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Opening of sitting No. 27

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:05:43

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Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues. It's Friday morning, the last day of our June Part Session. The sitting is open and the first item of business this morning is the debate on the report titled "Situation in Syria: Prospects for a Political Solution", presented by Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR on behalf of Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, Rapporteur of the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy and, of course, I call Ms BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR, Rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between the presentation of the report and the reply to the debate. Please, the floor is yours.

Debate: Situation in Syria: prospects for a political solution?

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR

Iceland, UEL, Rapporteur 

10:06:51

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Thank you Chair.

Dear colleagues. We know that the war in Syria has been the source of many issues that we have been debating on here in this Assembly for the recent year. We have witnessed, extremely, many people fleeing the situation in Syria and that has also been the case that we've been dealing with especially when it comes to migration issues here in the Assembly. Today we are debating on this report, The Situation in Syria: prospects for a political solution?

The report by Ms Theodora BAKOYANNIS, which was adopted in March this year, remains a subject of urgency for all Council of Europe Member states. Finding a swift political solution to the conflict must be Europe's priority and our Assembly should have a say on a peaceful transition and strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria.

The title of the report though, referring to "prospects for a political solution" seems overly optimistic today. Since its adoption last March, according to UN sources, there has been an intensification of hostilities in north-western Syria, particularly in Idlib, which is considered one of the four "de-escalation" areas agreed by the Astana guarantors (Iran, Russia and Turkey) in 2017. That has included Syrian and Russian air-strikes and a ground offensive. Idlib is home to 3 million of the most vulnerable people, including 1 million children for whom the situation is desperate.

Turkey has also been increasing operations in north-eastern Syria, an area held by the Kurdish YPG militia.

Tragically, the situation in the UN Security Council has been blocked, and the humanitarian impact of the escalation of hostilities has not even resulted in a meaningful statement. Only 11 Council members, all except China, Indonesia, Russia and South Africa, decided to read out a statement condemning the loss of civilian life and expressing alarm at the targeting of population centres and civilian infrastructures, including hospitals and schools. The text urged the concerned parties to recommit and comply fully with the September 2018 ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

The UN Security Council's inability to react unequivocally to violations of international humanitarian law exemplifies the entrenched nature of Members' positions on Syria.

The escalation continued despite the setting up of a Turkish-Russian working group to re-establish a cessation of hostilities. As noted in May 2019 by the independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria “tens of thousands of civilians displaced by recent battles to capture the last enclaves of the so-called 'Islamic State' in eastern Syria are languishing in makeshift camps... and detained individuals are enduring appalling and inhumane conditions of shelter, health, and hygiene“.

In May 2019, the Vice Secretary-General for Political and Peace-building Affairs stressed that combating terrorism cannot be allowed to supersede obligations under international law and we must strongly reiterate this message.

Our Assembly must continue to urge all parties, including our Member states, to uphold international humanitarian law, protect civilians and urgently de-escalate the situation, despite China and Russia continuous emphasis on the fight against terrorism.

China and Russia have also opposed the establishment of the Identification and Investigation Team of the OPCW, which is key to identifying perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, as highlighted in the Resolution.

Regarding the political process, UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen has continued discussions with the parties, as well as the Astana guarantors, on convening a credible, balanced and inclusive constitutional committee as soon as possible that could help to unlock a broader political process. That is the focus of our Resolution and the Assembly should speak with one voice and support a political process based on Resolution 2254, despite the consolidation of control by the Syrian government.

Furthermore, a few weeks ago, Ms Dunja Mijatovic, the Commissioner for Human rights, urged the Council of Europe Member States to urgently repatriate their minors stranded in northern Syria at the Al-Hol camp, which is overcrowded and with insufficient essential services. The situation can only worsen during the summer months. In paragraph 7 of our Resolution, we also urged Member states to repatriate captured foreign fighters, and their families, who fought with Daesh in Syria, and to bring them to trial.

Finally, when the time is ripe for reconstruction, as also highlighted by several International NGOs, this process should take into account how to enhance the trust between society and the State and include initiatives aiming at achieving social justice and social cohesion.

Ladies and gentlemen, all these important issues and important projects that are related to Syria and the war in Syria are not over. We have a lot of work to do. When it comes to the work to do, to rebuilding the peace process and to guarantee the peace process in Syria, we must keep focus on what it is about. It is to safeguard humanity in all that involves around Syria and the results of the war in Syria. We must keep our eyes on that war. Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:13:51

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Thank you, very much Ms BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR, actually you have six minutes remaining and, of course, you can use it after the speeches at the hemicycle. Now we are coming to the debate and I want to remind you that each speaker has three minutes, if I'm not wrong, and the first speaker is Mr Olivier BECHT from France. He's representing the ALDE group. Please, the floor is yours.

Mr Olivier BECHT

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

10:14:28

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Thank you very much, Mr. President.

First of all, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on the quality of her work.

For more than eight years now, we have been experiencing the consequences of the Syrian crisis in Europe. In particular, through migratory flows, but also through terrorism led by the Islamic State, which has hit several of our countries.

As we are experiencing a heat wave here in France, it is worth remembering that the origin of the Syrian crisis lies in a climatic event. That of a terrible drought that struck the country from 2006 to 2011, plunging many populations, particularly in the countryside, into precariousness and poverty.

The regime's inability to respond to this economic crisis will lead to a revolt by rural and peri-urban populations - a revolt that has itself been crushed by the regime in violence. This reminder is important because we must measure the consequences of climate change on geopolitical stability, on peace and, also, on Human Rights. That is also the mission of our Organization.

Indeed, the geopolitical consequences of the Syrian conflict are enormous: 400,000 deaths, some of them killed by chemical weapons, 5.6 million migrants thrown on the roads of exodus, 6.6 million internally displaced persons, 85% of Syrians still living in poverty in the country, an impressive number of States - Russia, United States, Turkey, France, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Canada, Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Morocco, Israel - that are involved in the conflict and have conducted operations on Syrian soil.

The questions that arise now are simple; the answers are, of course, much more complicated. How to overcome the country's fragmented situation, with multiple ethnic, political and religious communities, as well as foreign powers that continue to operate on Syrian soil.

Of course, it is not up to our Assembly to interfere in the peace process initiated within the framework of the UN. However, given the implications of this conflict for the stability of the Mediterranean basin, and therefore of the whole of Europe, we can only support the rapporteur's recommendations: strengthen the ceasefire between all parties; mobilize funds to assist the Syrian people, including children; to protect the right to life, also through food and care, the dignified treatment of refugees and internally displaced persons - whose vocation will be to return to their areas of origin -; the prosecution and trial of all terrorists; the trial of all war criminals recorded by international research; and to seek for a new governance in the country while respecting the democratic rights of all local populations.

That is why the ALDE Group will give its full support to the vote on this report.

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:17:32

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The next speaker, from Turkey, represents the group of United Left, Mr Hişyar ÖZSOY.

Mr Hişyar ÖZSOY

Turkey, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

10:17:51

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I would also like to thank Madam Rapporteur for this quality work. It nicely summarises some of the main issues that relate to the Syrian conflict, which is now in the eighth year and cost dearly to the peoples of Syria.

Unfortunately, as a person from Turkey who is close to Syria and actually Turkey is at war in Syria, I'm not very optimistic about a possible resolution of the conflict in the near future, for the clear fact that the fate of Syrian people unfortunately is not in their hands. There are so many countries who are involved in the Syrian conflict from the United States, Iran, Turkey, Russia, even the Chinese are there! It's so interesting that, of course, the Constitutional Committee was established and it is a good step but even the peoples of Syria do not have a say in the formation of that Constitutional Committee because various regional and global powers, actually, are determining who will be included in this Constitutional Committee, which will be shaping the future of Syria.

Unfortunately Europe, in general, is involved in the Syrian crisis through the question of the refugees and, of course, some terrorists as well. So the main idea behind all that humanitarian aid that has been sent to the region is mainly because Europe doesn't want any refugees or terrorists here in Europe and this whole endeavour is being packaged as one of humanitarian aid.

It is interesting now, in Syria, we know that many people do not have access even to food but there are all kinds of weapons, high-tech weapons, that are in Syria and I would like those colleagues who are interested in the issue to look at the countries of origin of those weapons: which countries they are coming from, really. Unfortunately a lot of Western powers have contributed greatly to the militarisation of the conflict in the first place.

One last note, the report nicely summarises many of the debates but I think there is something crucial missing. Turkey and Russia are Members of this Council and they are also represented at this very Parliamentary Assembly and there are very serious allegations about Human rights violations perpetrated by their proxy forces in Syria and the case in point is, of course, Afrin. We are very much interested in that so we would humbly suggest the Rapporteur to focus on the members of the Council of Europe, how they are involved in the Syrian War and what kinds of Human rights violations that is causing. Thank you so much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:21:06

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Thank you, Mr ÖZSOY. The next speaker is from Azerbaijan, Ms PASHAYEVA. The floor is yours.

Ms Ganira PASHAYEVA

Azerbaijan, FDG, Spokesperson for the group 

10:21:13

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Thanks Mr Chair.

First of all I would like to congratulate the rapporteur.

As noted in the draft resolution, the war that has lasted for several years in Syria has led to the worst humanitarian crisis in the world since the Second World War. I have met several times with refugees at Turkey's border with Syria who have been helping more than 3 million refugees from Syria for several years. I also met with Syrian refugees in Jordan. A terrible tragedy is taking place before our eyes. These people are expecting more support from us, from the Council of Europe, from the Parliamentary Assembly and European countries.

A political solution to the Syrian problem, which has grown to be the foremost serious problem for the Middle East and increasingly for Europe, is very important. Our organisation as well should maintain its strong support to the matter. In addition to supporting the proposals and challenges of the rapporteur, we would like to emphasise some issues as well. It is necessary to combat the root causes that contribute to displacement and at the same time, to increase the support of European organisations and countries to displaced persons. Otherwise the tragedy will grow.

Ten days ago Turkmens who were displaced from Syria, asked us during our meeting to deliver their voices here. The displaced Turkmen people, who are in great distress, call on the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe and European countries to pay more attention to their tragedy. They expect more support for their solution. All those who have been displaced from Syria also issued the same call. We need to hear their voices and extend our support. We also have to increase our support to Turkey which is a member of the Parliamentary Assembly that shares longer borders with Syria, and that opened its doors to more than three million people displaced from this country.

Dear colleagues, supporting people who are forced to flee from the tragedies in Syria, regardless of their ethnic or religious affiliation, is essential for all member states. But it is wrong to use them for some ugly political game. This is also reflected in international documents. At the same time it is not the right approach in terms of human values. Therefore we would like to bring to your attention that transferring and localising Armenians coming from Syria in occupied Azerbaijani land, but not in Armenia, by officials in Yerevan, is contradictory to the calls of the OSCE's fact-finding mission. We want more emphasis on the importance of putting an end to all of this.

We call on Armenia to abide to these calls and to stop the transfer of Syrian refugees to conflict zones.

Thank you.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:24:20

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Thank you, Ganira HANIM. The next speaker, on behalf of EPP, Mr Frédéric REISS from France.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group 

10:24:35

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Since March 2011, Syria has been the scene of a bloody civil war with disastrous humanitarian consequences. It is quite unique in the world: the country's development index has declined, life expectancy has fallen by more than 20 years, and more than 80% of families are living in poverty. Only one child in three attends school, and even then, often under very difficult conditions. Beyond the dramatic situation in the interior of the country, we must not forget the Syrians who had to flee, and who live in refugee camps. We have often discussed this at PACE, but I believe we must still remember the generosity of countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

As Mrs BAKOYANNIS pointed out, the conflict has a destabilising impact, not only on the Near East and the Arab world, but also in Europe. While Daesh seems to have lost the war, it has successfully managed to propagate hatred and its criminal ideology. It has planted that seed at the heart of our democracies. There have been terrible attacks in France and around the world, also in Europe, and a resurface of lone wolves, who are self-taught terrorists and have learned the ways of terror through social media.

We also have the delicate issue of foreign combatants, on which we have debated here in this very Chamber. It is gaining momentum with the fall of Islamist strongholds, and the establishment of camps for their families. Another issue, which is relevant to our values, and more particularly to those of our Organization, arises with the latest judgments sentencing jihadist combatants in Iraq to death.

Since the victory over Daesh, the war continues with international actors who want to extend their influence in the region. We have the so called "battle of Idlib", the last region to escape control of Damascus, since last April. It is on the border towards Turkey, in northwestern Syria, and it is home to jihadists from the former Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda. There are three million people living in terror from the bombings, and already nearly 330,000 civilians have fled the area to try to reach Turkey.

In view of the situation in the Syrian province, it is important that the international community maintain pressure on Russia and Syria to stop attacks against the civilian population. It must be noted that no progress has been made on the humanitarian issue and that the ceasefire agreement of the 12th of June did not have the desired effect. I believe that it is now time to accelerate the peace process to protect civilians trapped by the bombardments.

I agree with Mrs BAKOYANNIS' position which, in her report, shows that priority must be given to Syria's security, stability and reconstruction, in order to make it more attractive and encourage the return of refugees. As the United Nations is responsible for the maintenance of international peace and security, it must continue to facilitate the internal political process in Syria.

But only dialogue will allow an immediate de-escalation of the fighting around the Syrian province of Idlib, and a lasting political solution for the Syrian people. I have no doubt that our Russian and Turkish colleagues will be committed to defending our common values in this process.

Thank you to the rapporteur, for her excellent work, and for the recommendations of her report, which the EPP supports.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:27:52

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Thank you, Mr REISS. On behalf of the Socialists, the floor goes to Lord Anderson, please. The floor is yours.

Lord Donald ANDERSON

United Kingdom, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

10:28:00

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The report is depressing. This morning's presentation is even more depressing. With no real signs of optimism the political process is at a standstill. Ultimately there will be a political settlement. There must be. But there are no immediate prospects.

I think of the high hopes of the protesters as they gathered for their peaceful protests like so many in the Arab Spring. But since then there has been the descent into hell, now in its ninth year. All the norms which the Council of Europe and civilised people hold dear are being put into question. The targeting of civilians, the use of chemical weapons, torture. So what can be done? In terms of the physical devastation, the costs have been estimated at 250 billion dollars. The human suffering is horrendous and many areas are outside the possibility of assistance. Idlib stands on the brink of a new tragedy. Already more than 300 civilians have been killed there. Barrel bombs, cluster munitions and white phosphorus is being used.

Of course there is a need for a political settlement. Two years ago we said that Assad should have no role. Now he is winning and clearly he will have a key role in any future negotiations helped by Russia which vetoes any serious initiative in the United Nations Security Council on his behalf.

Let us be realistic. I've just looked at the report of this month of the UN Security Council. Having examined the position, what do they suggest? A retreat for further discussions of the participants. That briefing by the Council –and inviting the Director General of the OPCW to participate in a discussion– is nonsense. All minor things. Useful, but far from solving the problem.

So the report in my judgment is good but premature and there was a very limited role for the Council at this stage. We should be realistic. There has never been any real democracy, in our sense, in Syria. Perhaps what is attainable is very far from the ideal. My sad conclusion is we should try to protect people as far as possible in the interim. But I fear that we have not yet reached the last chapter of this awful tragedy.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:31:04

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Thank you very much, Lord ANDERSON. The last speaker, on behalf of a political group, is Mr HOWELL, on behalf of the European Conservative Group. Please, the floor is yours.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group 

10:31:17

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Thank you Mr President.

It is difficult to know how to improve on Lord Donald ANDERSON's speech. But let me have a go at this.

This is a conflict that has been going on for nine years and it's important to remember that. My starting point in any discussion about Syria is the expression of enormous sympathy for those countries that are taking refugees and particularly to Jordan. Jordan is the tenth driest country in the world and if you look at camps like Zaatari, and other camps in Jordan, they are the size of cities. They have problems in access to water, they have problems with education, and they have a prevalence of crime as well. So my fears are really for the stability of Jordan in this conflict. If you look at the report you will see that it gives some feedback from Syrian refugees that are there who depressingly say they never want to go back. That is a very depressing statistic that the Jordanians will have to cope with.

Turning now to the question of instability I want to concentrate on the role of Iran which is exercising a malign influence in that country. Iran is spending billions of dollars. Syria is the transit point for weapons from Iran to Hezbollah in the Lebanon. We are also seeing an emerging in Syria of the Saudis, who are trying to block the progress of Iran. What I don't want to see is the creation in Syria of another Yemen as a proxy war between the Saudi Arabians and the Iranians. I was very pleased to see that the Israelis, the Russians and the US, at very senior levels, had recently met to discuss the Iranian situation in Syria. The threat that Israel has established, with Netanyahu saying that he will continue to hit Iranian targets –I can understand– in order to protect the situation on the borders with Israel.

We should of course condemn all chemical weapon attacks and try to make sure that Syria does not continue with that. But I agree with Lord Donald ANDERSON that there is no prospect of peace. I say that with a background in international arbitration. I've looked at the situation and I cannot see any hope in the short term for peace. Why is that? Because as Lord Donald ANDERSON has pointed out, Syria is winning, Assad is winning with the help of the Russians, and in that situation there is really no incentive for peace at all.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:34:33

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Thank you very much, Mr HOWELL. Now we came to an end of the list on behalf of political groups and now I'm returning back to the Rapporteur: would you like at this stage to reply? No?

Thank you, in this case we are returning back to the list of speakers and the first speaker is Ms CHRISTENSEN from Norway.

Ms Jette CHRISTENSEN

Norway, SOC 

10:34:59

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Thank you Mr Chair.

I'm in the business of hope. If I wasn't, there wouldn't be any reason to be here. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on a fantastic report that is really communicating our values in a perfect sense. It takes sides with the innocent in the conflict. It stands up for Human rights. It stands up for international law and it stands up for refugees. It stands up for holding terrorists accountable. It stands up for burden sharing and it stands up for common agreement and support of the work of the United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Mr Geir O. Pedersen. It all sounds so obvious. Of course we should stand up for these values. But in our times and also in our own States these values are being attacked every day. We are an Assembly of Member States who all have broken Human rights. Many have broken international law and many don't have the same views on burden sharing. The debate yesterday with the representative from Italy showed us that. There are Member states here who don't think that burden sharing is something we should do and also think that there's a link between poverty and need of protection. That is not true. You don't have to be poor to need protection.

That is why it is so important that we as parliamentarians stand up for these values and that they should be the solution of this conflict. I especially would like to draw attention to paragraph 8.2 that talks about the Constitution. it calls upon the constitutional work to also include the opposition of civil society. That is especially important also since we are seeing governments in our own Member states using their Constitutions to take away people's rights.

In my opinion this is more than one report on one conflict. In a time when constitutions are used against people, not for them. In a time when states are leaving international agreements and that the UN is undermined by big state leaders, this is a very strong message. From institution to institution. From the Council of Europe to the UN saying that we are behind you.

It's a strong acknowledgement, that in our time, peace did not come from defeating the counterpart. Peace is not the absence of war. Peace is a state of Human rights, nation and institution building. And in this time it is time to stand up for institutions who can take us there. This report really helps and it is a step on the way to peace. If we don't believe in it, who will? Thank you.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:37:59

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Thank you very much.

Next speaker, Mr. REICHARDT. You have the floor.

Mr André REICHARDT

France, EPP/CD 

10:38:08

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Thank you, Mr. President,

My dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank our excellent rapporteur Ms BAKOYANNIS for the relevance of her work.

Eight years ago, tens of thousands of Syrians took to the streets to demand the right to express themselves freely, to demand reforms and to demand justice. The brutal response of Bashar al-Assad's regime and its role in the ensuing conflict triggered the most serious humanitarian crisis since World War II. More than 400,000 men, women and children were killed. Tens of thousands of people have disappeared and many have been tortured and killed.

More than 11 million Syrians - half of the pre-war Syrian population - are displaced and cannot return home.

Today, the restoration of the ceasefire in Idlib must be a priority. The recent ground offensive launched by the Syrian regime in the north-west, as well as the bombardments and artillery fire of the regime and its allies, is very serious in this regard. The lives of three million civilians, including one million children, are at stake. This offensive not only has dramatic humanitarian consequences but also represents a serious migratory and security threat for all, with a major risk of dispersal of terrorist fighters.

The current offensive is not part of the fight against terrorism, it is part of the brutal reconquest of areas that are still outside the control of the regime and its allies. On the contrary, this offensive only contributes to amplifying and disseminating the terrorist threat. How can we both wish for the return of refugees and launch an offensive that will inevitably put - and already does! - hundreds of thousands of Syrians on the roads?

The military solution will not bring peace, let us be sure of that. The only way to put an end to the violence and ensure a lasting settlement of the conflict is through a negotiated political solution. And only a political solution can provide the necessary guarantees for Syria's neighbours.

Before concluding, I have a reservation on the draft resolution. It concerns the return of detained jihadists. In this regard, France has chosen the path of accepting the return, on a case-by-case basis, of only orphaned children of jihadist parents. I support this position, which is humane - these children are innocent and helpless - but we must also remain clear about the risks associated with the return of adult jihadists.

Thank you.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:41:02

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The next speaker, from Sweden, Mr Alexander CHRISTIANSSON. Please, the floor is yours.

Mr Alexander CHRISTIANSSON

Sweden, EC 

10:41:11

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Thank you, Mr President.

It has been argued that the main reason for the peace treaty of Westphalia, in the year 1648, following the Thirty Years' War, was that peace was necessary because in the war itself there was nothing left to destroy. The same thing may well be claimed for the standstill, from exhaustion, that we seem to have now in Syria. This is after eight years of massive loss of life and destruction in that country's tragic civil war. It is a situation which are our Rapporteur, Ms BAKOYANNIS, of the political Affairs Committee relates to us in masterful fashion before she goes on to outline a future roadmap towards strengthened peace conditions in the country.

But I can also sense something more than just exhaustion and despair in the region. I sense a new optimism, a new readiness to start building a new Syria, a Syria where democracy and greater regional autonomy can take hold. For instance for the Kurds who fought with such valor in helping to defeat the Islamic State. I sense a new Syria of greater tolerance by citizens towards former foes, if only because because people are simply grateful to be alive, grateful not to have fallen under the murderous rule of the Islamic State and in memory of hundreds of thousands of people that lost their lives in the war.

This new Syria would be a Syria at peace with its neighbours, supported by the International Community and in steady evolution towards a more democratic political system. It would be assisted by the UN Security Council and its Special Envoy and by a Syrian Constitutional Committee that will soon take up its work. It would be a process where Europe too can contribute its share with its own experience in rebuilding after two disastrous World wars. Our Venice Commission for Democracy through law could play an important role along this road. Also our Assembly with its decades of experience in political mediation in the wider Europe. Still it will not be easy. Major powers and neighbouring countries have either increased their hold in the region or, in some cases, seen their influence reduced. They too will have to be heard on the way forward and Syria's different regions and religious communities will have to overcome any misgivings that they may have in the greater interest of the country as a whole.

I strongly believe they can achieve this and thereby permit Syria to play the major positive role in the region that it deserves. Therefore we will vote in favour of the report. Thank you, so much Mr President.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:43:55

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Thank you, the next speaker from Armenia Mr AVETISYAN. Please, the floor is yours.

Mr Sos AVETISYAN

Armenia, SOC 

10:44:03

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Thank you Mr Chairperson.

I also thank the rapporteur Ms BAKOYANNIS for her report.

The eight years of Syrian conflict has caused much human suffering. A true human tragedy in a way, that has unfolded before our eyes. This conflict showed that insecurity in one part of the world will undoubtedly affect the other part of the world. This is an interconnected world at the end of the day.

I want to underline that my country has closely followed the developments in Syria with a sore in its heart. Not only for the significant amount of the Armenian genocide survivors sheltered in this country but also for very humanitarian reasons. The consulate in Aleppo has always been working, throughout these eight or nine years, notwithstanding the escalations. As has the embassy in Damascus. We did this with a fate that we can contribute to the peaceful resolution of this conflict.

The humancentric approach regardless of the division lines informed our decision to send a group of specialists to support humanitarian efforts. They are doing mining activities and providing medical support. Because bombs, bullets are really indifferent to a person's religious views, age and ethnicity. Armenia hosted up to twenty thousand Syrians in Armenia; provided them shelter; provided them social training; provided them housing in order to integrate them in our country.

I will ignore and will not dignify with an answer the very cheap allegations that came from Azerbaijani colleagues unfortunately, yet again.

Lastly the reluctance of certain member states and this very Hemicycle to call Daesh's inhumane activities as a genocide poses a very big question about our values, on our memory and our understanding of the world affairs.

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:46:16

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Thank you, Mr AVETISYAN.

The next speaker, from Spain, Mr BILDARRATZ.

Please, the floor is yours.

I am not able to see him in the hemicycle. Ok, in this case... (switches to Russian)

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:46:35

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The floor now goes to Mr Aleksei KONDRATEV from the Russian Federation.

Mr Aleksei KONDRATEV, you have the floor.

Mr Aleksei KONDRATEV

Russian Federation, NR 

10:46:52

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Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to express something about the point of view of the Russian Federation. I would like to underline that I have fought in my personal capacity, and in the various positions that I've had, and I've been fighting throughout my life against terrorists. In 2015 our country began the fight against terrorism in Syria. We Russians, know better than anybody else what terrorism means. What is taking place right now in Syria? Following a number of visits to that country, I have had the opportunity to visit and to see "in situ" what is going on there.

In 2016, I had the opportunity to visit and participate in the discussions that took place with the opposition, on cease fire issues. A cease fire which has unfortunately been violated. All sides, political entities, groups, and other interest groups that have been involved in this particular process, have suffered terribly. I think, indeed, that on a number of different points with regard to this particular report, we simply do not agree.

There are numerous questions that have come to the forefront concerning the Government. The role of the Government. Unfortunately, that is something that has not been underlined in this particular report. In other words, the positive developments that have been introduced by the Government of Syria as well. As far as the use of chemical weapons. Who used these chemical weapons? What sort of information, or misinformation, has been disseminated regarding the origin or use of this particular type of weapon? A major disinformation campaign has been underway.

Numerous different responses have not been given to key questions that have been posed by the Russian Federation, as well as other parties, about the origin of these chemical weapons and their users. In the Sochi final settlement of the 30th of January 2018, numerous different issues came to the forefront. The United Nations expressed its position regarding the role of the various parties involved in this particular conflict and its resolution. A question now, colleagues. How can we stop terrorist activities and terrorist threats? Without a negotiation involving all parties it will not be possible.

Of course, Israel has to be involved in this particular process as well. We feel that this particular report is not comprehensive in nature. There are different aspects and lacunas in it as well. So, we feel that a much broader and inclusive approach, that would include information which is missing, is to be taken up.

Thank you.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:50:15

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The next speaker is from Jordan. Mr ZAYADIN, please. The floor is yours but I am not able to see him in the hemicycle okay in this case the next speaker is Mr. LE NAY.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:50:36

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Next speaker: Mr. LE NAY, from France.

Mr Jacques LE NAY

France, ALDE 

10:50:46

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Thank you, Mr. President,

Madam rapporteur,

My dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to welcome the excellent report by our colleague Mrs BAKOYANNIS, which provides a relevant overview of the entire conflict in Syria, by analysing its humanitarian consequences. And, at the same time, it presents an in-depth reflection on the prospects for political transition in the country.

For almost eight years now, Syria has been immersed in one of the most serious conflicts the world has experienced in the last seventy years. In 2011, the Syrian government's brutal repression of popular demonstrations played a real catalytic role in triggering this civil war. The rise of jihadist groups such as Daesh, and the involvement of third parties, has led to the death of 400,000 Syrians and the displacement of 11.7 million of them. In all, nearly half of the country's population has suffered the direct impact and continues to live in substandard conditions.

This conflict has also had repercussions on neighbouring countries. Indeed, millions of refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and even Iraq, where they have been welcomed. These countries have had to cope with considerable population growth, sometimes with limited resources. This must be stressed.

Many European States have also seen many Syrian refugees arrive on their territory, which has led to a serious migration crisis. While their number has decreased today, it is necessary for the European Union to continue to provide financial support to the countries hosting these refugees, particularly in the Middle East.

Much more than a civil war between the regime and its critics, this conflict has exacerbated pre-existing religious and ethnic divisions, pushing other States to intervene. This has made the search for a political solution even more complicated. We are currently going through a pivotal period for the political resolution of this conflict. In the past, many diplomatic initiatives have been launched, such as the Geneva talks initiated by the United Nations or the Astana negotiations. However, none of them has made significant progress on this issue.

It now seems necessary to support the efforts made to set up a Constitutional Commission, that would involve all the country's political actors, so that Syria can finally rebuild itself, regain stability and look to the future. It is necessary for international organizations to be able to contribute to this initiative, which must be seen as a necessary first step towards resolving the conflict.

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:54:03

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Thank you.

We have another speaker from France.

Ms WONNER, you have the floor.

Ms Martine WONNER

France, ALDE 

10:54:13

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Thank you, Mr. President,

Madam rapporteur,

My dear colleagues,

Thank you for your work, which has the merit of reminding us of the dramatic situation in Syria and for its people, to which our societies have unfortunately become accustomed over the past eight years of war.

I fully agree with the draft resolution you are proposing to us, which is built around two concerns: the most important one concerns the humanitarian aspects, and the importance of mobilizing our Organization, alongside the United Nations and the European Union, to protect civilians. The second one, would be the establishment of a Constitutional Committee for Syria's transition to peace and stability.

As you recalled, this conflict has killed more than 400,000 people, but also, it has led more than 5.6 million Syrians to flee their country, mainly to Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Last March, I went to the Lebanese-Syrian border, to the villages where Daesh was still established six months ago. In Raas-Baalbeck, a Lebanese village, the members of the municipal council confirmed what President Michel AOUN and Prime Minister HARIRI had suggested a few days earlier.

While it receives, from the Lebanese authorities, hundreds of names of Syrians wishing to return to their country, the administration of Bashar EL-ASSAD has struck off three-quarters of them. In other words, the Syrian Government is currently choosing which fellow citizens it allows to return. This is, according to a criteria that is obviously opaque, and that we can reasonably assume to be political, religious or even ethnic.

With this example, I would like to reiterate something that many people tend to forget in our societies: contrary to popular belief, the Syrian refugees and displaced persons are not destined to settle in Europe or in their host countries. For the simple reason that, the vast majority, wish to return to Syria, where they have left land, homes, jobs and, above all, their lives.

On this subject, France's position is clear: displaced persons must return to their country. But we cannot, and will not, take the risk of returning them in conditions that would not guarantee, once they are back, respect for their fundamental rights. Questions such as conscription into the army for men, or religious affiliation, provide no guarantee today that these people will not be imprisoned, tortured or even executed.

I am convinced that our Assembly can, and must, be a driving force in the resolution to this crisis: let us affirm our unwavering commitment to the respect for fundamental rights. Which here means increased emergency humanitarian aid. Let us consolidate the dialogue between all the stakeholders involved — I am thinking in particular of our Russian and Turkish colleagues who sit here — . And finally, let us overcome political tensions, to help establish in Syria something that we Europeans have taken for granted for decades: peace.

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

10:58:04

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Our next speaker, Mr Nikolai RYZHAK from the Russian Federation. Yes please, Mr Nikolai RYZHAK. You have the floor.

Mr Nikolai RYZHAK

Russian Federation, NR 

10:58:14

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Ladies and gentlemen,

Chairman,

Together, with you, we've had the opportunity to listen to a number of different stereotypes. Stereotypes that have been issued. I think that basically we have to break these particular stereotypes. I think we also have to make clear what the situation is in Syria.

The government there is in place. The operations of Daesh and the horrific activities that they've been involved in... It appeared that there was no way to overcome this particular horrific scourge. It appeared so. I think it is very important to underline the role of the Russian Federation. The Russian Federation offered the possibility to overcome Daesh, and to overcome a number of other different terrorist organisations that were active in the region. The process of normalisation is underway right now and there is a certain level of stability. But, of course, there are serious issues and problems in a number of different parts of the country.

These areas, unfortunately, are the playground of different sorts of proxy wars, that are going on with the support of external elements. This is something that we ought not forget. We ought to establish a broad anti-terrorist international front, that would fight for peace, and fight together to establish the foundation. To establish whatever is necessary to bring the individuals involved in these terrorist activities to court. To prosecute these individuals, this has to be done internationally.

Unfortunately, this type of constructive approach has not existed up until now. We saw exactly what the particular positions were, that were adopted on the 30th of January 2018, during the course of the Sochi final settlement. There, it was quite clear that, what we were calling for was for all parties to work together, to establish some sort of joint mechanism to fight this particular scourge. And thereafter, to deal with the various humanitarian issues. Reconstruction of the country.

Up until now, what has been provided as far as humanitarian aid, is just a drop in the ocean. Concretely, and also in the form of ideas of what is to take place. Let's not forget the terrible situation that the neighbouring countries find themselves in as well. For example, Jordan. What is taking place in the security zone, in the particular buffer zone, what the United States has been involved in as well, is unfortunately not benefitting any sort of political settlement in the region. Turkey, along with Iran, have been working together with the Russian Federation to establish the necessary foundation to move forward in the future.

State terrorism is something that has to be mentioned here. This State terrorism which we see in the area, is leading to a kind of catastrophic situation that is of biblical proportions.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:01:56

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Ladies and gentlemen, taking into account that we came to the end of the list of speakers but we have time for discussion, I can call those who wanted to make a contribution. Please, the floor is yours, Mr HUSEYNOV from Azerbaijan.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

11:02:14

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Thank you, President.

It is clear that the war in Syria is not just a war of this country. Global political intrigues, curiosity, big claims have made Syria a tragic knot. One of the greatest human tragedies is before our eyes. The unfortunate people who were killed, wounded, maimed, psychologically traumatised, lost hope for the future and created a new flood of new refugees. Nevertheless, the war in Syria is not just a disaster for some people. The pearls of ancient civilisation have been destroyed for years and this process continues.

One of the reasons generating serious concern is that we continuously receive news facilitating not conflict resolution, but it's further complication, and every external intervention adds flame to the fire. For instance even Armenia, worldwide known aggressor, deploys military forces to Syria without any official agreement and it is being done at the state level. Such an intervention is so strange that even in Armenia protests sounded against this action.

Intervention by external forces from Syrian tragedy with this insidious intention certainly complicates the situation much further, however, developments in Syria have direct effects on me, my country and my people, and it is a great blow. There, every bullet thrown in ancient Aleppo, every missile that explodes there scares a person native to me and my people. The great Azerbaijani poet and thinker from the 15th Century, Imadeddin Nasimi, speaks many languages of the world today. This great humanist, who praises human beings, raising them to the divine level, is one of the world's few poets whose jubilees have been celebrated three times in the recent half century by UNESCO. Due to his humanistic ideals, his courageous thoughts, incompatible with his era, and the endless energy of his artistic and philosophical works, Nasimi was murdered in a martyr's death by being skinned in Syria, Aleppo, in 1417 through the instigation of conservative forces and by the order of the medieval Muslim Inquisition.

His unpleasant end in Syria is reminiscent of the torture-stalking murders of such idea heroes as Copernicus and Jordano Bruno. In the poet's homeland his monuments are erected in Azerbaijan, one of the districts of Baku bears his name, his works are taught in schools, and there are thousands of people in Azerbaijan today named Nasimi. Both those Nasimis and we are much concerned by the fate of the tomb of Nasimi, the pinnacle of the world philosophical thinking, which is faced by the most serious threat. This excitement and concern about the memory of Nasimi's genius is just one of many disasters and frauds in the Syrian war. Therefore, all international organisations and leading states are responsible for opening this trump card and solving the problem.

Thank you.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:05:32

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Thank you, Mr HUSEYNOV. The next speaker is Mr Ali ŞAHİN from Turkey and another one just requested the floor. I will give it to you.

Mr Ali ŞAHİN

Turkey, NR 

11:05:40

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Thank you, Mr Chair.

Dear President, dear colleagues, the political situation in Syria carries the utmost importance for the region and beyond.

PACE with its unique experience in democracy, human rights and rule of law could play a pivotal role in addressing the challenges faced by the Syrian people. Our priority should be advancing the political process by finalising the establishment of the Constitutional Committee without further delay. UN involvement and a balanced composition are critical for a legitimate and credible Constitutional Committee. The vital role of the Committee is accurately emphasised by PACE and other international organisations. Turkey wants to see her neighbour Syria as a stable, peaceful, prosperous and democratic country that is governed in line with the legitimate aspirations of its people and preserving its political unity and territorial integrity.

The international community should exert pressure on the regime and its backers with respect to both preserving Idlib and advancing the political process. The increasing aggression by the regime in Idlib constitutes a flagrant violation of the de-escalation status of the province. The fight against terrorism does not justify indiscriminate attacks against civilians. The return of refugees and reconstruction of efforts should go hand in hand with this process in the political process. Returns must be safe and voluntary, based on legal guarantees, and in line with international law. This process has to be coordinated with the UN. Priority should be given to the return of internally displaced people and the prevention of new displacements inside Syria. There is a pressing need to focus more on preparing the conditions that could facilitate returns.

Last, but not least, I would like to draw your attention to the recent attack by regime forces against a Turkish observation post in Idlib, which killed one and wounded three Turkish soldiers. The increasing aggression by the regime in Idlib continues flagrant violations of the de-escalation status of the province. Turkey will not tolerate such attacks against its forces by the Assad regime.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:08:17

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Thank you very much and the last speaker, taking into account our timetable, is Mr IGITYAN from Armenia.

Please, the floor is yours.

Mr Hovhannes IGITYAN

Armenia, ALDE 

11:08:27

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Thank you very much.

So, I was not ready to speak about this question because my experience and the experience of my country is not enough, no single country can do anything in Syria, we can do it only together but what we try to do, without our possibilities, our opportunities, like Armenia in Syria, you know that there is a United Nations resolution to prepare Syrian society for peace. That's why Armenia according the UN resolution of your United Nations, other resolutions of the European Union, also, we send humanitarian mission there. There are few doctors, what they are doing there and also, all countries we need one day to do mine clearance there.

What are our missions doing there? That's why I'm asking, because there was an accusation against Armenia that we are doing some military or other things there. No, this mission is already supported by the main actors, I mean like USA and Russia and European Union, and we invite, we call on other countries also to do those things there. Also just one reminder, we are not here, I'm in Armenia in your delegation, we are not here to fight with Azerbaijan, you know well we can't compete about which country did more in democratic development, in human rights support and other things. So we are not occupiers, I just want to remind you that Armenia was twenty-nine and eight thousand square kilometres 30 years ago, and we are now still twenty nine and eight thousand square kilometers.

What Azerbaijan tried to do many years ago, they tried to carry out ethnic cleansing in one part of Azerbaijan called Nagorno-Karabakh region, during the Soviet Union. But the citizens of this region did not agree with this and they fought and they have remained in their home. It's not occupation.

We need to support together and we need to prepare our society for peace. Also I want to remind you that our leaders of our countries I mean the president of Azerbaijan and the prime minister of Armenia, they decided already to implement some humanitarian measures there and I think we can do it together. We need to support the leaders of the country to find solutions to prepare society. I mean society whether we jump first of all to the peaceful solution.

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:11:38

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This is the end of the list of the speakers and at this stage I'm returning back to the rapporteur.

You have your six remaining minutes.

Please, the floor is yours.

Ms Rósa Björk BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR

Iceland, UEL, Rapporteur 

11:11:52

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Dear colleagues,

Thank you so much for your participation in the debate and your engagement in this serious issue. The war in Syria is a war that has been described as the worst humanitarian crisis in our times. It has been a humanitarian catastrophe of immense proportion with atrocious crimes, forced displacement, use of chemical weapons, torture and attacks against civilians that have been commonplace. It has been fought by countless militant groups within Syria representing various interests and ethnicities with complex interconnection, foreign troops from neighbouring countries, as well as individual foreign fighters who went to Syria - even all the way from Iceland - to fight and take part in the Syrian war.

And, dear colleagues, while Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey have received the majority of refugees fleeing from Syria, from their war-torn homes, Europe has only welcome 10% of Syrian refugees fleeing unbearable living conditions in the eight years that have passed. Most of these people were women and children. That is a test of humanity that Europe failed on.

Europe has done well in providing humanitarian aid to Syria, but now we are in the phase of rebuilding. We cannot sit back and leave it to others to find sustainable solutions towards peace and stability. We have done some work here in the Assembly. Over the past seven years, our Assembly has thoroughly analysed the Syrian conflict and related issues. In Resolution 2107, from 2016, a stronger European response to the Syrian refugee crisis was examined. In October 2017, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2190 on prosecuting and punishing the crimes against humanity or even the possible genocide committed by Daesh. There has also been extensive ongoing work in this report that we are debating on here today. We should support the report and the solution and recommendation that we find here in this report.

Dear colleagues, Mr. ÖZSOY mentioned that Russia and Turkey... He would like to see more focus on these Member States here in the report. That is done here in the report. The Member States are mentioned and talked about here in this report. The stakeholders in the Syrian war are mentioned here in this report, like Russia and Turkey. These players are called upon. The report here in this Assembly, having that report in hand, I urge the delegations from Turkey and Russia to show their full engagement towards a peaceful solution. Ms CHRISTENSEN from Norway spoke and reminded us all about their values on peace and peaceful solutions that we should agree upon here in this Assembly. I fully agree with her on that. I also fully agree with Ms WONNER from France that only dialogue will put forward peaceful results in Idlib and elsewhere.

Dear colleagues, our role is vital here in the Assembly. Our message as parliamentarians in the Council of Europe must be very clear. We must place more and constant emphasis on negotiation for a political settlement where all parties to the conflict are given access to the peace process. This process must be supported by active involvement of the international community. Member States must play a bigger and vital role in that process, a more united role.

There is an urgent and vital need of support to the peace process in Syria that will lead to a peaceful and relatively stable transformation of a war-torn Syria into a country with a fair political system. The focus and priorities must be on providing security and stability for Syrians, stabilising our year-long war torn country and to promote reconciliation. We have a great responsibility and obligation. I call upon you, again, that we work together towards a peaceful solution in this matter.

I want to raise your attention to one of the final resolutions in in the document here, where we fully share the goal of the United Nations to end the suffering of the Syrian people and find a sustainable peaceful solution to the conflict through an inclusive and Syrian-led political process that leads to the establishment of a multi-ethnic society that includes all religious and ethnic groups in Syria and meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. They are the ones who are involved and they are the ones that we are speaking about here today.

So I urge you, dear colleagues, to agree with the report and the resolution and the recommendation. Thank you for your participation in the debate.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:17:47

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Thank you, very much.

And now, as I understand, we have two amendments to the report, but they are unanimously agreed, as I understood, at the Political Affairs Committee and, if we do not have any objections, I can declare these amendments as adopted by the Assembly.

Yes? We have an objection.

You are against?

Mr Ali ŞAHİN

Turkey, NR 

11:18:21

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No, if possible I would like to mention a point only.

Vote: Situation in Syria: prospects for a political solution?

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC, President of the Assembly 

11:18:27

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I can give you floor only in favour or against, not any additional points because this is the procedure. Thank you, very much.

As I understand, no other objections? I declare these two amendments agreed by the Assembly. Thank you very much.

Now we are coming to the draft resolution and I can put the draft resolution to the vote. Please, the vote is open. 

The vote is closed. Please show the results.

The resolution is adopted: 27 in favour, nobody against – unanimously. My congratulations, the discussions have come to an end.

Thank you very much.

Now we're coming to the second item on our agenda and we have been waiting for the rapporteurs and representatives of the committees.

Let's start our second item of our Friday agenda. The topic is "Pushback Policies and Practice in Council of Europe Member States" presented by the Rapporteur Ms Tineke STRIK on behalf of the Committee of Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

Please the floor is yours, you have 13 minutes.

Debate: Pushback policies and practice in Council of Europe member States

Ms Tineke STRIK

Netherlands, SOC, Rapporteur 

11:23:29

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Dear chair, dear colleagues,

This meeting is very special to me, as it will be the last time that I address the plenary here as a Member of Parliamentary Assembly. Where my colleague Petra De SUTTER left with a big bang this week, I slip away through the backdoor on a very quiet Friday morning. So I'm very grateful for the speakers on the list today.

My first PACE meeting was in January 2008, and since then I've seen many people come and go. Of different countries and with different views and characters, but what we all share is a genuine interest in politics, cultures and people of other countries, and a passion for human rights and democracy. International cooperation is so enriching because it also challenges the borders in your thinking and imagination.

As a scholar on migration law, I chose the Migration Committee as a priority, and I am grateful for the many reports I was entrusted with. During these twelve years, I observed a gradual change in attitude and debates among politicians, that reflect national political developments. In the beginning of my term, many views in the Migration Committee were uncontested, such as the principle that migrants should have access to basic provisions and rights, regardless of their status, or that European Member States should be much more generous in resettling refugees. But where the atmosphere became harsher in Member States, these positions could no longer be taken for granted. Especially after the large arrival of refugees in 2015, national interests and concerns prevailed more and more.

This is not only problematic, it is worthwhile and important to have a dialogue to take into account different opinions and to find the right balance and the right arguments to convince people. A generous refugee policy needs support in society, so individual concerns or fears must be addressed. But on the other hand, politicians should not underestimate their influence on the level of that support. They can undermine it by creating fear and framing refugees as a security concern, or they can strengthen it by calling for more solidarity and by showing that we are capable of granting protection to those in need of it.

But actually, Council of Europe is not about which policy is the best. Member States do have wide discretion to make their own political decisions. Our task is to ensure that these choices are always in compliance with the human rights and principles that we have committed ourselves to. The migration debate is typically a human rights debate. And whereas in the beginning of my time, PACE tended to agree on certain migration and integration policies, it is now more focussed on the human rights that bind us.

And this is especially the case with the current report on pushback actions and policies. As it touches upon the core of refugee law: the right to ask for protection and the right to have your asylum claim assessed before a return decision is made.

And this core human right is challenged in many of our countries. In an attempt to avoid responsibility for refugees, Member States take measures to prevent migrants from reaching their borders or, if they are already on their territory, to send them back to a neighbouring country without any individual assessment if that return is safe. This is what we call pushbacks.

The European Court on Human Rights has convicted Member States for these practices: Italy because of pushbacks to Libya; Spain for returning migrants automatically back to Morocco; Hungary for returns to Serbia; and Poland for returns to Belarus, even despite numerous interim measures from the court.

It is very concerning that these judgements are not always complied with, or that Member States seek more creative ways with the same effect, for instance, by paying their neighbouring countries to prevent migrants from leaving their territory. And what is also concerning, is that pushbacks are often accompanied by violence. I visited the Croatian-Bosnian border and received reliable information about the large scale of violent pushbacks. These practices are officially denied, complaints are not dealt with independently - though some improvements have been made - and organisations get less and less possibilities to monitor and to support migrants in their needs and rights.

Croatia is certainly not the only country, but this case illustrates that the strengthening of the Schengen border controls, which is under heavy monitoring by the European Commission, triggers the risk of a more repressive approach against migrants. The fear of becoming responsible under the Dublin Regulation, as the first state of entrance, undermines the ambition to live up to the asylum laws. This is why the resolution also calls for more solidarity and equal responsibility sharing among the EU Member states. But at the same time, the resolution calls for more enforcement of EU asylum obligations. And this also counts for intra-Schengen borders, where Member States also tend to keep the border closed or return migrants without any individual consideration. This is also at odds with human rights, of course.

The resolution also calls for many practical measures to halt this grave violation of refugee law. It urges for an independent monitoring mechanism, for effective complaint procedures, for the availability of legal and medical support. In that context, it asks Member States to refrain from negative framing of NGOs, as in most cases they are our precious human rights defenders. I would say don't blame the messenger, but learn from criticism and recommendations. We, therefore, ask the Committee of Ministers in the recommendation to promote partnership with NGOs.

Member States should be able to organise information and access to a fair asylum procedure. But we also ask the Committee of Ministers to draft guidelines for the Member States on how to ensure access to rights of migrants arriving at borders.

Chair, when I drafted this report, I had to think of my 2012 report Lives lost in the Mediterranean, who’s responsible?, about 63 migrants who died at sea after having drifted there for 15 days. They starved to death, not because they were not seen - they were observed by many actors - but because no one went to their rescue. Turning a blind eye, in order to avoid responsibility, is still happening and even more in the open. As we speak, migrants in the Mediterranean are desperately trying to find a safe harbour to disembark. This battle about sea watch is embarrassing and unworthy for Member States. My report shows that turning a blind eye even happens towards people who are already on the territory of a country whose responsibility towards them is undeniable.

So we don’t seem to learn. Or we don’t seem to accept that responsibility for human rights not only applies to own citizens, but also to people who can’t turn to their own government for protection. We have just discussed the situation in Syria. But also, a lot of Syrian refugees are struggling to find safety.

Chair, the world is too small to turn away from problems elsewhere. 85% of the refugees live in poor regions and, therefore, it is important that in the Global Compact for Refugees, so many states have promised to work on more equitable responsibility sharing through resettlement and also through financial support. But this commitment cannot be reconciled with the tendency of pushbacks. So I hope to get your support for this resolution, which only aims to ensure compliance with basic human rights.

Chair, I would like to thank you and all my colleagues for all these years of cooperation and friendship, and for so many opportunities to do fieldwork and to learn from experts and people who support human rights in difficult circumstances. Politicians can only do their work properly if people show them the impact of legislation and policies. I would like to thank all these organisations, including the institutes within the Council, for inspiring and teaching me. And of course the staff of the Migration Committee. I have worked with many of them throughout the years, and it is always a pleasure to see them pop up elsewhere in the organisation afterwards. Thank you so much for your commitment, expertise and friendship. My thanks also go to all the other people working in the Council. They were always friendly, capable and helpful.

I will now move to the neighbouring building, to the European Parliament. There I will preach "love thy neighbour", and I will be a good ambassador of the Parliamentary Assembly, at least I hope so, which is so dear to me. We need a stronger cooperation, but as a Council of Europe, we should always remain faithful to our precious human rights standards and to our own priorities. In that context, continuing my work on migration in the EU will be a huge challenge for me, but hopefully a satisfying one. I hope to meet you again.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:33:56

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Thank you, Ms STRIK. In the debate, I first Ms Miren GORROTXATEGUI.

Ms Miren GORROTXATEGI

Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group 

11:34:14

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Thank you very much, President.

The norms and the jurisprudence of the ECHR are absolutely clear on this particular issue as to how issues of individuals who are irregular migrants have to be treated. It is clearly stipulated how it has to be done. Pushbacks are forbidden. Collective forms of refoulement are also forbidden. Rights without guarantees - in other words, when guarantees are not there and are not clearly stated in legislation - essentially opens the road to vulnerability and violation of rights.

This is clearly seen in border areas, where we see these particular events and where pushbacks take place without any proper procedures in place, without any sort of defence or legal representation, of an interpreter being present as well... So all of the procedural issues or procedural guarantees, if they are not there and if all of this is not stipulated clearly in legislation and at border points, then the minimum standards as far as protection of human rights are not being met.

From this institution, we have to make it very clear to all of our Member States that when there is legislation on this particular matter, they don't allow things to go unsaid, that they don't leave these roads open, but that they state the necessity for these particular guarantees. Guarantees for very fundamental human rights.

Thank you.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:36:31

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Thank you, Ms Miren GORROTXATEGUI. I now call the following speaker, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

11:36:44

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Thank you, Madam President.

Dear Dineke,

We're starting to miss you right now. The European Parliament can be proud to have a member like you. This House was proud, my group was proud. We thank you very much for all your work. You have been working for refugees, refugee polices, fair procedures, you have investigated what is going on in the Mediterranean. There is a name attached to all of those dossiers, and it's your name Dineke.

We've had a lot of reports from you about this, and they have always been of the highest quality, just like this report today. From which one can sense your political will to stand up for people here, to make sure Human Rights are respected. I also remember the report on the frigate, just to mention it. All these are milestones you shared with us. Many of these reports were adopted with a very large majority, and I hope today's report will be unanimous, as there is not a single amendment. You are the ambassador of the Parliamentary Assembly to the European Parliament now. That is wonderful to hear. Still, we miss you. But whenever you need our help, you know where to find us.

Now, to the report on the push back policies in the Member States. First of all, what is written here in this report are facts. The fact is, first of all, that many people have no chance at all in the borders to submit their application, because this is prevented. Secondly, the mass collective expulsions that take place are illegal. The Dublin Agreement is obsolete; unfortunately my State too is still clinging on to the Dublin Regulation. But the Dublin Regulation is a regulation for other times; not for the current phenomenon that we are facing.

Thirdly, yes, at the borders everything you have mentioned under item 12 - medical care, mental healthcare, interpreting services - all of that should be provided. At the height of the refugee crisis, Austria, for example, had set up a medical centre at the Westbahnhof station, to grant immediate access to the people that were there.

Now I would like to underline one more point: yes, you are right in saying that member States should see the NGOs as partners, and not as opponents. That is an appeal I would like to put out also to our southern neighbour, Italy. Please, could Italy come back to the path of the rule of law to that approach? Because that is the right approach. And, of course, we can refer to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights on that regard. Access of NGOs to protection and rights must be granted in full, because many NGO initiatives save lives, and that is what this report is all about. 

Once again, many thanks, and take it with you.

I think I speak for all: we will miss you.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:40:42

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Thank you, Mr SCHENNACH. In the debate, I now call Mr John HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC, Spokesperson for the group 

11:40:51

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Thank you, Madam President. This report makes a number of requirements on countries which are hosting refugees or where refugees are presenting themselves, and it points to the way in which some countries are, quite openly, violating the rights of refugees. It points to inhuman and degrading treatment of refugees, the stealing of their belongings, depriving them of food and depriving them of basic services. In the name of humanity, I ask, are we able to stand here and say that we are going to do nothing to be able to tackle this? We also have to put in place the ways in which we can monitor these things. But, having said all of that, I would just raise one additional point of additional thinking that I think, perhaps, needs to go on in this. I think the Rapporteur did allude to this in her opening speech. These activities, in some cases, are going to require resources. They're going to require, amongst other things, some additional money. We need to understand the position of countries receiving refugees and see what we can do collectively. In the debates that preceded this, I singled out Jordan for praise because of the way in which it has tackled the refugee problem. It is already an aid-dependent country. However, I don't think that that should be said as a criticism of Jordan. It should be said as proof that, as a community, we are actively supporting a country that is already tackling refugees. So one of the things that I would like to see on the back of this is an assessment of the resources and of the costs that are involved. We need to make sure, as in the case of Jordan, that we do have enough resources to be able to carry these out and that we have enough NGOs to be able to undertake the work. A good example of this is the case of Italy, which is facing not just the traffic from Libya at the moment, but it is also facing the potential of huge amounts of traffic from Africa in the future if we do not get that country's economy right. I don't believe we can simply sit back and just exhort the countries to do better. I think we have to look at the resources that we require, and the finances that we require, and we have to come up with the means of achieving those finances and those resources in order to give this report some real teeth.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:44:00

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Thank you, Mr John HOWELL. I now call Mr Gusty GRAAS.

Mr Gusty GRAAS

Luxembourg, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group 

11:44:12

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Madam President,

Dear colleagues,

According to a recent United Nations report, more than 70 million people fled their homeland in 2018, including 7 million from Syria. These alarming figures show that the number of refugees and migrants is constantly increasing. It is therefore not surprising that at European level the question of asylum has been on the debate for several years.

Unfortunately, on immigration, the great disagreement between Europeans is deepening. The European asylum system is currently crystallizing all the tensions within the 28 –unfortunately, tomorrow, twenty-seven.

Mrs STRIK's report, which I would like to congratulate on her excellent work – and I also congratulate her on her election to the European Parliament – allows us for some thoughts on the subject of refugee policy.

First of all, my group believes that a reform of Dublin III is essential. This regulation, as you all know, delegates responsibility for examining a refugee's asylum application to the first country that receives him or her. However, each State remains autonomous to decide whether or not to grant asylum to persons requesting it. The only exception is family reunification, which takes precedence over the procedure provided for under the current Regulation. Considered unequal by the main countries of entry, or too lax by the others, the Dublin III Regulation has been at the heart of controversy since the 2015 migration crisis.

At the heart of the talks, the quotas for the distribution of asylum seekers also deeply divide the 28. If Europe is unable to show more solidarity in managing the problem, this could have serious negative consequences for the proper functioning of the European Union.

Thus, in my opinion, it is unacceptable for some countries to refuse to assume their responsibility. Many facts and injuries with regard to the refugees listed in this report point to the very difficult situation in some countries. This is all the more regrettable when it comes to facts that have occurred in a Council of Europe member country. In addition, it must be stigmatised that Member States of the European Union use inhumane means towards refugees, either by punishing boats that provide assistance to migrants, or by sending migrants back without acceptable reasons, or by housing refugees in very poor – even sometimes terrifying – conditions, as reported in Mrs STRIK's report.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, I would like to touch briefly on four more important points about referrals in the Member States. I believe – and this is also very important to me – that it is regrettable that NGOs are often criticised for their  initiatives in favour of refugees. Admittedly, if NGOs sporadically violate certain rules in force, it is unacceptable to accuse them of overall interference. On the contrary, I believe that the role of NGOs, which in most cases are firmly and sincerely committed to the interests of migrants, must be better respected.

In conclusion, the ALDE Group believes that coercive measures must be taken to ensure that refugees are provided with a dignified framework and that refoulement is carried out while respecting legal channels.

It goes without saying that we support the relevant resolution.

Thank you very much.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:48:00

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Thank you, Mr GRAAS.

Now I call - excuse me - the Rapporteur will reply at the end of the debate but does Ms STRIK wish to respond at this stage? No? OK.

Then I call Rósa BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR.

Well, I think she's not here, so I call Mr HUSEYNOV. No?

I call Mr AVETISYAN. No? 

Well, we have finished the list of speakers. I call Ms STRIK to reply. You have two minutes and a half right now.

Ms Tineke STRIK

Netherlands, SOC, Rapporteur 

11:49:02

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If there are no other speakers willing to speak then I will answer.

I would like to thank everyone who intervened and also thank the kind words, of course, for our cooperation. I really look forward to meeting you again and keep on cooperating with you. But I'd also like to thank you for the large support for my report. I think that the absence of amendments, the absence of more speakers on the list also implies that it is broadly supported and that Members in the Parliamentary Assembly recognise that those basic human rights are uncontested and should be complied with anyhow, despite the sometimes problems that Member States may have in dealing with mass arrivals.

Then I come to the points that Mr HOWELL and Mr GRAAS also mentioned. The unequal burden of the responsibility of States. This refers to hosting countries in the region, which have the biggest problems in offering everyone sufficient protection and needs. We really need to speed up but also to enlarge our financial support in resettlement policies. This also includes EU Member States as well. There is inequality, of course, if you look at the southern border, sometimes also the eastern border. Member States really have to take responsibility for many more refugees. Mr GRAAS also referred to EU policies in that sense and the difficulties with the Dublin Treaty regulation. I must say I'm quite relieved that the European Parliament took the position that we should leave this principle of "first state of entrance is responsible".

The European Parliament advocates and takes the position that you should have an equal distribution of asylum seekers at the moment they have entered the European Union. I hope they will be strong enough to have this negotiated with the Council as well. We will have to wait for the new Commission and for the new negotiations to come along afterwards. Many of you also emphasised the vulnerability of people on the move. This is actually always the case. If you are a refugee, if you are on the move looking for another place, for a safe place, you don't have any passport, you don't have any entitlement, then you are vulnerable in any case. This is especially the case, of course, in border regions and especially where there is no monitoring mechanism and there are no people to help you.

This must be realised by authorities in Member States. There, services should be in place, access to procedures should be in place. I pleaded to support NGOs, but that doesn't mean that we can leave the responsibility to the NGOs. I mean, authorities and Member States also have to ensure enough resources and a professional organisation of asylum and reception procedures. That should go hand-in-hand in partnership with the NGOs.

Chair, I think that I addressed all the issues that came along during this debate. I would like to thank you for the last time for the support and also for cooperating with you, and I wish you all the luck in this new chapter of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Thank you

(APPLAUSE)

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:52:59

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Thank you, Ms STRIK. Does the Chairperson of the Committee wish to speak?

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC 

11:53:09

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Thank you, Madam President,

Dear colleagues,

Dear Tineke, with a very strong sense of timeliness, you have managed to take the last slot of the week, unfortunately in front of very few people, for your last report for us, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

We are now informed; you are leaving us for the European Parliament. You will continue to do your pioneering, relevant and necessary work with the European Parliament. I know that you will not forget us and will not miss any opportunity to exchange and cooperate with this other great institution.

To return to your report, we can say that it is substantial. It deals with a large part of the migration problem in Europe, a problem of which you are a specialist. It identifies all the places on our continent where the free movement of persons and access to asylum are denied, where women, men and children are subjected to ill-treatment and where their human dignity is violated. Unfortunately, there are many of these places.

Europe's borders are constantly closing: one country after another. The domino effect of the closure of the Schengen Area is creating increasingly long and dangerous migration routes, resulting in the crowding of potential asylum seekers across these walls and barbed wire. As in many problems related to the current situation, we are confronted with a lack of humanitarian action. Often, even, to a lack of humanity at all. A humanity that is normally present among our fellow citizens when they are personally confronted with the misfortune of others, but which is not reflected in the policies of many Member States.

You have changed the title of your report to really refer to "referral policies". That is, you have realized that, beyond being an occasional reaction, when groups of asylum seekers arrive at a border, removal sometimes becomes an instruction, a norm. This is becoming very worrying, because whoever says dismissal, says collective expulsion, refusal to assist people in danger, use of violence in the face of the determination of people who want to come to Europe.

These practices must stop, and your resolution provides a number of safeguards against return practices and the forms they take. Better monitoring of crossing points, more direct access and faster processing of asylum applications, simple granting of protective status, better organised relocation. We are all concerned by the new treatment that Europe is giving to migrants at sea, on land and everywhere. We repeat ourselves, I know, but we will not be able to look each other in the eye if we do not succeed in respecting the Human rights of our neighbours and peers.

We cannot, and we will never be able to compromise on the fundamental values on which the Council of Europe is based.

Thank you for your report, Ms STRIK, dear Tineke. Thank you for the time you have devoted to the Council of Europe, for your convictions, your example, your competence and your friendship. And good luck to you in the European Parliament. I also wish the European Parliament good luck because with Tineke STRIK we are going to send Petra De SUTTER, two strong personalities, a real determined commando, who will carry high the colours and values of the Council of Europe.

Thank you.

 

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

11:57:02

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The debate is closed.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft Resolution contained in document 14909.

The vote is open.

The draft Resolution is adopted.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft Recommendation contained in document 14909.  A two-thirds majority is required.

The vote is open.

The draft Recommendation is adopted. 

Now I want to read a few words to Ms Tineke STRIK. As this is the last time Ms Tineke STRIK presents a report in this Assembly, I would like to thank her for the enormous contributions she has made to the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons and to the Assembly as a whole. Few Members have been able to have the impact she has had in her various reports. One in particular stands out for me. It also stood out for journalists across Europe who considered it important enough to place on the front pages of their newspapers. I would like to show you the front page of The Guardian on Thursday the 29th of March of 2012. A dark day for Europe, about the refugees’ Left-To-Die Boat. That was the title. This was a reference to your report related to life loss in the Mediterranean. A report which made people not just wake up but also sit up more carefully about the tragedies in the Mediterranean of the boat-people. Today however is your last report. One might say that it is a "dark day" for the Parliamentary Assembly, but it is not. You have brought much light in attention to this Assembly. You will now take this light to the European Parliament as an MEP. I know you will create a strong bridge between our two parliaments.

Thank you Ms Tineke STRIK.

We now come to the free debate. I remember Members that this debate is for topics not already on the agenda agreed on Monday morning. Speaking time will be limited to three minutes.

I first call Mr Aleksandar ŠEŠELJ from Serbia.

Vote: Pushback policies and practice in Council of Europe member States

Free debate

Mr Aleksandar ŠEŠELJ

Serbia, FDG, Spokesperson for the group 

12:01:52

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Dear colleagues,

Regarding the current situation in Montenegro, I must inform you that the regime of Milo Đukanović is doing everything in its power to erase the Serbian community living in Montenegro. From the Montenegro referendum in 2006, which he manipulated, the Serbs in Montenegro are second-class citizens if they are citizens at all. They cannot find employment in public service and they are under strong pressure to declare as Montenegrins.

More than 30% of the population the last census had declared themselves as Serbs and, yet, by constitution, the Serbs do not even have the status of a national minority, which Albanians, Croats and Bosniaks and all others enjoy. In order to create an atmosphere of fear, a number of Serbs, among them two members of parliament, have recently been convicted on false accusations of attempt of a coup, which the government staged on the very election day.

The latest action of the Montenegrin government, in passing the so-called Religious Communities Act, is an attempt to nationalise the property of the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro. This church has existed in Montenegro for 800 years and most of that time as the only or the largest religious community in Montenegro. Some monasteries and churches of the Serbian Orthodox Church are centuries old and by the new law, through an administrative action, all estates without documents of ownership that were built before 1918 will be nationalised.

Now, can somebody imagine that the state of France would nationalise the Cathedral of Notre Dame and take it away from the Catholic church because of the lack of papers or documents of ownership? Or Westminster Abbey for that matter? This situation is unthinkable but, unfortunately, is the sad truth in Montenegro. During these 13 years of Montenegrin dependency, Milo Đukanović, who has been continuously in power in Montenegro for 30 years, has made a country for himself, a nation for himself and now wants to create a church for himself - all at the expense of the Serbian people.

Milo Đukanović has close ties with Mafia. He was charged with smuggling tobacco by the Italian prosecutor in Bari but never stood trial because of the diplomatic immunity he enjoys. All Serbian people consider him a criminal and the biggest national traitor for the last hundred years. The Serbian people have survived five hundred years of Ottoman occupation, have survived Austrian occupation, survived World War I, survived the genocide in World War II and will survive Milo Đukanović as well.

Thank you very much for your time.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

12:05:08

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Thank you. Now I call Lord Donald ANDERSON, please.

Lord Donald ANDERSON

United Kingdom, SOC, Spokesperson for the group 

12:05:16

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Madam President,

As you have rightly said, this is an opportunity to tackle subjects which are not elsewhere on the agenda and often which must be relevant to the work of the Council of Europe - perhaps subjects which are behind the headlines, perhaps too sensitive for a report and which are essentially long term. As too often politicians are accused of short-termism, hence, I propose this subject The population explosion in Africa and its relevance for us in Europe.

I accept that it can be a sensitive subject and could give rise to a form of racism. I note the recent motion on afrophobia and I approve of its context. I would submit that if we ignore the question, it is more likely to give rise to racism. The facts are pretty clear in the UN statistics, though I can see that the UN has done very little about acting on those statistics. In part, I understand from a former Ambassador that at Security Council there is an alliance - or has been an alliance - between the Vatican and Iran in preventing discussion on this topic.

To give an example from the UN statistics - and I would invite colleagues to look at them - Nigeria, which I know reasonably well, that I recall Nigeria having a population of 40 million. It now has 190 + million and the United Nations projections are that, by the year 2050, in 31 years time, there will be 400 million people in Nigeria. We're bound to ask the question: Where will these people live? Will they be educated? Will they have adequate health provision? What are the problems relating to us in Europe?

If we ignore those projections, I would submit that we put our heads in the sand. There are clearly going to be direct effects in terms of migration. And who can blame an ordinary Nigerian, for example, who sees no prospects for himself or herself and her family? And we're likely to find, unless we try to take some action, further tragedies in the Sahara and in the Mediterranean. That is the part of the direct effects. The indirect effects include climate change because of the cutting down of forests. And, of course, increasing conflicts as we see in Uganda in Kenya and also in Nigeria between the farmers and the herdsmen.

I submit that this needs to be considered. I mentioned Trump and his refusal to give aid for women's rights and reproductive rights. I would finally challenge all colleagues who are here to look at the statistics and to ask their governments, given that this is a matter of women's rights, how their own aid policies are being relevant to this increasing challenge for us in Europe.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

12:08:49

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Thank you. I now call Mr RAMPI.

Mr Roberto RAMPI

Italy, SOC 

12:08:56

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Madam President, ladies and gentlemen,

At the end of May, I represented this Parliamentary Assembly in the city of Sarajevo for the European Museum Forum. It was an absolutely extraordinary experience, because the work that museum professionals do is of the highest quality, and is particularly important for the values in which we believe.

The reflection of the three days of work, beyond the final award ceremony, focused on many themes. But one struck me in particular: the construction of memory, and understanding how to deal with the most problematic elements of memory.

This session, this week, has been particularly important, delicate and tense. We have understood — we understand it every time — how the history of our countries can be read in different ways, depending on the side of the border from which you look at it. Obviously, this has an extraordinary impact on the work of the museums.

Museums are not a place for the protection, collection or display of objects. Museums are an instrument of democracy. Because building memory, and involving emotionally and not only rationally, helps us — and especially the new generations, the youngest — to understand what took place.

We were in Sarajevo because last year the winner of this award was the Museum of Children in War, which is wonderful. I invite all colleagues, who are able to, to go and see it. It tells, with objects, the stories of all the children who lived through the siege of Sarajevo, and who lived through that war. And it does not do so by trying to identify the culprits — this is not the goal — but by trying to return the emotions, of how the life of a child can be during a conflict.

Today, in that same museum, the objects of the current children in Syria, which we talked about earlier, are on display. And they generate exactly those emotions, because wars are all different, but to some extent, they are all the same. And children in war live all the same sufferings.

I believe that the work of the next few months, on behalf of the Culture Committee, but also as the Assembly, will have to focus more and more on how we can give directions to our countries to do quality work with museum structures, as they are a great reality, fundamental for democracy.

Just as information is needed, just as free parliaments are needed, just as social interventions are needed, so are interventions that provide the tools of knowledge, in an intellectual and rational, but above all emotional, key.

Thank you. [Chuckles]

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly 

12:11:56

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Thank you, I now call Mr STROE. He's not here? Then I call Mr Mihail POPSOI.

Mr Mihail POPSOI

Republic of Moldova, EPP/CD 

12:12:16

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Madam President, honorable colleagues.

This session has been a truly difficult one with tensions running high but these tensions pale in comparison to what my native Moldova has been going through in the last few weeks, when a government led by a shadow puppeteer accused of smuggling, human trafficking and drug trafficking, was not willing to concede power to a legitimate government that represented the will of the people, as cast in the elections of February 24th.

Thankfully, thanks to the overwhelming support of the Moldovan people and thanks to the vast support of the international community, Moldova was successful to go through a peaceful transition of power. Moldova is often regarded in the international media with rather negative superlatives: the most corrupt, least developed country in Europe. But these days there is a glimmer of hope in Moldova. With the new government looking to fight corruption and build resilience in state institutions, so that never in the future of Moldova do we ever face a situation in which a single person or a group of people can exercise political power in their own name and effectively usurp the political power.

There is now a window of opportunity for Moldova to try to insulate State institutions from undue influence, to implement true reforms in line with the Association Agreement with the European Union. I rely on the support of the Council of Europe and the member countries to help Moldova in this course. Again, I would like to express gratitude, on behalf of the Moldovan government and the majority in Parliament, for the overwhelming international support that the current government has received in those very very difficult times when there was a risk that the entire majority in Parliament, all 61 MPs, could have been arrested and were facing charges of treason and Moldova was, effectively, on the cusp of civil conflict.

Luckily we've been able to dodge that bullet and, again thanks to the Moldovan people and the overwhelming support of the international community. Moldova is now on the path towards consolidated democracy, towards improved economic well-being for its people and, for that, I thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:15:20

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Thank you.

I give the floor to Mr. GUTIÉRREZ.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ

Spain, SOC 

12:15:27

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Thank you very much, Madam President.

I would like to take this opportunity to refer to the history of this Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the fact that we are celebrating its 70th anniversary. I think it's an opportunity for us to put out an appeal to the world leaders that are meeting in Osaka today for the G20 summit. There are so many great challenges for humanity. I hope that they can meet them.

I would also like to put out an appeal. The founding principles of this institution must be safeguarded. Human rights, the rule of law, democracy. These should prevail over other interests: individual interests or purely economic interests. We need to look at trade, finances, exchanges, of course, but at the same time, we also need to look at climate change, sustainability, peace, equality, and fair policies. That too must be beard in mind.

Therefore, we need to also talk about money. That's perfectly logical. We need to also talk about principles, values and human beings. This Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe needs to be conducting a permanent campaign. Not just for us here in Europe, but a kind of pedagogical mission to talk about the values of politics, the values of democracy, tolerance, and coexistence. We need to do that, particularly when confronted with populist forms of politics: those that want to exclude us rather than include us. We need to act for peace and for the citizenship we represent. That is the big challenge for humanity as a whole. That is what the world leaders should be talking about also on this occasion.

Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, we're talking about building a world that is a better world, a friendlier world, a more human world, and a more fair world.

Thank you.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:17:27

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The next intervention is from Mr BATRINCEA.

Mr Vlad BATRINCEA

Republic of Moldova, SOC 

12:17:35

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Thank you very much, Madam President.

I'd like to say that this indeed was a very historical session. This summer session was very special because it is the 70th anniversary of this particular structure. On this particular occasion we have the opportunity to take stalk of what the situation is in the Members States of the Council of Europe.

Major work has been done by the Secretary General, by the various committees. Our Parliamentary Assembly has been a major side-place venue, where very important steps have been taken to promote Human Rights. On behalf of the President of the Republic of Moldova, I would like to congratulate all.

I would like to congratulate Mr Thorbjorn JAGLAND, the presidents, the vice-presidents, all of the rapporteurs as well. The Republic of Moldova has undergone major changes. A transition from an oligarchical system or regime, to something far above that. New steps have been taken on the judicial reform front, as far as prosecutors and their appointment. All of this has been thanks to great efforts made within the country, but above all, because of the partnership that we've had with the Council of Europe.

We would not find ourselves where we are right now without the support of the Council of Europe. Our citizens now feel protected. I think this has been the result of a consolidated Europe. Of a Europe working together for its various Member States. Of a Council of Europe that is by our side. I would like to thank you for this atmosphere of dialogue. For parliamentarism, with all its meanings and dimensions. I would like to thank the Council of Europe. I would like to thank Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER. Your role has been extremely essential in all of this, and you have been always by our side. I would like to thank the rapporteurs. The rapporteurs from the Republic of Moldova as well.

Because of the work that has been done within the framework of the Council of Europe, because of the support of the Venice Commission as well, we have received immense recommendations of great importance that have supported us. I think we can all be very very proud. Now the Republic of Moldova can participate in this particular construct as a democratic nation.

As a nation that has been constructed on the basis of Human Rights, rule of law and democracy.

Thank you very much.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:20:46

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The next intervention is from Mr. CEPEDA.

Mr José CEPEDA

Spain, SOC 

12:20:51

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Thank you very much.

Thank you, Madam President.

Colleagues, in my last speech during this part session today, I would like to take this opportunity to talk about Artificial intelligence (AI). AI is an issue that we should be dealing with during the next few years, in my view. It's an important issue. We need to look at ethics, we need to look at the way in which the data of millions of people are handled.

And there is another issue which I'm very concerned about. In many of our advanced societies, we do not think about this, but there is something I would like to flag: the high level of suicides. People who commit suicide because of things that happen on the internet. I think that this is something to be discussed. If you look at young people, between 15 and 29, it is the second largest cause behind suicides in this demographic segment. I know there have been inquiries into this, looking at Twitter and Facebook, and trying to take initiative to see what we can do about this.

Because of the way in that social media is used, we need to make sure that we don't have this kind of pressure on people. This is a disaster in the minds of individuals, of human beings. The fact that they are taken to such extremes, that they take their own lives, is deplorable. We're talking about tens of thousands of people last year only, who took their own lives. In France, something like 900 or 1000 people took their own lives.

I think it's time to give some thought to this. The fact that the data stored on the Net can actually be misused in this way. There is a professor from the University of New York who has actually started looking into this, with the aim of creating a database that could be shared by doctors around the world. We need to look at the companies that are handling algorithms, to see how they can help us out with this. We know what's been happening over the recent past.

We know there's a lot of disinformation and a lot of manipulation. Manipulating lives. Manipulating consciousness. Manipulating the lives of people. How can we turn that around and do something more positive? In the near future, in this Parliamentary Assembly and in other parliaments, we need to work on these issues. To address the topic of AI and to look at the way in which the data of millions of people is being used. I'm hoping for something positive.

I don't know if it's a dream. I don't know if it's utopian. But I know it is something we should at least attempt. Because it is our responsibility to work for the happiness of millions of human beings around the world. That is our concern. Let us work together to create a world were artificial intelligence is something that is useful for good purposes and to create a better world.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:23:50

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I now give the floor to Mrs PASHAYEVA.

Ms Ganira PASHAYEVA

Azerbaijan, FDG 

12:23:55

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Thanks Madam Chair.

Dear Colleagues, I would like to speak about unimplemented decisions of the European Court, the Resolutions of the Parliamentary Assembly that have not been implemented for many years, as well as the case of Azerbaijani IDPs Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev, illegally held by the Armenian side as hostages.

Despite the efforts made by the Azerbaijani government, as well as the former Secretary General, Mr Jagland's, statements and calls, there is still no positive progress towards the release of Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev. The Armenian government continues to hold Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev hostage. They undergo oppression, torture and very heavy conditions. These people are not guilty, they just went to visit their homes and family members' graves, but the Armenian side has undertaken serious tortures to these people for a few years now.

Dilgam Asgarov's son has been attending the events and meetings at our assembly for several days, asking to extend the efforts of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly in order to stop tortures against his father and to release him. Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev's families and relatives expect for greater efforts to be done by the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly towards their immediate release.

We call on the Assembly to put pressure on Armenia, so they release Dilgam Asgarov and Shahbaz Guliyev. We look forward to serious support measures from the Parliamentary Assembly, for the release of these hostages. Dear colleagues, the decisions of the European Court should be implemented in Member States, but the Armenian authority refuses to follow these decisions taken by the European Court of Human Rights, as for Chiragov and others, for several years now.

Failure to comply with the decision of the European Court should seriously disturb the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Council of Europe should take serious impacts into account to put pressure on Armenia. It should not involve double standards in addressing this issue. Refugees and IDPs who cannot return to their homes call the Parliamentary Assembly to be more sensitive on this issue. They also call for pressure on Armenia to fulfil Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 1416. Armenia refuses to comply with this Resolution and doesn't allow the Azerbaijani IDPs to return to their homeland.

Dear colleagues, I also want to talk about Resolution 2085, adopted by our Parliamentary Assembly, regarding the Sarsang Water Reservoir. In that Resolution, the Parliamentary Assembly demanded Armenia to stop its use of water resources for political impact and pressure. However, Armenia doesn't take any steps to implement this Resolution, and tens of thousands of Azerbaijanis in several regions suffer from its consequences.

As now the summer months are here, tens of thousands of people who suffer from lack of water are calling for the Assembly to use effective mechanisms on this issue, to put pressure on Armenia in the implementation of the Resolution.

Thanks.

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:27:15

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The list of speakers is closed.

Mr HUSYNOV, for a spontaneous intervention, you have the floor.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE 

12:27:31

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Thank you Madam Chair.

Dear colleagues,

I want to draw attention to an issue that has stabilised,in the first place without explicit objection, but which needs to be reconsidered.

Human rights, fundamental freedoms and freedom of expression are among the core values advocated by the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, the Charter, the Rule of Procedure of the Assembly, legitimise the conditions that directly limit the possibilities of expression.

That i, one MP is granted permission to speak three times per session. However, it is possible that such a report can be discussed at certain sessions in which some MPs may need to speak on four or five topics. The Charter does not allow the inclusion in the list of speakers, for their fourth and fifth reports, of the person who made three speeches and did not have the opportunity to speak even if being listed among the speakers.

In the end, MPs coming here besides all other reasons, have their own voters, as well as responsibilities before their countries. When there are issues that are vital for your country and your people, you should definitely participate in these discussions and you should pronounce your position. But the rule says that this is not the case when your name was already among those who made three speeches or intended to do so. If it is believed that this limits the ability of others wanting to make a speech, then mark the name of the person who wants to make that speech for the fourth, fifth or sixth, time at the end of the list. If time is running out, the text of the speech should be added to the verbatim documented and dated.

Otherwise the current rules, such tight restrictions, are a direct limitation of freedom of expression. And, in my opinion, these prohibitive provisions of the Charter should be replaced by more democratic forms.

Thank you.

Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee (continued)

Ms Liliane MAURY PASQUIER

Switzerland, SOC, President of the Assembly 

12:29:48

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Thank you Mr HUSEYNOV,

As you yourself have seen, you had the opportunity to speak more than three times during this part-session. What you just told us is probably not quite true, even if it corresponds to the rules. On the other hand, of course, our Rules of Procedure have been drawn up according to very democratic criteria, and if you wish to change them, you always have the possibility of submitting a proposal for amendment.

We come to the progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee. At its meeting this morning, the Bureau decided to propose that the Assembly refer the matter to the Committee for Ratification. This referral has been put into distribution. This is document 14911 addendum 3. This referral must be submitted to the Assembly for ratification.

Are there any objections?

This is not the case.

It is therefore ratified.

We will now make a decision on the other decisions of the Bureau, contained in its progress report.

Is there any objection to the adoption of these decisions?

There are none: the other decisions of the Bureau are therefore approved.

Before declaring the third part of the 2019 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly closed, I would like to share with you the list of our best participation champions.This part-session saw three people take part in all the votes; they are Mrs CHRISTOFFERSEN, Mr SCHENNACH and Mr Maciej MASŁOWSKI, Ladies and gentlemen, I congratulate you on this consistency and, as tradition has it, I invite you to join me at the end of the session so that I can give you a small gift.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of our work. I thank all of you who are still here, as well as all the Committee rapporteurs, who have done a lot of work. I would also like to thank the Vice-Presidents, who contributed to the smooth running of our meetings: Ms BRYNJÓLFSDÓTTIR, Mr GALE, Ms GROZDANOVA, Ms LEYTE, Mr O'REILLY, Ms SCHNEIDER-SCHNEITER, Mr SEYIDOV and Ms TRISSE.

I would like to thank all the staff of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe, as well as our interpreters, who have done an absolutely considerable amount of work during this week, and without whom we simply could not have done anything. Thank you and congratulations to all of them.

I inform the Assembly that the fourth part of the 2019 Ordinary Session will be held from the 30th of September to the 4th of October, and I declare the third part of this Ordinary Session closed.

The meeting is adjourned. I wish you a safe return to your homes and a great summer.

The sitting was closed at 12.30pm

Closure of the part-session