Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

25 January 2021 afternoon

2021 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the Sitting num 2

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:04:44

Good afternoon, colleagues.

The sitting is open.

We now come to the communication from Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ BURIĆ, Secretary General of the Council of Europe. 

I invite our Secretary General with pleasure to address the Assembly. You have the floor.

Address: Communication from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:05:12

Mr President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

I have great pleasure in welcoming you to this first part-session of the Assembly.

A whole year has passed since the last time we were able to meet. When I spoke to you at that time, few could have imagined the devastation that COVID-19 would cause in our societies, here in Europe and around the world. Many people are no longer with us. Their families and friends are in mourning. And jobs have been lost. I know that some Members of this House have been personally affected by the pandemic. My heart goes out to you.

We also know that we are not out of the woods yet, as many countries are struggling with high levels of infection. But at the beginning of 2021, there is reason for hope. The advent of coronavirus vaccines offers the prospect of better protection, fewer restrictions, and a return to a more normal life in society. As bleak as this period has been, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Despite the continuing problems, you have been able to organise and attend this part-session in a hybrid format. I congratulate all those who have worked hard to make this possible. After all, it is important.

Europe had no shortage of challenges in the field of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law before the arrival of COVID-19. None of these challenges have disappeared as a result of the pandemic. On the contrary, the coronavirus has created new issues that must be addressed in accordance with our common legal standards. The Council of Europe as a whole has shown determination and resilience in meeting these new challenges. We have adapted the use of our buildings and strengthened our IT system, while a large majority of our staff has switched to teleworking during containment. These and other measures have helped to ensure staff safety and continuity of our work for the benefit of all Europeans.

At the beginning of April, I sent the Member States a document designed as a toolbox. These tools aim to help Member States respond to the health crisis in a way that is both effective and respectful of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law. The document stresses that the European Convention on Human Rights must also be respected in the context of emergency measures and states of emergency: measures taken must be necessary, proportionate and limited in time.

Since then, all sectors of this Organization have worked to assist member states. Support measures cover everything from domestic violence to hate crimes; from health issues and counterfeit medical products; to surveillance and data protection in tracing applications. This comprehensive response was one of the main themes of my first annual report published last summer.

Of course, the crisis has continued to evolve since then and the Council of Europe has continued its work. This will also be the case in the coming months, and we will be ready to work with national and local authorities to help them cope with the emergence and evolution of new challenges. Social rights will certainly be among those challenges, given the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus. Poverty poses a lasting threat to the standards of living conditions and human dignity that the European Social Charter aims to uphold. This problem will have to be tackled as well.

On the other hand, the European Court of Human Rights is now receiving applications in relation to COVID-19 - concerning freedom of assembly, for example. These cases will establish case law that can be applied throughout our common legal space and will help in devising responses to future events. But crucial as all this is, the Council of Europe has nevertheless continued to work with determination on all the other issues we face.

Many of them have been known for a long time. Others are new or evolving. Take, for example, trafficking for labour exploitation. This appalling practice has evolved over time, but it continues in many parts of our continent. That is why, just over a year ago, I published a roadmap for action against this phenomenon. Since then, GRETA has published a compendium of good practices for Member States. And earlier this month, GRETA also published a guidance note describing indicators that national authorities will be able to use to measure progress. The Committee of Ministers will now consider the need for further action in the form of a recommendation.

We are also moving forward on the issue of artificial intelligence. AI is playing an increasingly important role in our way of life and in the way we work. But we know that algorithms can lead to discrimination and other human rights abuses. This is why our Organization has launched a series of initiatives and work is currently underway on potential elements of a legal framework for the development, design and use of AI.

With regard to the environment, there can be no doubt about the unprecedented pressure on our ecosystems today. When environmental conditions pose a threat to human rights - the right to life, property or family life, for example - it is our duty to act. And we do act. The Court has issued decisions that cover everything from airport noise levels to industrial pollution or urban planning, and apply concepts such as the right to life, the right to freedom of expression and the right to family life to a wide range of environmental issues. We also have a series of conventions on the environment, covering landscapes, conservation of wildlife and the natural environment as well as the fight against environmental crime.

But that is not enough. The ever-increasing threats to our environment on the one hand, and to the development of the Court's case law on the other, have generated a momentum for action; a momentum shared by this Parliamentary Assembly, which rightly insists on making progress. Thus, not only do we plan to update and apply our existing tools, but we are also working on a new non-binding legal instrument on human rights and the environment, which should be adopted next year.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:15:13

Of course, the Parliamentary Assembly has worked not only on this issue, but on all of those that I have mentioned. And it is right that every part of the organisation plays its role in order that we can progress together. This is equally true when it comes to addressing other ongoing challenges. For example, the conflict that flared last year in and around Nagorno-Karabakh. We have spoken out repeatedly about the need to ensure peace.

We welcomed the November ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan; and we have held consultations with the national authorities of each country. These talks focus on the role of the Council of Europe in providing post-conflict assistance in line with our mandate.

Because every individual on European soil is entitled to the protection of their human rights. And we are working to ensure that this happens.

On a different note, there remain misunderstandings, misconceptions and the occasional suggestion of member states withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention. These jar with the facts. This treaty remains the “gold standard” for addressing violence against women and domestic violence: 34 member states have ratified it.

In April the Committee of Ministers invited Kazakhstan and Tunisia to be the first non-member states to accede. And where it is applied, it works. The rise in violence against women – and indeed children and other groups – during COVID-related lockdowns is a reminder of the importance of action to protect those in need. And I call on all member states that have not ratified to do so in the interests of women and all of society.

I also hope that 2021 will be a year of further progress on the execution of the Court’s judgments. It is vital for all Europeans – and for the credibility of the Convention system – that national authorities do this fully and swiftly. In choosing to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights and join our organisation, member states voluntarily undertook to respect the judgments of the Court. This is not a kind request; it is a binding requirement.

It is for the Committee of Ministers to supervise the execution and I am pleased that recent reports by the CM and the Parliamentary Assembly have found that progress has been made. And there are certainly good examples. In November, the Rada in Ukraine adopted a new law that allows individuals to change their patronymic name – their middle name, derived from their father. This change followed a judgment of the Court, it required political will, and it was the right thing to do.

Nonetheless, in a number of other cases, protracted executions remain a cause for concern. In a final judgment last year, the Strasbourg Court held that Osman Kavala had been detained by the Turkish authorities in the absence of evidence to support a reasonable suspicion that he had committed an offence. That his arrest and pre-trial detention pursued an ulterior purpose, namely to silence him and dissuade other human rights defenders. 

And that Mr Kavala should therefore be released. The Committee of Ministers examines this case at regular intervals and adopted an Interim Resolution just last month, also stating that the authorities should let him go immediately. But the Turkish Constitutional Court has refused to release him. Mr Kavala is still detained. And this is utterly wrong.

So, your report – which you will discuss tomorrow – calls for more to be done on the execution of judgments. And I share that view.

We will need to look for new ways to make further progress. And changes should aim to further enhance efficiency, effectiveness and tangible impact. And I thank the German Presidency of the Committee of Ministers for its commitment on this issue, and I hope that we can take steps that will garner the support of all parts of the organisation.

In the area of co-operation amongst the organisation’s statutory bodies, allow me also to welcome the discussion this week in the Assembly on the proposed modifications to the Rules of Procedure. These follow up Resolution 2319 on “the complementary joint procedure between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly in response to a serious violation by a member state of its statutory obligations”, and will enable this procedure to be implemented, if need be.

These are just a few of the important issues on which our work continues.

Many of them are among the priorities spelled out in my Strategic Framework of the Council of Europe, requested by the Committee of Ministers, following the Helsinki Ministerial, and which I presented to them two months ago. This document lays out possible concrete “deliverables” to be achieved over the next four-year period, and which should dovetail with the organisation’s programme and budget.

It also outlines some proposals and considerations for change and reforms, including those related to programming; intergovernmental co-operation; relations with other international organisations; and communications, on which a broader strategy was published in December.

On all the content, it is now for the Committee of Ministers to consider next steps.

Importantly, the strategy underlines the need to further strengthen the cohesion between our monitoring procedures so that they achieve close co-operation, maximise impact, and avoid duplication in their activities.

But let me be very clear that any reforms must ensure the independence of our monitoring processes, respect the mandates of the supervisory bodies and, ultimately, deliver more for the citizens that rely on us. Because, ultimately, that is what each of us is here for.

To play our role, as part of a team, that will enhance human rights, democracy and the rule of law across our 47 member states, raising the standard for the 835 million people who live here – and beyond.

Last summer, during the unrest in Belarus, I made several interventions in support of the protestors’ human rights. Among these was a joint statement from me, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, and the President of this Parliamentary Assembly. It called on the Belarusian authorities and all relevant stakeholders to initiate a broad-based and inclusive national dialogue: one that would involve civil society in order to ensure a lasting peace.

Belarus has an important relationship with this organisation, and we remain ready to help it with reforms that are grounded in our organisation’s core values, just as we stand ready to confront every challenge to the rights laid out in the European Convention and the European Social Charter.

These comprise the soul of modern Europe. They have survived criticism, they have survived populism, and they will survive COVID-19.

But there is still much to do. And I know that – together – we can get there.

I look forward to your questions.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:24:22

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

We now go to the questions. I remind my colleagues that the questions are limited to a one-minute maximum. May I ask you not to make declarations but to pose questions.

We have a large number of colleagues wanting to address a question to the Secretary General, but we need to stop at 5 p.m., so I do apologise to those colleagues who will not be able to put their questions but the Secretary General has agreed to respond to questions put in writing. So for those colleagues who will not be able to put a question in this session, you are invited to depose your questions in writing.

I will take five questions at a time, after which I will give the floor to the Secretary General to address these five questions.

I will start with the first five. First on my list is Frank SCHWABE, who will be followed by Aleksander POCIEJ.

Frank, from the room, you have the floor.

Questions: communication from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, SOC

16:25:25

Thank you very much Mr President and congratulations in the name of my group.

Madam Secretary General, thank you very much for keeping the organisation visible in a very different and difficult situation.

Thank you very much for mentioning the new complementary approach, I would say, on the question of how to deal with some countries.

Thank you very much for making our position about judgments very clear and how to follow up the judgments.

I would like to go a little bit more into detail on this. For sure we discuss in the morning the question of Alexei Navalny and we have to discuss the situation in Turkey.

About Navalny I really would like to ask you where we are with our procedures. There is a judgment about him. What what does it mean and what can we do? How can we express our opinion?

About Kavala and Demirtaş, what are the next steps to do everything for Turkey to release these two persons?

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:26:27

Thank you, Frank. We now move to Mr Aleksander POCIEJ from remote.

Alex, you have the floor. You will be followed by Mr Jacques MAIRE.

Mr Aleksander POCIEJ

Poland, EPP/CD

16:26:36

Mr President, Madam Secretary General,

I am going to ask three questions in my speech: the arrest of Alexei Navalny, the disproportionate use of force to crack down on demonstrations, the arrest of his wife and hundreds of opponents. What do you intend to do and what steps will you take, Madam Secretary General, in this regard?

Two current affairs debates did not find a space on the agenda during our session: "Unjustifiable delay in repatriation of the Armenian prisoners of war and other captives by Azerbaijani authorities as violation of the European International Human Rights Standards" and "The actual human rights situation in temporary occupied Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol during the COVID-19 pandemic".

I would also like to have some clarifications on these two points from you.

Thank you.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:27:48

Thank you, Mr POCIEJ.

The next speaker is Mr Jacques MAIRE, who will be followed by Mr John HOWELL.

Mr MAIRE, you have the floor.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE

16:28:05

Thank you, Mr President, and congratulations on your brilliant and indisputable election.

A quick question, briefly, on the prospect of the Hungarian Presidency, which begins just after the German Presidency, beginning approximately from 21 May. Have you had any dialogues? Have you had exchanges to prepare for it, and in what state of mind is it being prepared?

Secondly, I agree with my colleague Mr Aleksander POCIEJ on the situation of the Armenian prisoners of war. There have been quite a number of applications to the European Court of Human Rights. There is a real difficulty today concerning the treatment of Armenian prisoners by the Azerbaijani authorities. I think it would be important, even in the absence of an urgent debate, to have an update on this situation because it is of great concern to us.

Thirdly, of course, the situation of Alexei Navalny since his return.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:28:59

We now move to Mr John HOWELL, who will be followed by Ms Violeta TOMIĆ.

John, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA

16:29:09

Thank you, Mr President.

An internal question: Madam Secretary General, morale amongst staff is very low. Several of them are even facing outright depression, many staff members live alone in Strasbourg far away from their families in their home countries. Might I therefore suggest that you reconsider your decision to allow staff to do homeworking from their home countries, rather than being obliged to stay in Strasbourg. With the new measures in place in France we must be realistic, and you could allow staff to work from their home countries at least during the dark months of the next two months ahead.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:29:49

Thank you, John.

We now have Ms TOMIĆ, but I don't see her on the request list.

No, then we move to our Secretary General.

Madam Secretary General, you have the floor.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:30:04

Thank you Mr Chairman.

Let me start with the questions put at the beginning regarding the execution of judgments and in particular in the three cases that you, Mr Frank SCHWABE, named.

Let me first say that execution in general is showing positive developments but still serious difficulties remain in some of the politically sensitive cases. There are structural legal complex problems in some cases. All in all I think we can say that we can be satisfied with the execution trends, but as the three cases you mentioned show, there are difficulties. These three are different.

Let me start with the Mr Kavala that I mentioned in my report. Mr Kavala's judgment is final and should have been followed up as any final judgments of the Court, of the ECHR, and it should be executed. However that was not the case and at the beginning of the last year I sent a letter to the Minister of Justice, Mr Gül, in Turkey, asking for clarifications. But what followed later didn't show a much bigger result because the execution lies within the hands of the Committee of Ministers in the format of the human rights working group. This issue was discussed in September twice and once in December. At all three levels of discussion the result was that Turkey was asked to execute the judgments, which so far didn't happen. Unfortunately in that case it's also that the Constitutional Court of Turkey refused to execute the judgments. The Committee of Ministers has said that it will come back unless the judgment is executed at the latest by March. Apparently the case is going for the fourth time to the ECHR format of the Committee of Ministers and it's now for the Committee of Ministers to decide how to push more pressure to go on with the execution of Mr Kavala's judgement.

The situation with Mr Demirtaş is different in a way that his final judgment of the Grand Chamber of the Court was released on 22 December and of course it is also to be executed because it is final. Now we are awaiting for the procedure before the Committee of Ministers since so far we haven't seen that execution happen.  It's obviously for the Committee of Ministers to put it on its agenda of the human rights format of the Committee of Ministers.

Concerning Mr Navalny, his case also was probably one of the, if I may say, oldest among the three produced by the Court and it's up to the Committee of Ministers to follow up the case.

So far the case of Mr Navalny was not in the format of the ECHR but looking at all what surrounds the issue and the fact that Mr Navalny was arrested after coming back after the horrible poisoning and that it seems that he has been detained under the same accusation that the European Court rejected in its ruling. So certainly there should also be a follow-up by the Committee of Ministers in this case concerning Mr Navalny and the execution of the judgments.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:34:48

I turn now to the questions on Azerbaijan and prisoners of war.

What I can say in general - and I can assure you of this - is that, since the start of the conflicts that began at the end of the summer, the Council of Europe has been among the first, if not the first institution, to react. One Sunday morning, very early on, when war broke out, the three of us - the President of this Assembly at the time, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and myself - reacted and asked the authorities of both countries not to start a war because both countries, having been admitted to the Council of Europe twenty years ago, had at that time undertaken to resolve this problem, which already existed, by peaceful means. It goes without saying that this was not the case with the war. Unfortunately, it broke out and there were far too many casualties, both civilian and military. I can only say that, on the side of the Council of Europe, it was with great relief that we learned of the end of the conflict.

Now, another process must be followed. When it comes to resolving these kinds of problems, it is of course the OSCE that has to do so. Determining how to resolve the status and problems of Nagorno-Karabakh is its task. As for the rest of the issues, there is a lot that the Council of Europe could now do after this war. I myself immediately started a dialogue with the two countries and asked two colleagues to go there and talk to the authorities to see what can be done within the framework of the Council of Europe mission, with the consent of the parties involved. There was first, in November, a visit to Yerevan and, in the last few days - last week - a visit to Baku. It is now up to us to propose a number of measures and to go back to both countries to see what we can do to help them. In the coming weeks, we will propose a road map - if I can call it that - on how we can proceed to help them within the framework of Council of Europe missions.

As regards human rights in the Crimea, my answer is always the same: the European Convention on Human Rights must be applicable, as I have just said in my speech, to every citizen of our 47 Member States, including in the annexed regions of the Crimea or in those not under the control of the country. As soon as I have the opportunity, I speak to the authorities to insist that our monitoring body, including our Commissioner for Human Rights, should have access to those areas, those territories, and should be able to make a report with a view to proposing a road map for the Council of Europe.

I know from my discussions with the Commissioner that she wishes to make this visit. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic situation has not helped and these visits have been postponed several times. I hope that, once this situation subsides, our Commissioner for Human Rights will be able to visit Crimea and prepare a report to see how the Council of Europe could monitor the human rights situation.

I now turn to the question of Hungary and the future chairmanship. Of course, bearing in mind that the Hungarian chairmanship will start in a few months' time - by the second half of May - we have already started discussions with the future chairmanship and there was, in particular, a visit by the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Mr Szijjártó, in September. I was then summoned and I should normally have gone to Hungary at the end of the year, but I was prevented from doing so by COVID-19. It seems to me that my colleagues have again made contact with the Hungarian member and, as soon as it is possible from a health point of view, I will go there. It is normal for the Secretary General to go there and talk with the new Presidency, which has been working with us, with the Secretariat, for some time, and develop the list of priorities. I think it would be very important for me to go there because, if I am not mistaken, this year is the anniversary of one of our two youth centres - one is here in Strasbourg and the other in Hungary. It would be important to go and visit that centre and not just focus on the Presidency, on how the Hungarian side sees the Presidency, or how we, from the Secretariat's point of view, see it, and how we can provide all the support necessary to make it a good Presidency. It is also important to talk, as is always the case in a bilateral exchange, about other issues that are important for the Council of Europe and the member states, including Hungary.

There you have it, I think I have answered you about the possible actions of the Council of Europe and how we can proceed with regard to issues arising from the conflicts. The list is long, but I will not go into detail before consulting both sides. I believe that we will move quickly into the post-war situation.

On the question of Alexei Navalny, which you also mentioned, I think you stressed that, in the light of the protests this weekend - particularly on Sunday - everyone, including in the Russian Federation, has the right, in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, to freedom of expression and freedom of association. Therefore, all those who have been arrested, and apparently the number is really very large - which needs to be verified - have this right. Many young people, in particular, have been arrested and I really deplore this situation. In any event, the Convention must be applied and all those who can invoke its two articles on freedom of association and freedom of expression must be immediately released from prison.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:44:57

Now, coming back to the internal matters of the Council of Europe for the teleworking of staff and where they are stationed: I would like to recall first that we have had teleworking for a number of years in the Council of Europe and I think among the public authorities we are one of those international organisations who have offered a very, very generous possibility of teleworking. It amounts to possibly working 20 working days a year which, in all, would be one month in 12 months of work, and there is a regulation that is very clear on how the teleworking is done and where it is normally taking place.

The rule is that teleworking is done at the duty station. So for the majority of colleagues, for those who work in Strasbourg, this is here in France. And the reasons why we didn't change that in this situation is because of volatility. On the one hand, ensuring the continuity of our business which is very important – and thank you to all of you who mentioned the pertinent work of the Council of Europe that has been done under the very difficult and unprecedented Covid-19 situation –. The duty station is here, because of this striking a good balance between the continuity of the business, that was necessary, but also on volatility of the situation in 47 member states where it was difficult to envisage how, from day to the other, the situation may change and then the possibility of travel.

I've decided to apply the rules as they are so far, but I recall that this is nothing unusual because the duty station of all those staff who are working with the Council of Europe, if they are working fully for the Council of Europe, is to work in Strasbourg or in other offices if that is outside of Strasbourg. So this was the only reason, but I can assure you that knowing that the situation is difficult for all of us, we have put a number of measures in order to alleviate or to mitigate the side effects of COVID-19 for our staff, so we offered different services to all of those that may feel they are suffering.

And last but not least, and very important in this respect, is the fact that actually under the current rules, people can work outside of Strasbourg but under a very clear set of procedures and conditions that are mentioned. I can assure you that a number of people have used that, but of course their situations were examined individually and then if the case was such they were allowed to to work from wherever they come from and they felt much better with that. So we certainly did respond in a number of cases to this particular situation, of our staff that was found in that situation. I think this covers...

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:48:39

We will now go to the five following questions. They immediately also will be the last ones at this session because we need to close at 5 p.m. First on my list is Fiona O'LOUGHLIN from Ireland, who will be followed by Oleksii GONCHARENKO.

Fiona, you have the floor.

Okay, apparently that doesn't really work. We move immediately to Oleksii. Oleksii, where are you?

You have the floor. One minute.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

16:49:23

Several minutes ago you said that it is the coronavirus which doesn't allow for the European Commission on Human Rights to enter Crimea. But it is not the coronavirus, it is the Russian authorities who don't allow him to go through Ukraine legally to Crimea. And the coronavirus has not stopped you from coming to Moscow on 19 October. So what are the concrete results of your visit to Moscow in October? Please inform us, but don't use it as Russian propaganda to say that the crisis between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation is finished.

So my second question is, maybe it was better on 19 October to go to Berlin to see Alexei Navalny poisoned and definitely better than going to Ukraine to Donbass to see what is done by the Russian Federation to thousands of people.

I want to ask you this, and I invite you to visit Donbass as soon as possible. Will you do it? Thank you. 

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:50:18

Thank you, we now move to Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN, who is already online.

Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN you have the floor.

Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN

Hungary, EPP/CD

16:50:24

Tthank you very much for the floor. On 30 November, armed men of security service of Ukraine conducted house searches in private properties and key institutions of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine based on an order from a court in one of the distant southeastern regions of Ukraine.

This adds to the already existing pressure generated by various threats from extremist groups.

Madam Secretary General, what measures are planned by the Council of Europe as the key organisation for the protection of national minorities to avoid further oppression by the Ukrainian authorities? What type of monitoring instruments are at the organisation's disposal?

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:51:24

Thank you very much. We now move to Ms Serap YAŞAR.

You have the floor.

Ms Serap YAŞAR

Turkey, NR

16:51:31

Thank you, Mr President, and congratulations on your election.

Dear Secretary General, migrants and refugees face major human rights violations on their route to Europe. Unfortunately, we have heard allegations of Frontex's involvement in refoulement. How could the Council of Europe mechanisms act to ensure an effective investigation of these violations?

Thank you

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:52:17

Now we go to Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Andrej, you have the floor.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL

16:52:25

Thank you, Madam Secretary General,

With the backdrop of the Corona pandemic, many countries...shall I try in English?

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL

16:52:44

Madam Secretary General: in the corona pandemic a lot of states derogated from the European Convention of Human Rights, you mentioned this in your speech. According to Article 15 they have to make information to you as Secretary General so maybe you can inform us a bit more about the general situation. How many states derogated? Did all states really inform you about this? Is there a time limit?

Because more and more people are concerned about misuse of the Corona pandemic and are concerned about non-communication about the situation. Maybe you can inform us about special problems in this.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:53:40

Thank you very much. 

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ, you have the floor.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:53:44

Thank you very much.

So, starting with access to Crimea. I didn't say that the Council of Europe couldn't go to Crimea, but that the visit to Ukraine of the commissioner to discuss that was postponed because of Covid-19. This was what I wanted to convey. I am sure that the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Ukraine are very clearly mentioned in a number of documents of the Council of Europe and, from that point of view, I think my position is very clear as one of the other bodies dealing with that. So I really hope that once the measures allow, the commissioner will be able to go to Ukraine.

Personally, I mentioned that when I took my office the first country I wanted to visit was Ukraine. Among the first people that I met was President Zelensky and, at the time, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in New York in September 2019, and I conveyed to them this message. I seriously wanted to engage in dialogue with Ukraine because Ukraine is for the Council of Europe one of the most important countries. I think that's visible from the action plan that is one of the biggest of our office in Kyiv--it's the biggest one. And the Council of Europe is involved in a number of cooperation areas in Ukraine, so I hope this good cooperation continues.

Now for the visit to Russia, of course, Russia is a member State. On my second visit, I wanted to go first to Ukraine and then to Russia but as the opportunity didn't arise from Ukraine, of course, I thought because of the number of open issues that are important between the Council of Europe and Russia, my deepest conviction was that I would need to go there. So I indeed went there and I myself did not travel extensively during Covid-19, but I did however make several missions where that was possible. So I went to Russia. I engaged with the civil society and other forums and I conveyed the messages regarding the important issues that are open between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation.

Now concerning the situation of Hungarians in Ukraine. Indeed I was asked by the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary in December. He called me to inform me of how he sees the situation. His description of the problems of Hungarian minorities in Ukraine was clear. My only message was that I hope that our member State--in this case, Ukraine--implements the recommendation made by the Venice Commission regarding the matter. And of course, if the question is what the Council of Europe will do more, certainly our monitoring bodies of the two Framework Conventions on Human Rights and the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages are the two that are planning to go to Ukraine on one of their visits.

So this is the answer of the Council of Europe: to go on the field to see how things are, and then make recommendations to member States on how to harness the situation.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

16:57:52

With regard to the issue of migrants, refugees and their situation of refoulement, as some of you have no doubt already said, I have appointed a special representative of the Secretary-General who will focus on migration issues. He is currently in Bosnia, as you know. You certainly have in mind other countries where there are concerns about refoulement, but it is in Bosnia and Herzegovina where it would appear that the problems are the most serious at the moment. Therefore, the Special Representative, Ambassador Drahoslav Štefánek, will have a whole week's work to do first in the canton of Una-Sana, where most of the migrants are in inhuman and unimaginable conditions. He will also meet with the authorities of the Canton of Una-Sana as well as the authorities of Sarajevo. On the side of the Council of Europe, we are therefore going out into the field to see what is happening.

Of course, other Council of Europe bodies have also been involved; in particular the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), which has not yet visited Bosnia and Herzegovina but has travelled to other countries and issued reports on it. We are therefore concerned about the situation at the borders, especially as our work, and in particular that of the two Special Representatives on Migration Issues, has focused on the issues of unaccompanied migrant children. The new action plan now targets all those in vulnerable positions.

That is the Council of Europe's response.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

17:00:22

And the final question was from Mr HUNKO regarding the Article 15 procedure.

According to Article 15, the role of the Secretary General is to be informed of each and every one of the member States that invoked Article 15. At the peak of the crisis, I think there were 10 members States that asked for it, and at this moment there are two. Of course, there are limits in time and once the procedure is over again, I get the information from the member States that cease to apply the situation of Article 15.

This is where we stand now. At the moment there are only two member States and I hope this situation will allow for these two also to withdraw their reservation based on Article 15.

Thank you very much.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:01:23

Thank you, Madam Secretary General.

This brings us to the end of this part of our session. It is after five o'clock. I do apologise to all of our colleagues who were not able to address a question to you straight, but I invite each and every one of them them to have their question being submitted in writing to the table office in order for you to be able to respond to it.

We now go to our next item of business this afternoon which is the debate on the report titled "The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2020)" which is in our document 15211. It will be presented by Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN on behalf of the Monitoring Committee.

In order to finish by 7:30p.m., which is in two and a half hours, we must interrupt the list of speakers at about 6:45 to allow time for the reply and the vote.

I now call Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN, rapporteur.

You have 10 minutes to present the report, Michael, and three minutes to reply to the debate.

I'm happy to see you so far away but you're looking good. So have a crack at it.

Michael, you have the floor.

Debate: The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2020)

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Rapporteur, Denmark, ALDE

17:02:31

Thank you so much, Mr President, and may I also use this opportunity to congratulate you on your re-election as President for our Assembly. I think we all are very much looking forward to a year that perhaps is going to be more normal than the first year you were President. That is also my first year as Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and it has been an extremely difficult year for all of us, including in the Monitoring Committee. Because of the Covid-19 situation a lot of the co-rapporteurs have had difficulties in managing their work, have had difficulties in coming out to visit the different countries to make their reports, and that's actually also included in the progress report. You can see that we are now managing the so-called hybrid, the different virtual meetings, and so on, are getting into gear. So even though there's a Covid-19 situation, I, as Chairman, actually believe we are managing our job quite well. In the progress report, I'm touching upon the 11 countries that are under full monitoring, including the three that are under post-monitoring. I will touch upon just a couple of those countries.

First is, of course, Poland, which is a new country under monitoring. There are very worrying developments in Poland even though Poland is an EU member and has been a member of the Council of Europe for many years. There are difficulties and worsening developments regarding some of the core values that we take to heart in the Council of Europe and, therefore, need to be addressed and we are trying to address them from the Council of Europe Monitoring Committee.

And then there is of course Turkey. Turkey has been our focus for many years, and we still see a lack of commitment from the Turkish government and from the Turkish majority in the Turkish Parliament to actually follow the recommendations that we put forward from this Assembly. That is a very bad situation, to say the least. Therefore, we need to be perhaps firmer in our approach to a country like Turkey because it is a very big member of this organisation. Therefore, we need to leave a lasting impact on Turkey so that we can see some more positive developments like, for example, freedom of expression, how NGOs can manage to work in Turkey, and so on.

And then, of course, the war in the Nagorno-Karabakh region has also taken up a lot of our time in the Monitoring Committee. I fully understand that it is an extremely sensitive issue for both parties--or for all parties that are involved--but we also need to strictly follow the guidelines and recommendations that all the different aspects we have been hearing of numerous reports of human rights violations are not acceptable. The numerous violations of religious monuments and so on are also extremely bad. That is a conflict that, even though the military hostilities thankfully have stopped, is going to take up a lot of our time in the Monitoring Committee.

But let me come back to what is perhaps the biggest issue for me as a rapporteur and as Chairman of the Monitoring Committee, and that is Russia. Russia is our biggest member. Russia is a country we have debated on numerous times in our Assembly, and Russia is also a country that, when the majority in the Parliamentary Assembly said that we wanted Russia to be re-admitted without sanctions, there were some things that should be followed up on. One of the main issues was that it was better to have Russia inside our organisation so that we, for example, could draft a full monitoring report on Russia as soon as possible. I can now say that, as Chairman and as rapporteur on the Monitoring Committee's progress report, we are nowhere near fulfilling that commitment from the government of Russia and from the Duma delegation to our Assembly.

I cannot say this undiplomatically enough: it is totally unacceptable. Russia is a country that we know has many, many issues to address regarding the Monitoring Committee's work, but it is impossible for us in the Monitoring Committee to do our job if we do not have co-operation from the Russian side to be let in so that our co-rapporteurs can do their job. I fully understand that the Covid-19 situation has made it difficult, but the Covid-19 situation had not made it impossible for other politicians to travel to Moscow. A lot of politicians have actually been welcomed to Russia throughout 2020. For example, the Secretary General of our organisation, even our President has been accepted into Moscow and, for example, the Danish foreign minister has also been accepted into Moscow.

But who has not? The co-rapporteurs of our Assembly. I cannot stress this enough: if Russia really wants to be seen as a democratic member of this organisation, then they also have to adhere to and follow the rules of this organisation, because otherwise this is just a free pass for a big member to do whatever they want. Therefore, I really must address this, that if Russia does not open up to the co-rapporteurs to do their job, I personally cannot say that Russia is doing what they promised us to do when we all--or a big majority of us anyway--adhere to the Russian we coming back without sanctions. Therefore, it is something that we have to follow up on as soon as possible in this new year because I want the Russian government and their delegation to hear what we're saying and also do what we're saying.

That being said, I'm looking forward to hearing your comments and ideas and I will follow up on the comments as I can get a chance.

Thank you so much, Mr President, for the time.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:10:15

Thank you, Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN.

We had a change of guard up here.

Welcome, everyone, back to Strasbourg, which I think is a good feeling after one year.

Let's begin with the debate. I will start with the speakers for the political groups.

I first call on Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA from Romania.

Mr Viorel Riceard BADEA

Romania, on behalf of EPP/CD

17:10:43

Dear colleagues,

As usual, the January session hosts the debate of this report, which presents a description of the progress or regression recorded by states in the monitoring process or during the post-monitoring period.

The current epidemiological context created by the COVID-19 pandemic has inevitably affected the monitoring process, especially with the impossibility of organising visits for documentation in the monitored states, damage that has been compensated by closer monitoring of internal developments in the states concerned.

However, the adoption by the Commission of new rules for the selection of states to be included in the periodic review procedure is a step forward and requires an analysis of the situation by all Council of Europe member states from the perspective of fulfilling their obligations and promises to the Strasbourg organisation. This is a welcome measure, which, if it implements correctly the objective methods formulated for selection, will offer certainty to states during the monitoring process and the post-monitoring dialogue stages.

Dear colleagues,

The positive developments learned from the co-rapporteurs during the exercise of their mandate are aspects that should certainly be highlighted. However, we are concerned about the trend of certain member states that are in contradiction with the Council of Europe in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, especially with the relevant legal instruments of the organisation. It is regrettable that these shortcomings are not sufficiently emphasised in the report, which is supposed to be a snapshot of the monitoring at a certain point, and here I am referring particularly to the situation in Ukraine. The authorities in Kiev of course are entitled to defend territorial integrity and sovereignty after the illegal seizure of Crimea by the Russian Federation, but they have also made some less advisable choices, which contravene the obligations they have undertaken as a member state of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

For example, the teaching law adopted by Ukraine in 2017 contains resolutions that have as a goal the elimination of teaching in the languages of national minorities, and against which the Assembly reacted through the vote of Resolution 2189 (2017) The new Ukrainian law on education: a major impediment to the teaching of national minorities' mother tongues.

In 2019, Ukraine adopted a law regarding teaching in the official language of the state, and in 2020, the law covered secondary education with provisions that represent a number of negative consequences for teaching the mother tongue of national minorities.

I hope that in addition to the major and topical issues that are on the agenda of the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly, the issue of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities will be given due attention, from the perspective of the preservation and development of their culture and identity.

Thank you.

 

 

 

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:14:45

Notwithstanding the validity of each argument, I think we need to try to do our utmost to respect the time limit with regard to the colleagues who want to speak thereafter, as we will have to cut short the list of speakers anyhow.

I ask everyone for this collegial discipline.

The next speaker, on behalf of the ALDE Group, is Mr František KOPŘIVA from the Czech Republic, online.

Mr František KOPŘIVA

Czech Republic, on behalf of ALDE

17:15:11

Thank you Mr Chair for giving me the floor.

Dear colleagues in Strasbourg and all around Europe I would like to support this report and thank the Monitoring Committee and especially the rapporteur.

All the 11 plus three monitored countries all show progress and yet there are still difficulties. It is then important to continue the hard work despite the current pandemic situation and other affairs.

I would like to stress the importance of reporters being able to visit the monitored countries and maintain direct contact with the stakeholders. This was not possible possible in 2020, of course, but in the future we should strive to find a way to allow so safely.

I want to express my utmost support for the monitoring of all Member States.

The situation in the Russian Federation is difficult due to the number of outstanding concerns like the lack of pluralism, independence of the judiciary, restrictive environments for activities of political extra-parliamentary opposition, civil society, human rights activists and journalists, restrictions on freedom of expression assembly, association, and religion as well as a number of problematic laws including the foreign agents law, the law on undesirable organisations or anti-extremist legislation. The current detention of Alexei Navalny and his spouse preceded by a poisoning attempt as well well as arrests happening on peaceful demonstrations in their support are worrying in light of the documentary Mr Navalny published.

Speaking of persecution and investigation of dissenting voices, we should also stress the situation in Turkey. I would like to support the calls proposed in the report for Turkey to refrain from systematic persecution and investigation of dissenting voices and protect their fundamental freedoms. Turkey should ensure strict interpretation of the entire terror law and the penal code so as to ensure that their implementation and interpretation comply with the European Convention on Human Rights as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:17:48

Thank you.

The next speaker, on behalf of the European Conservatives, is Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom, online. I will take this opportunity to congratulate Mr John HOWELL on his new position as head of the UK delegation

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, on behalf of EC/DA

17:18:05

Thank you very much indeed, that's very kind of you.

May I start by being equally kind? I would like to congratulate Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN on being elected again as Chairman of the Monitoring Committee. I think he does a very good job there, and I think that what I would like to say is about the importance of monitoring. In a values organisation, it's absolutely essential that we monitor and that we monitor everyone. Monitoring has to be seen, not as a big stick that we take to beat a country that we think has done things wrong, but as a regular process of inquiring about what is going on in the country. Because I think all countries have things that the Monitoring Committee could get to. 

I thought Michael JENSEN's description of various countries and of his report was very sad, and it made for a very sad reading on the number of countries that are defying us. It's as if monitoring is not important to them. Now I know that for myself because I'm the co-rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee on Turkey with Mr Thomas HAMMARBERG, and we have found it very difficult to maintain the sort of dialogue that we would like to have with Turkey during the Covid-19 situation.

I have to say that I think that the Covid-19 situation is more of an excuse than a reality to stopping us from having the sort of discourse that we actually need. I think that this is Turkey playing a game with us to try and stop us from having access in order to be able to get answers to very important--but actually very simple--questions about what is happening there.

Let me give a couple of examples of that. We have heard several times already during this plenary session that Turkey is simply not bringing into force the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. Is that because we are not there to actually make the case to them? I wonder whether that is the case. Also there, we have seen the enormous crackdown there is on NGOs and I think that that has to be deplored above all things. 

I am a great enthusiast for monitoring. I think the more that we can take away the image that it is us trying to wield a  big stick against a country, the more that we will get cooperation, and the more that we will get cooperation the better it will be for all of us including for the country itself.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:21:03

Thank you.

The next speaker on the list on behalf of UEL is Mr Tiny KOX from the Netherlands, here in the plenary.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, on behalf of UEL

17:21:16

Thank you very much, Mr President.

First, my compliments to Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN for the fact that he wrote this report on behalf of the Monitoring Committee and that he got re-elected. Once again, he did a great job last year, in the last difficult year, and I'm confident he will do a great job this year. 

The Monitoring Committee has adopted this report with large support. I compliment the rapporteur for this report as it is an appropriate summary of the report made by our co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee. It is indeed as Mr John HOWELL said "sad news". There is a lot of sad news in the report because there are so many things that do not go as they should in the countries under monitoring, and it is a task and the duty of our co-rapporteurs to mention it. Fortunately, there are also things mentioned that do develop for the better in several of our member States, but overall the situation is not good.

Looking at the Amendments which are proposed in this report and seeing which colleagues propose them, I would like to emphasise that the annual monitoring report should not be considered a second chance for member States to modify earlier reports and statements by our co-rapporteurs. My EUL group appreciated the work done by our co-rapporteur very much and we are not in favour of easily changing their observations and conclusions. If you want the governments of our member States to take the reports of our co-rapporteurs seriously, we ourselves should also treat their observations and conclusions seriously.

Our specific monitoring report as well as the annual report of the chair of the Monitoring Committee deserve to be treated with great respect, according to my group. And, of course, we do debate the reports of our co-rapporteurs in both the Monitoring Committee as well as in the Assembly. There we could and should amend them if needed. And when the chair of the Committee summarises them we should refrain from amending it, unless that's completely and clearly needed.

In this respect, I would like to say again that member States who consider our monitoring procedures as a sanction mechanism are wrong. The monitoring mechanism is there to help to assist member States and member parliaments. I agree very much with Mr John HOWELL in this respect and I think it underlines the need that we re-evaluate our monitoring system, as we already decided when adopting my report, on the role and mission of the Assembly.

Once again, thanks to our rapporteur. His summary is, I think, in line with the reports of our co-rapporteurs. We take them seriously in order to make our member States also take them seriously.

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:24:25

Thank you Mr Tiny KOX.

Last speaker on behalf of the political groups is Mr Stefan SCHENNACH from Austria for the Socialist Group, and this is online, I assume we are calling Vienna.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, on behalf of SOC

17:24:47

Mr. President,

Greetings from Vienna. I am a little jealous of all my colleagues who are now sitting in plenary and I have to stay in Vienna because it is parliamentary week. First of all, congratulations to Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN, the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee, for this overview of the work of the Committee and the dedicated work of all the various rapporteurs.

It has been a difficult year, I can only confirm, as I am also the rapporteur for Azerbaijan, and in many cases we have not been able to do what is necessary, which is to go out into the field. But this report on the last year shows how important the Monitoring Committee is, how important the work of the rapporteurs is here; and underlines that this is one of the most important tasks of the Council of Europe. The report shows both negatives and positives. Going on the positive side, I am very pleased with a country I know very well, Northern Macedonia, where the ability to work together across ethnic divides is working.

Of course, there are also steps backward in this report and also the need for them. Last year I was successful with an amendment concerning Poland. Poland is now new in the monitoring process. You can see what has been reported here, how important this step was, and how important dialogue is for Polish society, especially for women concerning one's own reproductive rights, or the LGBT scene in Poland. I was able to experience this myself on the field as the head of the Election Observation Commission for the country's presidency.

This period also saw the end of the bloody war over Karabakh. That was an important step, but the next steps towards it are still necessary. For two countries that now have a formal ceasefire and peace must also learn to live in peace. Monitoring and the work of the rapporteurs can be helpful in all these areas.

In this sense, I am also glad that this report was adopted unanimously and overwhelmingly in the committee and that it was not softened by amendments. These are the reports in this report that the rapporteurs have reported in their difficult work. I very much hope that we can continue the work in 2021, at least partly in a non-remote level.

 

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:28:17

This concludes the list of speakers on behalf of the political groups.

Let me use the opportunity to inform your for your own planning purposes that we will have to cut the list of speakers not at 6:45 p.m. but at 6:30 p.m. to give enough room for the voting requirements. Just for your planning purposes.

Next speaker on the list is Ms Lise CHRISTOFFERSEN for the Socialist Group from Norway.

Ms Lise CHRISTOFFERSEN

Norway, SOC

17:28:51

Mr President and dear colleagues, let me start by thanking Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN for his report.

As a rapporteur from North Macedonia my worry is that we as rapporteurs have not been able to visit our countries for more than a year. The original plan was to visit North Macedonia during the first half of 2020 and my term as rapporteur ended in June 2020. It was due to the special circumstances extended until the end of 2020. However it has not yet been possible to go on a fact-finding visit. Another extension has been discussed but not yet decided upon as far as I know. My co-rapporteur is newly appointed but he has so far not been able to visit the country.

Unfortunately the current infection situation may indicate that this will still be the case at least during the first half of 2021.

The situation in my country Norway is rather worrying these days with a large outbreak of the mutated virus initially discovered in Great Britain. A large number of municipalities around Oslo, including my own, have been closed down. A positive aspect though is that the adult part of our population will vaccinated by this summer.

What we don't know however is whether or not the vaccine also means that we are no longer carriers of the virus infection. Therefore I wonder if there has been a discussion on the functioning of remote meetings with the authorities and civil society in the countries under monitoring or post monitoring as mentioned in the progress report.

I find it worrying that were not able to perform this important part of our task as members of the Parliamentary Assembly. In fact the social inequalities due to the consequences of the pandemic really makes it even more important to have a close eye on the developments both in countries under monitoring and post-monitoring dialogue as well as in other member countries.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:31:51

Thank you very much.

The next speaker on the list is Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN from Hungary, also online.

Please, open your microphone.

Mr Zsolt CSENGER-ZALÁN

Hungary, EPP/CD

17:32:15

... on the honouring of membership obligations. Although this document once again states that the objective of the periodic review would be to monitor the respect of obligations by all member states, the current devised working methods do exactly the opposite. The periodic review was created as a complementary procedure to the standard monitoring of the Council of Europe which currently concerns one third of the member states: 11 under monitoring and three under the post monitoring dialogue. The aim of the periodic review should be an overall assessment of honouring of obligations in all other member states. The grounds for the selection of the countries for periodic review as settled in point 3 of the draft decision on the revised internal working methods, especially the reliance on media reporting, cannot be considered as transparent and impartial. The new working method is not suited to serve the original purpose of the periodic review. Therefore we are calling for the deletion of point 6 of the preliminary draft resolution.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:33:55

Thank you. The next speaker on the list is Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY from the Russian Federation, here in the plenary.

Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY

Russian Federation, NR

17:34:13

Thank you, President. 

President, I would like to begin my comments by responding to what was stated in Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN's report. He stated that the co-rapporteurs were not able to visit Russia. Now, in fact, we have just gone through a very, very difficult year and, indeed, I'd like to wish all of you good health, and all of your loved ones good health. I hope this year will be easier than last year. I believe that we will be able to co-operate in fighting against the terrible scourge of COVID-19. I believe that we must understand that it is COVID-19 that prevented the co-rapporteurs from visiting Russia. Twice, we invited the co-rapporteurs to visit us to be our guests, and also Mr JENSEN, our President came another time, someone came without him. On both occasions, however, the co-rapporteurs received our invitations but were not able to come because of the pandemic. That is the objective situation. Sadly, Mr JENSEN, in his report, in fact, described things as being completely the opposite of that. If you were to believe what Mr JENSEN was saying, and follow his thinking, he seems to indicate that the only thing preventing the situation in Russia being assessed in the way that it should be done was something to do with what we were doing. It was not in fact the objective truth, which is to say that it was the pandemic. We are willing to receive the co-rapporteurs and Mr JENSEN at any time.

Now, turning to the monitoring procedure itself, if we think back 25 years ago when we had Resolution 1115, we then, at that time, had to overcome the Iron Curtain because we had to move into a totally different situation. We were then in the situation that we wanted to implement the high standards of the Council of Europe, that is to say, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law being fully respected. Russia, Albania, Moldova, and Ukraine have been under this monitoring process for 24 years now, and if you look at Georgia and Armenia, for 21. What in fact is this supposed to be about? We see that in fact this monitoring seems to become all encompassing. We see no way out of it; it just seems to go on forever. We have this closed procedure of monitoring, and it never seems to come to an end. We see that what's happening is that countries are dragging things out rather than using monitoring to allow us to achieve the high standards of the Council of Europe. What's happening is that they are using it to create an artificial division within the Council of Europe. That seems to be what they're doing. We want the Parliamentary Assembly and the Council of Europe to play the key role that they should play in creating the future European architecture for all of us. That is what I would certainly appeal.

I am sure that this will not be supported in this room here today. I do think, however, that we have to move in the direction I am describing. Continuing to drag out this monitoring procedure in the way that we are doing right now gets us nowhere. We're just running up a brick wall here. What we have to do is introduce a different approach: thematic monitoring throughout the whole area covered by the Council of Europe. Thank you. 

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:37:36

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Nicole DURANTON from France, for the first time I think.

Ms Nicole DURANTON

France, ALDE

17:37:43

Mister Speaker,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank our rapporteur Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN for this very enlightening report on the evolution of democratic issues in several Member States of our Organisation during this very special year 2020.

Whatever the difficulties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must collectively affirm the importance of respecting the rule of law and democracy. That is the raison d'être of the Council of Europe. These are our common values!

More than ever, in these dark times, we need to be convinced of this in order to be able to act effectively, both in our States and in the framework of our functions in this Assembly. I therefore support the appeal to the individual States under monitoring to step up their efforts to fully honour all the obligations and commitments entered into upon accession to the Council of Europe.

On the occasion of this debate, I also want to welcome the new method chosen by the committee to select the countries to be subject to regular periodic review. The criteria appended to the report before us appear credible and indisputable.

The procedure of drawing up a reasoned draft shortlist, with the possibility of counter-proposals, also duly reasoned, offers a guarantee of transparency and in-depth dialogue.

Naturally, I believe it is important to firmly maintain the objective of preparing, over time, periodic reviews of all Member States. This is an important condition for the credibility of our Organization.

Finally, I wish to raise the subject of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is painful for our Assembly.

This conflict, which was sometimes described as "frozen", has become a burning issue again. Yet, it pits two States of our Organization against each other. There have been many victims, and the manipulation of information and hate speech have, unfortunately, been a reality. Violations of humanitarian law also occurred, and the report cruelly underscores that, whether it be the use of cluster munitions, respect for the distinction between civilian and military objectives and the principle of proportionality.

Dialogue must now be resumed in order to achieve a genuine negotiated settlement of the conflict. The role of our Assembly is to recall the need to preserve the fundamental rights of citizens. I also want to stress the importance of the OSCE Minsk Group, which must play its full role in the conflict settlement process.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:40:29

Merci beaucoup, next speaker on the list is Mr Samad SEYIDOV from Azerbaijan.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

17:40:36

Thank you very much Mr President.

It's a great honour today to be here after 20 years of our membership in the Council of Europe.

Twenty years ago my delegation raised the flag of Azerbaijan. We came to this organisation with pain, with occupied territories, and we always tried to bring justice to our land using the Council of Europe values which was very very difficult. We did our best for that.

Today I am really proud that we, as representatives of the country which restored its territorial integrity, came to this Parliamentary Assembly. From this point of view I think the role of the Monitoring Committee is becoming more and more important.

Today we should think not about the war, because already a peace agreement has been signed between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We should think about confidence-building measures. We should think: how can we create a new atmosphere? How can we bring the values of the Council of Europe to our region? Unfortunately some tensions and some groups of people try to exaggerate the situation, try to create obstacles for this peace process. From this point of view I think the part of the report presented by Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN concerning the conflict tries to keep the balance, which is very, very important.

I ask my colleagues and friends from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly to keep this approach, to keep the balance, not to be in favour of one side as we have seen very many times in this Parliamentary Assembly. Only this way can help us to create the bridge between two nations. This is essential because of this occupation we have suffered, because of this violation of international law, millions of refugees are living without homes. Now the situation is completely vice versa. Now the roads are open and opening – a new spirit of peace and reconciliation is coming to the region.

Let's help the states of our region, Azerbaijan and Armenia, to create this very very important relationship. The monitoring procedure is an essential one. The role of the rapporteur is essential. They should be objective, they should be very open and sincere.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:43:47

Thank you.

The next speaker is Ms Klotilda BUSHKA from Albania, online.

Ms Klotilda BUSHKA

Albania, SOC

17:44:02

I hope you are all well and having a healthy year.

I do support this report and I do very much appreciate the important contribution that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and especially the Monitoring Committee have given for the respect of human rights and institutional practice in the member States, particularly for Albania.

The monitoring report for Albania highlights three main issues.

The first one welcomes the electoral reform in the country. It encourages the Albanian Parliament to foster the freedom of media and to ensure that all the Venice Commission opinion recommendations concerning the amendment to the law on audiovisual media are fully addressed. It makes good notes on the progress of the implementation of justice reform and anti-corruption strategies, but it notes that the constitutional court is not yet fully functional.

I have some remarks on these three issues.

On electoral reform, yes, it's true. Albania finally has a legislative framework in compliance with the best standards, which will be applied in the upcoming general elections of April 2021. Then its commission, in its opinion of December 2020 on a good note, affirmed such compliance.

On the media law, as it has been exchanged with the rapporteurs and the Monitoring Committee in the November meeting, the Albanian Parliament is working closely with international experts through the assistance of the EU and the Council of Europe with a lot of help to address all the Venice Commission opinion recommendations on the new text of the media law. Such legislation will then be broadly consulted with the stakeholders such as media actors, civil society, international organisations, etc.

On justice reform, I'd like to inform this Assembly that the Constitutional Court in Albania has all the quorums for any kind of decision-making since December 2020. Albania is committed to fostering the implementation of the justice reform and anti-corruption mechanism in the best interest of the Albanian people, as is highlighted in the report.

Now a concluding remark, I'd like to state that monitoring reports are valuable for the strengthening of democratic institutions and they continue to serve as guidelines for important reforms in the country. As I stated before, I'd like to emphasise once again that the monitoring report should be focused on how to help countries become better places, not only to criticise them. 

We have to be more objective in the role that the Monitoring Committee and the Assembly should have because after such a long monitoring procedure there should be a balance of what has gone well and what is to be improved, not just making reports and stating things. Sometimes we have to be careful about the base for the conclusions. Is it a perception or a fact?

Having said that, I thank you for your attention but, above all, thank you for your work and please accept my best wishes and the Albanian Parliament for the future.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:47:13

Thank you. 

The next speaker is Ms Milena DAMYANOVA from Bulgaria, also online.

We seem to have lost her... Are you there?

Ms Milena DAMYANOVA

Bulgaria, EPP/CD

17:47:48

Mister President, Dear Colleagues,

The report of the Monitoring Committee we are discussing today gives an overview of the monitoring procedure and the post-monitoring dialogue over the past year.

It was a year that will be remembered in the history of the Council of Europe for the difficult situation caused by the pandemic. This fact cannot be ignored, because it affects either the work of national parliaments and governments or the Assembly.

Since this report is a framework report, it would be good, in addition to examining individual procedures, to ask ourselves whether the time has not come to reform the Assembly's monitoring.

The monitoring procedure was initiated by the former President of Finland, Ms Halonen, in 1994, when the Council of Europe was enlarged. At that time, the Organisation had also accepted countries that did not yet meet the accession criteria, but committed themselves to respecting them. That is why the current procedure is in fact a monitoring procedure for new States immediately after their accession.

But can we still consider States that have been members of the organisation for 20 or 30 years as "new"? Of course not! For this reason the procedures we follow need to be reviewed and radically reformed. We have tabled this particularly important amendment, but, unfortunately, it has not been included in the text under discussion today.

Although some Member States are among the founding members of the Council of Europe, they are not perfect either. At the same time, the countries of central and eastern Europe are subject to ever new demands regarding the problems that have arisen in the meantime. There are no perfect member states in our organisation. None at all! Therefore, in a future monitoring procedure, this should concern all Member States, and they should be treated equally.

Of course, we must learn from the shortcomings of the current system. I will give an example related to the events that took place in many Member States - including the founding states. When demonstrators attacked parliament buildings, some rapporteurs denounced such demonstrations - for example in Armenia, and others denounced the police defending the country's institutions - for example in Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, 80 demonstrators were held in police custody for 24 hours, and this was denounced. In Germany 300 demonstrators were arrested outside the Bundestag and the length of police custody was longer, but this was not denounced. I can also give an example with France, Spain... After the recent attacks on the United States Capitol, I hope that we will succeed in reaching a common position.

I give these examples to emphasise that, from the individual point of view of the rapporteurs, the same events are treated differently. This could not be acceptable. It discredits the procedure as a whole. In conclusion, I would like to say that my criticism is not directed at the Chairman of the committee, but at the procedure we follow.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:51:00

Thank you. 

The next speaker on my list would be Mr Irakli CHIKOVANI from Georgia, but he's not in the seat. At least no, you are not in the allocated seat.

I'm sorry, the floor is yours.

Mr Irakli CHIKOVANI

Georgia, SOC

17:51:16

Dear members of the Assembly, first of all it's my great honor to once again be present at this Hemicycle and address you. I would like to thank members of the Monitoring Committee and Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN himself. He used to be the rapporteur on Georgia and he has a first-hand experience of my country.

Since the accession to the Council of Europe, Georgia has made a dramatic transformation and in 2020 it culminated into Georgia's presidency of Committee of Ministers. I believe, amidst the pandemic, we left our mark and enriched the Council of Europe's agenda. Our priority – human rights and environmental protection – has received widespread support and was backed by a number of incoming presidencies. We understand that democracy is not static, it's a constant strive for more participation, more protection and more engagement. That is why we remain constantly engaged with our partners in mapping our European path.

With regards to our European aspirations, I have to bring to your attention a new agenda adopted by the ruling party and by our team. It's called "Building a European State". The strategic benchmark of this agenda is to prepare Georgia to apply for EU membership in 2024. Colleagues, as the report states, heated controversy has preluded constitutional reform in Georgia and it's in that process. However we have arrived at a system that led to the most inclusive multi-party parliament in Georgian history. Despite specifying shortcomings, international election observer missions concluded that 2020 elections were competitive with fundamental freedoms protected and that parties could campaign freely.

Recalcitrant to every stakeholder and guided by the principle of "all-or-nothing", a number of opposition parties refused to serve the mandate credited to them by the Georgian people. At the same time, we understand that we should not stop. We stand ready to deliver on more reforms and investigate any claim at the highest level through a parliamentary investigative commission. Georgia is dedicated to remaining a top democratic reformer and further delivering on recommendations, including recommendations of this house. We already committed to deliver and we will deliver. By no means can we fall victims to hollow and futile allegations.

Dear colleagues, the report also focuses on the situation in occupied territories of Georgia and the creeping annexation of my country by the Russian Federation, but several days ago Georgia celebrated the biggest victory in its history: the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. We Georgians, like every European, believe in the strong principles of fundamental international law and that it will prevail and human rights will be upheld.

Thank you

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:54:40

Thank you.

The next speaker on the list is Ms Aleksandra TOMIĆ from Serbia, speaking online.

Ms Aleksandra TOMIĆ

Serbia, EPP/CD

17:54:49

Distinguished Chairman Mr Andreas NICK.

I believe that this resolution in the part related to Serbia, in part of 9.12 contains certain qualifications that do not match the facts.

First of all, the state of emergency in Serbia lasted from 5 March to 6 May 2020. All the measures aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic have nothing to do with the election process and the elections held on 21 June 2020. Moreover, the protests after the elections were not related to discontent with the measures introduced by the state against the pandemic but rather to the discontent with poor election results achieved by some political parties and with the failure of the idea of boycotting the elections.

During the protest the target of the attacks by the discontent was the parliament as an institution in an attempt to forcibly occupy and to take over power. Defending this temple of democracy police were exposed to physical violence and numerous police officers were injured on the occasion. We are talking about brutal attacks against the police that responded out of absolute necessity and to protect the constitutional order.

As regards the allegation about attacks on journalists and about the financial control and not financing investigation of non-governmental organisations, we responsibly claim that they were not politically motivated and that transparency of work should equally apply to all: both to representatives of the authorities and representatives of the opposition, media and non-governmental organisations.

We hope that commands will be taken into account when drawing up the report on Serbia with the Monitoring Committee of PACE and that a force will be invested to avoid the application of double standards when it comes to Serbia. I hope that your procedure of Monitoring Committee will make an objective report in the future.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:57:30

Thank you. The next speaker on the list is Mr Kislyak from Russia, also speaking online.

Mr Sergey KISLYAK

Russian Federation, NR

17:57:58

Thank you very much, chairman.

Well, as you know, concerning the particular report that we are discussing today. I think there are indeed a number of different parts that are brought up which are pertinent to the particular time in which we find ourselves right now. And a number of different unusual events have taken place throughout the council of member states and in my country as well.

And of course monitoring takes place under these very unusual circumstances of today.

When we look at the particular scheme of things we see numerous different mechanisms. A mechanism in which 35 different member states play a very important role as far as keeping this particular organization together and carrying out the monitoring activities which are necessary for that purpose.

So essentially what we have is a kind of endless process. It is very difficult to see where all of this will lead on certain occasions with regard, in other words, to the monitoring of certain member states. It's difficult to see where the road is going, actually. But I think indeed we have to optimize monitoring so that it covers everybody essentially.

Now, looking at this particular report. Well, we see that monitoring per se simply forgets or doesn't take a close look at serious violations in numerous different member states. For example the rise of the far right Nazis in Estonia and Latvia, the harassment of journalists and of the media as well in a whole series of member states, this is not taken up by monitoring.

So there are serious issues where monitoring is taking place, but monitoring doesn't take up serious issues in those countries. For example, in the Ukraine, already under monitoring. There we see that we have a serious violation of that country's constitution with the exclusion and banning of minority languages in that country.

So I think we have to have a process which is very carefully scrutinized taking into consideration the broad range of problems that exist throughout many different member states and not just repeatedly focus on some countries. It is demoralizing, it is not constructive. And I think the monitoring system has to be altered, has to be changed and reformed to be conducted in a much more far-reaching, effective and comprehensive fashion.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:01:30

Thank you. The next speaker on the list is Mr Kern France here in the plenary.

Mr Claude KERN

France, ALDE

18:01:38

Thank you, Mister President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

I wish to thank our rapporteur, Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN, for this report, which takes stock of the Monitoring Committee's activities in the year 2020.

As has already been mentioned, it is certainly a very special year, both for the Monitoring Committee and for our Assembly as a whole. However, it is certain that, in terms of monitoring, the impossibility of travelling directly to the States concerned has been a real difficulty in maintaining direct political dialogue with local authorities. I myself measured that in the case of Georgia, for which I am co-rapporteur.

In that connection, I should like to stress the conclusion of the resolution proposed to us on Georgia. A serious investigation must be carried out in a thorough and transparent manner into all the alleged cases of electoral fraud during the parliamentary elections of October 2020. It is also necessary for all political parties to play the parliamentary card in order to ensure the proper functioning of Parliament and thus of democracy. I want to reiterate here that, together with my co-rapporteur colleague, we are ready to work with the Georgian authorities to improve the situation.

Beyond the situation in that State, I would like to echo the committee's analysis of the need to keep democracy alive, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, times are unfortunately difficult, but no health emergency should be used to undermine the acquis démocratique!

The committee stresses in particular the importance of the issue of elections in these times of health constraints, as well as that of the democratic legitimacy of the elected authorities.

I want to tell you here that this is precisely the point we will be examining tomorrow in the French Senate, with regard to the departmental and regional elections which were due to take place in March and which should be postponed until June.

We are convinced that sufficient guarantees must be provided and that procedures must be adapted, where necessary, to enable the elections to be held in good sanitary conditions. However, we believe that it would be very dangerous to disproportionately put democracy under lockdown.

The debate we are having here today will thus have a direct echo in the French Parliament tomorrow, and I thought it important to stress this.

Thank you very much.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:04:08

Thank you, the next speaker is Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN from Armenia, online.

Ms Naira ZOHRABYAN

Armenia, EC/DA

18:04:32

I will not talk about the defeat of the Armenian side in the last Artsakh war. We will discuss it in our country and all the verdicts will be heard there.

Today, I would like to talk about the humanitarian crisis that is the result of an unprecedented war provoked by Azerbaijan, with the direct involvement of Turkey, one of NATO's largest armies, as well as international terrorist groups. Azerbaijan has launched an unprecedented war with the use of chemical weapons prohibited by all conventions, targeting civilian establishments and infrastructure as well as cultural sites. We were faced with an unprecedented situation and inhuman cruelty towards prisoners of war.

I could show you, colleagues, articles from the Azerbaijani media attesting to the inhuman torture and humiliation inflicted on captive soldiers, but I will not be so cruel toward you. However, I do have a question for you: have you tried to put yourself in the shoes of the parents of soldiers whose son was beheaded by Azerbaijani terrorists and whose picture was sent to his parents? As a result of the war unleashed by Azerbaijan, dozens of Artsakh Armenians were displaced far from their homes. What is this if not a humanitarian catastrophe? What the President Erdoğan has done is a war crime according to all international legal regulations and should be recognized as such.

On 31 December, the President of Azerbaijan, referring to the Armenian military held captive in his country, declared that they were not prisoners of war but terrorists. Statements of this kind seriously violate post-war humanitarian aid processes and international human rights requirements. The Armenian military captured by the Azerbaijani military must be released immediately and returned to Armenia. This must be done immediately and without any preconditions as they have the status of prisoners of war.

During and since the end of hostilities, the Azerbaijani authorities have consistently violated international human rights requirements and humanitarian commitments by artificially delaying the return of prisoners of war and by failing to declare their exact numbers. This has allowed them to continue to be tortured and treated inhumanely.

I call on the Council of Europe to use its mandate and to do its utmost to allow the return of Armenian prisoners of war to their homeland. We must put ourselves in the shoes of an Armenian mother who is going through the hell of waiting and searching for her son. That is my only request to you.

Thank you, dear colleagues.

 

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:08:17

Thank you and next speaker is Ms GJERMENI from Albania online.

Ms GJERMENI your microphone is not working. We cannot hear you. We should try to fix the problem with you and maybe in the meantime, Mr President you may give the floor to the next speaker.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Secretary General of the Parlamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

18:09:10

In the meantime Mr President you may give the floor to the next speaker.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:09:11

Thank you.

Next speaker on the list is Mr Ruben RUBINYAN from Armenia here in the plenary.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

18:09:19

Thank you Mr Chair.

My Azerbaijani colleague Mr Samad SEYIDOV spoke about the necessity of confidence-building between Armenia and Azerbaijan after the recent war.

Let's talk about confidence-building.

Last month an official postal stamp was issued in Azerbaijan, dedicated to the year 2020, on which a man in a protective suit is depicted, similar to the one that health workers dealing with Covid wear.

This man is cleansing or disinfecting the part on the map where Nagorno Karabakh is.

He is of course disinfecting this area of Armenians.

Is this how Mr Samad SEYIDOV and other Azerbaijani authorities see confidence-building?

If yes, it's very strange, because I don't think that there's been an instance in the history of mankind that Nazi ideology has brought to confidence-building.

The other issue is, of course, the issue of prisoners of war. 

According to the ceasefire agreement, all prisoners of war and other persons held should be immediately released on the principle of "all for all".

Unfortunately, this hasn't happened, because Azerbaijan is refusing to complete the process.

And furthermore, after the ceasefire, they unleashed another attack on two villages, and as a result, captured more prisoners of war and started a criminal prosecution against them, calling them criminals and terrorists.

I don't think this is a confidence-building measure either.

Dear colleagues, 20 years ago Azerbaijan and Armenia became members of the Council of Europe.

And during these 20 years, I know many of you became tired of this constant Armenian-Azerbaijani quarrels in this Hemicycle. 

And as a result many of you have been reluctant to speak about the topic. Many of you probably felt the need to be balanced. And many of you probably felt the need not to take sides, as Mr SEYIDOV said. But I will have to ask you to take sides.

Not the side of Armenia, but the side of humanity, the side of peace, the side of human rights, and the side of rejection of Nazi ideology.

I urge you to condemn this outrageous act, the outrageous language used by Azerbaijani authorities and call on the immediate release of Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan, because these people are under the immediate danger of being simply killed.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:12:17

Thank you.

Have we gotten in contact with the speaker from Albania?

Then the next speaker on the list is Mr Ahmet YILDIZ from Turkey.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

18:12:30

Dear colleagues.

I will be forthright. After a new chairperson, after attending a couple of monitoring sessions with the Monitoring Committee and co-rapporteurs and today listening to the remarks of the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and co-rapporteur, I came to the conclusion that government representatives of the countries under monitoring should be represented in the Committee for an efficient and intelligent monitoring process. Because during my conversation with the co-rapporteurs, I invited them repeatedly to Turkey. They should pay a visit. It was planned but they couldn't come for the wrong reasons. Mainly COVID-19. I invited them. I told them we can take the necessary measures protecting them from COVID-19 and I can facilitate their contact with anybody in Turkey. They couldn't make it for their own reasons.

Saying that Turkey is playing is not a good wording. Indeed in these couple of sessions of monitoring I faced a report and a draft resolution partly reflecting some true points and partly bringing up some points in rush and some points out of reality. Far from reality. Indeed I asked them for a simple amendment. When talking about Öcalan, leader of a terrorist organisation, he is still trying to manage the organisation. This organisation is still perpetrating terror attacks in Turkey against everybody. When writing about them I just asked them to write "Öcalan, leader of the PKK terrorist organisation". They couldn't make this amendment. I wish members of the Monitoring Committee and co-rapporteurs could be more judicious when dealing with such a sensitive issue when talking and writing about the leader of a terrorist organisation which is still continuing its terror actions. They were not.

I highly resented... I am shocked by the remarks here today by the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee and co-rapporteur. Of course Turkey is a deep-rooted country. We understand the sensitivities and principles of this organisation. We will continue the cooperation in every aspect but I expect them to be more judicious and I recommend procedural changes to be made in organisation giving the opportunity to government representatives to be in the Monitoring Committee.

Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:16:00

Thank you.

Next speaker on the list is Ms Tamar TALIASHVILI from Georgia.

Ms Tamar TALIASHVILI

Georgia, SOC

18:16:10

Thank you Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I salute Mister rapporteur, Mister JANSEN, for the comprehensive monitoring report. It covers Georgia's progress through year 2020 also highlighting the major political developments from year 2019. As mentioned in the report, this time frame has been the period when Georgia has once again proved that democratic institutions in Georgia are prepared to face the challenges. The ruling majority is ready to lead the political dialogue even with the radical opposition. As a result the Georgian dream committed itself to initiate and implement constitutional amendments in favour of a better balanced political system, which in fact, has contributed to a more pluralist and representative composition of the Georgian parliament. As for the parliamentary elections of 2020 itself, the report highlights the competitive process of the elections in Georgia with fundamental freedoms respected and that parties could campaign feeling. Alongside positive assessment the monitoring report gives several recommendations for ensuring further progress. The ruling party has already publicly announced its commitment to adopt an election reform package, including reforms in key areas recommended by international observer missions.

We fully share the regrets expressed in the monitoring report that were caused by some opposition parties boycotting the parliament. While in fact the election results for opposition parties in the elections 2020 have indeed given them a strong position to execute parliamentary oversight. Here, I will say is an opportunity to thank the ambassadors of the European Union and the United States for their outstanding positive input in the process of the political dialogue.

Finally, I would like to especially emphasise how valuable your statement about ongoing occupation of two regions in Georgia is. The Council of Europe's commitment in strengthening democratic institutions has been and continues to be of an utmost value to Georgia. Let me tell you that the condemnations of violations has been backed up by the recent judgment of the European Court of Human Rights into Georgia against the Russian Federation case of a war of August 2008.

And above all, my colleagues this decision has brought the families of victims rejoice in justice. Thank you.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

18:19:08

Thank you.

We give one more try to give the floor to Ms GJERMENI from Albania online.

Ms Eglantina GJERMENI

Albania, SOC

18:19:18

Thank you so much Mr President.

I would like to appreciate the work done by the rapporteurs in monitoring developments in several countries including Albania, besides the challenges of these times.

After the terrible earthquake of November 2019, Albania started the year 2020 with the main priority being reconstruction. It was an emergency for all of us to accommodate thousands of people who were left homeless. In this context I would highly appreciate significant support to Albania from the Donors Conference in Brussels last year from the European Union and the European Commission.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic situation, especially from March until June 2020, the priorities shifted somehow.

However, the reconstruction programme is continuing as an important process of Albania's economic and social development.

As it is reflected in the monitoring report, besides these challenges and difficulties, Albania has made progress.

One accomplishment that was the most important news at the end of the year 2020, is the functioning of the Constitutional Court.

This step brings Albania close to what the Member States and the Council requested Albania to do.

I believe that this is an achievement, that should have been part of the report, and the information of the report should have been updated.

It is important to Albania and for Albanians to recognise our commitment and our work towards starting EU negotiations, which are very important for us.

Our commitment and hard work to open the EU negotiations is also shown with the fact that Albania has undergone one of the most difficult reforms: the justice reform. The new institutions that were established are now working gradually, and we are expecting the results and the impact of their work.

Regarding the media law, as it is clearly mentioned in the report, Albanian institutions have collaborated with the Venice Commission and other actors to adopt a good law. We are thankful for the expertise from Council of Europe and European Union for this issue. I have to share with you that the improvements of the media law in Albania will be adopted in line with the Venice Commission opinion and in cooperation with all other stakeholders.

Thank you so much for your attention.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:22:02

Thank you, ma'am. We'll continue.

First of all, I wanted to greet those to whom I have not yet greeted and to wish you a happy New Year 2021, full of health, of course, and also of a lot of serenity. I think we need it. We still have two speakers. Then I will have to stop the list. The next speaker is Mr Edmon MARUKYAN of Armenia, who has the floor.

Mr Edmon MARUKYAN

Armenia, ALDE

18:22:30

Thank you, Madam President.

I would like to react to a decision of the Bureau of the PACE not to hold the current affairs debate about Armenian prisoners of war in Azerbaijan.

So I think we have a lot of important issues to debate here but this issue is a very important one that was ignored by the Bureau and after that the Chairman of the Azerbaijani delegation is here talking about confidence-building, you're talking about peace, but how can we talk about confidence-building when Azerbaijan, after the ceasefire, is keeping Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives in Azerbaijani prisons, ill treating them?

The European Court of Human Rights here adopting internal measures, Azerbaijan is not abiding by them and after that we have killing. Azerbaijan is glorifying their soldiers who are beheading Armenian soldiers, cutting heads off civilians in Shusha and then talking about confidence-building and nice things and peace. So I think we have two options: there's one option about Azerbaijan which will be a good one: to release Armenian prisoners of war, and then talk about other things that they want to talk about. If they keep the prisoners of war there in Azerbaijani prisons, and also civilians, then I think that's a behaviour of a terrorist state. So then you are terrorists. Why? Because only terrorists keep hostages and then put pre-conditions on it. And then ask: do this, do that, those are the conditions then otherwise we will not release the prisoners of war. So how can a country which is behaving like a terrorist state be a member state of the Council of Europe, where the rule of law, human rights, democracy are the pillars of this house?

So that is why I call on you, I call on the international community, the Council of Europe, all members of this house, all respected bodies of the Council of Europe, to push and pressure Azerbaijan to release Armenian prisoners of war, civilian captives; otherwise Azerbaijan will be considered as a terrorist State, which is keeping hostages and then using hostages against the Council of Europe member state to demand and to put some more preconditions after the ceasefire agreement which was signed on 9 November. So the Armenian side did all provisions of the ceasefire agreement but Azerbaijan is not going to abide by the provision of number 8 of the 9 November ceasefire agreement. So I'm calling on all members of this house to push Azerbaijan to pressure it to release Armenian prisoners of war and civilian captives. 

Thank you. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:25:44

Thank you, sir.

Last speaker, Mr Givi MIKANADZE, from Georgia.

Mr Givi MIKANADZE

Georgia, SOC

18:25:54

[the first bit was not recorded]

...for his interest and efforts to cast a light over the recent political processes in Georgia. The Constitutional Amendments adopted in 2020 introducing practically proportional electoral system in Georgia, resulting in the 10th convocation of the Georgian Parliament elected with 120 proportional and 30 majoritarian mandates. The newly elected Parliament for the first time in over past 20 years consists of 14 political parties where 90 seats are allocated to the Georgian Dream and the rest 60 to the opposition. The diversity of political actors is a result of the Georgian citizens freely expressed will in the October parliamentary elections.

It is very unfortunate that the opposition does not appreciate support received from their voters and continues to sabotage parliamentary work by refusing to take up their seats. The report duly highlights that the parliamentary elections in Georgia where assessed both by International and local observers as competitive with fundamental freedoms respected and that parties could campaign freely. 80 000 observers monitored the parliamentary elections across the country. Parallel vote tabulation (PVT) was conducted by a prominent NGO which allegedly found an initial 2.4 percent deviation between the PVT and CC results, further used as one of the main arguments by theopposition to protest the central Election Commission results.

The Georgian Dream publicly requested the disclosure of data obtained from 850 precincts where the PVT had been conducted. The request was initially refused by the NGO but in mid-December they announced that based on internal audit an error had been detected in the world calculation formula. Following the correction of the data, the PVT results coincided with the official results of the central Election Commission.

The same organization reported that their PVT had found mismatches in the protocols at 8% of the polling stations. The Georgian Dream again requested several times to publicize the list of the stations where the alleged excess of ballots were detected. According to the CC data, the so-called imbalance relating to excessive number of ballots against the number of voters was recorded in only 19 summary protocols out of 3657, in clear contrast to the NGO claimed evidence of ballot papers in 8% of precincts.

As of today, the Georgian Dream has not received any data from the observer organizations. Along with boycotting the parliament, radical opposition started to openly show their dissatisfaction towards the international observers, foreign politicians, and dialogue facilitators, resulting in a series of attacks launched against Georgia International partners and observers. Especially on the United States and European Union ambassadors.

In order to leave no questions over the fairness and transparency of the process the Georgian Dream came up with the initiative to establish a special parliamentary investigation commission on elections and called on the opposition to join the commission's work. No surprise they have rejected the offer to once again demonstrate their marginalization and determination to continue street protests rather than take a democratic processes inside the parliament.

We look to the future and considering the importance of efforts for faster strengthening of democratic processes in Georgia. Therefore the Georgian Dream is committed to advancing Georgia towards major democracy and we remain determined to work closely with our international partners including PACE to overcome the shortcomings observed during the last parliamentary elections.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:29:38

Thank you.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers.

Those speakers who are registered, present in the debate or remotely connected and who have not been able to speak may, within four hours, send their typed speeches to the Sittings Office for publication in the minutes of proceedings, provided that the remotely connected speakers can report their actual presence at the end of the debate. This transmission must be made by electronic means.

Mister rapporteur, you have three minutes, if you wish, to reply to speakers.

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Denmark, ALDE, Rapporteur

18:30:19

Thank you so much.

I hope you can hear me well, even though I am coming to you here from Denmark, but I heard all the excellent speeches and comments on my report.

First, thank you so much for your kind words and for your comments. I don't want to prolong this evening longer than necessary. I just want to say I fully agree with most of you that we have an extremely important job in the Monitoring Committee to really focus on the shortcomings in those countries that are under monitoring and where there is a need to develop more fruitful freedom of speech, more democratic organisation building, and so on.

I don't want to prolong this debate any longer. I just want to say that I've listened to all of you. I look forward to voting on the report which will come in just a short while.

Thank you so much, Madame President.

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:31:27

The general discussion is closed.

The Monitoring Committee has presented a draft resolution to which nineteen amendments have been tabled. They will be taken in the order in which they apply to the text as published in the collection of amendments.

I have been informed by the Chairman of the Monitoring Committee that amendment number one has been rejected by the Committee by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast. As this is the first time we are going to apply the new rule in Rule 3412, I remind you that "any amendment which is rejected by the Committee seized for report by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast shall not be put to the vote in plenary sitting and shall be declared as definitively rejected unless at least ten members of the Assembly object. »

Is there any objection to our considering it definitively rejected by the Assembly? Yes? In this case, if there is an objection, it must be verified that it has the support of ten delegates. I invite the delegates who support it to come forward: those present, by raising their hands, and those participating at a distance, by asking for the floor. No one wants to reject it in plenary.

She repeats the new rule.

So there is only one person against it. In this case, amendment number one is considered to be rejected and will not be called.

We therefore move on to Amendment No 2. No, number 17, sorry. It's been a year since I was last here in person. It needs some getting used to.

I call Mr Serhii SOBOLEV to support Amendment No. 17.

Does anyone wish to speak in favour of the amendment if Mr Serhii SOBOLEV is not here?

Mr GONCHARENKO, please.

Mr Krasimir BOGDANOV

Bulgaria, EC/DA

20:02:49

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Mr. President,

Distinguished colleagues,

I would like to comment on Mr. Jensen’s report in respect to the text of item 142 of the Memorandum concerning relations between Bulgaria and the Republic of North Macedonia.

First of all, I would like to recall that Bulgaria contributed significantly to the recognition of this new state in 1992, to the recognition of its independence, territorial integrity and borders, to overcoming the Greek embargo, and to its armament during the Kosovo crisis, building also a center for refugees from Kosovo. Bulgaria has always supported the European perspective of the Republic of North Macedonia.

Bulgaria did not block the adoption of a negotiating framework for the Republic of North Macedonia. It simply postponed it until it can guarantee no future senseless disputes between a candidate and a Member State will occur. We do not want to import bilateral disputes in the EU.

I represent the Bulgarian party VMRO, which was founded by Bulgarians from the geographic region of Macedonia back in 1893.

Today, on the family level, more than half of the Bulgarians are relatives to about half of the citizens of the Republic of North Macedonia. More than 100 000 Bulgarian citizens live in this neighboring state, as verified by documents attesting to their Bulgarian ethnic origin.

Let me be crystal clear - Bulgaria is not objecting to the will of the citizens of what today is the Republic of North Macedonia to have their own nation, separate from the Bulgarian one.

However, we do have common ancestors and common heroes, who are not only such for part of the present citizens of our neighbor, but are also our, Bulgarian, ancestors. These ancestors identified themselves as Bulgarians and today we have every objection to strip them of their identity postmortem. We suggest treating them as our common ancestors.

It is because of these circumstances that on the territory of Bulgaria we cannot accept any claims for a so called “Macedonian minority”, claims that are a form of twentieth century social engineering. I hope to receive your just and rational understanding.

Thank you!

Vote: The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2020)

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

18:35:27

The amendment which is saying about what is going on on the illegally occupied territory of Donetsk and Lugansk, we want to replace the words between "the Ukrainian military forces and illegally armed formations in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk which has led to tangible disengagement along the contact line" with the words "following the agreement of the trilateral contact group dated 27 July 2020 which enacted aditional measures to strengthen the regime of full and comprehensive ceasefire". That is talking about ceasefire, it's important so we we ask you to support this amendment.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:36:10

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mister TOLSTOI, you have the floor.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

18:36:25

Thank you. We are against this amendment, in view of its politicized nature and because it does not add anything to the report.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:36:35

What is the Commission's view?

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Denmark, ALDE, Rapporteur

18:36:40

The Committee was in favour by a large majority.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:36:48

We will now proceed to the vote on the amendment.

I declare the vote open in the Chamber and remotely.

The vote is closed.

I ask that the result be displayed.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Secretary General of the Parlamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

18:37:56

Madam Speaker, 58 parliamentarians voted in favour, 21 parliamentarians voted against and 15 abstained.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:38:17

Amendment No. 17 is adopted.

We move on to Amendment No. 2, which was rejected by a two-thirds majority.

As I explained, if this amendment was rejected by the committee by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, theoretically it is supposed to be rejected outright by the House. Is there any objection to this amendment being considered as definitively rejected by the Assembly? I invite you to ask for the floor if that is the case.

There is one objection. Is that objection supported by 10 other people, either in the Chamber or online?

There was only one request.

In that case, and in the absence of other representatives to support the objection:

Amendment 2 is rejected.

Amendment No. 4 was rejected by a two-thirds majority in committee and therefore, in theory, is rejected outright by the Assembly. Is there any objection to this amendment being regarded as definitively rejected by the Assembly?

There is one objection. Is that objection supported by 10 other people, either in the sitting or online? No support in the sitting, 6 support online, which is not enough.

As there is not enough support for the objection, Amendment No. 4 is rejected.

We move to Amendment No. 13 and an oral sub-amendment. I give the floor to Mr Sergiy VLASENKO to support it.

Mr Sergiy VLASENKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

18:41:32

Thank you Ms President.

I would like to add to paragraph 9.11 the following words dealing with the Russian Federation: "Ratification of amendments to the constitution of the Russian Federation that introduce major restrictions on the application of international law and implementation of the ECHR decisions."

So that amendment focuses on adding constitutional changes in the Russian Federation as a major setback that will postpone and even prevent the implementation of decisions of the ECHR. I think that should be mentioned and that should be monitored.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:42:27

Ms Nicole TRISSE said that she would first move the oral sub-amendment.

The Monitoring Committee has referred the oral sub-amendment to the Chair. The oral sub-amendment is as follows: delete the words of the Russian Federation.

Ms Nicole TRISSE said that the oral sub-amendment was in order according to the criteria of the Rules of Procedure. However, it could not be taken into account if at least 10 representatives or substitutes objected to it, with those present standing up and those at a distance asking to speak. The oral sub-amendment is an oral sub-amendment to delete the words of the Russian Federation.

Is there anyone opposed to this sub-amendment?

No one in the Assembly objects to this sub-amendment, no one in line, so the oral sub-amendment is agreed to.

As far as the amendment is concerned, it will be supported by Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN.

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Denmark, ALDE, Rapporteur

18:44:06

I have to say I do not. We have a sub-amendment from the monitoring committee which I stand by. So I stand by the amendment number 13 as sub-amended by the committee. That's the one I stand by. I'm afraid because of the current translation and so on I'm not quite sure what our colleague proposed, but what I am into is the sub-amended amendment 13 which was carried by a large majority in their monitoring committee.

I hope that makes sense.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:44:47

I give the floor to the mover of the amendment to speak on the oral sub-amendment.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:45:25

The Commission's opinion is therefore naturally favourable.

We will now proceed to the vote on the oral sub-amendment.

The vote is open.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Secretary General of the Parlamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

18:46:31

The result is following the 50 members who voted in favour, 16 against, and 29 abstentions.

Ok, the result has been published.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:46:50

The oral sub-amendment is therefore agreed to.

We come back to the amendment. Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment thus sub-amended?

I believe Mr Petr TOLSTOI had requested to have the floor, if he still has it.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

18:47:13

Thank you, Miss President.

In this report, this amendment contains incorrect information about amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation. These do not prevent the application of the decisions of the Court and if this goes through, it will undermine the authority of this Assembly.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:47:47

What is the Committee's opinion on the sub-amendment?

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Denmark, ALDE, Rapporteur

18:47:53

The Committee were in favour of Amendment Number 13 by large majority

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:48:01

We will now proceed to the vote on Amendment No. 13, as subamended.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I request that the results be displayed, please.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Secretary General of the Parlamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

18:48:48

Adopted by 69 votes in favour, 18 against and 16 abstentions.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:48:58

Amendment No. 13, as sub-amended, was adopted.

We move to Amendment No. 14.

I call Mr Sergiy VLASENKO to support the amendment.

Mr Sergiy VLASENKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

18:49:19

Thank you, Madam Chair.

This amendment is naming the Crimea as illegally annexed and the territories of Donetsk and Lugansk as occupied. As we already did that in our previous resolutions, for example "Humanitarian consequences of the war in Ukraine" Resolution number 2198, and "The humanitarian concerns with regard to people captured during the war in Ukraine", Resolution 2112. So, I think that we should keep the wording as it was in our previous resolutions. Thank you

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:49:56

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mister TOLSTOI.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

18:50:04

Thank you, madam,

I consider that all mentions on which the Ukraine is insisting is based on false information. Crimea was, is and always will be part of the Russian Federation. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:50:25

What is the opinion of the committee?

Mr Michael Aastrup JENSEN

Denmark, ALDE, Rapporteur

18:50:30

The committee were against by a slim majority.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:50:38

We will now proceed to the vote on Amendment No. 14.

The vote is open both in the Chamber and remotely.

The vote is closed.

I request that the result be displayed.

Mr Wojciech SAWICKI

Secretary General of the Parlamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

18:51:39

The amendment was rejected: 44 members voted in favour, 45 against, and there were 21 abstentions.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:51:52

Amendment No. 14 was not adopted.

Amendment No. 18. This was rejected by a two-thirds majority in committee, so it is normally definitively rejected by the Assembly unless there is an objection. Therefore, if anyone objects to the rejection of this amendment, whether they speak in the Assembly or online, they should do so.

There is no objection.

In that case, Amendment No 18 is declared rejected and will not be called.

Amendment No 16. I call Mr Kakhaber KUTCHAVA to support the amendment. I call Mr Kakhaber KUTCHAVA to support the amendment.

Mr Irakli CHIKOVANI

Georgia, SOC

18:52:57

I am Mr CHIKOVANI and I will be substituting my colleague.

We propose that in the draft resolution, paragraph 9.11, to replace the words "South-east Asia and Abkhazia" with the following words: "Abkhazia and Tskhinvali region / South-east Asia".

This is a matter of terminology. This is the wording that has been widely used in many international documents although it's not yet been in the Council of Europe's usage, so we think we should use it in our documents. For us and for the sake of justice, it's very important to use the proper wording and to yet again counter Russia's propagandistic narrative about the occupation.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:53:52

Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment?

Mister TOLSTOI, please.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

18:53:59

What the colleague has called propaganda is actually a reality. Abkhazia and South Ossetia will never be again a part of Georgia and therefore we are against this amendment. There is no point in calling an independent country a region of another country. You must get ready for the fact that these two entities will never become part of Georgia. What is the opinion of the committee?

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:54:26