular. This is not something we should see only in the context of religion; we should not view it purely in clerical terms.
All too often the word laica is confused with laicista, meaning those who promote it. My French colleagues are very well placed to talk about this – France has always actively pursued a secular State. That does not mean that in such a State religion is automatically relegated to the private sphere. I am a member of Italy’s German-speaking linguistic minority, and I am often forced to admit that the German language does not have a good word for laica. There is often confusion between laica and laicista, meaning those who promote the secular State.
In Europe we have a series of secular States without necessarily actively promoting secularism. In those States there is nothing to be feared by any religion or any religious minorities. Indeed, genuinely secular States do not have religious minorities, because they treat all religions exactly the same – if they do not, they cannot be described as secular states. In recent times Italy has had both religious and non-religious presidents, and in most cases it has been the more secular presidents who have done most to defend faith.
Mr MALTAIS (Canada, Observer)* – I thank the rapporteur for the report. This is a very sensitive issue for all members of this Assembly. The State has to be secular, but religion belongs to each and every citizen. The State must guarantee respect for its citizens’ religions and beliefs. That cohabitation is by no means easy, but it can be done, because we live in States that are governed by the rule of law and in which everyone has equal rights.
However, the rights that we have not really talked about today are the rights of the child. The rapporteur described what might be done in schools in countries where there is religious education, regardless of whether you are Catholic, Protestant or of whatever faith. Children have to be educated so that they can make a choice about their religious belonging. If the State is to intervene at all, it must be to afford the child that opportunity to choose a religion and then to practise it. Of course parents are entitled to educate their children and bring them up according to their religious beliefs, but is that really what the child wants? That is a different matter altogether. That is why we must have constitutional protections for children. Under the Canadian Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, children are afforded that protection.
We also must not have a situation in which religious groups do not comply with the laws of the country. For example, in Canada we prohibit forced marriages, because certain religious groups – we obviously view this as archaic – put a great deal of pressure on their children to enter into arranged marriages. Is that something the children wish to do? No it is not. Even if children have had a religious upbringing, a girl of 16 or 17 must not be considered a commodity; she is a human being, with all the rights and privileges she is afforded by society.
Of course we should be tolerant and open, but at the same time the State is duty-bound to give all children the opportunity to decide on their own religious beliefs and convictions. I have a great deal of respect for parents, but I have even more respect for children, who will build our societies of the future. We must do nothing to prevent them from developing.
The PRESIDENT – That concludes the list of speakers. It is now your right to reply to the debate, Mr Ghiletchi, and you have six and a half minutes remaining.
Mr GHILETCHI (Republic of Moldova) – I thank those colleagues who said that they would support the report, draft resolution and draft recommendation, but also thank those who criticised the report and announced that they would not support it. I believe that, as Mr Corlăţean said, there are some misconceptions and prejudices towards the report. I would like to clarify those, and hope that I will convince some of you.
The report stresses the State’s neutrality when it comes to religion. Paragraph 4 of the draft resolution is very clear, and I am not at all advocating that the State promote one religion or another. That is clear in the report, so it should be clear to all of us. Another misconception was that I am trying to defend certain minorities. Mr Tornare, I believe that there are minorities in our member States. As Ms Hoffmann said, it does not matter whether people are Catholics, Orthodox, Protestants or Muslims; in one country they may be in the majority, and in another they might be in the minority. We are talking about religious minorities per se, and I am not emphasising any one of those specifically or looking to protect a certain one.
When we talk about education, I am not arguing here that we must have religious education in public schools; however, we do have to accept that some of our member States have compulsory religious education in their public curriculum. If that is not relevant to France or other States, the article does not apply to them. I am advocating respect. Paragraph 5.4 clearly says that it applies only when there is a “conflict” – a deep conflict. As a member from Canada said, a child or parent must have the right to opt-out, but that is only in cases such as those. As Mr Corlăţean rightly pointed out, I am not against a pluralistic or critical education for children. In fact, that is part of the report. I did not say that children must not be taught in a pluralistic or critical way. That is not true, and is another misconception because some people did not see how I presented the report.
The right of parents to educate their children in accordance with their convictions or religious belief is part of the Convention. It is a fundamental right. That does not mean they have a licence to do anything they want with their child. Paragraph 3 of the draft resolution clearly says that we must respect case law and the Convention, so there are limits. I am not advocating an education without any limits. There are limits in legislation and our States must be ruled by law – I am not against that principle.
It is important to underline another misconception – that I am presenting a solution that may cause clashes. No. As some have said, I am for tolerance and equality. That is very important. We are all here because we represent different communities. The report promotes tolerance, equality and peaceful co-existence in every country. You will not find a line in it where I advocate on behalf of a certain group. Somebody accused me of wanting to introduce home schooling. That is not true – I am not advocating home schooling. I do believe that States having home schooling is a good thing, but it is not part of the report.
Mr Reiss, from France, said that he has difficulty with the concept of “reasonable accommodation”; however, we heard a good example from Canada, and it is part of our resolutions and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights. I did not invent it; it is already in our resolutions and in case law. It is within the limits and it respects the rights of others rather than being detrimental to them. Everything is balanced in this report.
Mr Gunnarsson is not here – I regret that the socialists decided not to support this – but he was in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination and, as the chairperson can confirm, I accepted most of the amendments in order to have a consensus and a compromise for the report.
Lastly – this might be a bit emotional – I grew up in a time when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union and know what it means to be part of a religious community. I know what it meant for me to be in school at that time. For me, as a child growing and learning about Europe and the West, it was a feeling of, “This is freedom! This is what I want for my country! This is what I want for my children and my grandchildren.” Then I hear some colleagues here say, “No, we are not going to support this.” This is equality. This is freedom. This is peaceful co-existence. I want you to understand that all I want from this report is that we respect these fundamental rights. I do not want to impose anything, but want there to be respect and acceptance that parents have the right to bring up their children who, when they are older, will decide whether to be a Christian, Muslim or atheist – that is their fundamental right.
I urge colleagues, even if you have decided not to, to vote for this report. Let us send a good message to our member States that we want equality and do not want discrimination on the grounds of religious conviction, so that everyone in Europe feels welcome and accepted regardless of what they believe. Once again, I thank you for your support.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Ghiletchi. Does the Chairperson of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination wish to speak? Ms Centemero, you have two minutes.
Ms CENTEMERO (Italy) – Our continent is a wonderful cultural mosaic. It is a place of diversity and pluralism thanks not only to the various cultural traditions but to the different religions that have co-existed in Europe for centuries. In some European countries the majority of the population are Christian; in others, the majority are Muslim. Judaism is represented by large communities and is part of Europe’s identity. A variety of other religions – ancient or recent – that originated in our lands or were imported from elsewhere, complete the picture.
Mr Ghiletchi reminded us that religion is an important part of the lives of many Europeans. He also underlined the fact that religious beliefs belonging to the majority of the population in one member State may belong to the minority in another. As members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, we are all well aware of the need to protect every person’s human rights, irrespective of their sex, nationality, ethnicity or religious group. Religious beliefs are typically transmitted from one generation to the next within the family. Those who belong to a minority are often more vulnerable to violations of their rights. Today, our Assembly has the opportunity to reaffirm that religious rights are human rights. The draft text that we will vote on also reiterates that public authorities must seek a “reasonable accommodation” of the needs of people belonging to different religious communities. Thank you.
The PRESIDENT – The Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has presented a draft resolution, to which five amendments were tabled, and a draft recommendation, to which one amendment was tabled. I understand that the amendments are to be withdrawn. It is open to any other member to move them. Does anybody want to do so? That is not the case, so the amendments are withdrawn.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 14260. A simple majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14260 is adopted, with 38 votes for, 19 against and nine abstentions.
We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft recommendation contained in Document 14260. A simple majority is required.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 14260 is adopted, with 44 votes for, 19 against and seven abstentions.
3. Possible ways to improve the funding of emergency refugee situations
The PRESIDENT – The second item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report, “Possible ways to improve the funding of emergency refugee situations”, Document 14283, presented by Mr Preda on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. I remind members that speaking time in this debate is limited to four minutes.
I call Mr Preda to present the report. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between your presentation of the report and your reply to the debate.
Mr PREDA (Romania)* – This report takes a detailed look at the financing of emergency support for refugees and tries to outline the financial management challenges following the current crisis, with a view to organising our response better in future. It sets out the main sources of financing and shows that often the countries most affected by the arrival of massive numbers of refugees are the worst equipped to face the costs, yet pay the bulk of the cost of emergency humanitarian aid. This demonstrates the need to share the costs between European countries, for which the Assembly has often called.
The report gives a general outline of financing structures, particularly within the United Nations system, and focuses on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the European Union. As far as the UNHCR is concerned, the increase in the percentage of budget deficits, when measured against estimated need, has in recent years led to a great deal of concern, and to a wave of reforms since the World Humanitarian Summit. A new road map setting out the best way forward was adopted with a so-called grand compromise. The 15 main donors from the United Nations and the 15 main aid providers will strive to reduce the deficit in humanitarian funding, establishing a road map to improve the global response to the problem of funding emergency humanitarian aid. Its 10 principal commitments include an increase in predictable and flexible funding, and an improvement in the provision of humanitarian aid. The aim is to save $1 billion over the next five years through improved efficiency, and to devote it to direct humanitarian aid.
In the European Union, a great deal of red tape and slow decision making create real obstacles to the rapid implementation of humanitarian aid programmes in refugee emergencies. Although border security and intra-European security are major concerns, the pressure that member States put on the European Union to enhance security in Europe represents a real barrier to humanitarian protection and human rights.
The Council of Europe Development Bank is the oldest European multilateral development bank, created back in 1956 with a view to helping to solve the problems arising from the resettlement of refugees after the Second World War. Despite the broadening of the scope of the bank’s loaning activities and changes to its make-up and resources – it offers support for all kinds of social products in emergencies in Europe – assistance to migrants, refugees and countries is still very much in line with its original remit. Although the loans granted by the bank represent a fairly low amount of money when compared with United Nations and European Union funding, these loans are a flexible and effective way of implementing small-scale social projects that benefit migrants.
The draft resolution calls for humanitarian concerns to be the guiding principle and an absolute priority for the funding of refugees’ emergency needs. It calls on the European Union to continue to diversify its funding in order to improve reception conditions, speed up asylum procedures and encourage the integration of migrants and refugees in the short and medium terms. At the same time, the European Union should enhance security on external borders and improve the returns system. The resolution also calls for greater financial support for member States that devote a large part of their budget to managing migration, in particular the frontline arrival countries, and such measures could include debt relief.
I want to highlight the United Nations programme set out in the “grand compromise” agreed at the world summit on humanitarian action held in May 2016. One of the programme’s strengths is the so-called "participation revolution" designed to include the beneficiaries of emergency aid in the decision-making process. We require improved transparency, harmonisation and simplification of requirements, and reduced redundancies and management costs. Other recommendations in the draft resolution include the rationalisation of data, more effective needs assessment, strengthening the use and co-ordination of cash transfer programs, the multiannual programming of humanitarian action based on collaborative mechanisms, and increased contact between stakeholders in the humanitarian and development sectors.
There is a growing crossover between what was traditionally seen as long-term development aid for migrants and emergency aid for refugees. The crisis has become quasi-permanent, and many refugees remain in emergency situations. I call for better management of the financing of emergency situations involving refugees, which must take the form of targeted and transparent expenditure aimed primarily at protecting refugees, and for improved sharing of financial responsibilities in Europe and between its neighbours, and we must also step up our efforts to speed up administrative procedures.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. You have six and a half minutes remaining.
Mr SCHWABE (Germany, Spokesperson for the Socialist Group)* – I thank Mr Preda for his important report. He touches on numerous issues, and we must be aware of the challenges before us in order to provide different solutions. The situation in the international humanitarian aid world is absurd, because the systems in place are so expensive. The administrative and management systems cost much more than what is actually distributed in the end. People are fleeing to other countries, and it is of course much more expensive to deal with people once they have left their home than to provide for them while they are at home. The overall system is completely absurd.
So many people are coming to Europe. About $13.50 a month is provided for refugees in the Middle East in Jordan or other countries that neighbour the countries of origin, but that figure is unrealistic here in Europe. We need co-operation and co-ordination, and that was emphasised by the Federal Republic at the Istanbul conference that took place last year. We need transparency. There are local actors and national actors, and working in situ at the local level makes much more sense than simply working at the international level within international forums. We have to strengthen local economies and stop the duplication of work, which would lead to savings. Refugees should also be able to participate in the decision-making process.
We need multiannual programmes to co-ordinate the use of our funds more effectively and stronger global financing. Single organisations should not be working alone. We need a concerted effort from larger organisations throughout the world. The financial issue is the key to dealing with refugees, and the reality is that the situation is horribly under-financed. Some $4.8 billion has been earmarked for 2017 by all the organisations, which is about half of the necessary amount to deal with the crisis in Syria. We must remember that people are dying daily. We are focused on Syria, but there are also problems in Nigeria, Yemen and elsewhere. NATO members spend 2% of their GDP on defence, and there is talk in the Federal Republic of spending an extra $20 billion on defence in order to meet that target, but that is totally inconceivable in the current climate. It is important that we raise our voices in the Council of Europe and the European Union so that more financing is provided to deal with the refugee crisis, particularly after what has been said by the American President.
Earl of DUNDEE (United Kingdom) – I join others in congratulating Mr Cesar Florin Preda on his excellent report, which offers a clear and useful prescription. It begins with an analysis of the current strengths and weaknesses and calls for a change in political attitudes and improved transparency and co-ordination. There has certainly been an impressive response from donor countries both inside and outside Europe. Institutions such as the United Nations and European Union, as well as many NGOs and charities, have also performed well, showing the strengths of the collective endeavour. At the same time, however, there are many inadequacies.
Procedures adopted by the UNHCR may differ from those of the European Union, but the two large organisations share the same defects in deployment, including too much delay between decision making and action and the difference between sums allocated and what is actually spent on the ground – thus, the UNHCR is urged to make wider plans, so that it can react better to immediate needs, about how and from where it raises funds. Equally, the European Union’s seven-year programmes have proved to be counter-productive, because constant alterations during that long lead time cause delays in decision making and delivery. The rapporteur describes a European Council project, launched in March 2016, to assist humanitarian relocation in Greece. By January 2017, however, only 13 968 of the agreed 22 504 resettlements had been carried out.
Regarding political attitudes and shifting priorities, Mr Preda correctly exposes some anomalies. While attributed to other reasons, the rejection of the European Union’s relocation quota by some countries simply reflects their political reluctance to take more migrants. Controlling borders represents a further political inconsistency and, if exacerbated, that concern can easily undermine the provision of humanitarian assistance.
For raised levels of transparency and co-ordination, the rapporteur highlights the road map provided by the “Grand Bargain” struck during the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016. Its sound recommendations, if adhered to, would greatly improve results. As summarised, they advocate increased use of cash-based programming; data streamlining; more involvement by recipients in decision-making; reduced earmarking of donor contributions, in order to respond more flexibly to emergencies; harmonised and simplified reporting requirements by the end of 2018; and enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development sectors.
As it is, the UK Government has resolved to resettle 20 000 refugees in the United Kingdom by 2020, under its Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Programme. It has also committed itself to resettling up to 3 000 vulnerable children currently in the Middle East and North Africa, and 350 unaccompanied children already in Europe – including Syrian nationals.
Yet in particular it is from the pragmatic recommendations of the May 2016 Summit that we may take heart – as donors together to form a more efficient team, and within our Council of Europe affiliation and between those who give and receive, to build up proper trust and respect.
Ms PALLARES (Andorra, Spokesperson for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe)* – I thank the rapporteur and the secretariat for all the work that has gone into the report. All of the economic data we have and all the different concepts that are involved must have made this a rather complicated job of work and I congratulate everyone involved.
We need to look at how we can improve the sources of funding that are being used and at accountability on all sides. The refugee crisis has escaped our control and we are now seeing the institutionalisation of a crisis that, for many reasons, is not likely to end any time soon. It is no longer something that can be viewed as a one-off state of emergency. Rather it is becoming permanent. The crisis is here to stay and these humanitarian needs cost money – a great deal of money. That is why we will have to be more efficient.
We need to set priorities and to look at where the funding will come from. We need to evaluate exactly what contributions are being made, to what and for what purpose. That is why the report is important – it asks the basic questions to ascertain exactly how we can improve the channels of funding in order to be more effective and to use the money that is already in circulation more decisively, and what changes we need to make to our national policies in order to be able to continue to provide the humanitarian assistance that is so badly needed.
ALDE believes that it is not sufficient simply to support this resolution here today. We will have to continue to evaluate the proposals that have been made and to debate them, especially on the basis of certain criteria that have been established for the designating of aid. We of course have border security, which is necessary, but it may need to be dealt with differently for accounting purposes. There are many inefficiencies because of all the red tape and complicated bureaucratic and administrative procedures, which need to be carefully reviewed. We need to harmonise and simplify criteria to avoid duplication.
Our asylum procedures need to be more agile. There are several political and structural challenges that we have to face up to. That is why decisive action is needed. We need to put in place the necessary guarantees to make sure that the resources arrive everywhere they are needed in the most effective way possible. Just earlier this morning, for example, a Jordanian parliamentarian was telling me about the situation in the refugee camps in her country and asking, “Where is all this aid that we were promised?” It is simply not on. We need to make more effort and make sure that we collaborate and share the responsibility so that all the money we are investing saves lives. We know we do not have all the data – it is incomplete – and that is understandable, because we do not have any information about private aid and other forms of collaboration, for example. We have a lot of voluntary contributions. It is time that we acted accordingly on the basis of the very telling data.
Mr OVERBEEK (Netherlands, Spokesperson for the Group of the Unified European Left) – All around the world, more people are displaced than ever before in history. In the past few years, Europe has experienced sudden influxes of migrants and refugees which have challenged the capacity of European States to deal with these crises in ways unprecedented since the aftermath of World War Two.
This excellent report, on which we congratulate the rapporteur, deals in particular with the question of inadequate funding for managing these crisis situations where there is a sudden large increase in the influx of people requesting asylum. The report discusses two institutional arrangements in particular that are dealing with these crises, namely the United Nations system and the European Union system.
As the report shows, both systems have experienced severe funding shortfalls, aggravating the fact that the bulk of spending on humanitarian assistance to refugees is borne by local, often poor, host governments: the report estimates over 60%. International aid accounts for less than 5% of total spending. The UNHCR faces a shortfall in funding of 45%. In the European Union, the problem is more that funding is slow in coming, and member State governments are slow, or even completely deficient, in meeting their obligations in terms of burden-sharing and resettlement as much as in terms of financial contributions.
The recommendations of the resolution are modest: they call for greater efficiency in procedures and processes, and call on governments to fulfil their international obligations. The report unfortunately lacks serious reference to more fundamental issues. There is for instance no mention in the report of the need to reaffirm international commitment to the Geneva Convention, which underpins the existing asylum and refugee protection systems. There is also hardly any discussion of the interaction between refugee migration and other migration pressures, and how, in the absence of legal migration opportunities for most labour migration, these broader migration pressures impact on the asylum system and, in particular, how the asylum system – both the physical reception as well as the legal system for processing asylum applications – is structurally overburdened for these reasons.
Furthermore, the resolution shows all the signs of being a compromise text, trying to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. For instance, in paragraph 7.3 the resolution calls for improvements to reception conditions, accelerated asylum procedures, and better integration policies, while in the same sentence also calling for reinforced security, stronger border controls and better return systems. These recommendations reflect two fundamentally different approaches to the challenges facing us. In UEL’s view, the answer should not be further securitisation, but instead we must concentrate on strengthening the institutions and procedures that can guarantee humane treatment of refugees and migrants. Within Europe, this role falls primarily to the European Union; beyond the borders of Europe, where refugees and migrants cannot appeal to the legal protection they would enjoy once on European territory, it is of the utmost importance that the appalling funding shortfall of the UNHCR is structurally addressed.
All in all, there is much that is either not or only summarily addressed in this report. Nevertheless, if the recommendations in the resolution were fully implemented, the situation on the ground for people seeking refuge from war and disaster would substantially improve. For this reason, UEL will support the resolution.
Mr MUNYAMA (Poland, Spokesperson for the Group of the European People’s Party) – Dear colleagues, on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party, I thank the rapporteur Mr Preda for his presentation of the report. The EPP Group believes in the right of every human being to peace and harmony – to live, therefore, in a war-free country. That is a fundamental human right and a foundation of civilisation. Humanitarian aid brings light into dark places and is the essence of our civilisation. The multiplicity of conflicts in the world is becoming a problem, not only because of the funding issues but because of the need to manage the help for those in need. We are all aware of the fact that global humanitarian aid expenditure grew from about $20 billion in 2013 to more than $28 billion in 2015. The spending increase relates to the simplification of spending procedures so that aid can reach the needy as quickly as possible.
Given that an organisation as large as the United Nations has one commissioner responsible for spending humanitarian aid, it may be worth pondering the creation of a single aid fund within the structure of the Council of Europe instead of funds being separated into several smaller units. That would save the time taken in making decisions and reduce bureaucracy. It is also worth defining a financing strategy for countries that already provide assistance to refugees; their national budgets are pretty much overrun. These countries are at the forefront of the migration crisis. They accept refugees and immigrants on their territories, so it seems natural to give them exceptional support, especially those countries, such as Jordan, that are closest to the conflicts. It is a good idea to reduce part of their debt in return for involvement in humanitarian aid, as has been proposed for Greece and Italy.
Given the situation, we would consider setting up an institution within the Council of Europe with two basic tasks: first, fundraising from individual donors, non-governmental organisations and national States; and, secondly, to conduct a global situational analysis and create future response scenarios. In that way, we can solve some of the emerging problems. Ensuring the security of the citizens of the Council of Europe is a challenge today for the Council of Europe itself and individual member States. There is a clear need for stronger leadership based on the values that stand at the foundations of the European Union, such as freedom, democracy and solidarity. It should be borne in mind that each value is associated with the others; the common denominator is security. To use the terminology of Professor Carol Dweck, we can either be an organisation that knows everything or one that learns everything and therefore solves problems collectively. We can argue and discuss strategies, but the goal is shared. The security of our citizens is the goal.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Munyama. That concludes the list of speakers on behalf of the political groups. Mr Preda will have six and a half minutes to reply at the end of the debate. We now move to the list of speakers. Ms Hopkins, Ms le Dain, Mr Bereza and Mr Kandemir are not here, so I call Ms Sandbæk to speak.
Ms SANDBÆK (Denmark) – I congratulate Mr Preda on his report, which includes a number of very positive recommendations for the better management of emergency funding for refugees. As he rightly points out, “The Grand Bargain – a Shared Commitment to Better Serve People in Need” is an excellent measure to overcome some of the issues of accountability and implementation when it comes to donors’ funding. In fact, all the recommendations in paragraph 7.4 and 7.4.1. to 7.4.7. of the draft resolution are very useful suggestions for improving emergency refugee funding.
The only thing I strongly disagree with is the proposal to improve funding to reinforce security, border controls and return systems. We cannot continue to make it a priority to prevent refugees from arriving on our territory and keep them contained in the global south. There should be a collective and political responsibility to reject policies and practices of containment. Instead, we should prioritise funding to improve the living conditions of refugees between the initial displacement from their countries of origin and the search for a new home; the vast majority of displaced people will keep spending most of their lives in critical and protracted situations.
European countries should have obligations relating to the management of migration flows both towards asylum seekers and towards refugees outside their own territory. States are required to act according to the strongest moral and legal norms regarding people seeking asylum: the principle of non-refoulement. However, there is still no moral or legal obligation to fund aid or to resettle refugees who are on their way to destination countries or are staying in refugee camps or informal settlements. In other words, aid provided by States to refugees abroad is still considered a matter of generosity and good will rather than the fulfilment of a moral or legal norm, whereas burden-sharing to improve the management of migration flows should be a duty and not merely an act of generosity.
Just as with other international public goods, substantial freeloading might be expected when it comes to refugee protection. States are unlikely to engage in altruistic or ethically oriented behaviour; they will act only to maximise their own interests. To overcome freeloading, it is necessary to encourage States to co-operate through the use of incentives. Some two thirds of refugees live in protracted refugee situations – for an average of 17 years, often much longer. Of those, about 40% live in United Nations-run camps. They are forbidden to work and have no freedom to move or seek work elsewhere, so they remain entirely dependent on international aid for survival during this long period. To avoid that, it is very important to improve the funding for emergency refugee situations – not least enhanced engagement between humanitarian and development actors, as stated in the report.
Mr Don DAVIES (Canada, Observer) – I am honoured to speak today on the topic of emergency refugee funding. I would like to commend the Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons for his report on the unique challenges that we face today. As stated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, human mobility has never been so high, with 224 million international migrants. It is no exaggeration to say we face a crisis of unprecedented proportions. But of course this is not an issue of numbers only; more important, there is a human life behind every one of those statistics. I believe that it is every single nation’s responsibility to do its part to help to improve the situation.
Each year, my own country, Canada, provides asylum to more than 10 000 persecuted persons and welcomes more than 12 000 refugees from abroad. However, for a number of reasons, geography among them, Canada has not been confronted with a surge in irregular migration, despite the global trends. We recognise the special challenges faced by countries that are adjacent to or near conflict zones. We also acknowledge the need for all to help to share responsibility to shelter, protect and process those who enter their territory.
To help those displaced by war, in the autumn of 2015 the Canadian Government made a special commitment to resettle 25 000 Syrian refugees through a combination of government and private sponsorships. As of February 2017, more than 40 000 refugees have been resettled under that initiative, more than half with government support.
The Canadian Government also committed to provide humanitarian assistance funding to help to meet the food, shelter, health, protection and emergency education needs of migrants affected by international crises such as Syria and Iraq. For example, in November 2015, the federal government established the Syria emergency relief fund. For every eligible dollar donated by individual Canadians to registered Canadian charities, the government matched those contributions by providing support to international and Canadian humanitarian organisations. That initiative raised CAN$31 million from individual Canadians in five months and the government went beyond the matching fund with an additional CAN$68 million.
Canada’s system of facilitating both governmental and private sponsorship of refugees has proved to be both a social and financial success. Individuals, families, churches and NGOs have become enthusiastic partners who invest their energy and resources to settle refugees. Inviting citizens to open their hearts and wallets, their homes and places of worship not only has greatly facilitated refugee settlement but has helped to foster a social and political atmosphere of compassion and involvement.
I want to suggest one more idea. Refugees are not created by accident. In many cases, they are a predictable consequence of the actions of those who use armed force to address political issues. It is my belief that every single nation that contributes in any way to violent conflict – directly by military action or indirectly by providing arms, training or logistical support – ought to be morally and financially responsible for resettling the refugees that their violent action produces.
Canada supports the grand bargain reached in Turkey in May 2016, the aim of which is similar to that of the committee report presented to this Assembly. I look forward to working together to identify ways to improve funding for emergency refugee situations and to prevent their occurrence in the first place.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. Ms Alheisah and Mr Alqaisi are not here, so I call Mr Tilson.
Mr TILSON (Canada, Observer) – I would like to speak about funding for emergency refugee situations. I do that as the Vice-Chairman of the Citizenship and Immigration Committee in Canada. As mentioned by the Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons in his report, “Possible ways to improve the funding of emergency refugee situations”, the unprecedented mass movement of asylum seekers and migrants to Europe has emerged as a new challenge for all of us. Canada shares Europe’s concerns, but also shares in the global responsibility to provide protection for refugees. For many years, Canada has contributed funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and partnered in the search for solutions through resettlement.
The Government of Canada operates a regular refugee resettlement programme, which selects refugees from around the world for permanent residence in Canada. Within that programme, some refugees are sponsored by the federal government – government-assisted refugees – while others, as my colleague Mr Davies has mentioned, are sponsored by groups of Canadians or Canadian institutions such as churches through the private sponsorship of refugees programme.
Sponsorship groups provide refugees with financial and emotional support for up to 12 months. They help new families to find housing, to navigate the school system and to get signed up for language training and other settlement services. Sponsors’ financial support covers the cost of housing, food and clothing. For a refugee family of four, the annual settlement cost can be approximately CAN$28 000. The churches and private sponsorship groups have been very generous throughout Canada. In 2006, only 3 300 individuals were resettled through the programme, whereas, in 2015, the number had tripled. With the federal government initiative to resettle Syrian refugees, 14 300 resettled refugees have come to Canada through the private sponsorship of refugees programme since 2015.
That resettlement initiative has involved a wide range of individuals, communities, civil society groups and businesses. By leveraging private resources, the private sponsorship of refugees programme was one of the ways the federal government allowed more refugees to benefit from Canada’s protection.
It is important to co-ordinate actions to ensure that we can anticipate and prevent the next crisis and that refugees, and the communities in which they settle, have the tools to succeed. Thank you for your attention.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you. It is always good to have our observers participating so vigorously.
Mr Preda, you have up to six and a half minutes to respond to the debate.
Mr PREDA (Romania)* – I thank the committee and secretariat for their excellent support. I also thank the governor of the Council of Europe Development Bank for the remarkable work he has done. I also thank all the colleagues who have spoken in the debate. Every single one of them has provided answers as to how we can better manage the emergency situation pertaining to refugees in Europe.
I will answer some of the points made by my colleagues in the debate. Mr Schwabe, Ms Pallarés and Mr Munyama raised a common issue, if I understood them correctly: how we manage the situation, what we can do and how we ensure that the money set aside is used efficiently.
Mr Schwabe, you are right to say that it might be better to spend more money on NATO or the army, but in national parliaments, honestly, I have never heard that idea of a special fund mentioned. What about creating a special fund and increasing the money we set aside? What about that side of it? Yes, by all means that is something we need to improve, and we can do that back in our national parliaments. Every one of us could take the necessary steps so that decisions advantageous for migrants are reached.
The Earl of Dundee spoke about how there is room for improvement. Yes, I concur with you, but at the same time we are sending out a signal to all the countries that have responsibility here – the ones that can come up with the money and the ones that are already donors. We are calling on them to increase their contribution. It is not possible for us to resolve the migration problem through non-governmental organisations alone. The International Committee of the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and so on are not enough. There is a clear commitment, and all countries should abide by their commitments.
Mr Overbeek, it is true that the recommendations in the report are modest, but that is all we can do for now. It is not within our remit to manage the money made available for this particular area of overall action, managing migration.
My final comment is addressed to Mr Tilson – I thank you for your contribution to the debate. Mr Tilson has a lot of experience and has had direct responsibilities in such matters. In fact, I have had an opportunity to see how Canada has managed migration. It is a blueprint for us all and an example to follow.
The PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Preda. I call the chairperson of the committee, Ms Gafarova. You have two minutes.
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – The unprecedented refugee and migration crisis that Europe has experienced over the past few years has of course been at the centre of the work of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.
Among the different aspects of the crisis is the question of funding for unavoidable emergency situations. Thanks to our committee’s close co-operation with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we were made aware of the ongoing reflections about the funding of refugee emergency situations in general.
Here in Europe, we sometimes imagine that the refugee crisis is exceptional. We tend to forget that there are more than 21 million refugees worldwide, and only 6% of them have come to Europe. Unfortunately, emergency situations happen often and will certainly continue to occur in future given that the number of factors that can trigger population displacement is increasing quickly, in particular with regard to armed conflict, political persecution and environmental disaster.
Members of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons were unanimous in believing that there is a need for a reliable mechanism to trigger international funding without unjustified delay whenever a refugee emergency takes place. Often the first days of mass displacement are crucial in the protection of victims.
I therefore call on the Assembly to support the unanimously adopted resolution submitted by the committee with a view to ensuring the protection of victims forced to flee their countries through appropriate funding. The solutions proposed in Mr Preda’s report and the resolution address those questions and try to identify ways in which to improve the situation. I also thank the rapporteur, Mr Preda, for his valuable work in the preparation of the report and the draft text that we will be voting on.
The PRESIDENT – The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has presented a draft resolution to which two amendments have been tabled. They will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium and the Organisation of Debates.
I understand that the chairperson of the committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendments 1 and 2, which were unanimously approved by the committee, be declared as agreed by the Assembly.
Is that so, Ms Gafarova?
Ms GAFAROVA (Azerbaijan) – Yes.
The PRESIDENT – Does anyone object to the amendments?
As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 1 and 2 are adopted.
We will now vote on the draft resolution, as amended.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 14283, as amended, is adopted, with 35 votes for, 0 against and 2 absentions.
4. Next public business
The PRESIDENT – The Assembly will hold its next sitting tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved on Monday.
The sitting is closed.
(The sitting was closed at 5.55 p.m.)
1. Announcement of 2017 Europe Prize
2. The protection of the rights of parents and children belonging to religious minorities
Presentation by Mr Ghiletchi of the report of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination, Document 14260
Speakers: Ms Hoffmann, Ms Bonet, Ms Gambaro, Ms Johnsson Fornarve, Mr Schneider, Ms Le Dain, Mr Reiss, Mr Tornare, Ms Christoffersen, Mr Divina, Mr Corlăţean, Mr Oliver, Mr Kronbichler, Mr Maltais.
Draft resolution in Document 14260 adopted.
Draft recommendation in Document 14260 adopted.
3. Possible ways to improve the funding of emergency refugee situations
Presentation by Mr Preda of the report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Document 14283.
Speakers: Mr Schwabe, Earl of Dundee, Ms Pallarés, Mr Overbeek, Mr Munyama, Ms Sandbæk, Mr Don Davies, Mr Tilson.
Draft resolution in Document 14283, as amended, adopted.
Draft recommendation in Document 14283, as amended, adopted.
4. Next public business
Appendix / Annexe
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the register of attendance in accordance with Rule 12.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of members substituted follow (in brackets) the names of participating members.
Liste des représentants ou suppléants ayant signé le registre de présence, conformément à l’article 12.2 du Règlement. Le nom des personnes remplacées suit celui des Membres remplaçant, entre parenthèses.
ÅBERG, Boriana [Ms]
ÆVARSDÓTTIR, Thorhildur Sunna [Ms]
ARIEV, Volodymyr [Mr]
ARNAUT, Damir [Mr]
BAYKAL, Deniz [Mr]
BEREZA, Boryslav [Mr]
BERNACKI, Włodzimierz [Mr]
BİLGEHAN, Gülsün [Mme]
BILLSTRÖM, Tobias [Mr]
BRASSEUR, Anne [Mme]
BRUYN, Piet De [Mr]
BUTKEVIČIUS, Algirdas [Mr]
CENTEMERO, Elena [Ms]
CEPEDA, José [Mr]
CHRISTOFFERSEN, Lise [Ms]
CILEVIČS, Boriss [Mr] (LĪBIŅA-EGNERE, Inese [Ms])
CORLĂŢEAN, Titus [Mr]
CRUCHTEN, Yves [M.]
DIVINA, Sergio [Mr]
DUNDEE, Alexander [The Earl of] [ ]
EBERLE-STRUB, Susanne [Ms]
ESTRELA, Edite [Mme] (ROSETA, Helena [Mme])
FATALIYEVA, Sevinj [Ms] (HAJIYEV, Sabir [Mr])
FISCHER, Axel [Mr]
FRESKO-ROLFO, Béatrice [Mme]
FRIDEZ, Pierre-Alain [M.]
GAFAROVA, Sahiba [Ms]
GALATI, Giuseppe [Mr] (SANTANGELO, Vincenzo [Mr])
GALE, Roger [Sir]
GAMBARO, Adele [Ms]
GATTI, Marco [M.]
GERMANN, Hannes [Mr] (HEER, Alfred [Mr])
GHILETCHI, Valeriu [Mr]
GIRO, Francesco Maria [Mr]
GONÇALVES, Carlos Alberto [M.]
GOSSELIN-FLEURY, Geneviève [Mme] (KARAMANLI, Marietta [Mme])
GUTIÉRREZ, Antonio [Mr]
HAGEBAKKEN, Tore [Mr] (WOLD, Morten [Mr])
HOFFMANN, Rózsa [Mme] (VEJKEY, Imre [Mr])
HOPKINS, Maura [Ms]
HUSEYNOV, Vusal [Mr] (PASHAYEVA, Ganira [Ms])
JENSSEN, Frank J. [Mr]
JOHNSSON FORNARVE, Lotta [Ms] (KARLSSON, Niklas [Mr])
KALMARI, Anne [Ms]
KARAPETYAN, Naira [Ms] (ZOHRABYAN, Naira [Mme])
KIRAL, Serhii [Mr] (LABAZIUK, Serhiy [Mr])
KRONBICHLER, Florian [Mr]
KÜRKÇÜ, Ertuğrul [Mr]
KYRIAKIDES, Stella [Ms]
LE DAIN, Anne-Yvonne [Mme] (ALLAIN, Brigitte [Mme])
LEITE RAMOS, Luís [M.]
LEŚNIAK, Józef [M.] (POMASKA, Agnieszka [Ms])
LOGVYNSKYI, Georgii [Mr]
MAHOUX, Philippe [M.]
MAMMADOV, Muslum [M.]
MARTINS, Alberto [M.]
MASIULIS, Kęstutis [Mr] (ŠAKALIENĖ, Dovilė [Ms])
MAURY PASQUIER, Liliane [Mme]
MULARCZYK, Arkadiusz [Mr]
MUNYAMA, Killion [Mr] (HALICKI, Andrzej [Mr])
NENUTIL, Miroslav [Mr]
NICOLETTI, Michele [Mr]
OBREMSKI, Jarosław [Mr] (BUDNER, Margareta [Ms])
OHLSSON, Carina [Ms]
OVERBEEK, Henk [Mr] (MAIJ, Marit [Ms])
PALLARÉS, Judith [Ms]
POSTOICO, Maria [Mme] (VORONIN, Vladimir [M.])
POZZO DI BORGO, Yves [M.] (GROSDIDIER, François [M.])
PREDA, Cezar Florin [M.]
PRUNĂ, Cristina-Mădălina [Ms]
REISS, Frédéric [M.] (ZIMMERMANN, Marie-Jo [Mme])
ROCA, Jordi [Mr] (BARREIRO, José Manuel [Mr])
ROUQUET, René [M.]
SANDBÆK, Ulla [Ms] (BORK, Tilde [Ms])
SCHENNACH, Stefan [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]
SIEBERT, Bernd [Mr]
SILVA, Adão [M.]
SOBOLEV, Serhiy [Mr]
THIÉRY, Damien [M.]
TORNARE, Manuel [M.] (FIALA, Doris [Mme])
TRUSKOLASKI, Krzysztof [Mr]
VÁHALOVÁ, Dana [Ms]
VALEN, Snorre Serigstad [Mr]
VAREIKIS, Egidijus [Mr]
VEN, Mart van de [Mr]
VOVK, Viktor [Mr] (LIASHKO, Oleh [Mr])
WENAWESER, Christoph [Mr]
WIECHEL, Markus [Mr] (NISSINEN, Johan [Mr])
WILK, Jacek [Mr]
WOJTYŁA, Andrzej [Mr]
WURM, Gisela [Ms]
YEMETS, Leonid [Mr]
ZAVOLI, Roger [Mr] (D’AMBROSIO, Vanessa [Ms])
ZINGERIS, Emanuelis [Mr]
Also signed the register / Ont également signé le registre
Representatives or Substitutes not authorised to vote / Représentants ou suppléants non autorisés à voter
BONET, Sílvia Eloïsa [Ms]
BRUIJN-WEZEMAN, Reina de [Ms]
CORREIA, Telmo [M.]
MOŻDŹANOWSKA, Andżelika [Ms]
Observers / Observateurs
DAVIES, Don [Mr]
DOWNE, Percy [Mr]
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
AMRAOUI, Allal [M.]
HAMIDINE, Abdelali [M.]
Representatives of the Turkish Cypriot Community (In accordance to Resolution 1376 (2004) of
the Parliamentary Assembly)/ Représentants de la communauté chypriote turque
(Conformément à la Résolution 1376 (2004) de l’Assemblée parlementaire)