Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

27 January 2021 afternoon

2021 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting num 6

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:01:32

I call the sitting to order. 

The first item of business this afternoon is a current affairs debate on the arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in January 2021.

The debate is limited to 1.5 hours. The speaking time is limited to three minutes for all members, except for the first speaker, Mr Jacques MAIRE, chosen by the Bureau, who is allowed 10 minutes.

I call our first speaker Mr Jacques MAIRE, appointed by the Bureau.

You have the floor.

Current affairs debate: The arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in January 2021

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Rapporteur

16:02:06

Thank you, Madam President.

Colleagues,

Our topical and urgent debate is of particular importance. The arrest of Alexei Navalny has aroused a great deal of emotion in Europe and in this House, the guardian of human rights and of the citizens of all our Member States, from Reykjavik to Vladivostok and from Svalbard to Cyprus. Today we have an opportunity, a first opportunity I would say, to debate the arrest and detention of Mr Navalny. There will be others.

It is important to apply the same standards, without fear or favour, to all our member states. It is important that every citizen and every society enjoys the same rights and freedoms, protected by the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the cornerstone on which our organisation is built and the highest possible expression of our common values.

As President Mr Rik DAEMS said at the opening speech on Monday, our common values are more important than our interests. The role of our Assembly is not to pit people against each other, but to protect our fellow citizens, whoever our citizens are and wherever they are.

Let us come to the situation as it stands today.

The arrest of Mr Navalny, following his return to Moscow from Germany, where he was treated for poisoning by the illegal nerve agent Novichok, is obviously not in line with our values.

Let us first recall why Mr Alexei Navalny was in Germany, because it is his stay in Germany that the Russian authorities are accusing him of. His stay there did not allow him to follow up his judicial review.

Without going into the substance of Mr Navalny's poisoning, which is the subject of a report for the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, I would point out that, to date, the exact location of the poisoning is disputed. On the one hand, the German Government claims that it happened in Russia: the Bellingcat investigation site supports this view and states that Mr Navalny was followed for years across Russia by a team of chemists and secret service doctors; and Mr Navalny claims that he was poisoned at the orders of the highest state level of the Russian Federation. On the other hand, the Russian authorities claim that their tests revealed no traces of poison in Mr Navalny's body before he left Russia on board a specially equipped, medically equipped aircraft bound for the Charité Hospital in Berlin.

However, it is not disputed, and this is a fact, that Mr Navalny was arrested on his return from Germany by the Russian authorities. Therefore, if his arrest and detention were illegal under the European Convention on Human Rights, to which the Russian Federation is a party, we are fully entitled to draw conclusions.

At the beginning of this week, the Assembly followed the advice of the Bureau, which preferred this current affairs debate to the urgent debate that had been proposed by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights at its meeting on 19 January, just after Alexei Navalny's arrest.

Therefore, the time has not come today to adopt a resolution, setting out our collective position in the Assembly on the arrest and detention of Mr Navalny and the legal conclusions that can be drawn from it. But that time will come, colleagues, if you decide to adopt the principle of a specific report on the arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in 2021, which will be submitted to the Bureau and to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in the next few days.

We can therefore take full advantage of our debate to clearly express our political views to our Russian colleagues in this Assembly, as well as to the authorities of the Russian Federation and the general public, but also our analyses which will be useful for the preparation of the possible future report.

What are the facts? Mr Navalny was arrested in connection with a criminal case that was opened against him and his brother Oleg in 2014, known as the Yves Rocher case, a company that the Navalny brothers were accused of defrauding. Mr Navalny received a three and a half year conditional sentence and five years of parole, which expired at the end of December 2020. Two days before the end of his parole period, Mr Navalny was still in Germany recovering from the effects of Novichok poisoning. I met him in Berlin in my capacity as rapporteur for your Assembly on 17 December, after authorisation from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and I can confirm that he made known on that occasion directly to me and the Secretariat - and publicly - his wish to return to Russia as soon as possible. There is therefore no ambiguity about his decision to return to Russian territory and thus submit himself to Russian justice. The prison administration had ordered him to report to its Moscow office, referring to an article on his state of health, published in the magazine The Lancet by Mr. Navalny's German doctors, to justify the conclusion that he had fully recovered. He thus allegedly failed to comply with his obligation to report, in accordance with the conditions of his parole, to a police station.

Consequently, Mr. Navalny will be brought back to court in February for a hearing on the request of the prison administration. Following his failure to appear in December, the prison administration is seeking to have his suspended sentence in the Yves Rocher case converted into a prison sentence. The consequence is serious: he risks being imprisoned for three and a half years, unless his pre-trial detention, which lasted a year under conditions of extreme restrictions, is taken into account.

However, it so happens that in this case involving the Yves Rocher company, the European Court of Human Rights handed down the judgment in 2017, Navalnyye v. Russian Federation. In this judgment, the Court found that the Russian authorities had, and I quote, "violated Mr Navalny's right to a fair trial" and also indicated "the prohibition of punishing him without law, on the basis of arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable decisions of the Russian courts".

As part of the individual measures indicated by the Court in this judgment, the Russian authorities were required to reopen the criminal proceedings against Mr Navalny and his brother, and that the Russian courts be required to remedy the violations of the European Convention on Human Rights found by the Court.

In 2018, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, had reviewed the judgment and sentence handed down by the Russian lower courts. It concluded that they were in full compliance with Russian domestic law and, therefore, there was no need to reopen the case.

The Committee of Ministers is responsible for supervising the implementation of the Court's judgments under Article 46 of the Convention. It has consolidated the Court's judgment in the case of Navalnyye v. Russian Federation with other judgments against the Russian Federation concerning the issue of unfair trials. However, it has not yet examined the implementation of the judgment in Navalnyye v. Russian Federation, the last review being in 2017.

I therefore encourage the Committee of Ministers to examine the Navalnyye v. Russian Federation judgment as a matter of urgency. This seems absolutely necessary at a time when Mr Navalny is detained and is at risk of being subjected to a long prison sentence. All this is based on domestic criminal proceedings which the European Court of Human Rights has found, as I said, to be unlawful, but which the Russian authorities have refused to reopen.

In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, European public opinion is challenging us. The arrest and detention of Mr Navalny has led to mass demonstrations throughout Russia last Saturday. There will be more. Tens of thousands of Russian citizens demonstrated, several thousand of them were arrested, sometimes injured, and a few dozen are still being held today. We have seen strong reactions all over the world, from the foreign ministers of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and other Council of Europe Member States, as well as from the European Union, the European Parliament, our Assembly and our rapporteurs.

However, we must not just make hot air balloons, we must act by using our comparative advantages. I see two that are essential to our identity. One is the full and complete participation of the Russian delegation in our work; the other is our common standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. So it is within this framework, the Statute, the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is committed, that we must act and defend in order to protect Mr Navalny.

This involves the presentation of a report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for debate and the adoption, when the time comes, and of a resolution by our Assembly.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I will therefore propose to the Bureau that we ask the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to prepare a specific report on the arrest of Mr Navalny.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:12:14

Thank you, Mr MAIRE.

The floor is now open for the speakers of political groups.

First of all, we shall hear from Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS on behalf of the EPP group.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, on behalf of EPP/CD

16:12:33

Dear friends, 

Madame Chairwoman, 

Dear Colleagues,

Part of us were involved deeply trying to release Mr Navalny from jail, but unsuccessfully. New events happened in Russia and new fights are under way for the future of a democratic--the possible future of a democratic Russia. I would like to say this in the Russian language: "We love the Russian people and we hope for a democratic future for them". But I will go back to English, it will be more understandable for the European audience. So from my point of view, we should have some understatement level what was just said by our dear friend, Mr Jacques MAIRE, and the first statement after last week was debates and debates and debates. In the Committee of Human Rights, the decision to have urgency in a Bureau, to have current and the joy of Mr Petr TOLSTOI in his office, in his Facebook, about his victory not having resolution at all. Let's answer the latest events in Russia throughout tomorrow's debates and tomorrow's amendments.

Future cooperation with the Russian Federation is looking to subscribe to our challenge for substantial grounds for the Russian Federation. Let's support those amendments--or some of them which you like to support. I was rapporteur, you remember very well, for years and years, about Borís Nemstov. I was not allowed to cross the border and they declared me persona non grata in Russia. As a rapporteur, I had no possibility to enter and to have clear documents on the ground about how they killed the previous leader--a very European man--Borís Nemstov. It was denied from the Russian side, from the current Kremlin leadership.

From my point of view, we should react to that in a clear way and declare that Russian Federation members will be clearly with us only in the case when they stop the terror against their opponents. Even the local members of local parliaments were not allowed to enter the local prisons in a lot of cities during Saturday's demonstration, not talking about events in Moscow.

I would like to ask our friends in the Parliamentary Assembly to be active tomorrow and actually support the amendments, especially amendments to reopen the new case of Borís Nemstov's investigation in Russia. Well, the first case was absolutely not elaborated enough by the Russian Court in Moscow. Actually, it was even fake. So we would like to ask the Russian Federation to reopen the case of Borís Nemstov that was formally closed.

From my point of view, I would like to ask the Russian Federation to remember that they are members of the Council of Europe, of all conventions, and from '96 we have probably 20 resolutions, and we would like our Russia to fulfil their commitments. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:16:10

Thank you, Mr ZINGERIS.

I now give the floor to Ms Gyde JENSEN on behalf of the ALDE group.

Ms Gyde JENSEN

Germany, on behalf of ALDE

16:16:25

Dear President, dear colleagues.

Today this is not a discussion about heroism. It is not a discussion about a man risking his life to fight corruption and the decay of the rule of law in his mother country. This is not a debate about Alexei Navalny per se, even though his story is a rather compelling one to tell.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is the discussion plain and simple about upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights and our distinct duty as members of the Council of Europe to protect both.

States coming together in their joined ambition to adhere to the rule of law and to respect human rights is the very purpose of this institution. Being a member means to submit oneself to the scrutiny of other member states and, most importantly, to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights. Being a member of this council means humble self-commitment when it comes to upholding the rule of law and respecting human rights. And Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has repeatedly failed to do both.

Ladies and gentlemen, the case of Alexei Navalny is a particularly strong example of this. Alexei Navalny was arrested upon re-entering Russia. This detainment was illegal. Not only was the sentence on which this arrest was based declared unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights, the claims of Navalny reaching his conditions of probation would not withstand scrutiny in a proper Russian court of law. Those claims are not only fabricated keeping in mind the reason behind Alexei Navalny's absence from Russia, they are outright perfidious.

His 30-day detainment was decided in an improvised courtroom. There was no due process and Alexei Navalny was denied his right to legal aid. Plain and simple, ladies and gentlemen, Alexei Navalny is a political prisoner.

This is not some modeled case about whether a particular new policy undermines democracy, human rights, or the rule of law. When riot police brutality beats up peaceful protesters, when citizens are detained for political reasons and political reasons only, then this is quite plainly a case of the member states of the Council of Europe not abiding by the rules it committed itself to by joining this institution. And, therefore, it is our solemn duty as delegates of the Council of Europe to hold Russia accountable.

Navalny needs to be released alongside all political prisoners in Russia and elsewhere immediately or else there need to be consequences, dear colleagues.

I thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:19:17

Thank you very much, Madame.

I now give the floor to Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO on behalf of the Conservatives Group.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, on behalf of EC/DA

16:19:33

Sorry. Thank you.

Dear Madame President and colleagues,

First of all, I would like us to see the name of our topic "The arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny", but sorry, everything began with the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, the poisoning with chemical weapons, with novichok in the 21st century. First, it was Salisbury, and then it was Alexei Navalny and novichok.

My dear colleagues, now in Europe we can see it with our own eyes. It's absolutely unacceptable. Then, Navalny came back to Russia, and there he was arrested and detained absolutely illegally. The latest news: several hours ago the police came, but not to those who poisoned Navalny--because he made a film in which all the names were said; we know the addresses of his killers--no! The police came to Navalny, to his wife, to everybody who is against Putin and the Russian Federation.

What is Putin doing? Putin is taking the Russian Federation to Stalin's times. Tell me, please, in 1949 was it possible for Churchill to invite Stalin and his friends to be here? And now we did it. We have the Russian delegation here. It's absolutely the same. You know, this day back in 1924, the body of dead Lenin was put in the mausoleum in the Red Square. Then, the body of Stalin was in this mausoleum for several years. And now I understand who is next. Who wants to be in the mausoleum? It's Putin who wants to be the mausoleum next and he is building the country for this. If he even built this mausoleum for himself, near Gelendzhik, built a palace for 1.4 billion dollars, 100 billion rubles--he stole from his own people! He is killing everywhere just to build this mausoleum for himself.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, on behalf of EC/DA

16:21:29

I now would like to appeal to the people of Russia.

It's Russian children who are now being hit in the center of Russia. It's not Poles, it's not Ukrainians, it's not anybody else. It's Russians who are being hit and are being attacked by Russians.

And look at these people sitting around here. Look at them. They are people who have pillaged and ravaged your country. And how long are we going to go on?

Look what's happening! Look what's happening to you, to your neighbors! Look what kind of country the Russian Federation has now become. It's a bogeyman for the whole world. And it's all being carried out in a way that's completely mad. And this is happening to you, it's happening to your country.

Unfortunately, we don't have enough time here to talk about this. We don't have enough time to look at all the details. But you, you within your country can stand up, you can go out in the streets and say no to this regime, no to a regime which indeed, here in Europe, is killing people today. And it's killing in Russia, in Ukraine, in Georgia. It's killing in Syria. It's killing all over the world.

And it's your blood that is being spilled, and it's your people who are doing this. You are doing it to yourself, so put an end to Putin. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:22:41

Thank you, sir.

Is there a point of order?

Yes, Mr Petr TOLSTOI, I'm listening.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

16:22:51

Ms President,

In this chamber we are here to discuss a serious matter and a report on a serious matter. I would therefore ask you to say that people cannot be allowed to indulge in the kind of vulgarity that we have just seen from our Ukrainian colleague. This is not acceptable. Some of the language used is simply not acceptable. I'm talking about the language used by Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO who has just spoken. I think that it is fully within the powers of the Chair to put an end to that kind of thing.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:23:29

I have taken note of what you said, Mr Petr TOLSTOI, and I would ask, I think, that there is freedom of expression in the Chamber as long as there is respect for each other, at the very least.

I would like us to continue this debate in the best possible way and I therefore give the floor to Mr Andrej HUNKO for the Group of the Unified Left.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, on behalf of UEL

16:23:53

Thank you very much, Ms Chair,

I will try to bring some calm back into the debate. For the Group of the European United Left, it is clear that we condemn the imprisonment of Mr Navalny, even if excessive action is being taken against protests in Russia.

We believe that people who are imprisoned for political reasons should not be imprisoned, even if - as seems to be the case in Russia now - there are, as it were, formal constructions leading to their arrest.

We have various cases among the member states of the Council of Europe - this concerns Mr Navalny, of course, but it also concerns Mr Demirtaş and Mr Kavala in Turkey, and it also concerns, in a different form, Mr Julian Assange in Great Britain or the Catalan politicians who are in prison.

The basic principle is that people should not be imprisoned for political reasons or even, as is the accusation here, poisoned. That is a principle that we on the left uphold.

I can say little about the question of poisoning, which is also under discussion. In the German Bundestag, we have put questions to the Federal Government concerning requests for legal assistance from the Russian side. We members of parliament have not received any information on this, so unfortunately I cannot say very much about it.

My impression of the situation in Russia is that there has been growing discontent in the Russian Federation for some time, for at least a year. This concerns both democratic rights and social rights, which is often very little perceived, even here in the West. It is a broad protest, which does not only refer to the person of Navalny, there are also very many social issues at play and I think that it will be a very important task of the Parliamentary Assembly to contribute to the upcoming elections in September - the Duma elections in Russia - to ensure that they are as free and fair as possible; by making our contribution so that, so to speak, the will of the Russian people is also expressed as far as possible in these elections. But, to repeat, we in the Group of the Unified European Left also criticise the specific arrest of Navalny.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:26:50

Thank you, Mister HUNKO.

I now give the floor to Mr Frank SCHWABE on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mr Frank SCHWABE

Germany, on behalf of SOC

16:26:58

Thank you very much, Madam Chair,

I would like to thank Mr Jacques MAIRE for his introduction to the report and all those who are concerned with the difficult human rights situation in Russia. I think it has become clear, and I think that Jacques MAIRE has made this very clear, that it is much better if we deal with these substantive issues and do not spend all our time here with procedural questions. It is also not good if we insult each other, that makes no sense and it also makes no sense if we discuss Lenin or Stalin here with each other.

I don't know Mr Navalny personally, maybe I will get to know him, I don't know if he is a good politician or not, I don't have any opinion about his personal positions, but that's not the point. Whether it's a good domestic policy to treat him like that is another interesting question.

What I do know is that Russia is a member of the Council of Europe and that if you join the Council of Europe, you don't have to stay in the Council of Europe and if you are a member of the Council of Europe there are certain rules, there are certain things that you have to keep to and that includes not poisoning opposition members and whoever doesn't want to believe that can really read up on Bellingcat where it is listed very meticulously how things happened. I have no doubt that this happened.

It is not part of being a member here to suppress the opposition, it is not part of banning demonstrations and in the end bludgeoning or imprisoning demonstrators.

We always talk here, or I always talk here, about red lines, I want to talk about everything, with each other, with the Russian delegation about all these issues, and yet there are certain things that do not work and the list is getting longer and longer and it is becoming more and more difficult for those who want to work together constructively here to maintain this constructive cooperation.

There are rules that apply at home, to everyone in the family, they apply in every nation state, but they also apply here for us in the Council of Europe. One of the red lines is the implementation of the Court decisions, of the highest institution, of the sanctuary, as I always call it, of this Council of Europe, and that is the European Court of Human Rights.

Mr MAIRE did not have the time to explain in detail that there is a clear judgement that Mr Navalny should not be in prison now, that there have been seven judgements where Mr Navalny got right against Russia and I expect nothing else from Russia as a member of this Council of Europe to implement these court judgements.

Therefore a clear demand. Let Mr Navalny free immediately.

Secondly, take care of the security in the prison, the whole world is watching what is happening there.

Thirdly, leave the demonstrators alone. No sanctions against demonstrators and above all, allow demonstrations in the coming days and weeks. That is part of a free democracy in every country. Therefore, please, we will have to deal with this case in more detail in the coming weeks and months, make sure that Russia respects the rules of the Council of Europe, then we can also work together constructively.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:30:13

Thank you very much, Mister SCHWABE.

Let me now move on to the list of speakers. In the debate, I call Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN from Finland.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

16:30:27

Madame President,

I would like to say a few words in Russian at the beginning of my speech. I'm very sad about this situation, it's a very sad situation. After all, we have worked very hard to allow the Russian delegation to participate in our sessions with us. This is our common home and we have common principles, things that bring us together.

It's sad that we are having the kind of debate we are having now. It's clear that there is something that is a general obligation on all of us and there can be no exception to that. We all respect that. There can be no exclusion to the need to respect our common principles. It doesn't help to say, "Look, there are particular problems in a particular country", or whatever. If something is bad, well, that doesn't make things better elsewhere. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

16:31:25

After me, Mr Petr TOLSTOI will speak on behalf of the Russian delegation. He is the head of the Russian delegation.

I have a few remarks, especially for him, concerning the Navalny case. I would appreciate it if he would listen to my remarks.

It is true: it's not clear who poisoned Navalny and why. That's an open question. We don't have evidence on that yet. But what is clear is that no proper investigation is being done on the case. That is very clear.

Secondly, I can say that there are people and authorities in Russia who may or may not like Navalny. But what is clear is that he was arrested on reasons and grounds that the European Court of Human Rights doesn't see as valid. Rule of law is rule of law for everybody.

Madame Chair, Navalny may or may not be a serious politician. He may be good or bad. I don't know either. But he has the basic human rights of freedom of expression and freedom of association. That's his right as a human being in our common home.

Fourthly, Russia might be a sovereign democracy, as they call it. But in every democratic system, the crucial cornerstone is the role of the opposition. The role of the opposition is a crucial one. And the right to challenge those in power is a crucial right in democratic societies everywhere, irrespective of them being sovereign or not sovereign. Mr Navalny tried to be a candidate for president in the last elections and, on dubious grounds, he wasn't allowed to do so. Democracy didn't function in a proper way. Why? That's my question.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:33:27

Thank you.

Mr Sergiy VLASENKO from Ukraine has the floor.

Mr Sergiy VLASENKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:33:34

Thank you, madam chair.

I would like to say that today's topic is not the topic of Mr Navalny. Let's be honest, despite the fact that Mr Navalny is a prominent corruption fighter and one of the leaders of the Russian opposition. That's the topic of the attitude of the Russian State towards the rule of law, human rights and the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. And that is the topic, how the Russian Federation as a state is reacting on any question which is sensitive to them.

We are saying that there is a decision of the ECHR on Mr Navalny's case and Mr Petr TOLSTOI is answering that the ECHR is a politicised organ. I'm quoting Mr TOLSTOI, he said that during the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights meeting, "The ECHR is politicised organ and we are not going to implement its decisions". That's the attitude of the Russian Federation to what's there. When we started hearing in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights about the Navalny case, what the Russian delegation did, Mr TOLSTOI wrote a letter to the head of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS, and said "we are not going to participate in that" because - I'm quoting - "we are concerned that the hearings on the incident with Mr Navalny are being organised with the only aim of confirming predetermined versions and reinforcing anti-Russian sentiments in the Assembly".

So, what we are doing now, from the point of view of Mr TOLSTOI, is confirming predetermined versions and re-enforcing anti-Russian sentiments. That's the attitude of them. If that attitude is not be changed, nothing will happen. So, the same attitude we have on the question of the illegally occupied Crimea, even after the decision of the European Court of Human Rights which stated directly on 14 January that the Russian State controlled the Crimea Peninsula at the end of February, not after the so-called referendum, but at the end of February. What's that Mr TOLSTOI on that? I'm quoting, "the Crimea was, is and will be Russian".

If that attitude is not changed, nothing will happen and every day we will receive the occupation of territories, we will receive  poisoned people, we will receive the killing of the opposition in this country, we will receive the beating of the people of this country and we will be debating and you will be sharing concerns. Let's continue sharing concerns, that is not effective, we should find an effective mechanism on how to push the country who violates the basic principle of this organisation to be punished.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:36:36

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Petr TOLSTOI of Russia.

Mr Petr TOLSTOI

Russian Federation, NR

16:36:43

Thank you Ms President.

Thank you colleagues.

I will address you in Russian.

The discussion here is something like a rally if you listen to some of those who have spoken, and I can understand why. Sadly, most of those who are present in this room are people who are involved in spreading myths about Russia, and about Navalny in particular.

I agree with my colleague Mr Jacques MAIRE when he said that values are more important than any interest. The basic values of the Council of Europe include the rule of law. The rule of law. Now what law, colleagues, are you invoking now?

You are now putting forward some kind of argument based not on facts, not on evidence, but on opinions. How can you talk about poisoning when there has been no evidence? When there has been no legal ruling on poisoning? How can you talk about thousands of people ending up in prison after a demonstration? That's simply not true. It was just a few dozen people who were arrested. Everyone else is out. Simply what has been said in that regard is a lie.

Why are you doing this? Why are you involved in disseminating what is simply propaganda?

Now, the detention of Navalny. This relates to the Yves Rocher case, as the rapporteur knows. I have talked to Mr Jacques MAIRE about this.

According to the European Court of Human Rights, certain things have been said, but they never said that Navalny and his brother were not involved in criminal activity. They never said that they were innocent. They never said that the basis for the sentence handed down was somehow fraudulent. In fact he was given a suspended sentence and he did not fulfil the conditions of his conditional release. That's why he was arrested. He is nothing like a political prisoner as some people here are trying to claim.

What about the investigation? Russia has made an enormous effort to try to find out what happened to Navalny, what happened to him in the plane when he was going from Russia to Germany. It was in Omsk that his life was saved, it was Russian doctors who saved his life.

And then what happened? We're trying to find out. Before the plane had to urgently land in Omsk, we got a call from Germany saying that in fact the airport had been mined. All sorts of things happened. We heard about mines that had been laid. And I don't want this debate now to lay mines under the future of the Council of Europe. Of course we are ready to cooperate with you. But what we have to do has to be based on evidence and not on vulgar flagrant propagandistic clichés, which sadly we have heard many times here today.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:39:49

Thank you, gentlemen.

I now give the floor to Mr André GATTOLIN from France.

Mr André GATTOLIN

France, ALDE

16:39:53

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Today, in this current affairs debate, we are debating the latest developments in the Navalny affair, which, let me put it this way, has been poisoning the political situation in Russia for many years now.

Let me tell you frankly: the human rights violations in this case are such that an urgent debate would, in my view, have been preferable to this one.

Then it was explained to us that what despite what we had decided in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Bureau told us: "That is not possible, because it means that there is a resolution, and we might not get the qualified majority for a resolution".

I know one thing: I am a politician, I know that in politics sometimes we win and sometimes we lose, but when we do not lead the fight, when we do not go to a battle or an election, we lose every time.

As we know, Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, a chemical nerve agent for military use developed in the former Soviet Union and banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. He had to be transported to Germany for treatment.

I am delighted that Mr Petr TOLSTOI has brought new elements and clarifications that we would like to be able to verify. In any case, on his return from Germany, he was arrested again and at an impromptu hearing in a police station he was heard without his lawyer and sentenced to 30 days' detention.

Following the demonstrations and arrests, although it is claimed that there were just a few dozen arrests, they numbered several thousand, which is worrying, and we cannot accept this situation! The G7 foreign ministers took a firm stance yesterday. We must also be as firm as possible in this matter. It is a matter of the honour of our Assembly and the Council of Europe.

This morning, in a meeting of my group, the ALDE, I was told "you are a hardliner", a hardliner against Russia. I love that country and its people too much to be against that country; I am simply a "legal-liner", in favour of toeing the legal line, something that should be understandable and even the norm in this noble institution.

I am not naive, I know that democracy, like Rome, is not built in a day. I also know that some countries are in democratic transition, and it is interesting in this case to see what directions are being taken in that transition. Are we moving towards more democracy or less democracy?

In conclusion, this transition is long but it cannot stop at a police station in an airport.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:42:57

Thank you, sir.

Normally, Mr. Markus WIECHEL from Sweden should be with us. Is he here? Mr. WIECHEL, online, right?

In that case, I will give the floor to Mrs Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR from Iceland.

We will take someone else in the meantime. I propose Mrs Yelyzaveta YASKO from Ukraine to take the floor.

Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:44:18

Dear colleagues.

I want to ask you to think about one question. Do you think about what Europe you want to live in? Do you think what do you want to have in European countries in 10, 20 or 30 years?

It's not a secret that unfortunately, disinformation being spread by the Russian Federation is influencing many in European capitals. It's also not a secret that Russian cash is unfortunately undermining Europe. Russia is interested in having a weaker Europe. I believe the Navalny case is the case that gives us an opportunity to think about the vision of Europe. What do we want to have.

It's not a secret that dialogue with Russia is poisoned. While Navalny remains in prison, European institutions don't have the moral right to exchange him for economic benefits. No gas benefits. No financial benefits. I understand this argument with difficulty. But is there any red line? Is there any rule that is at least respected by the Russian Federation?

The case of Navalny is an opportunity for us to decide what vision for Europe do we want to have. Do we understand that by making compromises with the aggressor, and not setting a red line, and no rules, and tolerating this aggression, is actually undermining the future and the peace of Europe? Or that using a chemical weapon is not enough? Or that imprisonment for political reasons is not a red line? Or that supporting the Syrian military is not enough? Russia is doing it through the Black Sea, through the occupied Crimea. Is that not enough?

I'm asking all of you in the Navalny case to think not only about Russia, but to think about our Europe. If we don't act on Navalny, it undermines our peace and democracy. Freedom of speech, rule of law and everything that is so important for this organisation requires action if it is to be saved.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:46:49

Thank you. 

Is Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR here? Perfect.

Good afternoon. You have the floor.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, SOC

16:46:56

Dear colleagues,

Mr Navalny's arrest and the massive public protests that followed are an important moment in Russia's political life. They attracted attention from around the world. We must take this into account in our work.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is currently preparing a report on the question of political prisoners in Russia for which I am the rapporteur. The situation of Mr Navalny was already a central issue in this report.

Mr Navalny has won seven cases against the Russian Federation before the European Court of Human Rights. These cases involve unlawful arrest and detention, and violations of his freedom of expression and assembly. The European Court has made several findings that the actions of the Russian authorities were politically motivated. The Court's judgments are set out in my introductory memorandum from last year. One of these judgments concerns the so-called Yves Rocher case. The European Court said that Mr Navalny's conviction and sentence in this case had violated the European Convention on Human Rights, and it ordered Russia to reopen the case and remedy these violations. Russia is obliged under convention to implement the judgments of the European Court, but the Russian Supreme Court refused to reopen the case.

Ten days ago Mr Navalny was arrested on a warrant relating to the Yves Rocher case. Instead of remedying the violations of Mr Navalny's rights, the Russian authorities have relied on them to detain him once again.

Our current affairs debate today rightly focuses on Mr Navalny's recent arrest. But it should not be seen in isolation. Mr Navalny is far from the only victim of politically motivated arrests and detention. His case may be emblematic today, but there are many others that are less well known.

Last December our Committee held a hearing with the Russian NGO Memorial as part of the preparation of my report. Memorial lists around 350 current political prisoners. What is happening to Mr Navalny is far from exceptional. Mr Navalny's case will form the centrepiece of my report, but I will also look at the bigger picture. We must not forget all the other people may be political prisoners in Russia. We must examine the wider context so that our conclusions are accurate and complete. I'm sure that other rapporteurs will also examine recent events, including the Monitoring Committee and their next report on the execution of judgments of the Court. I cannot speak for them, but for myself, I can assure you that the views expressed today will be reflected in my report, and that I look forward to the rest of today's debate.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:50:05

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr. Thomas HAMMARBERG from Sweden, who is also online.

Mr Thomas HAMMARBERG

Sweden, SOC

16:50:14

Thank you very much.

My focus is human rights and in human rights we are supported by the agreements which have been reached earlier on. The court we have is an extremely important body and I think it should be obvious that every decision taken by our court should be respected by the member states. So for me there is no question about that point when it comes to this discussion.

The ruling of the Court should be reflected and this of course will be one of the major issues if that is not acted upon by the members of our body, which will go to Moscow fairly soon according to the invitation that we got again. That's the first point.

The other point I would like to raise relates to what has been called the Novichok case. I think it is absolutely not satisfactory that there is a lack of total clarity when it comes to what really happened. We have very strong evidence from the doctors in Germany when it comes to what really was behind this poisoning of Navalny and I think that it is very important that there is clarity about this.

This is not the first time, there have been cases of Novichok events. We think about the cases in the United Kingdom for instance. I am really worried about the tendency here and they lack of clarity and the investigation done by bodies which may be actually behind the actions of Novichok, and that is not acceptable. We have to remember that there is an International Convention against using chemical weapons and if you look at what has been discussed when it comes to that Convention it's very clear that the use Novichok, especially of course for political purposes, is absolutely not being accepted.

I think there is really a need to go in depth when it comes to clarifying who is behind the Novichok actions and what should be done in order to secure that this will never happen again. There, I think the Council of Europe could play a very important role. There is a need for an international reaction against that kind of poisoning of political people in their attempts to work on a future when it comes to respect for human rights.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:53:16

Thank you.

I now call Mr Andreas NICK from Germany.

Mr Andreas NICK

Germany, EPP/CD

16:53:23

Madam President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me begin by stating clearly and unequivocally that the Navalny case, in all its dimensions, is not a domestic matter, not a question of national sovereignty, no. It has, in all its dimensions--as regards the poisoning, the arrest, and the handling of the protests against the arrest--an international component, a component of international law, and also a component that directly affects the Council of Europe, our institution.

Let me say that the Navalny case is not a bilateral German-Russian issue either. I would like to emphasise this once again. It was a matter of course that Germany complied with the request of the family and a civil society organisation to allow Mr Navalny to receive medical treatment at the Charité Hospital in Berlin, and we also placed him under the protection of the Federal Police there.

I would like to remind you that this was an interim measure, an urgent decision made by the Court of Human Rights here, which also contributed to his being able to leave Russia and to this treatment becoming possible. On the German side, we have always placed the investigation directly under the control of the OPCW in The Hague. The mere possession--let alone use--of a chemical warfare agent is an unacceptable violation of international law and we have always pursued this internationally and not bilaterally.

We have supported the investigation by the OPCW and its certified laboratories, and we have also supported the work of our colleague Mr Jacques MAIRE as rapporteur for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly. He was still in Berlin in mid-December for a visit and also had access to Mr Navalny there.

I want to emphasise that what we experienced last weekend, with the arrest and imprisonment of more than 3000 demonstrators in the Russian Federation, is an issue that concerns us all. The Russian Constitution also contains the right to freedom of expression and assembly, but it is also quite clear that this wave of arrests is unacceptable for a member country of the Council of Europe and it violates our rules and standards.

The Federal Foreign Minister spoke here yesterday as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, and he called for the immediate release of Navalny and the others arrested. We continue to support the investigation. As has been said, we do not want to discuss points of order and procedural issues here, but the substance of what concerns the Council of Europe: the protection of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. That is our mandate, that is our task, and we will do our utmost to fulfil it in this matter too.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:56:27

Thank you, Mister NICK.

I now call Mr Uldis BUDRIĶIS from Latvia.

Mr Uldis BUDRIĶIS

Latvia, NR

16:56:42

Good evening Ms Chair,

Dear colleagues,

Firstly, I am truly saddened about the events that took place on Monday on the vote on whether this debate should be urgent or not, but that's not the matter of the subject of this debate. This debate should not be about a certain person, or about a certain name.

The debate is all about whether it is a single abuse of power in the Russian Federation or is it just becoming a norm to be detained, prosecuted, incarcerated and fully torn from the human rights as citizens who are just expressing their democratic stance.

The debate is not only about Mr Navalny or palaces, or vineyards for that matter. The debate should be about those almost 3 500 people who were stripped away of their rights. It's a small city that has been under arrest for the time being.

There should have been a resolution. There should have been a call for action, a call for the release of Mr Alexei Navalny and all the political prisoners.

Dear colleagues, more than 20 years ago, the Russian Federation joined this great organisation and they signed the European Convention on Human Rights. But we see that numerous times this country has ignored even the formal name of this Convention, and it is to protect the fundamental freedoms.

Dear colleagues, with our tolerance and self-blinded attitude we have let the elephant in the glass shop do its thing, to stomp on human rights and ignore the principles of this organisation.

That brings me to the following. We need to call for an immediate release of all political prisoners, the release of Alexei Navalny himself, and to postpone the ratification of credentials of members of the Russian delegation. As it has been seen, the Russian Federation doesn't want to fulfil its commitments to the Council of Europe.

Thank you chair, thank you colleagues.

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

16:59:39

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Claude KERN, on behalf of France.

Mr Claude KERN

France, ALDE

16:59:45

Thank you, Madam President.

Colleagues,

As already mentioned, on 17 January 2021, as soon as he returned to Russia, Alexei Navalny was arrested by the Russian authorities, along with the people waiting for him on his arrival. The following day, heard without his lawyer at an impromptu hearing at the police station, he was sentenced to 30 days' detention.

The Russian authorities are relying on court decisions which the European Court of Human Rights has described as arbitrary, politically motivated and aimed at stifling political pluralism.

As we know, Alexei Navalny was poisoned with Novichok, which is a very serious attack on human rights, democracy and political pluralism.

And let me say that the Navalny case is poisoning the Russian situation and undermining its credibility. However, this case is not the only factor. Yesterday we spoke about the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, and shortly we will speak about the continuing shrinking of the capacity of NGOs to operate in Russia.

Russia has signed the European Convention on Human Rights; it is a member of the Council of Europe and we know here how lively the debates on the reintegration of the Russian delegation into our Assembly have been. The challenge to the credentials of the Russian delegation on substantive grounds, which will be considered tomorrow, demonstrates this once again.

Russia cannot play with the Council of Europe. Russia cannot play with our Assembly. There is no à la carte adherence to the values of the Council of Europe. Human rights are a whole and I strongly call on Russia to honour its commitments.

I hope that the report entrusted to our colleague, Mr Jacques MAIRE, will shed light on the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, but I hereby call on Russia to release him and all those who were arbitrarily arrested on his return.

I deplore Russia's attitude in this matter and I sincerely believe that it calls for a reaction on our part, although I hope, in the interests of the Russian people, that Russia will continue to participate in the work of our Assembly. I should therefore like, tomorrow, to propose amendments so that we can have a proportionate and appropriate reaction to these serious issues.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:02:17

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK of Poland.

Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK

Poland, EC/DA

17:02:28

Thank you Ms President.

Dear colleagues, Alexei Navalny is the main political prisoner of Europe at the moment. He's a great hope for Russian people and a big swear word for Putin's regime. At the same time, if he is released, Russians have a great chance to change their country.

Russia without a bloody regime means a safer and more sustainable Europe. But until Russia becomes a democratic country we should agree on common rules between all the democratic European countries. No investments, no continuation on pending projects like Nordstream 2, no new gas and no new oil projects with Russian state-owned companies. Money from our expenditures will be 100% stolen, or alternatively spent on new weapons or a new war.

I do appeal to the French members of our Assembly, to our colleagues from France: we do not have a clear statement from the Yves Rocher company, whose business in Russia gave rise to criminal allegations against Alexei Navalny and his brother. Please make it clear that all the allegations against them are unjustified. The French government should support Yves Rocher in not hesitating to admit the truth.

No continuation on pending projects.

Thank you Ms Chairman and thank you dear colleagues.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:04:18

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr SLUTSKIY from the Russian Federation.

Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY

Russian Federation, NR

17:04:24

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Dear Colleagues,

Mister Jacques MAIRE, you are a lawyer by profession. You are here within the Parliamentary Assembly, and here you should be a lawyer and stand up for the truth.

I will continue my comments in Russian.

[In Russian]

Mr MAIRE has addressed us earlier, and he said that the detention of Mr Navalny was not in line with the standards of the Council of Europe. Now the Council of Europe is a body whose standards should not include lies. Sadly many speakers here are not respecting that standard.

Mr Navalny was not poisoned by the Novichok agent. We had many many questions about this when the Russian prosecution service looked into it, and we received no answer to any of those questions. We just received an answer to one of the 15 questions that were posed. There were no legal findings about the case of the poisoning.

If in fact he was poisoned by some kind of gas or some other substance, if he had really been poisoned by something that we could prove had been produced in Russia, just imagine what would have happened. There was no proof whatsoever. There are simply attempts being made to defame and to slander Russia here in this room, in this chamber. I have to say that we are here in the Council of Europe, and what is at stake here is the future of Europe. That is what we have to fight for. A Europe based on real human rights and a real respect for the law and facts, not fiction.

Let me say that the German authorities might be able to answer some of your questions, and then you might be able to talk about some kind of poisoning. At present we're not talking about poisoning. What happened to him in Russia was not that he was poisoned. He was saved. His life was saved by doctors in Omsk. It was only after that that he got onto a plane. It was only after that that all of this started to happen. It was only because of that that he was able to meet Mr MAIRE in Berlin. Only after that was he able to talk about what had happened to him. He was saved in the Russian Federation. He was not poisoned. We have to be factual. We have to talk about the truth.

We have to talk about the rules that we have today. Here, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights have taken up certain issues, and none of the things we asked for were accepted by our Bureau.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:06:57

Mister Leonid SLUTSKIY, you should have kept your mask on. It's important. In fact, I would ask everyone to remember to keep the mask on even when we're talking. It's protocol. It's the sine qua non condition to be able to hold this session in good conditions and to be able to stay in hybrid. Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr. Oleksandr MEREZHKO of Ukraine.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC

17:07:24

Madam Chair,

Dear Colleagues.

Alexei Navalny's case is not only about a concrete person. It is rather about basic values and principles of our organization which is supposed to defend human rights and which strives to establish rule of law. Therefore, demanding the immediate release of Alexei Navalny and his supporters, we defend human rights values and principles of the Council of Europe. But let's take a closer look at the Navalny case and try to understand its true meaning.

Isn't it truly amazing that one of the leaders of the Russian opposition, one of the most vocal critics of the Russian corrupt regime, who was poisoned allegedly by the secret service of the regime and who narrowly escaped death, was immediately detained and arrested upon his rival in Moscow? As we can see, instead of unbiased and objective investigation of the suspicious circumstances under which Navalny had been poisoned, he encountered detention and arrest. This move by the Russian authorities in itself can indicate that there is a link between Navalny's poisoning and the Russian authorities. At the same time, Navalny's arrest looks like a vendetta against Navalny on the part of the Russian authorities. Additionally, Navalny's arrest is quite a clear signal sent by the Russian authorities to the community of democratic states signifying that Russia feels total impunity and absolutely doesn't care about world opinion and our organization's concern over the human rights situation in Russia.

Dear colleagues, the truth is that Navalny's case is not an isolated episode in human rights violations by the Russian government. It is one of a whole range of cases, including poisoning of Litvinenko, Skripal, and Vladimir Kara-Murza. These cases testified to the fact that we are dealing with systemic state policy. One of the most shocking details of this series of poisonings is the fact that a chemical weapon was used, which in itself is a crime against humanity. To put it simply, we're dealing here with a state policy of terror on the part of Russia.

In the eyes of those who had masterminded and conducted this policy against the opposition, Alexei Navalny is guilty. He is guilty of having survived the poisoning and continuing his struggle against a corrupt regime in Russia. It is for this reason he was detained and arrested, and not only he but also his supporters and followers. That is why we demand immediate release of Alexei Navalny and bringing to justice all those involved in the poisoning and illegal arrest of Alexei Navalny.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:10:16

Thank you, Sir.

I give the floor to Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ, from Lithuania.

Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ

Lithuania, EPP/CD

17:10:26

Thank you very much.

Colleagues, I ask you to recall some well know Russian names.

Andrei Sakharov, Sergei Magnitsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Kara-Murza, Alexei Navalny.

What they span: A well-known academician, a lawyer, a businessman, a politician, a journalist, an activist.

What do they have in common?

What unites them is a dream, a desire in their fight for a democratic Russia where rule of law prevails and human dignity is respected. But they have in common something more. In Russia they experienced harassment, intimidation, arrest, prison sentences, poisoning, and two of them were murdered in Russia.

Alexei Navalny is the one who is still in Russia, who is young and strong, who is fighting for a democratic Russia, against corruption and impunity in his country. He deserves our understanding and support. Alexei Navalny should be free.

Colleagues, a week ago Navalny  was not allowed to address the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights of our Assembly. At the same time, the Russian parliamentary delegation has recently been allowed to return to PACE.

The life of Alexei Navalny is in danger. We see brutal attempts to silence him. It is high time we call on the Russian authorities to put an end to harassment, intimidation, violence and repression of independent and dissident voices, and to end impunity in Russia that has already led to the loss of life of many journalists, human rights defenders and opposition politicians. We should do everything possible that instead they are [audio interruption] able to conduct their activities without [audio interruption] fear for their lives.

Recent developments in Russia, the detention of Alexei Navalny, the Novichok survivor, the brutal force used against peaceful demonstrators in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Chita and many other places in Russia on Saturday. The arrest of 3 500 as well as many other attacks we have witnessed in recent days and months are beyond any acceptable limits. They cross all red lines showing complete ignorance by the Russian leadership for its international commitments in the field of human rights, democracy, and rule of law, not to mention serious violations by Russia of international treaties on chemical weapons. It's an absolute must for the Council of Europe and our Parliamentary Assembly to condemn in the strongest possible terms the behaviour of the Russian Federation which is inappropriate for a Member of the Council of Europe.

You shouldn't shy away from our responsibility and our mission: to defend human rights, to promote democracy and the rule of law also in Russia.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:13:19

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Tiny KOX from the Netherlands.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL

17:13:27

Thank you, Madam President.

Several colleagues here say this is not a debate about Mr Alexei Navalny but about much more. But I want to disagree. This is a debate on the arrest of Mr. Navalny. That's the title of the debate, and it's what Mr Navalny deserves – this debate – because he has been arrested for political reasons. That is the subject of this debate.

Madam President, most of us in this Assembly do not have close relations to Mr. Navalny. Only a few, I assume, do know him in person. Most of us only do know a very small part of his political position. I think we know that Mr Navalny considers himself to be a political opponent of Russian President Putin and the Russian establishment. That draws our attention also in Russia but especially outside Russia. Best known is, of course, Mr Navalny's fight against widespread corruption in our biggest Member State.

I do admire him for that crusade against corruption as I do admire others elsewhere in Europe, but I do not share many other positions of Mr Navalny. I do not share his opinion that Crimea is Russia and will never be given back to Ukraine. I think that's against our position in international law. I do not agree with his position about illegal migrants in Russia. I think what he proposes is far too harsh. I do not agree with his nationalist points of view. I'm a socialist, I am not a nationalist.

As our colleague Mr Frank Schwabe said, it does not matter what the political ideas of Mr. Navalny are whether he's a hero, a villain, an opportunist, a populist, whatever. He is a politician. He is a political activist.

For me, it's clear that he has been arrested time and again because of his political positions and that is, ladies and gentlemen, what we should defend, not what he is thinking about or what his opinion is. We are all entitled to be here and Mr Navalny should be entitled to participate in the political process in Russia.

Here I want to say to our Russian colleagues that it would be better if they would not defend the position of the government, but defend the right of a politician with whom you can agree or disagree, but the right of a politician to say whatever he or she wants.

That is what should unite us. I think that we here always should confirm that you should not put politicians in prisons, but they should be in parliaments and they should be in the public debate.

Therefore my group of the Group of the Unified European Left demands the release of Mr Navalny in line with verdicts of the court. That should be the case. That should be the subject of this debate we should concentrate on here. Mr. Navalny deserves that.

Thank you very much.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:16:34

Thank you, sir.

I'm going to give the floor to Mr Luc BERTHOLD from Canada.

Mr Luc BERTHOLD

Canada

17:16:41

Fellow parliamentarians,

I would like to thank you for allowing me to take part in this topical and urgent debate on the arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny.

Last Saturday, thousands of people took to the streets in dozens of Russian cities to demand the release of a man who risked everything to see democracy really flourish in Russia. In Moscow alone, it is estimated that there were 20 000 people. We know that there were also thousands of arrests following this demonstration.

A cynic would say that unfortunately history repeats itself. He would cite the long list of murdered activists--such as Borís Nemstov, Anna Politkóvskaya and Serguéi Magnitsky--who fought for democracy in Russia and against corruption, as well as previous demonstrations in recent years.

But I have the impression that things are changing this time in Russia.

After surviving a poisoning attempt, Mr Navalny appears to have exposed his attackers within the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation--and he shared this revelation with the world. Subsequently, knowing that he would be detained, he returned to Russia.

But first he produced a video exposing the country's widespread corruption, which was released after his detention. Just a few days ago, this nearly two-hour-long video already had more than 36 million views on his YouTube channel.

This story, you will agree with me, is worthy of a Hollywood script, and it is easy to understand how Mr Navalny's courage, daring and intelligence inspired the Russian people to expect more from their leaders.

While I remain optimistic, I would not dare to predict how this story will end. The road to a true democracy worthy of the name is certainly not a straight one; there are steps forward and often several steps backwards.

However, as Martin Luther King said: "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

The Russians are not alone in wanting a fairer country; the world is watching closely. The world is also watching what is happening in China at the moment, and I hope that the genocide of the Uighur Muslims will also be recognised in Europe.

I believe that parliamentarians around the world must speak out to denounce the abusive actions of leaders who flout democracy and individual freedoms.

I welcome Mr Jacques MAIRE's proposal to refer this distressing situation to the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:19:19

Thank you.

I now call Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN, on behalf of the Russian Federation.

Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Russian Federation, NR

17:19:29

Dear Colleagues,

The contradictory reaction to the issue of the detention of Navalny is related to the fact that in Europe, on this situation, there is too little objective information. As you know when you don't have enough information, then you have a chance for lies to take hold.

Therefore, my task here, with you is, in a calm, detailed, reasonable, and respectful way to clarify what happened. In Russia, as in other countries, those who are found guilty of lesser crimes do not necessarily have to serve their sentence in prison. If they are to be released, they take upon themselves the obligation to meet certain conditions. For instance, perhaps, twice a month they have to go and meet with a parole officer. Of course they can refuse and they can decide to stay in prison, but everybody agrees. Now it happens that someone might not be able to fulfil their parole conditions, for instance because they are in hospital. Then, after they have recovered, they are obliged to continue to fulfil the conditions that were imposed upon them by a court.

Mr Navalny, as someone who was found guilty of relatively minor crimes, received in 2017 the possibility, in accordance with the law, of having this kind of conditional release. He did indeed meet with a parole officer as required. The last time was on the third of August last year. When he was being treated in Germany, the law and order forces of Russia had no claims against him whatsoever. But lets look at what happened from a legal point of view, without emotion, without politics. What happened was that he left hospital on the 22 September. He was, however, an opposition politician who was looking for a confrontation with the authorities. So, what did he do? He did not return to Russia.

On the 27 November in Russia, clearly, the case had to be looked into. Even then, he didn't return to Russia. He waited another month and then, on the 29 December what happened? Then the relevant Russian Service stated that he was being accused of trying to evade parole, and they warned him of the possibility of arrest. Only when it had been stated that he ran the risk of detention did he decide to go back to Russia. Many people, therefore, suspect that it may have been something that he did intentionally. He was waiting until there was a legal basis for his arrest.

Now, colleagues, it may be strange to say that in fact what we are talking about here actually runs against some of the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe. What are our fundamental principles? Supremacy of law, the law is the same for all: for politicians, for the unemployed, for men and women, for everone including Navalny. Another important principle is the independance of the judiciary, Nowhere is it posssible for the courts to take decisions at the request of authorities or of foreign politicians. So what will happen now to Navalny? That will be decided by a Russian court on the second of February and it will be decided in the same way as would be the case for any of the other 15 000 persons in Russia who are in the same situation. 

 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:22:41

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr André VALLINI of France.

Mr André VALLINI

France, SOC

17:22:47

Thank you, Madam President,

Colleagues,

The raison d'être of the Council of Europe is the defence of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

With this new Navalny case, Russia is showing that it is flouting democracy, ignoring the rule of law and trampling on human rights.

I ask the Assembly: can Russia remain a member of the Council of Europe? That is a difficult question, but it is an unavoidable question that we must have the insight to ask again.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:23:25

Thank you.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU of Norway has the floor.

Ms Ingjerd SCHOU

Norway, EPP/CD

17:23:41

President, colleagues,

First of all, let me underline the importance of this debate. We are discussing the arrest and detention of Mr Alexei Navalny. As an opposition party leader, he has been a target of the Russian regime. Their many efforts to silence him have not succeeded.

However, this debate is not only about Mr Navalny, this is also a debate about freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association.

Article 10, freedom of expression, and Article 11, freedom of assembly and association, of the European Convention on Human Rights, are fundamental to political life and democracy. All member States of the Council of Europe have signed and ratified the Convention. It is the very foundation of our organisation.

The principles, Madame President, and the values enshrined in it must be the compass we navigate by. We are all subject to the Strasbourg Court, we have all had cases before it, and we have been convicted. As a rule, we try to learn from our mistakes, we revise our laws and practices, we try to avoid being taken to court again. We do our utmost to have open and pluralistic democracies. Sadly, this does not seem to be true for all member States.

In August last year, the disturbing news of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny being poisoned reached us. It was soon confirmed to be poisoning by novichok. After treatment and recovery in Germany, Mr Navalny returned to Russia in January, only to be arrested upon his return. Arrested for having failed to appear in court while being treated.

Madame President, the case of Navalny shows clear disrespect for the Strasbourg court. He has won several cases against Russia. Russian authorities have repeatedly tried to silence Mr Navalny and obstruct his participation in political life. Stifling political opposition is undemocratic.

As an Assembly, it is important that we support Mr Navalny and speak up against his attackers. The report under preparation by Mr Jacques MAIRE will be pertinent in this regard.

Thank you, Madame President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:26:36

Thank you, Ms SCHOU.

I give the floor to Mr Damien COTTIER of Switzerland.

Mr Damien COTTIER

Switzerland, ALDE

17:26:44

Thank you, Madam President.

Colleagues,

Safeguarding democracy is at the heart of the Council of Europe. It was to defend democracy and fundamental freedoms that our institution was born more than 70 years ago. That is its raison d'être: democracy. Democracy is demanding; it requires, in particular, plurality of opinion, contradiction, debate, freedom of expression, assembly and association, free formation of opinion, the right to demonstrate peacefully, and free and fair elections. It demands all this and more; not just parts of it. If the opposition is silenced or put under pressure through legal proceedings used for political purposes, then democracy is undermined. This is true in all the countries we represent.

The arrest of Mr Navalny is extremely worrying for all defenders of democracy. It is worrying because Mr Navalny was arrested on his return to Russia on the basis of previous judicial decisions, which the European Court of Human Rights has stated violate several provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights. Not a political court as we have heard at times, but the European Court of Human Rights – a central institution of our organisation. This arrest is extremely worrying because it is part of a pattern of repeated pressure on opposition forces. Mr Navalny and his inner circle, but also politicians, journalists, NGOs, human rights activists and ordinary citizens who, in their thousands, are peacefully demonstrating for their rights and for democracy.

Madam President, it is necessary to hold this debate. That is the role of this house. But we need more than that: we need to continue the dialogue that was relaunched by our Assembly in 2019, an intense dialogue that entails responsibilities. We must continue the work in progress, including the report on Mr Navalny's poisoning, led by Mr Jacques MAIRE, and an analysis of current events, and therefore a second report.

I support the proposals that have been made today in the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and I hope that the Bureau will move in that direction, because Mr Petr TOLSTOI is right and so are the other Russian colleagues who have spoken: we need to debate the facts and, in order for the facts to be known, we need these reports. The rapporteurs must have access to information and to people, so they must be able to visit the country. We must keep up the pressure on each Council of Europe country, including the Russian Federation, to ensure that each country respects the obligations it has accepted when joining the Council of Europe, including the execution of the Court's judgments.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:29:47

Thank you. Thank you.

In view of the agenda, I must now interrupt the list of speakers. Registered speakers who, being present in the debate or remotely connected, were unable to speak, may, within four hours, transmit their typed speeches to the Sittings Service for publication in the minutes of proceedings provided that the remotely connected speakers are able to report their actual presence at the end of the debate. This transmission must be made by electronic means.

I remind you that at the end of this current affairs debate, the Assembly is not called to vote. In any case, this debate will, nevertheless, have allowed for an interesting exchange of views between members of the Assembly. The Bureau may, at a later stage, propose that the matter be referred to the appropriate committee for report.

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the report by Ms Alexandra LOUIS on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, entitled "Restrictions on the activities of NGOs in Council of Europe member states". It is Document 15025. The report will be presented by the chairperson of the committee, Mr Boriss CILEVIČS.

As we are due to rise at 7:30 p.m., we will have to interrupt the debate at about 7:10 p.m. to hear the Committee's reply and proceed to vote on the amendments and on the draft resolution and recommendation. Mr Boriss CILEVIČS has 10 minutes for the presentation of the report and 3 minutes to reply to speakers at the end of the general debate.

Mister CILEVIČS, you have the floor.

Debate: Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States

Mr Boriss CILEVIČS

Latvia, SOC, Rapporteur

17:31:28

Thank you, Madam President,

Dear Colleagues,

Unfortunately, our rapporteur Ms Alexandra LOUIS cannot be with us today, so I will present the report instead of her. This report was adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights last December. Five years ago, in January 2016, our Assembly already addressed the issue of inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities on the basis of a report by our former colleague Mr Yves CRUCHTEN. In June 2018, we debated his second report on the subject. Therefore, the report I'm presenting to you today is a third report on the issue on the restrictions on NGO activities and follows on from the Assembly resolutions adopted in June 2018. In that resolution, our Chamber noted with concern that the space for civil society had narrowed in several Council of Europe Member States, mainly as a result of restrictive laws on the registration of funding, administrative harassment, and smear campaigns targeting certain NGOs and their activities. The Assembly called on Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Hungary, Turkey, Romania, and Ukraine to repeal or not adopt restrictive laws and to comply with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. More than two and a half years after the adoption of that resolution, the space for civil society continues to shrink in several Council of Europe Member States.

This report focuses on the application of some controversial laws affecting civil society in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation, Turkey, and Hungary. Compared to 2018, the legal situation has not changed and the laws criticised by Council of Europe bodies, particularly those concerning access to funds from abroad, have not been repealed. Moreover, new restrictive laws have been adopted or are being adopted in other Member States. In particular, bills similar to Hungarian legislation targeting NGOs receiving funding from abroad are being prepared in Bulgaria and Poland. In Greece new regulations have been adopted on the registration and certification requirements for NGOs working on asylum, migration, and social inclusion. The restrictive measures adopted by Council of Europe Member States to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have a bad influence on the functioning of civil society. They jeopardize not only the rights to respect for freedom of assembly and association and freedom of expression of NGOs and their members, but also the right to privacy.

Since the adoption of Ms LOUIS's report by the Committee last December, new worrying developments have occurred. In Russia last November legislative amendments to several laws were tabled in the Duma and were recently adopted. They introduce new obligations to persons registered in the register of foreign agents, including reporting obligations, and broaden the catalogue of NGOs and individuals who may be considered foreign agents, regardless of their nationality. The so-called foreign agents will now be prohibited from any form of participation in election campaigns, which obviously can also be implemented against independent election observation organisations. Following our Committee's request, these amendments are now being examined by the Venice Commission. At the end of December, the cessation of schools of political studies of the Council of Europe has been placed on a list of undesirable organisations in the Russian Federation. In Turkey a law of the prevention of financing of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction was recently passed by the National Assembly. This law contains a set of amendments to other laws, including the law on association. It will allow temporary suspensions of NGO leaders facing terror related investigations and their replacement by government appointed trustees, as well as more controls imposed on NGOs' fundraising activities and donations from foreign countries.

In the meantime, some States have adopted good practices to ensure an environment conducive to civil society activities including by taking steps to improve their participation in public debate. For example, Romania and Ukraine have complied with the recommendations of the Venice Commission and have amended their controversial legislation on the reporting obligations on some NGOs and their members. In addition, over the past two years, the Council of Europe has placed greater emphasis on the need to protect civil society. For example, in November 2018, the Committee of Ministers adopted the recommendations on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of space for civil society in Europe and will consider its implementation five years after its adoption. Initiatives have also been taken to ensure better NGO participation in the work of the organisation, following the statement of the Committee of Ministers on the need to strengthen civil society space, adopted in Helsinki on 17 May 2013.

The Venice Commission and the Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of INGOs, have prepared new recommendations on NGO legislation. In March 2019, the Venice Commission published its report on the funding of associations, which addresses the issue of their foreign funding and contains important recommendations on the subjects, particularly with regard to NGOs reporting and publication obligations.

Last May the Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of INGOs published its guidelines on protecting can NGO work in support of refugees and other migrants.

In conclusion, NGOs play a watchdog role in a democratic society, and it is deplorable that they cannot enjoy their freedoms. In view of the recent developments, it is proposed in the draft resolution that the Assembly call on the Member States of the Council of Europe to respect the international law standards on the rights of our freedom and of assembly, association, and of expression, as well as the relevant recommendations of the Council of Europe, including those mentioned in the Venice Commission report on the funding of associations, NGOs should be able to seek, secure and use financial resources of both domestic and foreign origin, without suffering discrimination or encountering and unjustified obstacles. States should repeal laws that do not comply with these standards and recommendations, refrain from adopting new ones that would jeopardise the space devoted to civil society, and refrain from any form of harassment against NGOs and smear campaigns aimed at them. The COVID-19 pandemic should not justify such restrictions. Moreover, States should also fully and rapidly implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning violations of NGOs' right to freedom of association, like in the case of TOURKIKI ENOSI XANTHIS v. Greece and other similar judgments concerning the refusal to register some associations.

Other proposals are also included in the draft recommendation. The Committee of Ministers should fully implement its declaration adopted in Helsinki in May 2019. It could also establish an alert mechanism for receiving warnings of possible new restrictions on the right of association. Moreover, regular exchanges of views with NGOs working in the field of human rights protection should be organised, and these organisations should have an easy access to information on the Council of Europe activities and events.

Thank you, Madam President.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:40:15

Thank you Mr CILEVIČS, I now give the floor to the group speakers.

I shall begin with Mr Konstantin KUHLE for the ALDE Group.

Mr KUHLE, you have to ask for the floor, Mr KUHLE.

Mr KUHLE does not answer, so while we are waiting I call Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO for the Conservative Group.

Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO

Ukraine, on behalf of EC/DA

17:41:07

Thank you chair

Dear colleagues,

Now we are discussing an extremely important question about non-government organisations and now we really finally have a possibility to do something for Russian citizens. Because when we are told that let's do something for Russian citizens, giving a possibility to representatives of Russian authorities, for example, to be here without any sanctions: it's not really working for Russian citizens. When we are saying that we are doing something for Russian citizens, when we give the possibility to Putin's regime to show some legitimacy, that's not help to Russian citizens, because real help to Russian citizens is when we are fighting for their rights, for their human rights. One of their rights is to have non-governmental organisations and to work in this area.

But you know that in the Russian Federation there is legislation about foreign agents. Everybody who receives any money from abroad are foreign agents. Even more, at the beginning they did it for NGOs, but a month ago, last December, they adopted a law that just a physical person could be a foreign agent. It's like in Stalin's time, you could be the enemy of the people. That was the name, the enemy of the people, the families of enemy of the people, and millions of people were killed as enemies of the state, enemies of the the Soviet people. And their families were put in jail and they suffered strongly from this. And now they have absolutely the same situation when they have in the Russian Federation legislation, which is putting uses just to fight with those who are not supporting him, not supporting what he is doing with his own country. I already mentioned today that, for example, last story, it has more than a hundred millions views on YouTube, the story about his palace on the Black Sea shore. I just invite all of you colleagues to watch it then to see how crazy is this dictator and you have the one of the biggest corruptionists [sic] in the world.

So my proposition is: I just want to address all of you. Let's make sanctions, sanctions against this Putin regime and this will be the best help to 140 million Russian citizens who are suffering from this regime. Suffering, yes – unfortunately, millions of people in Ukraine, in Georgia, in Moldova, in other countries of the world are suffering from this regime too. But Russians are suffering greatly too. And if we want to help them, do not give a legitimacy to his representatives here, but much better to work for their NGOs, for their civil society, for those who really can give Russia the future.

Thank you very much. 

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:44:14

Thank you. 

I believe that Mr Konstantin KUHLE is with us now online for the ALDE Group.

Mr Konstantin KUHLE

Germany, on behalf of ALDE

17:44:22

Thank you, Madame Chair.

Dear colleagues,

First of all, I want to thank the rapporteur for her work regarding this important issue. The role of non-governmental organisations for a vivid civil society in all Council of Europe member States cannot be stressed enough, and the work of NGOs is nothing to be afraid of. Instead, governments and parliaments should encourage citizens to make use of their democratic rights to form NGOs and to work with such organisations.

And let me be very clear regarding this issue: the possibility of NGO activities is not merely an additional feature in democratic societies and states, it has to be a core element in democratic societies of all Council of Europe member States. And when citizens make use of their rights, they are making use of their rights enshrined in the rules that we have given ourselves as an organisation. Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights protect the right to freedom of association, of assembly, and of expression.

Any citizen of a Council of Europe member State who wishes to participate in an NGO activity makes use of rights that we should commit to as an assembly today. And there is a reason for that because it is deeply concerning that in the Russian Federation the so-called foreign agents law is used to obstruct the work of NGOs. That is deeply concerning that the situation of NGOs has even worsened in the last two years in Azerbaijan and in Turkey, and it is extremely worrying and concerning to which enormous extensive activities of NGOs in Hungary are restricted in the context of the anti-semitic and xenophobic campaigns against George Soros.

Colleagues, this report contains some useful aspects. It contains proposals that we should consider in the following debate and I want to especially mention that it provides that NGOs can seek secure and use financial and material resources of both domestic and foreign origin.

I think we all agree that the state must be able to regulate financial contributions from abroad to political organisations. However, such regulation must not be misused to restrict the work of NGOs and it is worrying that Council of Europe member States label their legislation as to protect democracy from foreign influence when it in fact impedes democratic engagement and debates.

Colleagues, I would like to stress that the work of NGOs causes us headache sometimes as parliamentarians. NGOs question what we do, they criticise what we say. Sometimes they're not even grateful when we do what they propose but, at the end of the day, in causing us headache they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.

I thank you for your attention and I wish us all a fruitful debate. Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:47:41

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW for the Group of the Unified European Left.

Mr Momodou Malcolm JALLOW

Sweden, on behalf of UEL

17:47:51

Thank you very much, Madam Chair.

There is no democracy without civil society. It should be made clear that any repressive measures leading to reduced or diminished democratic space for civil society is a violation of the right to freedom of assembly, association, and expression embodied in Article 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights, that we are all a party to.

We have seen an increase in adoption of repressive laws created purposely for the prohibition by the authorities of any initiative that critically assess government policies or even deviate from them. As a result the activities of NGOs, civil society, mass media, and active citizens is strongly restricted even further.

We've seen that people NGOs accused of being foreign agents repressive laws and legislations that would describe people as undesirable and as terrorist organizations. There is a serious concern that civil society space continue to shrink in several Council of Europe Member States, particularly in the case of NGOs working in the field of Human Rights.

Madam Chair, it is of utmost concern to see how in our Member States such as Turkey, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Azerbaijan, and even France certain NGOs are subjected to smear campaigns, and their activists suffer threats and reappraisals. It should be a source of great concern that certain Member States would go to great lengths in stigmatizing civil society organizations by introducing restrictions, control, and surveillance without the basis of a reasonable suspicion that is founded on objective ground and criteria.

Europe is increasingly concerned about international terrorism. All acts of terrorism should be strongly condemned and any attempt to excuse terrorist attacks, rejected as they go completely against the spirit of the standards and values enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights.

However, it should be underlined that combating terrorism and protecting Council of Europe standards and values are not contradictory but complementary. It is extremely misleading to present the notion of human rights protection as being in conflict with national security concerns. Parliaments and governments of Member States are therefore called upon to ensure the necessary and proportionality of measures taken in their fight against terrorism. They have also seen the increase in attacks on and criminalization of NGOs assisting refugees and migrants on their donors.

We must take the lead in condemning all regulations which make it more difficult for these NGOs to operate and decriminalization of its members.

Madam Chair, the United European Left agree with the rapporteur. There is an urgent need for Member States to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe. We must always comply with international legal standards with regard to the rights of freedom and assembly, association, and expression.

So, I urge all Member States to refrain from enacting legislation and tallying unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on NGOs activities. Not even the COVID-19 pandemic should be used to justify the imposing of such restrictions.

Some of us, I know, find it very difficult when we are scrutinized, when we are hold accountable for our actions and the things that we do in parliament as policymakers. If you can't stand the heat, you shouldn't be in the kitchen. As policymakers we become better when we are scrutinized, and we become better when we are held accountable. That is what democracy is about. Anything else is unacceptable.

Thank you.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:51:38

Thank you.

I now give the floor to Mrs Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR, on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Ms Thorhildur Sunna ÆVARSDÓTTIR

Iceland, on behalf of SOC

17:51:52

Thank you, Madam President.

Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right, essential to the functioning of every healthy democracy.

[she was disconnected for a moment] ..right to freedom of assembly.

Civil society is a mobilising force of social development on all levels. The right of citizens to organise, to band together, to work on their ideals, on charity, on the progression of their political values, or their deeply-held religious views. NGOs can be formed about so many different things and so many different values, be the issues that I would call social progress, or to fight against these very same movements of social progress in the name of conservatism or the often cited family values.

Civil society has brought us tremendous social progress and value throughout the centuries. Think of the Red Cross and it's invaluable work for prisoners of war, for survivors of catastrophes, and for the proliferation of international humanitarian law. Think of the enormous progress made by Amnesty International fighting for the freedom of prisoners of conscience, the freedom of political prisoners all around the world.

These are of course just some of the most notable examples on a global scale and I believe that we can all recall domestic NGOs that have been agents of great social progress. I for one am extremely grateful for the Constitutional Society in my home country, Iceland. This is an NGO peacefully fighting for the result of a national referendum deciding that the population of Iceland wants a new Constitution, that this result of a national referendum be respected and that Iceland get a new constitution. Which regrettably eight years later still hasn't happened. But thanks to the Constitutional Society this debate is held alive and pressure is still on and we still hope for the result of democratic elections in Iceland to be respected.

Colleagues, what I'm getting at here is that civil society lies at the heart of a functioning democracy. Any attempts of governments of member states made to suffocate or restrict the free functioning of NGOs and civil society indicate a disease of the heart of democracy. It is therefore deeply saddening to me to find in this excellent report clear indications that several member states are using this global pandemic we are collectively experiencing to further choke the life out of their civil society.

I put it to you that any government that fears their citizens, that attempts to crush their very human urges to band together and mobilise for change, cannot be considered a democratically minded government. Such government consists of cowards, of people afraid of their own citizens, afraid to stand up for their decisions in a civil society.

It is for this reason, Madam President, that I urge you all to adopt this excellent report. NGOs all over Europe need unequivocal support for the betterment of their societies and for the betterment of the Council of Europe as a whole.

I thank you for your attention.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:55:17

Thank you.

For the EPP Group, the last speaker is Mr Killion MUNYAMA from Poland.

Mr Killion MUNYAMA

Poland, on behalf of EPP/CD

17:55:25

Madam President, dear colleagues,

Thank you very much for giving me the floor.

On behalf of the EPP let me congratulate the rapporteur, Ms Alexandra LOUIS, for the great effort she rendered to prepare this important report. It is disappointing and very sad to state that restrictions on NGOs' activities in the Council of Europe countries still prevail in some member countries. It is our duty actually to share the good practices adopted by some member states to offer an environment that is accommodating and conducive to civil society activities. These organisations are not our enemies. They are there to make the world a better place to live in.

It's also a must to underline that the participation of NGOs in the work of the Assembly is an asset to recognise. Nevertheless, operations or rather the activities of NGOs are limited today due to three important elements: the first one is limited financial support, which is required. Second, the lack of predictability of funders. Just as we can see that there are some restrictions in the movement of resources from outside funders. Third, the lack of reliable information from government, and of course local governments as well. If these important elements are tackled brilliantly, then we could take a deep sigh of relief about the functioning of NGOs in all member states.

We are unfortunately aware in the EPP that legal solutions related to the Covid-19 pandemic significantly hinder the functioning of independent non-governmental organisations, but this shouldn't be a reason to fail.

To conclude, it is important that NGOs enjoy their independence and base their commitment mainly on the principle due values they serve. The moment when the NGOs seek government authorities, deny such values and fail to do so, we cannot remain silent.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

17:58:29

Thank you. 

I'll continue with the general debate.

I now call on Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS from the United Kingdom.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

United Kingdom, SOC

17:58:51

First of all, let me say what a privilege it is to be speaking today.

The very first time for me to speak at one of these meetings although I've been a member for eight months during all of which the COVID-19 pandemic has made it impossible for me to meet anybody.

So I hope that I can focus my thoughts adequately on this occasion.

I really want to congratulate those who have offered this splendid report and shown me in the documentation how this is the latest in a long line of attempts to define the role of NGO's, especially when it is focused on human rights, and to address the need to protect NGO's from attempts to limit or subvert their activities.

We've heard adequate mention made of the things that worry us, the freedoms that we prize, and the determination we must muster in order to maintain the visibility and the effectiveness of NGO's in Europe at this time.

The shrinking of civil society space is well documented, and it must be opposed.

Describing and treating NGO's as foreign agents is too often a denial of the freedoms of civil society to hold governments to account, as we've already heard, and dismissing them as undesirable organisations when they focus on the failures of the state is – and we must say it – deplorable.

So I find myself fully in support of this report and the amendments which seek to strengthen its recommendations.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

We must remain alert to the encroachment on the space occupied by civil society, and defend civil society with our very existence.

The Council of Europe simply must establish the condition is that pertain to the work of NGO's those in order to fulfil all the requirements of the Convention, and to be true to its values.

Now having said all of that I've got one caveat to introduce.

I've worked with a leading NGO; I've advised others.

I've worked in a developing country that was described as a nation of a thousand NGO's.

As a worker in the field I've sought the help of NGO's, and refused help from some NGO's, for the simple fact is there are undoubtedly some NGO's which need to be criticised.

I would attest that there are indeed foreign agents which posed as NGO's.

Some method of discerning and ability to distinguish between the good and the bad would be a good corrective element to include in this report, perhaps in future work undertaken by those who do this work.

I'm very grateful for this opportunity to speak.

Sorry I'm 11 seconds overdue, I promise I'll never do it again.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE, President of the Assembly

18:02:12

Thank you, I forgive you.

I now call Mr Pieter OMTZIGT from the Netherlands. Is he with us? He is not.

In that case, the next speaker is Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN of Ireland.

Please ask for the floor. 

 

Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Ireland, ALDE

18:02:51

Good afternoon and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak on this excellent report.

Firstly, I want to commend the rapporteur for her work and, of course, the excellent amendments that are there.

I am inclined to agree with Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS with his point that maybe there should be some work in exploring the different types of NGOs and the type of value that they bring to our society, because it's important to discern the excellent work that is in the main done from those that are possibly rogue.

Many of our member States of course have experienced shrinking server space. 2020 was particularly difficult because of restrictions placed on NGO activities because of Covid-19. Of course, that was because of the very necessary restrictions that the government had to put in place. Many will have had their own funding cut and curtailed also.

It's particularly concerning, though, that some countries have used Covid-19 as a pretext to curtail human rights and to restricting civil society space thereby silencing the NGOs who voice opposition, ideology or agendas.

In many countries, there are restrictions that have applied both online as well as offline, and that's certainly something in my country that we completely disagree with. Our own restraints in Ireland on movement and gatherings are necessary, temporary, and also they're very much in the context of the protection of public health.

The rapporteur rightly and absolutely correctly highlighted specific concerns regarding restrictions on NGO activities in many member States and draws attention to the shrinking of civil society space in Azerbaijan, Hungary, Turkey and Russia. Of particular concern in Russia and Hungary is the intense pressure on the LGBT community.

In Russia, the gay propaganda law prevents any opinions being expressed that would support the LGBT community, so for example pride marches, etc. are prevented. In the recent 12 months, we've seen a lot of similar legislation being introduced in Hungary.

Ireland as a country regularly expresses the importance of freedom of expression, and we've spoken about it internationally.

NGOs must have their own independence to pursue fair and equitable goals, and we absolutely must defend their independence and autonomy.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:06:08

Thank you very much, Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN.

Now as you see, the language and the face of the Chair has changed. Good evening for everybody or good afternoon, late afternoon already, depends where you are in Europe.

The next speaker is Ms Inka HOPSU from Finland. Ms HOPSU, the floor is yours my country lady.

Ms Inka HOPSU

Finland, SOC

18:06:35

Mr President, dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for this important and timely report. NGO's are the cornerstone of a democratic society. Their role as generators and participants of the public debate is of vital importance. Exposing injustices and expressing the will of citizens through NGO activity is a major precondition for liberal democracies.

As platforms of influence the NGO’s bring people together and contribute extensively to the inclusive democratic system. In addition, NGO's possess a lot of expertise, as their representatives are often experts in their own respective fields and are capable of informing decision-makers on complex, multidimensional political issues.

In recent years, however, the role and operating environment of NGO's have changed in our member states. I am especially concerned by restrictive laws concerning registration requirements or receiving foreign funding, administrative harassment, and threats against NGO leaders and activists. Such practices must be condemned and properly addressed by this Assembly. The pandemic has further complicated the situation of many NGO's. Thus, we must be more vigilant and monitor the development of the situation in our respective countries.

Mr President,

What worries me the most, is restrictive regulations imposed on human rights activists and NGO's helping the most vulnerable people in our societies. As the report states, many countries have imposed new regulations on the registration and certification requirements for NGO's. In Greece, those are set for NGO's working in the areas of asylum, migration and social inclusion. I understand that Greece has been under extreme pressure in recent years, but as members of the Council of Europe we must always stand up for human rights. NGO's working in the field of asylum, migration and social inclusion are doing very important work: they help people to integrate into new societies. NGO's also aim to ensure the legal protection of asylum seekers and bring injustices of the asylum processes into the public debate. One aspect of this is the consultation of NGO's when developing new practices and regulation, such as the the EU Migration Pact.

Mr President,

As decision makers in the Council of Europe member states we are obliged to ensure the respect for freedom of assembly, association and expression. These values cannot be treated easily and lightly. All violations must be countered.  

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:09:40

Thanks Ms HOPSU for your speech and good timing.

Next one is Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA from Ukraine, please. The floor is yours. 

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

18:09:49

Thank you dear chair.

Thank you dear neighbour.

We have a report today which is called Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member states.

I think the name can be renamed to the "restriction on democracy" in a very broad term. Because I can't agree more whith the previous speakers that the right of freedom of association, along with the right of freedom to expression, opinion and peaceful assembly, is enshrined in all international documents which this Assembly voted on – enshrined in human rights, enshrined in the core of our Assembly.

Of course it plays a vital role in controlling states, in controlling politics. Before becoming a member of parliament and a member of a city council I was also working in an NGO. As a person who practised these activities I can't agree more. Depriving the right of NGOs to a fair access to funds, also internationally, which some countries who belong to this Assembly are trying to implement in their national policies, is completely wrong. We cannot go on with this any more.

Many rights and bodies with special procedures have to stop because this will stop access to fair information, to the development of the rule of law, to the development of European integration laws, the effect of which will be very disappointing.

Therefore, I would like to conclude and to make a remark: those who trying to amend this good report are trying to amend the democracy of speech and the democracy in terms of cultural, economic and other rights. I think this is absolutely unacceptable. The Council of Europe and the PACE as an Assembly representing 47 states of the sub-continent of Europe should go along with a free and democratic activism. Members of NGOs cannot be deprived of their right to be absolutely independent.

Thank you dear chair.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:12:22

Thanks Mariia for your speech.

Now we move to the United Kingdom, Ms Kate OSAMOR. Please, the floor is yours.

She's on the line. Please try to open the line.

If that's not possible... It seems that's not happening. Now we move further.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:12:58

[speaks Russian]

Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA, please you have the floor.

 

Ms Irina RUKAVISHNIKOVA

Russian Federation, NR

18:13:23

Dear colleagues, dear friends,

I'm not going to be praising the report like previous speakers.

I find it a great pity that the work on this report was done without a deep understanding of the problem and without a careful study of the way NGO activities are governed in various cases.

Because of the lack of a professional, legal assessment of the national legislation of various countries including the Russian Federation, we don't end up with a comparative legal analysis.

I think that it's simply because this was done too quickly, in virtually just two months, and that has had a very bad effect on its quality.

You have to follow the right procedures if you're trying to compare a pan-European situation.

This was done without the author doing any in-situ monitoring.

There were no study visits.

This was based only on publications on the internet, using unverified and blemished information.

Unfortunately, because of communication problems, I was not able to discuss this with the author in Committee.

The links were simply too poor and the written proposals were not taken into consideration. 

The author criticises the Russian Federation for the fact that some NGO's are declared undesirable and doesn't mention the fact that the same NGO's are also on stop lists of other countries, for example France, and the United Nations.

So there's no justification for criticising the decisions taken in the Russian Federation.

Is this because it was done too quickly, or is this because there are double standards?

Of course, the European Convention for Human Rights should be applied in the territory of the Russian Federation.

It has revisions for certain limitations to be introduced in the interest of national security and public order.

Criticising the Russian Federation for applying non-democratic measures is unjustified and based on flimsy information.

Thank you Ms RUKAVISHNIKOVA for the report.

 

 

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:15:30

Spasibo, Irina.

I call Mr André GATTOLIN of France.

Mr André GATTOLIN

France, ALDE

18:15:38

Thank you President, colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank our colleague Ms Alexandra LOUIS for the quality of her report.

The resolution before us rightly emphasises the importance of NGOs, which are an essential component of an open and democratic civil society. Unfortunately, however, the space given to civil society has been shrinking in several Council of Europe member states, in contradiction with the Helsinki Declaration of 17 May 2019. This declaration specifically recognises the central role of NGOs and called for a sincere and transparent dialogue with civil society at all levels.

The European Convention on Human Rights guarantees respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression. States that are parties to the Convention must respect and ensure such rights.

Our Assembly has already taken a stand several times on restrictions on the activities of NGOs in Europe and the Council of Europe has issued several reference guidelines on the legal status of NGOs and on freedom of association, and some states had recently done so, as the report pointed out. It is the responsibility of this house to reiterate these points forcefully.

I wish at this stage to emphasise a point that is of particular concern to me: that of funding from abroad. A number of member states impose reporting and publication obligations on NGOs receiving funding from abroad that appear excessive and are essentially aimed at stigmatising them.

The ability to apply for, obtain and use financial and material resources is an integral part of the right to freedom of association: without it, NGOs simply cannot exist and carry out their activities.

The report details worrying examples in Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Hungary. It also cites worrying initiatives, although not all of them have been successful, in Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Greece. In this respect, I welcome the fact that amendments to the initial drafts have been made in Ukraine and Romania in order to take into account the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

I do not in itself criticise the demand for transparency when it is actually intended to combat money laundering or terrorism. But let us be careful about the proportionality of the requirements. Let us be careful that this legitimate concern is not used as a tool to stifle civil society and public debate.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:18:56

Thank you Mr GATTOLIN.

I understood that Ms Kate OSAMOR is on the line. Is that true? So Ms Kate OSAMOR from the UK.

Ms Kate OSAMOR

United Kingdom, SOC

18:19:08

Thank you, thank you so much.

I would like to congratulate the rapporteur Ms Alexandra LOUIS. I understand she's not here. I thank her stand-in for the work that he did for us all.

I just want to start off by saying that NGOs are part of democracy and we must not push them away from that discussion. They should be part of that discussion. It's really important that we make sure that any NGO that is receiving funds is encouraged and always, without a shadow of a doubt, is encouraged to record and to show every penny, where it has been spent. All NGOs which are run, and are transparent and accountable, they do this. So there is no question on, you know, us really discussing whether or not an NGO should be part of democracy, because I believe it should be.

As I see there is a growing problem across some member states who are adopting practices and legislation which is not in compliance with the Council of Europe standards. We don't have much time and I don't want to repeat what has been said previously. I must say I support the majority of colleagues who have spoken, but we must all be very mindful that COVID-19 has only exacerbated the seeping inequalities around society. Whether it's in the UK, whether it's in Greece, whether it's in Russia, COVID-19 has only exacerbated that.

Government alone cannot reach all of us. When I say all of us I mean reach society at large. We need NGOs to be able to pick up a lot of the work. We need NGOs to support organisations which maybe cannot now, because they are themselves are sick, as individuals, they can't get to their clients. We mustn't break up who is in charge and who is not in charge. We are all in charge of our democracy. We must all be fair. We must all work together.

This report, all I must say is I support it. I wish Ms Alexandra LOUIS was here to to speak to it. We must not fall back on our responsibilities and any member state that feels that they can have repressive laws which impact on NGOs – those of us who are progressive, we must stand up, we must speak up and we must support NGOs because without their work many people would not even get food.

I'll leave it there, thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:21:52

Thank you very much, Kate.

And now we are going to Azerbaijan, Mr Samad SEYIDOV.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

18:22:00

Thank you very much, Mr President.

I agree with the previous speaker that NGOs are a part of democracy and we are talking about democracy in this house of democracy. Could you imagine democracy without responsibility? That's impossible, we all are very responsible people in front of our constituency, in front of our electorate, in front of people who gave us votes. Only responsibility could create trust and that's really very important.

A new era has come, not only to Europe but to the rest of the world: the era of NGOs. And in some cases, we have observed NGOs which are not so responsible. And that's why, first of all, we should think about how can we deal with that. What should we do in order to create a more transparent approach to NGO activities? Here is a piece of information I want to give to this Assembly: today the president of Azerbaijan has signed a special decree in order to facilitate the activities of NGOs via electronic communication between NGOs and the Minister of Justice, which is really very great support to the NGOs. 

But the problems that NGOs have in the world are not only limited to these four countries which are mentioned in this report. That is not fair. A lot of countries, a lot of NGOs in different countries--not only in the Council of Europe member States--have different problems. And when we can see in the report only four countries, it means this report is incomplete. That's why if we are talking about the real support to the NGOs, if we are talking about democracy, if we are talking about what we should do in order to help people to create the new environment, we should think about how we can create responsible NGOs, how people in Europe and in the rest of the world can believe in the activities of the NGOs, and a very good example of that is the Red Cross. They are a responsible organisation and everybody trusts this organisation. That's a vivid example of a real NGO. I hope we will be able to give our advice. How can we create trust and responsibility towards the NGOs?

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:25:07

Thank you very much, Mr SEYIDOV.

Now I will ask Ms Petra BAYR from Austria, please. The floor is yours. 

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC

18:25:16

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

I would like to say at the outset that my own political roots are in organised civil society. I work closely and a great deal with a number of NGOs at the Austrian, European, and international levels. I find it extremely fruitful to exchange ideas and opinions, especially when we do not always share the same opinion.

However, I do not want to be naïve, I am convinced that there is also a dark side of civil society and by that I mean all those who stand outside the canon of values of the ECHR, who stir up racism, who have misanthropy and master race as their programme and for them. I want to make this quite clear that I am not an advocate, not in the least. For those who stand on the side of human rights, of freedom, and of equality, I would really like to see them as partners. I believe that we are well advised as politicians to co-operate with them, whose activities must neither be restricted nor hindered, nor discredited.

COVID-19 has often been used as a pretext for restricting the right to privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly or freedom of opinion, which must not happen - which really must only happen when prescribed by law, when proportional and when accordingly necessary in a free society.

That has happened much more often. We must not allow that to happen because, even outside of the pandemic, we are seeing the space for organized and also non-organized civil society getting smaller and smaller. I am convinced that we would be well advised to fight for more space for civil society, for NGOs, because if we do not do that, it could be that in the end our space as a Parliament will be much smaller than it is at the moment.

Thank you very much.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EPP/CD

18:27:39

Thank you, Mr President, dear colleagues.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:27:56

Good start but... Please, try again.

Sorry. It's this hybrid. Okay.

Mr Barna Pál ZSIGMOND

Hungary, EPP/CD

18:28:18

Dear colleagues,

Hungary recognises the vital contribution of non-governmental organisations to the promotion of common values and goals. These organisations also play an important role not only in the democratic control of the government and shaping public opinion, but also in addressing certain social difficulties and fulfilling other community policy needs.

The Constitution of Hungary ensures that everyone shall have the right to establish or join organisations. Hungary ensures these rights to everyone without discrimination. Hungarian civil society is flourishing, in Hungary there are more than 60 000 NGOs.

Let me just recall what has happened in the last two years around this report: the work was started by Ms Olena SOTNYK, she was succeeded by Lord Donald ANDERSON and after he left the Assembly Ms Alexandra LOUIS was appointed as rapporteur. Even though the Committee decided on a fact-finding visit in Hungary, and I personally invited Ms SOTNYK, none of the persons involved in the writing of this report have had the time to come to Hungary, to contact me or the Hungarian government, or independent NGOs in Hungary and still they are writing judgments. I consider that we should avoid this kind of superficial, unfounded and biased reports, because the credibility of the Council of Europe's bodies is at stake.

Dear colleagues, hence, there is fundamental public interest in ensuring that society as a whole and individual citizens are aware of the interests these organisations represent. Furthermore, due to the more complex nature of transnational financial processes there is a legitimate expectation to make it transparent who are the donors influencing civil society organisations. These aims have been considered as legitimate by the Venice Commission.

As far as the law in relation to measures against illegal immigration is concerned, it shall be emphasised that the measures included therein were necessary to prevent, or at least restrict, illegal immigration and the abuse of the asylum procedure.

Let me just emphasise that during the past years, since the entering into force of the law no NGO or a member thereof has been prosecuted on the basis of these provisions. The act on NGOs does not prohibit funding from abroad and does not aggravate the operation of NGOs, it merely makes foreign funding transparent.

In the report there is no concrete evidence of harassing NGOs because of political reasons or political influence on NGOs. The rapporteur does not indicate any cases showing that the Hungarian government influenced NGOs' independence.

Everyone has to realise that there is a political debate in Hungary between the left, financed by our fellow Hungarian Soros György, and the right, represented by the government party, the FIDESZ. Mr Soros is intensely involved in Hungarian politics and he is using for his interests, besides political parties, some NGOs financed by him. It is important to note, that among the 60 000 NGOs, when it comes to critics against the Hungarian government, you always find the same 30 or 50 NGOs financed by Mr Soros.

As a conclusion I consider that the critics on Hungary are of political nature rather than based on legal grounds, therefore I suggest to examine the facts and the Hungarian legal system more accurately.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Ziya ALTUNYALDIZ

Turkey, NR

18:33:46

Thank you, Mr President, dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for her effort addressing this important issue. However, the report unfortunately inaccurately characterises the legislation in Turkey on non-governmental organisations as restrictive. Turkey has a vibrant civil society where citizens can freely associate and engage in civic action. This is evident from the fact that the number of associations active in Turkey increased from 72 000 in the year 2000 to more than 121 000 in 2020.

We do always give them support, NGOs are necessary and they are taking very important activities and factoring for societies for their development. The report stated that associations had been closed after the failed coup attempt of July 2016. To show Turkey's utmost respect to the rule of law, it started proceedings solely against associations that had been suspected of being involved in illegal activities such as aiding and abetting terrorist organisations. In addition, Article 11 points out that this article does not prevent the imposition of lawful restriction on the exercise of the rights by members of the armed forces of the police of the administration of the state. That's why we have been doing what we have done in accordance with the law.

In addition to these regulations and developments, my dear friends, the newly enacted law, no. 7262 on Preventing the Proliferation of Financing Weapons of Mass Destruction, we have done some amendments clarifying and expanding the scope of the law on associations, by removing confusion regarding the applicability of law over foreign foundations. With this law, we also introduced new measures and created new capabilities in the fight against the laundering of the proceeds and the financing of terrorism.

These regulations, which are all in line with international norms and law, will make the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing more efficient. And I would like to underline that NGOs and NGO activists who have nothing to do with these crimes will of course face no restrictions at all in our country, like in other countries in PACE.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:36:58

Thank you very much.

Now we move to Armenia and Mr Sos AVETISYAN.

The floor is yours.

Mr Sos AVETISYAN

Armenia, SOC

18:37:23

Thank you very much, Mr President.

Today we are discussing an important report about the restrictions of NGOs in different countries. A cursory look at those countries will draw another map. A map of countries--some countries--which may have problems with democracy, hate speech, and where xenophobia is state-sponsored. The independent media is shot down. They usually refuse to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. In other words, the civic space is curbed.

In this context, I must mention that, alongside different state institutions, the international civil society organisations and independent international media have been raising questions when Azerbaijan and Turkey jointly launched aggression against the people of Nagorno-Karabakh. They documented in their media coverage, as well as in international human rights reports, important facts that were to be discussed in this hemicycle if everything was normal. Human rights organisations, as well as international media, documented these issues of barbarities, the use of phosphorus and other cluster bombs prohibited by international law. They also reported about the mercenary terrorists pimped into the conflict by Turkey.

However, this entire documentation sometimes meets a wall of silence and neutrality.

All the questions discussed in this hemicycle may be or are relevant or important today. However, I don't think that any of this is more relevant or more important than the returning of Armenian prisoners of war and other captive people, which again, if we had a slightly more humanitarian orientation in this hemicycle--in this organisation--it would be the first matter of the day.

PACE has institutional cooperation with civil society organisations. However, often this protection of rights requires more actions from the states and, obviously, less is expected from the civil society organisations in terms of creating public good.

I think at times we need to learn from the courage of those civil society organisations which voice their frank opinions,  even knowing very well that it might not be very pragmatic for them.

As a conclusion, it becomes more clear that when people's right to live independently with dignity is denied--the fact is not condemned--it will surely bring about a similar situation elsewhere.

In this context, I want to drive your attention one more time for your parliaments and capitals alike, that seeds of negligence will not bear good fruit.

Lastly, the protection of vibrant civil society across borders is certainly a way of ensuring the protection of human dignity when the member States failed to do so.

So I commend this report. I hope that we will work more with the independent civil society organisations and media alike.

Thank you very much.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:40:26

Thank you very much.

Now we'll try once again to connect to Ms Dora Patricia MERCADO CASTRO in Mexico. Can you connect to us? Please try. And if you can, please tell us the time in Mexico. We are curious to know what time you are leaving.

Ms Dora Patricia MERCADO CASTRO

Mexico

18:40:44

Hello President.

It's actually 11:30 in the morning for us so good afternoon or good morning to all of you in Strasbourg.

I would like to start by expressing my recognition and thanks to the rapporteur of this report. Since she focuses on the importance of civil society organisations, one of the pillars of the rule of law, democracy and the defence of human rights in my own country, Mexico. We do actually have something in common with countries in Europe which started their transition to democracy in the late 1980s: I'm talking about the central role of organised civil society when it comes to building an open society committed to human rights.

Countries which impose restrictions applying to the actions of NGOs citing national security concerns or the need to prevent violent rebellion are very worrying. In all these cases there is something in common. Over and beyond the methods and means used, there is a hostile message sent out designed to silence those who voice criticism regarding the action of the government. The report concludes that the space given to civil society in the countries in question is being reduced. We see many examples where tax, financial and migration tools are used against NGOs disproportionately.

Most recently, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders drew attention to these indirect acts of criminalisation of NGOs. Access to funding for NGOs is a right which is recognised in Article 13 of the 1998 UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The rights to freedom of association and assembly, as well as the right to defend rights, are enshrined in a series of treaties by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, and indeed the Organization of American States.

The case of Hungary, which is referred to in this report, is particularly worrying. We are talking here about a broad-based campaign directed against NGOs defending the rights of migrants and working for gender equality. It is very important that we recognise the importance of NGOs played in the Americas when it comes to defending the rights of Central American migrants crossing to the United States, providing them with shelter and food. They should be supported for their important humanitarian work.

In a full democracy it is very important that we extend our full support to those people who are willing to defend and fight for human rights. We commend this resolution and the recommendation which reaffirm that the Council of Europe as a space for defending diverse societies where migrants, women and LGBQTI people have the same rights as everyone.

Thank you Mr President.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:44:02

Thank you very much.

I now call Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ from FRANCE.

Ms Marie-Christine DALLOZ

France, EPP/CD

18:44:14

Thank you, Mister President,

Dear Colleagues, Madam Rapporteur,

I thank you for the work you have done. I share your concerns about the restrictions on NGOs in several Council of Europe Member States.

As you point out, not only do some countries - you mention Azerbaijan, Russia, Turkey - continue to apply restrictive legislation and regulations, but other Member States have prepared draft laws apparently based on these restrictive laws. You mention Hungary, Romania, Ukraine, and Greece.

This is a worrying trend, and it must be stopped. Perhaps a firm approach on principles and a pedagogical approach could be effective. I fully agree with you when you say that the fight against terrorism, money laundering or foreign political influence cannot justify the introduction of restrictions that run counter to the European Convention on Human Rights and in particular to Articles 10 and 11, according to which Council of Europe Member States are obliged to ensure respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression.

However, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that some situations may be delicate. NGOs sometimes display a position that does not really correspond to their actions or are instrumentalised. In such cases, the authorities have the right and even the duty to act, but they can only do so if they have first scrupulously ensured that their action is well-founded and legal. This is not an easy task. I think that the use of the Council of Europe's expertise that you advocate in your resolution, point 9-6, is, in this respect, very welcome.

Finally, I come to the particular current context, which in my view requires increased vigilance. Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic that has been hitting the whole world for a year now places public health at the centre of all concerns. In accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights, public health as a legitimate aim may justify the restriction of the rights to respect for private life, Article 8, freedom of expression, Article 10, and freedom of association, Article 11, but only on condition that this restriction is necessary, is proportionate, and is provided for and regulated by law.

In France we voted, and the government passed the law on the state of emergency. This vigilance is all the more necessary because the epidemic context makes certain categories of the population, usually supported by NGOs, particularly vulnerable.

In conclusion, I thank you once again for the work you have done, which I think is absolutely necessary and, of course, I will vote in favour of the resolution and recommendation that you propose.

Thank you, Mister President.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:47:42

Thank you, Madame.

And the next speaker is Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK. Oh no, sorry, the next one is from Azerbaijan, Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

18:47:56

Thank you chair.

Dear colleagues,

It is a well known truth that many NGOs operate in each of the participating countries, and the number of these organisations is constantly growing as well as their scope of activity is expanding. Many of their problems are similar regardless of the country in which they operate, but of course there are many differences depending on the country situation. Currently the number of NGOs in my country, Azerbaijan, is about 4 500. However, due to the new historical conditions emerged in the country, for the first time, the overwhelming majority of these structures have become closer to each other and are focused on working in one area. Since most of these NGOs wish to contribute in the same direction, the problems they face and will continue to face on a regular basis are essentially close.

Azerbaijan emerged from a hard war and liberated its territories occupied for almost 30 years. Investigations are underway in the liberated territories of Azerbaijan and the amount of damage is calculated. Both local and foreign observers, as well as individual NGO representatives who had the opportunity to visit the area, confess with pain in their hearts, and videos and photographs presented to the public demonstrate how terrible the landscape is. Now Azerbaijan is starting construction work in these territories to accommodate about 1 million refugees and internally displaced persons.

The majority of NGOs are determined to participate in these processes within their capabilities. The fact is that people who will be resettled in these areas are now accommodated in 60 districts and cities of Azerbaijan. Those people who have to return to their fatherland are in dire need of legal assistance. Tackling their countless issues, from household problems to health care, education and employment, is a challenge ahead. There is so much work to be done in the post-war period of reconstruction that if all the forces in the country are not involved in working together to achieve a common goal, it may take many years to resolve the problems.

Issues of national importance today mobilise non-governmental organisations and government agencies, as well as international structures involved in these areas, to work in closer cooperation and with more mutual support than ever before.

In my opinion, this cooperation and experience gained during an extreme period of history will have a positive impact on the future of more effective NGO activities in Azerbaijan and the formation of healthier relations with the authorities.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:51:02

Thanks, Rafael.

Now Mr Tony LLOYD from the UK.

Mr Tony LLOYD

United Kingdom, SOC

18:51:09

Thank you.

I'm grateful for this opportunity.

Can I begin by saying this: that if the core function of the Council of Europe is to ensure that democracy, the rule of law and human rights are upheld, we can never allow the law to be put into contradiction with democracy. It's fundamental to any kind of functioning democracy that there's the right to dissent, the right to challenge, the right to disagree.

I can't think of how my work as a Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom could have operated over the years of being a Member of Parliament had I not had the NGO community there--sometimes to advise, sometimes to educate, sometimes to help change my mind. That applies in areas like health, education, environmental concerns, raising those environmental concerns but of course, actually, in terms of those areas that do challenge the government, the governance, and the decisions that we as politicians make.

So it's a sad reflection that at the moment we do see in some of our Council of Europe states, that the role of NGOs is under threat. Of course, as other speakers said, we can all point to those NGOs that we applaud and approve of.

I had a meeting this week with the British Red Cross, part of the International Red Cross organisation, who doesn't like, who doesn't respect the Red Cross. But of course, when the Red Cross is raising issues like the use of child soldiers by some regimes around the world, we immediately meet the denial by those governments that child soldiers are employed on their terrain--but we know it happens.

So even the Red Cross from time to time has to raise issues that are unpalatable to national governments. We've got to respect that we can't accuse NGOs of their responsibility when they're doing their role. We can disagree with them. There are NGOs in my country I profoundly do disagree with.

The rather sad thing for the Council of Europe and for the PACE, in particular, is the recognition that in this area, Mister Chair, that those nations of ours which are embracing a more authoritarian view of the world are the ones also that are trying to use the law to restrict the role of NGOs.

The restrictions on the so-called anti-Soros laws in Hungary are very, very dangerous. The same in Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia. I've heard the defence from our colleagues from those countries today. I would say to them: go back to your governments. Go back and challenge them to look again at the role of NGOs. NGOs improve governance. NGOs make our societies healthier and better and more democratic.

Go back and say to your government: you need functioning and powerful NGOs.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:54:17

Tony, thanks very much.

Now, Armenian Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN.

Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

18:54:25

Thank you, Mister Chair.

I would like to express words of gratitude to the rapporteur for an excellent report.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

NGO's are part of our life. The pandemic made them even more important in our daily life because they were very active in different aspects of combating coronavirus.

For sure everybody understood from a legal perspective that NGO's are not free to do everything. They may be subject to certain limitations. It's quite normal while it's necessary for democratic societies, while they are democratic as such, while these limitations are based on the law and for sure, while they are proportionate.

We are speaking about discriminatory restrictions on NGOs. Unfortunately we have some particular countries where NGO's face such problems. 

Here we also speak about responsibility. Yes, for sure, responsibility is quite important when we are speaking about the relations between States and NGO's. This responsibility should be reciprocal. Yes, NGOs should be responsible, but States should be responsible too.

My colleague from Azerbaijan Mr Samad SEYIDOV said that at least there is, from an Azerbaijani opinion, one responsible NGO in Azerbaijan. It's the International Committee of the Red Cross. Mr SEYIDOV said why don't you ask ICRC if they consider Azerbaijani authorities as responsible authorities. Plus, I would like to say, the International Committee of the Red Cross is not just an NGO. It is an organisation that for more than a half century has been very active in solving and in protecting different war victims. When we are speaking about the ICRC, we should not forget that this is not just an NGO, for it is also a substitute of a protecting power and it has a Geneva mandate.

If we are speaking about responsibility, I would like to say to my Azerbaijani colleagues that there is no need for adopting any other regulations. The Geneva Convention, which is binding to Azerbaijan - I know that, and I'm sure that the International Committee of the Red Cross raised this issue many times - stated clearly that after the termination of hostilities all captives should be repatriated.

Please, Mister SEYIDOV, please be responsible and please fulfil your international obligations. International obligations based not only on international statutory law, but international obligations which are considered as erga omnes obligations.

I hope that at some time, somehow your country will become responsible on this issue.

Thank you.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

18:57:26

Thanks very much, Vladimir, for your speech.

You mentioned the Azerbaijani speech, and the next speaker is Mr Kamal JAFAROV from Azerbaijan. You can react, please.

Mr Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaijan, NR

18:57:40

Thank you, Mister President.

First of all I would like to remind my colleague from Armenia, Mr Edmon MARUKYAN, that it's not "Shushi". The name is "Shusha". The last time I checked its entry, it was written "Shusha" according to its historic form.

Secondly, I fully agree with President Rik DAEMS when he said that this Assembly should not be used as a tool for pursuing interests. Instead we should look inwards. We should try to protect, to defend the shared values of this Assembly.

Therefore, I kindly ask my Armenian colleague to refrain from this rhetoric; refrain from using every topic to politicise court issues, and to look forward to confidence-building measures. If an elected official of one state cannot find a common ground for confidence-building measures, how can we expect peace from an ordinary citizen in the region?

The conflict is over. Now we have to look forward. We have to look for confidence-building measures.

Regarding the report, I have already mentioned this in the Committee meeting, that sometimes there are amendments which are to the benefit of the report. However, because it is tabled by one country which has a conflict of interest with another country, it doesn't get approved. For example, what is wrong if we include here an amendment to research the best practice of NGOs in Europe because we can learn from this best practice?

Regarding another amendment, the first amendment in paragraph four, this report mentions eight countries while in the draft resolution in paragraph four, it refers only to three countries. From a professional point of view, either we mention all eight countries or remove all of them. That would be objective.

Therefore, I ask all of my colleagues here to support Amendment 1.

Thank you very much for your time.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

19:00:09

Thank you very much. Now we had Caucasian speeches from Armenia, Azerbaijan. The next one is from Georgia.

Mr Givi MIKANADZE.

He doesn't seem to be in the room, so we cannot continue with the Caucasian debate. We move next door, almost, to Ukraine with Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA.

Ms Yuliia OVCHYNNYKOVA

Ukraine, ALDE

19:00:33

Thank you very much, dear colleagues.

First of all, thank you very much for this excellent report.

The role of non-governmental organisations in the development of open and democratic society, adherence to the rule of law and protection of human rights, goes beyond national borders. The Resolution is aimed at ensuring freedom of assembly, association, and expression and raising awareness on violations of this fundamental principle.

Ukraine adheres to the international legal standards and respects rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression. The Ukrainian legislation, in particular “National Strategy of the development of civic society for 2016-2020” and Monitoring Report provides solid background for development and activity of NGOs in Ukraine and complies with all Council of Europe resolutions in this regard.

Yet at the same time, we would like to raise the issue of how to prevent using NGOs as instruments of hybrid war, how to protect NGOs as instruments. At the same time we do the best in order to do for these rules. The Assembly should claim that the NGOs must respect the national law and culture of communication and standards of participatory democracy. NGOs have to follow the principles defined in the Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe: accountability, transparency, supervision, liability, and act according to the Code of Ethics and Conduct for NGOs.

I hope this resolution could protect the rights of the World Congress of Ukrainians in the Russian Federation, also such organization and progress of civil society and the Association of Schools of Political Studies. The report points out the relevant guidelines adopted by the Council of Europe on the activities of non-governmental organizations. We need to stress that it's against international law and democracy. It is so that fully recognize the rights of national minorities, which cannot be compared to criminal of terrorists or announced as foreign agents. On the ground basis, NGOs cannot be used as an instrument of weapon for the hybrid war. And the Assembly should promote good practices and integrity of the ONGs if they work in the protection of human rights. By the way, I also was a leader of an NGO in Donbass. I know about the situation; yes, I am an internally displaced person. But we all do all the best in Ukraine and other European countries in order to be peaceful, in order to be at peace.

Thank you.

 

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

19:03:29

Thank you very much, Yulia.

The next speaker is from your country, Ms Lesia VASYLENKO, but she doesn't seem to be here. No, she's not.

We move forward to Turkey, Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER.

Who? She is online?

Madam VASYLENKO, are you on the line? Please, then, the floor is yours.

Good good, you are there.

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD

19:03:59

Thank you, Mister Speaker.

Thank you also to the Rapporteur who has so carefully put together this report.

In fact, the role of NGOs is crucial in protecting the fundamental values of the Council of Europe such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights.

Just like a free press and independent courts, civil society organisations are the ones shedding light on violations that are often committed by respective national governments and imparting opinions which are alternative to those supported by the ruling majority. Silencing these watchdogs for political reasons is absolutely unacceptable in states that are committed to Council of Europe values. This unfortunately remains a common practice for certain members of this organisation.

A perfect illustration of the politically motivated violation of freedom of expression of an association is the Russian Federation and how it interferes in the activities of the Ukrainian World Congress, an NGO that works throughout the world but also in the territory of the Russian Federation. The Ukrainian World Congress is the international coordinating body for Ukrainian communities in the diaspora. It represents the interests of 20 million Ukrainians and has a network of member organisations in more than 60 countries, including Russia. It is a recognised NGO by the United Nations Economic and Social Council and the Council of Europe. In July 2019, Russia's Prosecutor General's Office and Ministry of Justice branded the activities of the Ukrainian World Congress as undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation.

The Ukrainian World Congress is contesting these government decisions before Russians courts. It is arguing that it has defended in a completely lawful and peaceful manner, the fundamental principle of the territory of Ukraine and territorial integration of Ukraine, and the human rights of Ukrainians, and that it has called on the international community to support such a defence and condemned Russia's violations of its international obligations. However, Russia's first instance and appellate courts have to date dismissed applications of the NGO and simply reiterated the position of Russia's governing authorities with no real analysis of the evidence submitted. On 18 July 2019, the European Parliament adopted a resolution protesting the decision of Russia's Prosecutor General's Office declaring the activities of the Ukrainian World Congress undesirable on the territory of the Russian Federation.

I'm calling on the Assembly today to stand in defence of international and domestic NGOs suffering from similar unlawful interferences by the Council of Europe Member States, and in particular one, the Russian Federation. Silencing independent NGOs is another example of Russia's open and blatant disregard of its international obligations stemming from its membership and the Council of Europe.

The council must strengthen its accountability mechanisms against violators of its fundamental values because one of the reasons for such violations in the organisation is the behaviour of such countries which is recurring all the time.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC, President of the Assembly

19:07:42

Thank you very much.

Sorry to interrupt, time is really against us. It's so against us that we do have that time constraint on the whole meeting. Now I will allow the last speaker from the list. Unfortunately, there are still few other people but I couldn't continue.

The last speaker is from Turkey. Mister Mehmet Mehdi EKER, please.

Mr Mehmet Mehdi EKER

Turkey, NR

19:08:24