Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

27 September 2021 afternoon

2021 - Fourth part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No. 24

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

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:35:52

The sitting is open.

Can I remind members that it is a legal requirement for everyone here to wear a mask and I should put mine on, even when taking the floor.

The next item on the agenda is the continuation of the debate on the Progress report of the Bureau and Standing Committee, that is Document 15375 and Addenda 1 and 2.

I remind members that speaking time in this debate will be limited to 3 minutes. The debate must conclude at 4:20 p.m. so I propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 4:15 p.m. And first we will hear from the spokespersons for the political groups and first of all I call Ms Petra BAYR.

Ms Petra BAYR

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

15:36:43

Thank you very much, Mr Chairman,

I would like to do something unusual,

I would like to use the Progress Report not to talk about content, but to talk about the other side, so that parts here of politics, namely how we work and how we work with each other here in the Assembly, how we also try to create visibility and create impact for our politics.

I would like to take as an example, because this is also mentioned in the in Progress report, the June session where we had this High-Level Panel and the Istanbul Convention "Ten years on" and gave space to that. It's a lot of space for a discussion that moves a lot of people, because we know that in Europe between one in three women and five in three women, depending on the country, are themselves affected by gender-based violence; are themselves affected by domestic violence. That's why I think it's important to have such slots, to have such spotlights, where we deal very specifically to a greater extent with such important issues that move people.

It has also been shown that we have had an impact. Not only has Liechtenstein ratified the Convention. In the meantime, Mexico and Tunisia are also discussing ratification, and in other countries, such as Great Britain or Ukraine, the discussion has already generated a certain momentum and rekindled the discussion. I hope that we will soon be able to do something about this in more member countries as well.

Violence cannot be abolished with a single event. It takes a lot of staying power, it takes a lot more. That is why it is so incredibly important that we have the role of the rapporteurs-general. They really do have the opportunity to work on a subject for a long time, to create awareness, to give subjects a face, and to involve people.

In this context, I am very grateful to the Secretary General of the Assembly for submitting a letter and an idea on how the role of the rapporteurs-general could be further developed in the future., for example, that we regularly look at whether it still makes sense, whether the topic is still important, whether the topic should be dealt with in the same way as it was at the beginning, when we started a topic. I can only say now for the Equality Committee, where we have three general rapporteurs who are all very active, that in two cases - and I think this is very important - we also have a link to a parliamentary institutional network, namely the Parliamentary Network Women Free from Violence and the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance.

We did webinars on that in the pandemic. I think we succeeded in reaching a large number of people outside there. I think that's what's important too: explaining to people how our work works. I would like to suggest, because tomorrow we are dealing with the topic of the environment, which also moves so many people, considering whether we should not introduce a general rapporteur or rapporteuse for environmental issues.

Thank you very much.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:40:04

Thank you very much, Ms Petra BAYR.

The next speaker is Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA.

Thank you. The floor is yours.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

15:40:16

Thank you, colleagues.

I would like to begin my speech by thanking the PACE Secretariat for once again organizing the PACE session. Such a great representation. Today we're discussing very important issues of elections in the national parliaments and to ECHR.

So, Armenia's early parliamentary elections were competitive and well managed within a short time frame. However they were characterised, as said in the report, by intense polarisation and marred by increasing inflammatory language from key contestants.

The PACE delegation concluded that the electoral legal framework in general is comprehensive, but some shortcomings still remain. In some cases there were [unintelligible] in both the private and public sector, while allegations of fraud by, misuse of the state's resources continued throughout the campaigns.

However, despite the fact that women candidates were included in the party list, their visibility during campaign was markedly low. However, we have a great presentation of women from Armenian delegation in the PACE for instance.

On 6 September the Bureau approved the report on the ad hoc committee on Moldova's early parliamentary elections observation. The Assembly Election observation delegation concluded that Moldova's early parliamentary elections were well-managed, admits an improved legal framework and voters were offered a wide choice of alternatives. But concerns over the impartiality of the election authorities undermined the trust while inadequate campaign finances rules, which left the potential breaches unaddressed.

The assembly observation legal delegation conducted also the Bulgarian parliamentary elections on the 4th of April 2021. They were competitively and officially done, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, and the fundamental freedoms were respected. However, the long standing Venice commission and ODIHR recommendations to bring it in line with international standards and good practices remain unaddressed.

These mainly relate to the voting by prisoners, candidate nominations, elected day voters registration, campaign finance report, campaign in itself, conditions and consistent criteria for establishing out-of-the-country polling stations.

Of course, we cannot leave out the issue of the future discussion for the ECHR judges. We have four countries being addressed: Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Czech Republic, and Moldova. Three of them were approved and, unfortunately, Ukraine was recommended for rejection. We will see it further for the discussion, but the issue of the implementation of the European Court decisions is one of the main obligation of the member States. We should aim for maintaining the high profile of European Court.

Thank you colleagues

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:43:27

Thank you very much.

The next speaker is Mr Iulian BULAI.

The floor is yours.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

15:43:37

I would like to start by thanking Mr Jacques MAIRE, ALDE group chair. Thank you so much for your report and also thank you Mr Rik DAEMS for keeping the Assembly alive and relevant.

In the name of the ALDE group, we affirm that we are very supportive of the idea that the environment should be part of human rights, and we count on Wednesday's debate to give an impulse to our national governments to support this move demanded by citizens all over Europe and start a real conversation on this topic.

ALDE has established a working group to reflect how we can better link human rights and the environment and we will hear their report this week.

Regarding the report on the elections in Russia, it is important that PACE was present on the ground but the Covid-19 pandemic cannot become a pretext for countries to make meaningful international observation virtually impossible since this will only increase mistrust in free elections and the voting process itself.

Also on the eastern front, ALDE is extremely preoccupied with the escalation of the crackdown against civil society in Belarus, and on a personal note, I am very happy that Maria Kalesnikava won this year's Václav Havel Human Rights Prize. The former Václav Havel Human Rights Prize Laureate from this country, Ales Bialiatski, is again in detention facing trumped up charges alongside more than 670 other political prisoners.

Our organisation's own partners, who have taken part in our meetings as experts or witnesses over many years, have also suffered from repression and they risk heavy jail terms. We cannot forget these people. We cannot leave them behind. While co-operation with Belarusian civil society remains an indispensable tool for the Council of Europe, and should be fully supported, we also have an obligation to back our partner when they face politically motivated repression. It is the mission of this Assembly to find the best – the most appropriate – tools to make this support truly effective in preventing abuse against our partners.

It is more and more obvious that the Covid-19 pandemic is not only a health, economic and social challenge but also a threat to democracy and human rights in certain countries on our continent. We, in ALDE, have a deep belief that this Assembly has an important role to play in safeguarding these European values, but we are not here only as a shield against illiberalism. We are here to represent our communities on the hard path ahead of all of us in the light of the changes brought by this pandemic.

Since we are back here, let's make sure we continue our work with no more interruptions.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:46:58

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH is here?

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH

Hungary, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

15:47:10

First of all I would like to congratulate also Ms Kalesnikava for being nominated and given the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize of the Council of Europe. And we hope that she is going to get free along with the other 600 political prisoners of Belarus soon.

Secondly, dear colleagues, I would like to draw your attention to the issue of Afghanistan. We will have an urgent debate on the subject. It is needed. We all know that the withdrawal agreement, the so-called Doha agreement, implementation is just happening, taking place, and it signals a new world order. We do agree with the very fact that it had to happen. However, the form of the realisation is a major failure and a Western humiliation. It is a kind of disaster and we all know the level of incompetence which has resulted from all this, which has been very much underlined by the grave terror attack where over 200 victims have been identified until now.

We need to express our condolences and to draw the importance to being aware of terrorism in the coming years as well in the case of Afghanistan. And we need to draw the conclusion also that we have to establish an operational engagement with the Taliban in the future, and to have a regional humanitarian strategy where the Council of Europe, I'm sure, can find its role, and which may be a decisive role.

And thirdly, I would like to mention the Green Week that we are just having. It is a priority of the Hungarian Presidency as you all know. And the historical challenge to turn our economies green and digital is just in front of us. The high-level panel which we are going to see on Wednesday is now a new model in the Council of Europe. I would like to congratulate our chairman and I am very glad that the Hungarian President, who is very active in the field of green protection – voter summits have been organised by him – is going to be our guest. And I believe that the feasibility study concerning the additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights to environment is going to signal the third wave of fighting for human rights, after political and social rights. The challenge is international and the solution should also be international.

Thank you very much for your attention.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:50:25

Thank you.

And Mr Tiny KOX.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

15:50:32

Thank you very much Mr President and let me also, on behalf of the group of the Unified European Left, pay my compliments to the prize winner of our Václav Havel Human Rights Prize, Ms Maria Kalesnikava, and let us all support a call for her immediate release from the Belarusian prison. As I have often said, politicians do not belong in prisons they belong in the public sphere and they belong in parliaments. Let us hope that the prize that we have awarded her is in support to that idea and I wish the people of Belarus well.

Let me thank the rapporteur for his report and his remarks, and may I say that I share his compliments about the way how our president has taken the lead in these challenging times to overcome problems. He managed that very well, the Presidential Committee worked in good co-operation with President DAEMS and I hope he will continue in this way in the coming months. And I support the President's goal to take the lead in protecting and promoting the rule of law, human rights and democracy, as this organisation was created exactly for this, in order to create greater unity in the whole of Europe.

Quoting Shakespeare was well said, "to be or not to be, to lead or not to lead, that is the question" and the good news is, I think, that in April of this year this Assembly adopted by a large majority my opinion on the strategic priorities of the Council of Europe for the future. By doing so, this Assembly showed that we are able and willing to play our role in leading this organisation. We agreed that we should and could do this in close co-operation with the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General.

And the good news is Mr President, that a week ago, we received, as an Assembly, a positive reaction of the Committee of Ministers on our then adopted recommendation, which regarded our strategic priorities in which the Committee of Ministers recognised the important role of the Assembly in supporting democracy and taking the lead in taking political initiative. So I think that is good news and that shows that in the future we can co-operate in synergy with the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General. Then, I want to thank the Committee of Ministers for this answer to our recommendation.

And finally, I want to thank all the colleagues who have been involved in the election observation missions – it was mentioned by several colleagues – how important that work is. We went to Armenia, we went to Bulgaria, Moldovia, we went to Russia and all of our colleagues did there – under challenging circumstances – a great job. Election observation is one of the key issues, I think, for this Assembly and I hope that we will continue that in the future.

So once again, thanks to all the colleagues who are involved in that. Thank you very much.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:53:39

Thank you,

That brings us to the end of the speakers on behalf of political groups and I will now move on to the list of speakers from the floor.

And the first of those is Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO.

Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO

Ukraine, SOC

15:53:54

Thank you Mr President, dear colleagues.

The term "progress report" implies that we expect some progress to be achieved in our activities in the field of human rights. The fact is that there has been no progress. On the contrary, the situation with human rights has considerably deteriorated, especially in Russia and in the territories occupied by Russia. As an act of brutal revenge against holding the Crimean platform in Ukraine, Russian occupation authorities arrested a number of Crimean Tatars and activists in Crimea, including deputy head of Mejlis, Nariman Dzhelyalov.

Some of the arrested persons were subjected to torture by the Russian FSB. Regrettably, there has been no serious reaction against this gross violations of human rights which would stop Russia. As for Russia itself, it hopes that we will get tired of paying attention to Russia's constant and endless provocations and violations of human rights, and at some point we will quit. But we shouldn't get tired and we have no moral right to quit. On the contrary, we should redouble our efforts aimed at the protection of Crimean Tatars in the occupied territories.

As for Russia, it openly states that it has absolutely no intention to implement the PACE resolutions on the situation in Crimea. Instead it is using its massive propaganda machine to create an artificial illusion of prosperity in the Crimea.

I also would like to mention the case of Alexei Navalny. Again, Russia ignores the decision of the European Court of Human Rights and documents of the PACE in this regard. It wants this case to be forgotten.

Dear colleagues: Russia, which has recently conducted elections which was just a mockery in the occupied territories of Ukraine using citizens of Ukraine living in the occupied territories. This is a new Russian crime and Russia is very creative in such kind of crimes. The truth is that Russia's behaviour is totally incompatible with the values and principles on which our organisation is based. The conclusion is simple: Russia should be expelled from the Council of Europe.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:56:20

Thank you very much, and the next speaker is Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ. Is she here? Thank you.

Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ

Lithuania, EPP/CD

15:56:30

Thank you.

Election observation is one of many tools we have at our disposal. So, today I would like to speak briefly on the elections in Russia and in Moldova.

So-called Russian Duma elections were neither free nor fair. A further hardening of the law on extremist organisations, foreign agents and undesirable organisations reinforced a systematic crackdown on democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms and independent media as well. All this further limited political pluralism in Russia to the advantage of the ruling party and prevented members of the independent political opposition from participating in the elections. It is regrettable that the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly were prevented from observing the elections. Same applies to PACE. Our mission was an election assessment mission. The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights refused to establish an observation mission because of the limited member of election observers allowed.

Moreover, the holding of elections in the Crimean peninsula as well as holding elections in the so-called LNR in Luhansk or DNR in Donetsk aggravated infringements of the international law. All of this has resulted in the most managed elections in modern Russian history further undermining democracy in the country. We have to answer a key question, can what happens at the Russian polls still be considered elections? And how does that affect the legitimacy of the next state Duma?

Contrary to the assessment of the Duma elections, there is a positive example to be mentioned today in this debate and I have in mind Moldova, of course. Early parliamentary elections in Moldova took place on 11 July and I was part of the PACE election observation mission. ODIHR was there, OSCE and its Parliamentary Assembly was there, PACE was there observing elections and I have to say that all international observers agreed that early parliamentary elections in the country were well organised, they met international standards.

So, I wish Moldova all the best in the future and the Moldovan example is the one to be used when we speak about a positive experience, when we speak about the strengthening of democracy in the PACE member countries.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

15:59:31

Thank you very much.

And now we go to a video recording I think of Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY.

Do we have him online?

Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY

Russian Federation, NR

15:59:51

Thank you Mr President,

I am going to be speaking Russian.

The last two speakers have made me change my plans for what I am going to say. And what Mr Oleksandr MEREZHKO has said is quite out of place. We constantly hear this kind of statement recently from the Ukraine delegation. It's all rubbish, it's all untrue. And with regards to what Ms Laima Liucija ANDRIKIENĖ has said vis à vis the Russian elections to our Duma, to our parliament, this is not at all in keeping with what actually happened.

There were more than 300 international observers who saw no irregularities or violations of electoral practices, and as regards the refusal of the OSCE ODIHR and the PACE missions we feel that they made a mistake. But we note that the PACE Assembly did nevertheless send an evaluation mission – it's the right of any international organisation. In connection with the pandemic we were prepared to receive a limited number of observers, limited because of the pandemic. But at the same time I'd like to note that the number of observers to the elections was about 10 times as many as those who observed the recent presidential elections in the United States. Therefore, colleagues: stop spreading untrue and unverified information. Let's actually provide real information for rapporteurs so that you can actually tell the truth about what has happened.

I'd also like to say one more thing and point to a particular situation. I'm talking about the amber country zones and the access for Russian delegates, who can only be in the hotel and in the Assembly. I think that we're talking about violations of measures that should be taken. As a result the Russian delegation is only taking part via video conference in this session, which makes it more difficult for us to work. The European Medicines Agency is the appropriate agency whose indications should be taken into account by the Council of Europe.

We feel that this is a kind of situation that should simply not be allowed to happen.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:02:47

Thank you Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY.

Mr Jacques LE NAY.

Mr Jacques LE NAY

France, ALDE

16:02:56

Thank you, Mr President.

Dear colleagues,

On 27 August, we celebrated the thirtieth anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Moldova. This State has been a member of our Organisation for 26 years now, and I welcome this. This membership illustrates the will to create a democratic state in the Republic of Moldova. However, getting citizens interested in politics requires a constant effort, even in the oldest democracies.

After the institutional crisis that followed the 2019 elections and the resulting highly polarized campaign, the 2021 elections were held in a calm manner. This is to be welcomed; I myself was an observer of these elections in the Republic of Moldova. However, the low turnout of 48.51% is regrettable, which shows a lack of confidence in the institutions and the electoral process.

However, our ad hoc committee was able to note a number of points of satisfaction. First of all, the reform of the electoral code following the 2019 elections made it possible, on the one hand, to return to a more representative proportional representation system and, on the other, to increase the number of women on the electoral lists, in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. Moreover, the restrictions put in place to combat the health crisis did not hamper the campaign.

Despite these points of satisfaction, a number of difficulties remain. The campaign was marked by controversies and legal challenges regarding the voting of citizens residing abroad. Indeed, the decision of the Central Electoral Commission to set the number of polling stations abroad at 139 triggered strong controversy. Following legal challenges, the number was finally increased to 150, but this type of controversy raises doubts about the impartiality of the electoral authorities and encourages abstention.

Furthermore, the legislative provisions on complaints and appeals need to be reviewed to be fully effective. Similarly, a strengthening of the control of campaign expenses is necessary to ensure fairness among candidates.

Finally, the bias of the main media, due to their partisan affiliation, undermines the existing legislative provisions that aim at ensuring a certain media fairness among candidates.

Reforms are therefore essential and, despite the limitations that I have noted, we can be pleased that these elections have put an end to the period of political instability that the Republic of Moldova has been experiencing for several years. It was to be hoped that reforms could be undertaken quickly, particularly to combat corruption and strengthen the independence of the judiciary.

I hope that the Council of Europe can fully support the new Moldovan government in this process.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:06:00

Thank you very much.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

16:06:09

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Elections in Armenia are a very important event not only for Armenia, but for the neighbouring country because everything which is happening in one state is immediately echoed in another one.

Today is the 27 September. Exactly one year ago, as a result of provocation made by Armenian authorities, we started to liberate our territories. It is really very strange that the people of Armenia voted for those who defeated as a result of the war. Pashinyan's party won despite the fact that they had been defeated on the battlefield. Thousands of Armenians soldiers have been killed and disaster had happened in Armenia. Have you ever seen this situation in any other country? No.

There is a reason why and the reason you can find within the Armenian nation. They voted against the Kocharyan, Sargsyan and Ohanyan criminal regimes. They voted for Pashinyan because they want to live in peace, as any other nation all over the world. Actually, Pashinyan had this chance three years ago. He got his mandate from the Armenian people, but unfortunately, he made a historical mistake. He chose the same way which took by the regime of Kocharyan, Sargsyan and Ohanyan. As a result of that, we saw what we see just now in Armenia.

History gave Armenians a second chance. They again won at the election, I mean Pashinyan's party. This is a vivid example that people who are living there together with the rest of other people are looking for peace. What we can see, again, those who came to power started to fulfil ideas of revanchism, started to talk about the war, started to talk about the new revenge and something like that we already saw three years ago. That is why I asked my Armenian colleagues not to use these styles of behaviour. You already did it. You already brought your country to the collapse. There is only one way to find the way out from this deadlock: peaceful agreement with Azerbaijan, mutually acknowledge the territorial integrity of both countries. This is the way out. I urge Armenia to do that, and I urge my Armenian colleagues to do the same.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:09:19

Thank you very much.

And now, Mr Vlad BATRÎNCEA.

Mr Vlad BATRÎNCEA

Republic of Moldova, SOC

16:09:35

Thank you.

I would like to thank Mr Stefan SCHENNACH for his fairly objective report which doesn't sink into emotions and basically focuses on facts and matters which Mr SCHENNACH and others were able to see in the Republic of Moldova.

The elections in Moldova were open and there was a large number of parties competing and, according to the report, the central electoral commission for the first time in Moldova did not support or favour any one candidate but provided an objective result. And therefore for the first time in Moldova no candidate was accused of anything nor was any candidate limited in their freedom to take part in the elections and the elections were really representative.

What's also very important, which is noted in the report, is the professional attitude of the CEC. It's very important to note this attitude of the CEC to the elections. But recent events have shown that there has been an attempt to set up a CEC which favours one party only. As regards the opposition, for subjective reasons some of these candidates were not supported, and what I would like to say is that it's important to make sure that the mass media are free. There is an attempt now to impose political control over members of the audiovisual council and it's important in future campaigns for citizens to be able to receive information from the news sources which they prefer and choose for themselves and to make sure that mass media sources and outlets are all on an equal playing field.

There has been a case of corruption: television, which was traditionally thought of as independent, but this shows that we must still continue to make sure that there is a level playing field for everyone without any kind of limitation, without any hate speech to make sure that citizens can carry out their will.

Unfortunately there have been cases of manipulation and deception and so on. Mr SCHENNACH's report indicated that the obervers of the elections observed speculations and manipulation, but we must really make sure that there is no speculation or manipulation or fake news and no hate speech and the dehumanisation of opponents.

There must be proper humane debates which take place in election campaigns.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:12:41

Thank you.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN is the next speaker. 

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

16:12:50

Thank you.

Dear colleagues, first I want to thank the observation mission to the Armenian elections for their comprehensive report. These elections were the second free and fair elections, national elections in Armenia after the Velvet Revolution of 2018, and these elections took place in a very difficult time after a war which brought many disasters but the Armenian democracy prevailed and the Armenian democratic institutions prevailed.

And using the opportunity, I want to respond to our Azerbaijani colleague, Mister SEYIDOV, whose speech was not stopped even though it was completely off topic, but still. What Mr SEYIDOV tried to speculate about the relationships of the Armenian majority and the opposition or previous governments, or on the topic of the Armenian elections, my first thought was to respond in the same way; to try to speculate on the relationship of their opposition with the government. Then I remembered that there is no opposition in Azerbaijan, there are no elections in Azerbaijan, and there is no democracy in Azerbaijan.

Mister SEYIDOV, our party and Mr Pashinyan won because the Armenian people want democracy and freedom. The Armenian people in Armenia want democracy and freedom, the Armenian people in Nagorno-Karabakh want democracy and freedom. And this is something unbreakable and this has been demonstrated many times and this is the will of the Armenian people regarding peace – of course, peace has to be achieved – but I think we may have to make small steps towards peace and your speech is unfortunately not such a step.

Thank you.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:14:50

Thank you very much.

And Mr Dimitar GARDEV.

Mr Dimitar GARDEV

Bulgaria, NR

16:15:03

My statement is about a monitoring report on the early parliamentary elections in Bulgaria.

Honourable Members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you and make this statement on one of the most important issues for any democracy - the elections.

The Parliamentary Assembly delegation concluded that the early parliamentary elections on 11 July 2021 were competitive and generally respected the fundamental freedoms.

The voting process at the polling stations was well organised.

An entirely machine-based vote was introduced in polling stations with more than 300 voters and for the first time, the possibility of increasing the number of polling stations of Bulgarian citizens abroad was provided, which increased the possibility for all those wishing to cast their vote.

The change in election legislation, made by the 45th National Assembly, has created the conditions to obstruct, as much as possible, attempts to buy votes and to counter other corruption risks.

The Ministry of Interior undertook investigations into all serious allegations of vote-buying, as reflected in the report of the mission for monitoring the elections. More than 23 cases have been filed. Observers from international organisations will be informed of the results of the investigations in a timely manner.

The measures taken by the authorities [has] made society more sensitive and more intolerant to electoral violations.

The transparency of the electoral process is one of the important points in the political platform of my party.

Efforts to implement the Group of States against Corruption´s (GRECO's) recommendations on the financing of the election campaigns of the parties will continue.

The state subsidy to the political parties which received more than 1% of the votes in the last elections, was not suspended but was reduced.

I believe that the full implementation of GRECO's recommendations regarding the amount of funds available to parties and coalitions during an election campaign will contribute to increasing confidence and transparency in the electoral process.

Everything mentioned above, contributes to greater equality of participants in elections and a more realistic representation of the vote. 

Bulgaria aims to implement good cooperation with the Venice Commission, GRECO and all other bodies of the Council of Europe to further improve its electoral legislation.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:18:13

Thank you indeed. I must now, I am afraid, interrupt the list of speakers.

The speeches of members on the speaker's list who have been physically or remotely present during the whole of this debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report. I remind colleagues that the texts are to be submitted in typescript, electronically, no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

Mr Jacques MAIRE, do you wish to reply? You would have 3 minutes.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Rapporteur

16:18:53

Yes, I'll be very brief in my response. I don't need three minutes.

I think the discussion has been very interesting. We have seen a gradual return to normal in the way in which our Assembly functions. Not only in terms of every day work, but also in election observation. I am pleased to take note of the high quality observations that have mentioned Moldova and we are convinced by what has been said.  

Yes, there are still the effects of the pandemic. The fact that we are able to give more and more time to non Covid-19 topics is a sign of good health, but I see that Covid-19 is still being instrumentalised by certain Member States who wish to use Covid-19 to maintain in an accurate line. We musn't see Covid-19 as an excuse for from ones responsibilities and I am sure that everything will go back to normal in the months to come.

I would also like to say that what the Groups have said, and the Bureau agrees, there is essentially consensus on what has been said about the strategic priorities. This has been done in conjunction with the Committee of Ministers in order to have visible strategic priorities and that is important from this point of view. There has been a huge effort when it comes to the Report on the environment. In particular we are going to have the high-level day in a few days of time and that is an essential part of past and future work of this Assembly. 

Thank you, Mr President.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:20:51

Thank you Mr Jacques MAIRE.

The Bureau has proposed a number of references to committees for ratification by the Assembly and these are set out in document 15375 and Addendum 1.

Is there any objection to the proposed references to committees?

I see none. We have one there, please.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:21:18

Thank you, dear President, dear colleagues.

I must raise an objection to Document 15375 concerning the Ukrainian list for the elections of judges.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:21:29

I'm sorry. We will come to the Ukrainian list in a minute.

I understand. It is fine.

OK. Can I take it that there are no objections to the proposed references to Committees and that on that basis these references are ratified.

Now I invite the Assembly to approve the other decisions of the Bureau, as set out in the progress report, and let me say: is there any objection?

Now is the time, Madam, to make your objection.

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

16:22:05

I'll try number two.

Dear President, dear colleagues, I must raise the objection to document 15375 Addendum 2 concerning the Ukranian list of elections of judges to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). We have to stress that the list is composed of three highly qualified candidates fully meeting the conditions laid by Article 21 paragraph 1 of the Convention as well as the requirements developed by the Assembly. It offers to the Assembly a genuine choice and is based on a fair and transparent national selection procedure held in accordance with the respective recommendations of the Council of Europe.

We are sure that you have had an opportunity to consult the CVs of the candidates which made it clear that some criticisms towards them might be seen as a subjective and based on misleading information. On the other hand, we fully share concerns previously raised by many colleagues of this House that it is unacceptable able to continue artificially the term of the office of certain judges that expired long ago and unfortunately, it is the case of Ukraine since 2019. For almost three years, Ukraine has not had a judge in the ECHR, which is unacceptable. Nor is it acceptable for everyone to lobby against any new list of the candidates to prolong the stay of the current judge for private reasons.

And the last point. While remaining fully supportive of the mission and authority of the Committee and in order to protect the Assembly and the Court from any lobby-based on private interest, we ask you, dear colleagues, to support the proposal to return the Ukrainian list for consideration.

Thank you very much, dear President.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:23:46

There was an objection to the rejection of Ukraine's list of candidates for the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights and that objection we have just heard.

Does anyone wish to speak against the objection?

Sir.

Mr Titus CORLĂŢEAN

Romania, SOC

16:24:13

Dear colleagues, because I had the honour as an acting Chair to preside over the meeting on the election of judges on 16 and 17 September in Paris, I must clearly oppose, on behalf of the Committee, the Special Committee of the Assembly, the above-mentioned challenge.

I want to underline – I can confirm that the Committee has done its work in the professional and impartial manner which the Assembly rightly expects. You have our recommendations, you have our conclusions on your files, specifically on the Ukrainian national list.

I want to underline the fact that after extensive discussions, the Committee concluded by a very large majority that not all candidates fulfilled the requirements set by the Convention for the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights. Because the procedure is confidential I cannot provide supplementary details but I want you to rely on the authority and the competence and impartiality of our Special Committee.

So for all these reasons, I politely invite all the members of the Assembly to endorse the Committee's position and recommendations, and to reject the above-mentioned challenge.

Thank you very much.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:25:27

Thank you.

Mr Jacques MAIRE.

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Rapporteur

16:25:33

Mr President,

As my colleague from the Committee on the Election of Judges has just pointed out, I can only confirm that the Bureau has taken note of this opinion, which was given in accordance with the rules and procedures that are fully respected and justified. The Bureau can therefore only take due note of the Committee's decision and, indeed, it is traditional to follow it in such cases.

Thank you.

Mr Frédéric REISS

France, EPP/CD

19:37:00

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:37:07

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues,

Exactly 1 year ago on 27th September, second Karabakh war between Armenia and Azerbaijan broke out. But it was just, hopefully, a final accord in the long lasting conflict which took many thousands of lives.

This bloody conflict started 3 decades ago with occupation of a chunk of Azerbaijani territories and ethnic cleansing of all ethnic Azerbaijanis living there. The cities and villages were destroyed, people killed or driven out. The territory served as one large depressing military base.

Less than 1 year passed and Azerbaijan have flown first Civil airplane into brand new Fizuli airport built from scratch in early September. Fizuli is located in Karabakh region of Azerbaijan most of which was under Armenian occupation for 3 decades. Fizuli city, home to 40 thousand people in 1992 was grazed to the ground with population zero. Now Azerbaijan is rebuilding it and Fizuli airport is the first major civil infrastructure project, completed. This amazing result is the product of national idea of Azerbaijan - to rebuild Karabakh, to turn it into the blooming garden it once was. Karabakh in Azerbaijani means Black Garden, but it may also be translated as Great Garden. We will turn it into one, no doubt.

Dear colleagues,

We’ve all witnessed elections in Armenia, these elections were accompanied by very radicalized and controversial rhetoric between various political forces. Now it is over, populistic promises have been made and we are yet to see the practical steps towards long lasting and sustainable peace in the region.

We have to leave the conflict behind and we, Azerbaijanis have done it and started large-scale construction works in the liberated territories. Azerbaijan is building new cities and towns from the ground zero with modern urban planning and "smart living" concepts.

However, I have to once again remind that the process of rebuilding is delayed due to the heritage of totally destroyed civil infrastructure and landmines, tens of thousands of which have been planted by Armenian occupying forces. Since the end of military hostilities more than 30 people (military servicemen and civilians), including 2 journalists were killed and around 130 citizens were wounded. The map provided by Armenian side are sketchy and imprecise – a merely political bargaining tool. The accuracy level of the maps for three regions which Armenia had to provide is only 25 percent.

Occupation of Karabakh by Armenia was always an issue overlooked by international community. Too many have chosen the way of appeasement of occupants and it led to catastrophic results. Now the reconstruction efforts and elimination of consequences of occupation are being similarly overlooked.

I call on this assembly to do more about it. After all it is its job.

Mr Aleksander STOKKEBØ

Norway, EPP/CD

19:37:15

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Thank you Mr. President

Freedom is not free.

And democracy must never be taken for granted.

History has taught us the consequences of sleeping on duty.

Preserving a well-functioning democracy requires continuous work.

Mr. President. It has been a great honour to participate in the Election Observation Missions to Bulgaria and Moldova.

What could be more meaningful than supporting our Bulgarian and Moldovan friends in carrying out important elections.

I want to thank the heads of delegation for steady leadership.

But first and foremost I want to thank the countries themselves for making the missions possible, despite difficult circumstances.

As we’ve seen, not all countries show the same willingness.

Covid must never be an excuse for abandoning fundamental civil rights.

We, as members of the international community, must never let down our guard for democracy.

Mr. President. Election day in Moldova gave grounds for some optimism.

It appeared calm and well organized. The freedoms key to democratic elections were largely respected.

Having said that, alas, there are still serious challenges.

A soviet-inspired breakaway republic

Media linked to parties. Corruption.

Covid 19 is a dangerous virus. But there is no virus like corruption.

This summer the people of Moldova gave a clear message: They want corruption to end.

Congratulations to PAS on a clear victory. With 53 %, the best result any Moldovan party has achieved since the fall of communism.

That’s a strong mandate for necessary reforms.

To fight corruption and reinforce the legal system.

To take steps towards more European cooperation.

Mr. President. Freedom is not free. And democracy must never be taken for granted. Neither in Norway nor Moldova.

Let’s all hope this election is a further step towards giving young people a future to believe in. A democracy to trust.

Thank you.

Ms Boriana ÅBERG

Sweden, EPP/CD

19:37:23

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Mr President, dear colleagues,

I’d like to thank Mr Mare, Mr Catrougalos, Mr Heer and Mr Schenach for their reports.

Monitoring elections is a very important part of the work of the Assembly and I’d like to thank the colleagues who volunteer and participate election observation missions.

The parliamentary elections in Armenia was held under very difficult circumstances – after a military defeat, after an overruning of the National Assembly and government buildings on the night of the cease-fire agreement has been signed, after a call from the Chief of Staff of the armed forces asking the resignation of Prime Minister Pashinyan, after 8 months of political crisis and demonstrations and after Azerbaidjani forces entered in May 2021 into Armenian territory for which Azerbaijan demands a demarcation of borders.

The simple fact that these elections have taken place and that they have been free is quite an achievement.

These elections achieved their goal: to find an issue to the domestic political crisis and to legitimise the winner of the elections.

There are other countries, in a similar situation, whose institutions did not survive and were changed not through democratic elections, but through more drastic ways.

Mr Catrougalos (the report) mentions the change of the voting system.

It’s true that the change of voting system came very close to the election and made it not easy for some parties to organise themselves, as the OSCE/ODIHR reported.

However, the electoral reform was made with the help of the Council of Europe and the Venice Commission itself indicated that the reform was making the electoral system easier to understand for the voters, had been discussed for a long time and has been rather consensual.

One concern however. The level of polarisation and the inflammatory speeches before, during and after the elections made us believe that the relationships between the majority and the opposition in the National Assembly are going to be confrontational and not very constructive.

That is a missfortune, because Armenia really needs to strengthen its parliamentary culture.

Ms Ekaterina GECHEVA-ZAHARIEVA

Bulgaria, EPP/CD

19:37:32

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Thank you Mr President,

First of all, I would like to thank the observers in the election observation mission in Bulgaria.

Since in BG on 14.11., the third parliamentary elections are coming up this year alone, I would like to draw your attention to and inform you of some worrying trends, some of which have been reflected in this report.

As reflected in the report, in violation of all recommendations and standards, the penultimate parliament, adopted less than two months before the election, substantial changes to the Electoral Rules, not only to completely replace the members of the professional Central Electoral Commission, but also introduced fully machine voting. The distrust of Bulgarian citizens in this type of voting was reflected in the unprecedented low turnout - 42 percent - almost 10 percent lower of the turnout two months earlier.

Despite our insistence - the receipts from the machines were not counted and the results were reported only on the basis of a protocol from the machine itself. Without the ability to control the results by checking the receipts.

A separate issue is that there is no other country in Europe that votes only by machine, without the possibility of voting with a paper ballot.

Unfortunately, although this report also addresses this issue, although our political party proposed amendments to the Electoral Code to introduce mandatory counting of machine receipts and the possibility of paper voting, these amendments were not even included in the agenda.

Secondly, there is still extremely disturbing behavior from part of the caretaker ministers - mainly the caretaker interior minister, who is in charge of organising the elections. This behavior is expressed in unprecedented police repression and pressure on members, supporters, candidates for MPs, municipal coordinators of the party. Many times the Minister pointed out that there are signals of an attempt to buy votes from our supporters. At the same time, no pre-trial proceedings have been instituted for violating the electoral law by our members and supporters, although thousands of them have been searched, called to come in person to police stations and repressed.

All this anti-democratic and disgraceful behavior of the caretaker Interior Minister aims only to reduce the election result of our party by:

- breaching of our reputation and

- preventing our candidates and supporters from participating in the election campaign.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope that the forthcoming monitoring mission will draw attention to these facts and be more assertive in condemning them as completely unacceptable and inconsistent with democratic standards.

Mr Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:37:40

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear colleagues,

Early parliamentary elections in Armenia was not an ordinary election. It had its specific cause and potential for further reconciliation process.

It is noted in the report that these elections were called after the Prime Minister Pashiyan signed the capitulation act on 10th November 2020.

Even though elections were held with some shortcomings and toxic political atmosphere, we believe that this could be new opportunity for Armenia and Pashinyan.

Because, in 2018, when the Kocharyan-Sargsyan regime of war criminals was overthrown, we had some hopes that the new government of Armenia would seriously engage in negotiations.

However, Pashinyan’s deliberate political and military provocations caused the war. In response, Azerbaijan, using its inherent right of self-defense, started a counter-attack on our own territories against Armenia. We have successfully implemented UNSC resolutions, we rightfully restored our territorial integrity, we have defeated Armenia. This was military victory of our President and army.

Following that, Armenia had to sign capitulation act. According that Armenia was obliged to withdraw its troops from the remaining part of Azerbaijan’s territories, namely Aghdam, Lachin and Kalbajar regions. This was political victory.

Now large-scale construction work is carried out in the liberated territories. There is also new transit opportunity - the Zangazur corridor for Armenia, there will be more chances for economic cooperation.

Therefore, this Assembly’s recommendation to the new government of Armenia should make wise moves and refrain from making new mistakes to its citizens and Azerbaijan.

Otherwise, Pashinyan should remember that Iron fist is it’s in place.

Mr Didier MARIE

France, SOC

19:37:47

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Mr Hayk MAMIJANYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

19:37:54

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

All of us are politicians here but I bet that any of you has ever thought that hammer can be a tool for political debate. Well “the hammer” was the main tool for the leader of the ruling party during his campaign for the early elections held in Armenia back then in June 2021. And I am not speaking figuratively. Nikol Pashinyan was rallying in all regions of Armenia shaking a hammer above his head. “…the hammer, first of all, will be broken on your head…” he said speaking about those who were supporting the opposition. These elections had nothing to the with the core values of democracy. As you can see the definition “…competitive and generally well-managed…” used in the report is not the best choice of wording for the election held under the hammer. Such wording sends a very bad and dangerous signal to those authorities of member states who are willing to conduct unfair elections. The silence of international organizations led to the physical usage of “hammer”. One of the local authorities supporting the opposition was beaten in the office of the governor. Everyone in Armenia knows about it but the security cameras were mysteriously broken. The process goes on even with the sitting members of parliament: one of my colleagues Mr. Armen Gevorgyan an oppositional member of the Armenian Parliament, member of the Armenian delegation was not allowed to attend the PACE session because of politically driven criminal charges. In fact, the almost 60% of the oppositional members of parliament are prohibited to leave the country.

Today, the 27th of September, is a sad day for my country. A year ago on this day Azerbaijan with the support of Turkey unleashed war against the Nagorno Karabakh Republic. A war against peaceful people. A war with the usage of mercenaries from Middle East and restricted weapons. A war that led to partial occupation of Nagorno Karabakh and ethnic cleansings.

Some authorities try to present the outcome of the early parliamentary elections in Armenia as a sign of justification of the results of the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh. As a representative of my country to PACE I am obliged to state the belief of all Armenians: the status of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic based on the right of self-determination of its people and de-occupation of the territories of Nagorno-Karabakh Republic is inevitable.

 

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

19:41:20

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Eventful several more months which in fact seemed longer, have been left behind. In such a short period of time so many serious events have happened that it seems that a year has passed, and not several months. Of course, the Council of Europe did not remain indifferent to many of these important events, regularly commented on them, had a direct impact on some dvelopments and this political palette has been reflected with certain contours in the presented Progress Report.

During this period parliamentary elections were also held in Armenia, and these elections cannot yet be described as one of the traditional parliamentary elections previously held in this country. The reason is that these elections were held in a completely different historical context, after the defeat of Armenia in the war and its expulsion from the occupied Azerbaijani lands with heavy losses. These elections became a important test for the Armenian society, a moment of historical significance. In recent years there have been many elections in Armenia, and we have closely watched each of them. The Council of Europe did not always give an objective assessment of these elections, and time has shown how erroneous and sometimes false these assessments are. Later, there were presidential and parliamentary elections, which were extremely negatively assessed by both the Armenian society and the new leadership of the country, which here were nevertheless described as a step towards democracy. There were also praises of Kocharyan and Sargsyan, war criminals and direct participants of the internationally recognized Khojaly genocide against the Azerbaijani people.

They and their revanchist forces also participated in the recent parliamentary elections in Armenia. With populist speeches and dreamy promises, new appeals for war, they wanted to deceive the people again and get votes. They considered it as a good opportunity and that they could easily defeat Prime Minister Pashinyan who had lost the war.

However, the main lesson of the parliamentary elections in Armenia in June 2021 is that the Armenian people, the country's electorate rejected the reactionary forces, Kocharian and Sargsyan, and their military policy seeking to win over the people with revanchist appeals. Everyone realized that the dream of Karabakh was over. This adventure is over. The people and the Armenian society realized the groundlessness and tragedy of the aggressive line of the country's leadership against neighboring Azerbaijan for many years, the catastrophe of sick separatism and the fact that for the last 30 years they were deceived and dragged into the abyss. Therefore, the people rejected this sick policy, and, despite thousands of losses in the last war, the destruction and defeat of the army, they still supported the line of Prime Minister Pashinyan, and not revanchism, Kocharianism, Sargsyanism, that is, new tragedies.

For all these reasons, I regard the recent parliamentary elections in Armenia as an instructive example not only for this country, but also as a world experience.

This example teaches that any aggression, any separatism, and any usurpation has no future, in the end there are defeats, break-up, regrets, missed opportunities, and the only correct path to development and progress is peace, mutual understanding and cooperation!

Vote: Progress report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

16:26:06

Thank you.

Before I call the vote, may I remind the Assembly that the effect of Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVAM's objection would be to refer the list of candidates from Ukraine nominated for election to be judges back to the Committee on the election of judges to the European Court of Human Rights. Those who wish to support this objection should vote "yes", those who do not support the objection and agree to the rejection of the list of candidates should vote "no".

A simple majority will decide this question. So if we are ready, I think the vote should be just about open.

Please, vote.

Okay.

The vote is closed.

Can I call for the results to be displayed.

So the objection is rejected and Ukrainian authorities will be asked to submit a new list of candidates.

If there are no further objections, is the progress report as amended approved? I think it is approved. Thank you very much indeed. And I think that brings us to the end of this debate. And the conclusion of this.

Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

Debate: Humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:30:25

Dear colleagues, the next item of today's business is the debate on the report titled until now "Humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan".

It is Document 15363 and the report will be presented by Mr Paul GAVAN on behalf of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons.

The debate must be concluded at 6:45 p.m. so I will propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 5:10 p.m. and that will allow us then the time for the replies and the the vote before the next debate.

The rapporteur, Mr Paul GAVAN, has 7 minutes to present the report and then will have a further 3 minutes to reply to the debate at the end.

So Mr Paul GAVAN, you have the floor.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Rapporteur

16:31:39

Madam chairperson, dear colleagues,

First I want to thank both delegations for the immense amount of work to facilitate my report and to visit their countries, Armenia in May and Azerbaijan in July.

I regret I was not able to visit the conflict region. This affects the quality of the report without a doubt, and issues of access to what we call grey zones must be sorted out for the future. I've tried to avoid politics and keep to the humanitarian and linked human rights concerns.

My report, as you will see, focuses on eight issues.

Firstly, the dead, the missing and wounded, the casualties are to be deeply regretted. Over 3,900 Armenians and 2,900 Azerbaijani military were killed or went missing and there were 163 Armenian and 548 Azerbaijani civilian casualties. In terms of missing persons, there remain around 243 Armenians and 7 Azerbaijanis. It is important that we continue to trace these persons. I'm also aware of the very large number of persons missing from the earlier war, in 1991 to 1994. 3,890 Azerbaijanis and 1,000 Armenians are still unaccounted for and, to be frank, I cannot understand why there has been so little progress in this regard. It is so important for the families to have answers to the fate of their loved ones and further work is urgently needed.

The second issue my report looks at is that of prisoners of war and alleged captives. The European Court of Human Rights, as you will read in my report, notified the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe of about 188 Armenians allegedly captured by Azerbaijan. I am deeply concerned about the fate of a number of these persons filmed in Azerbaijani captivity and not showing up anywhere almost a year after the end of the conflict. While I understand that there are now investigations and information is gradually being provided to the European Court of Human Rights, it is essential that full answers are given.

I'm also concerned about the fate of around 50 persons acknowledged by Azerbaijan as held in captivity after the trilateral statement was signed. They have undergone or are undergoing trials where there may be issues of fairness. I am glad that recently two groups of 15 persons were released, but all these captives in my opinion should be freed as soon as possible, and this was also the call of the Monitoring Committee of PACE. You will see in the draft resolution that there is a call for the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture to follow the situation of the alleged captives even if the ICRC also has a role in this.

The third issue, one of the most difficult to deal with, is allegations of crimes, war crimes, and other wrongful acts. These are serious allegations and highly distressing and need investigating by both sides. With access to social media so widespread many atrocious acts were filmed and shared on social media. They range from extrajudicial executions, beheadings, to despoliation of the dead. There are also worrying allegations of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners. There's also a great deal of evidence of indiscriminate use of weapons, killing and injuring of civilians on both sides, both in the conflict region but also in Azerbaijani cities, well away from the conflict region, like Barda and Ganja.

There is evidence of the use by Azerbaijan, with Turkey's assistance, of Syrian mercenaries. There has to be some form of accountability, truth, and reconciliation for what happened during the six-week war, but also what happened in the earlier war, between '91 and '94. That cannot be ignored. I want to move on because time is pressing.

The issue of landmines. This is a huge matter with the conflict region being probably the most mined area in the world. 159 Azerbaijanis and five Armenians have died or been wounded since the trilateral statements. The recent handing over of mine maps by Armenia is welcome, but I want to be clear: Armenia needs to hand over all maps in their possession.

Moving on to the issue of displaced persons. They have suffered greatly from the recent six-week war. 36,000 persons on the Armenian side have been unable to return to their homes, mostly in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, and they live in difficult situations and require housing and livelihoods. Women in particular have problems in this respect. The international community has been supportive but does not have access to the conflict region. The ICRC and Russia have access and have played an extremely important role in providing humanitarian assistance and security.

In relation to IDPs from Azerbaijan, most of those displaced by the recent war have been able to return, but the greater challenge now for Azerbaijan are the returns from the earlier 1991 to 1994 war. Up to 650,000 persons, according to Azerbaijan. I am concerned in relation to this because I saw the total destruction of places such as Agdam, which I visited, and Fuzuli, which are under the effective control of Armenia for 30 years. Not enough has been spoken on this topic, not enough has been done on this topic.

The return of displaced persons to these areas will be a long and expensive process and I hope the international community will support Azerbaijan in this.

The sixth issue is border tensions. There are ongoing and deeply worrying. It's essential that there be delineation and demarcation and perhaps some form of buffer zone creation. There should also be some form of monitoring by an independent body or organization of the border and boundary lines.

The 7th issue is damage and destruction to cultural heritage in different forms and different ways. I'm concerned about the destruction in the past during the recent war, but also allegations of ongoing destruction. I'm also concerned about the development of a Caucasian-Albanian heritage narrative in what seems to me to be a process of trying to replace an Armenian heritage. UNESCO needs to be allowed to play its role on the issue of cultural heritage and visit the entire region and look into all cultural issues.

The final matter in my report is that of hate speech. This has been a long-standing problem for decades in both countries, but particularly in Azerbaijan. As noted by the Council of Europe expert on monitoring bodies, it reached new proportions for both sides through the filming of horrific acts and their sharing on social media during the six-week war.

I am concerned about the stereotyped mannequins in the so-called "Military Trophy Park" which, as the CoE commissioner for human rights mentioned in the statement in April, are highly disturbing and humiliating. The issue of hate speech is an area where the Council of Europe should be assisting both countries in taking steps to tackle this problem for the benefit of future generations.

I'm aware that this is a very brief summary.

I just want to place on record my thanks to my colleague from the Secretariat, Mark Neville, to the Secretary-General, to the Migration Committee in the table office who have kept me straight throughout this process.

Thanks indeed.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:38:45

Thank you Mr Paul GAVAN.

I give now the floor to the speakers on behalf of the political groups. The first one is Mr Jacques MAIRE. 

Mr Jacques MAIRE

France, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:38:58

Thank you, Madam President.

Mister President, Madam President, ladies and gentlemen,

First of all, allow me, on behalf of the ALDE Group, to thank our colleague Mr Paul Gavan for the quality, precision and strength of his work, and also his balance, on a subject that concerns us all. I think that everyone is aware of the dramatic impact of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, which involves two of our countries, with 7,000 deaths, more than 91,000 Armenians and 84,000 Azerbaijanis displaced on that occasion.

The consequences are long-term. You come back to the allegations of crimes, war crimes, other wrongdoings. If these crimes go unpunished, I agree with you, co-operation with the European Court does not move forward. Then, in these cases, the relationship between the two countries will be poisoned for a long time.

Furthermore, the subject of prisoners of war is also a central issue that could be resolved with a little goodwill and that we must take very seriously. We held an urgent debate last April: I see that the problem remains. I see that the problem remains unresolved. Several dozen Armenian soldiers are still being held captive in Azerbaijan. The appeals to the European Court are piling up, but there is no solution.

We in the ALDE Group therefore call on the Committee of Ministers to take action to protect the Armenian and Azerbaijani populations as a matter of priority and to ensure that the human rights of both civilians and soldiers are respected. We call for close co-operation with the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that the situation does not deteriorate as it has today.

Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Russian peacekeeping force in Nagorno-Karabakh, of course, but also to the work of the NGOs, and in particular the International Red Cross, with their work with the civilian population. We know that, without their involvement, the humanitarian situation could be even more dramatic.

For all these reasons, the ALDE Group and I support the motion for a resolution, and we will vote in favour of the report by our colleague, Mr GAVAN, all in order to ensure that human rights and individual freedoms are safeguarded, including in this dramatic conflict zone.

I thank you for your attention.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:41:25

Thank you Mr Jacques MAIRE. And now I will give the floor to Mr John HOWELL.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:41:40

When I last spoke about this issue in a debate here, I said that I have friends on both sides of the debate. I have friends who are Armenian, friends who are Azeri, and I am glad that I do. And I would like to make sure that we can still have those friends on both sides. But this is not a time for us to look back into detailed recriminations, into detailed examination of what has happened in the the area in conflict. It is a time for us to look to the future, to look to make sure that humanitarian consequences of the war are dealt with.

So I'm not going to go into the arguments of who is responsible for what, who is responsible for the bad feeling, who started the war. Because if this week means anything, it means that we are dealing with climate change and with environmental degradation and what a terrible effect war has on environmental degradation, both environmental degradation for human beings and environmental degradation for the environment and for animals.

And there are two issues that I would like to stress in this that we must get right. The first is the issue of land mines, and indeed, the other damage that live munitions left around can still cause. This means that we must insist on an effective clean-up with both sides working towards that, and we have seen in other conflicts around the world how long that has taken to achieve and how difficult it can be to make sure that it happens and we need the support of all NGOs. And the second thing that we need to achieve is what has happened to many of the villages. If people and lives are to be restored, they need somewhere to live and somewhere to restore their sense of belonging. And I hope that we can ensure that, in view of the large number of villages that have been totally destroyed, that we can achieve this and that both sides can continue to exist in their full cultural heritage, to be able to go forward and to be brothers in peace for the future.

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:44:39

Thank you very much and now I would like to give the floor to Mr Alexandros TRIANTAFYLLIDIS, but I need to know if he is connected. Oh you are here! Thank you a lot.

Mr Alexandros TRIANTAFYLLIDIS

Greece, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:44:55

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to begin my speech on behalf of UEL by recalling the sad, today, anniversary of the attack by Azerbaijan against Nagorno-Karabakh (Republic of Artsakh), but also of the commitments that both Armenia and Azerbaijan committed themselves, upon their accession to the Council of Europe in January 2001, to use only, only, peaceful means for settling the conflict.

With the above in mind, let me focus not on the political consequences or the agreements, which were in any case determined by the tripartite treaty between Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan, but on what every war leaves behind, that is, the tragic consequences on a humanitarian level.

The data show in the most dramatic way the tragic consequences of this six-week war, that is, thousands of dead, including many civilians, as well as hundreds of missing persons.

The losses in human lives were tragic, as were the damages to the infrastructure of cities and villages, but also to thousands of cultural monuments, churches, and monasteries.

Thousands of civilians were displaced over the course of six weeks, with the major victims being women and young children. The consequence of all this is the deprivation of their basic rights, such as education, housing and work. According to recent sources, 36,000 Armenians have not returned home since the six-week war.

Speaking of human rights abuses, I cannot fail to mention both war crimes and the exchange of prisoners of war. In the first case, there is information available for killings, without prior trial, for torture of prisoners of war, indiscriminate use of weapons, which resulted in the loss of civilians.

Finally, the nationalist outbursts and intolerance cultivated mainly by Azerbaijan probably do not help to resolve any differences between the two countries peacefully and with respect for human rights.

Ladies and gentlemen, our colleague Mr Paul GAVAN reflected the consequences in an excellent way in his report and called on the two countries first to comply with the Council of Europe's recommendations and to respect international treaties.

We are therefore called upon to pay particular attention to the needs and rights of the displaced and to issues related to their return, confidence-building measures for all affected communities and measures necessary to build tolerant societies and tackle hate speech.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:48:27

You were too long, but I have to apologise because we thought that you were not connected.

I will give the floor now to Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:48:40

Thank you very much Madam President,

On behalf of my political group, Mr Paul GAVAN, I can only thank and congratulate you on this excellent balanced report. Personally, I would also like to do this, as I have been the rapporteur for the Monitoring Committee for a country in conflict here for over five and a half years.

In recent years, I have always been amazed by the depth of this hatred, this mutual hatred. And once I went to Tbilisi and I went twice to that district where Armenians and Azerbaijanis live together, peacefully in Georgia. It used to all be a little bit more blurred until from 1991 to 1994 there was this attack and this occupation. And one should not forget that not only the autonomous region of Karabakh was occupied, but also - completely traumatizing for Azerbaijan - seven other provinces, which resulted in more than one million displaced persons.

Right now we also have to investigate the war crimes - which were even filmed and put on the social network. War crimes cannot go through; or the desecration of the dead, or the destruction of culture. This underlines this racism, intolerance and hatred that we find here, which is practically already being practiced in the curricula and the schools, and that is the only way to understand what is going on at the moment.

Yes, we appeal to Azerbaijan; also to send the remaining prisoners of war back home and we appeal to Armenia to release the maps over the minefields. Civilians are dying non-stop, and there are now over 160 since the ceasefire at these deadly mines. They kill and kill; we know that from Bosnia, we know that from other parts of the world.

And Mr John HOWELL rightly put the perspective here; the late Lady Diana was committed against these mines worldwide. That is; we need to get back to a situation here where one country - even if it wins - treats the underdog respectfully. I just remember that an 18-year-old queen - Christina of Sweden - ended the 38-year war and showed how to do it. And there, dear colleagues from Azerbaijan, a trophy park humiliating for an inferior country has no place in our history.

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:51:59

Thank you Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

I will give the floor to my Dutch colleague Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

Mr Pieter OMTZIGT

Netherlands, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:52:22

Okay sorry colleagues, thank you very much.

Thank you very much to Mr Paul GAVAN for an excellent report which is deeply and deeply depressing. The whole idea of having a Council of Europe was that we would at least be able to prevent a conflict in which member states are involved. It seems that it has become normality that we accept this kind of conflict. We have had the Russian invasion of Georgia. We have had the invasion of Ukraine and now we have had the Azerbaijani attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. This has led to conflict between those two nations but if we cannot prevent this kind of conflict, what kind of work are we doing on minor issues of human rights? This is one of the biggest issues of human rights one can face. Thousands of people are dying on both the Armenian and Azerbaijani sides and the horrible consequences which Mr GAVAN has just given to us in his six-minute horrific talk, basically. It is now time for both countries to face up to the music.

And I would like to stress a few points which are really worrying. The hate speech on both sides, and especially the Trophy Park in which you see Mr Aliyev walk through, is worrying. It is worrying for the future. Secondly, we see the use of mercenaries, and I have to admit that a number of those mercenaries, which Turkey seems to have flown in, were also equipped by Dutch taxpayers' money earlier when they were fighting in Syria. That is worrying and we should know those consequences. We should ask those countries and we should really wonder and look whether they will whether Armenia will give the maps of the demining. If they do, if they do not, it should have consequences. If Azerbaijan does not free the people they do not want to give the rights of the prisoners of wars, it should have consequences in this organisation. If not, we shall keep talking about this conflict because this conflict has been a focal point in every speech of these two countries in the last few years.

I would like to underline what you were saying on changing the narrative and the destruction of cultural sites – destruction also of religious sites – in which people try to change the history for making the land theirs. That is not going to work and it is not going to lead to any sense of peace. So this is the beginning of your work, Mr GAVAN. We will have to look further into whether these countries, who promised so much, will deliver. 

And one minor thing Mr Chairman, because I have been very precise in the past, because I was instrumental in getting a Dutch Embassy in Armenia, the Armenians thanked me at the national parliament with the medal. And because I want to make sure that everything is being mentioned here, I would like to mention that as it is not yet in the list.

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:55:50

Mr Erkin GADIRLI you have the floor, yes.

Mr Erkin GADIRLI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

16:55:54

Thank you Madame Chair, dear colleagues,

This is not the first time that we hear phrases like 'Azerbaijan attacked Nagorno-Karabakh' or 'Azerbaijan committed an act of aggression over Nagorno-Karabakh'.

This is legally incorrect.

Nagorno-Karabakh is not an international legal entity. It has never been a state. Aggression, according to international law, is a violent act of one state against another state. No state is legally capable of committing an act of aggression on its own territory.

Please take note of that.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:56:22

We will do, and we did read the report very carefully, as you did also, I hope.

We close the lift with the speakers on behalf of the political groups.

I go now to Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU from Cyprus, Socialist group. Connected? Ah he is here.

Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU

Cyprus, SOC

16:56:50

I think it's wrong - it's the wrong list... Mr Stefan SCHENNACH has already spoken.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:56:57

No. You are not [speaking] on behalf of the group, but you are here for speaking time.

Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU

Cyprus, SOC

16:57:08

I am a speaker on the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

16:57:11

Ok, so you don't want to speak. That's nice.

Then I give the floor to Mr Bernard FOURNIER.

Mr Bernard FOURNIER

France, EPP/CD

16:57:27

(FR) Madam President,

I would like to congratulate our colleague Mr Paul Gavan on this very detailed report.

This means that we can clearly see who is responsible amongst the warring parties. It is not the first time that the Assembly has spoken about this conflict. I can only regret the fact that an armed conflict should have broken out in the heart of Europe between two member states of this Organisation, which, when they joined the Council of Europe, committed not to use force to settle their differences.

This conflict has cost 3 900 Armenian and 2 900 Azerbaijani soldiers their lives. The tripartite statement of 10 November 2020 put an end to this hostility. However, the conflict will leave traces, and it is up to the two warring parties to engage in a dialogue. I hope that the Committee of Ministers will become more involved in this topic to avoid a new war.

However, for the time being, it is necessary to deal with the humanitarian consequences of the conflict. The issue of prisoners of war particularly needs to be addressed. Article 8 of the tripartite declaration expressly provides for an exchange of prisoners. While exchanges have taken place, Armenia disputes the fact that Azerbaijan has released all prisoners of war who were captured before the tripartite declaration, and claims that 48 Armenians captured after the declaration are still in prison, and being held in particularly worrying conditions. On this issue, it is important that Azerbaijan respects its commitments and releases the prisoners of war who must be treated humanely, and in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

Another issue that I find particularly worrying is the question of landmines and unexploded ordnance. This is a grave danger for civilians. Both sides must cooperate to allow the rapid return of civilians who have fled these mined zones. International financial and technical assistance will be necessary to carry out demining operations.

Finally, the situation faced by displaced persons remains a matter of great concern. Armenians have fled these regions, under Azerbaijan's control, and will not be able to go back because their security cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, it is necessary to provide Armenia with assistance in order to find a lasting solution for these people.

The role of Turkey and Russia in this conflict cannot be denied. The assistance of these two states will be necessary to develop genuine co-operation between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with a view to helping the affected populations, but I also want to recall the role of the Minsk Group, which I believe continues to be entirely pertinent. 

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:00:19

Thank you very much, Mr FOURNIER.

I now give the floor to Mr Ahmet YILDIZ of Turkey.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

17:00:33

We had high expectations of this report from Mr Paul GAVAN, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be a partial one instead of a neutral one. Although Azerbaijani colleagues and our Turkish delegation tabled some amendments to correct some factual mistakes, unfortunately, the Rapporteur and the Committee did not join our efforts. The relevant part of the report which deals with the European Court of Human Rights and interim measures contains inaccurate and insufficient information, because pursuant to Article 46 of the Convention, final judgments rather than the findings of the Court are binding.

Let me draw your attention to the fact that there is currently no interim measure in effect against Turkey, contrary to the report. The interim measure of 6 October was lifted by the court on first of 1 December 2020. Indeed this decision of the Court has also been taken on interim measures solely on information submitted by the applicant, and used social media clippings of dubious provenance and hearsay, as a basis for its decision. We should not allow PACE to be instrumentalised in a similar way. The report by this body should not be used to keep the same mistakes on the agenda.

Dear colleagues, I am surprised at some remarks by some members here putting the aggressor and the self-defender in the same place, and even putting the native inhabitants of Nagorno-Karabakh and the other seven districts of Azerbaijan in as illegal settlers. This is not the right approach. I think that if we put it that way, it is not the right address of the situation and its humanitarian consequences.

Therefore, I request your understanding to correct these mistakes through our amendments and Azerbaijan amendments when we come there. Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:03:08

Thank you, Mr. YILDIZ.

Now, Mrs Nicole TRISSE. You have the floor.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE

17:03:21

Madame President, rapporteur, ladies and gentlemen,

The clashes that took place in Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 were a reminder, if one were needed, that so-called "frozen" conflicts are still conflicts. We are not here today to talk about responsibilities or geopolitics: the UN does that very well.

However, and this is the whole point of today's debate, we have a duty to look very carefully at the humanitarian consequences of such conflicts, because they directly affect people whose most basic rights have been and are still being violated.

The figures speak for themselves, as you have said and as several speakers have also said: in six weeks of fighting, some 7,000 soldiers have been killed or disappeared, hundreds of civilian victims have been killed, more than 130,000 people have been displaced on both sides, executions have been carried out, cases of torture have been reported, and some 60 schools and hundreds of religious or cultural monuments have been destroyed.

Thanks to the mobilisation of the international community and, I want to believe, also thanks to the Council of Europe through the European Court of Human Rights and our Assembly, some slight progress has been made, especially with regard to the release of prisoners of war. However, it is still not nearly enough.

The draft resolution and recommendation before us today, both strongly and appropriately denounce these deplorable facts, and also set out a number of principles and proposals that could initiate a return to a negotiated, and therefore lasting, solution.

I fully agree with the position of the committee and its rapporteur on the fact that the belligerent parties must co-operate in clearing these territories of mines, as well as with the request that they initiate a de-escalation on the ground by refraining from any incursion beyond the positions fixed by the November 2020 cease-fire. Above all, however, it seems to me essential that a negotiation process really begin on the delimitation and demarcation of the borders, if necessary with a demilitarised zone and the presence of a peacekeeping force.

Difficult compromises will undoubtedly be necessary on both sides to reach a peaceful solution in Nagorno-Karabakh. Nevertheless, dialogue remains essential, a dialogue that must exclude hate speech that is unbearable and toxic for populations that are already suffering.

As a token of goodwill to move forward, it seems to me that Armenia and Azerbaijan would gain by agreeing to give UNESCO access to cultural sites in the region that are exposed to fighting and destruction. History teaches us that culture and heritage are solid foundations for building lasting reconciliations.

I am sure you have understood that I support the report and I thank the rapporteur for his excellent work.

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:06:04

Thank you, Mrs TRISSE.

I will now give the floor to Mr Samad SEYIDOV of Azerbaijan.

Mr Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

17:06:13

Madame President, dear friends, dear colleagues,

For 30 years, my land has been occupied by Armenia.

For 20 years in this Parliamentary Assembly, we struggled for freedom, for peace, and for returning back to our Holy Land.

Now, one year [ago] – because today, 27 September – as a result of another Armenian provocation, Azerbaijan liberated its historic lands.

We did our best in order to restore justice.

And now justice has returned back to the territory of Azerbaijan.

Nagorno-Karabakh is an integral part of Azerbaijan. Neither the Council of Europe nor other organisations have ever accepted the words which were pronounced unfortunately by Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

That's absolutely the wrong position, absolutely an unacceptable position.

Today Azerbaijan is doing its best to restore peace in the region. I want to inform my colleagues and friends: some Armenians from Khankendi just a couple of days ago came to us, to Azerbaijanis and asked about jobs, about normal life. We are doing our best for them, because they are citizens of Azerbaijan.

But those who are not so happy with peace in the region, those who are not so happy with justice in the region, they are the ones who are dreaming about the revanchist ideas and new war – they try to mislead the Parliamentary Assembly. They try to exaggerate the situation.

That's why I ask my colleagues and friends to support the Azerbaijani amendments - not to go the path of provocation, not to do something which could lead both countries to another war.

We're not afraid of war. We are ready to do everything in order to secure our territories, but we have to understand that this is a historic chance for Armenia to come back to the path of peace – not to think about the war and revanchist ideas. You are talking about the church and other cultural heritage. This is our duty to respect not only churches, but all other things – synagogues.

And have you heard that all mosques in the region have been destroyed and razed to the ground? And they kept pigs, cattle in the mosques?

They completely destroyed the cities of Azerbaijan – Agdam, Fuzuli. They deliberately shelled the city of Ganja, and killed kids, women, elderly people.

That's why I ask my friends to refrain from war, to think about peace, and to support Armenia to return back to a normal situation because the situation in Armenia unfortunately is not normal and it is not acceptable. Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:09:32

Thank you very much, Mr Samad SEYIDOV. I will cut after "four more speakers: Georgia, Ireland, Finland and Armenia. I will now give the floor to Mr Irakli CHIKOVANI from Georgia." [spoken in French]. 

Mr Irakli CHIKOVANI

Georgia, SOC

17:09:56

Dear colleagues,

Caucasus accounts for most of the armed conflicts of the post-Soviet space. It is in the Caucasus, where Georgian occupied territories have turned into the source of constant humanitarian crises stemming from the deliberate aggressive policy and hybrid warfare waged by the Russian Federation, in blatant violation of international law.

Occupation has not stopped Georgia exploring the ways to support dialogue and confidence-building in the region. Right after the Karabakh war, Georgia came up with a trilateral initiative that would include Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This initiative aims at concrete projects that would be acceptable for all participants and at the same time support better interconnection and confidence-building.

The release by Azerbaijan of 15 Armenian prisoners and their return to their families, as well as the decision of Armenia to provide Azerbaijan with information on mined territories through mediation of the US and Georgia, evidently showed the possibility for dialogue and in fact, created a good groundwork to build on it. Here I must emphasise the personal positive role of Georgian Prime Minister Mr Irakli Garibashvili.

Evidently, it is an absolute necessity to think of a regional peace framework that will support neighbourhood and robust development in South Caucasus.

Last week, at the United Nations General Assembly, the Prime Minister of Georgia announced the new Peaceful Neighbourhood Initiative. This format will be possible with the active engagement and support of our western partners and those who could be interested to engage and contribute to this new idea.

From a geopolitical perspective, the wider Black Sea region is growing ever more important. Our goal is to ensure peace and stability in the entire region. We should focus on facilitating dialogue and confidence-building, and lead the implementation of practical solutions to regional issues of common interest.

Georgia has always been and is ready now to support and promote international law-based peace and security in the Caucasus – facilitating the transformation of the region of conflicts into the place of peace. These words take on special meaning precisely on this tragic day for the whole of Georgia, when after fall of Sokhumi, 28 years have passed, on 27 September: thousands of Georgians were forced to leave their homes, thousands of people died, and we have lost control of Abkhazia region.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:12:52

Thank you very much.

I give not a floor to Mr Joseph O'REILLY.

Mr Joseph O'REILLY

Ireland, EPP/CD

17:13:04

Thank you.

Thank you, Madam President, and I am delighted to see that you are in the Chair for this debate. I wanted on the outset to welcome the report. I want to warmly congratulate my colleague, my Irish colleague, on its balance, its objectivity, its depth, and his very hard work in producing it. What I like about the report is that it has within it recommendations or suggestions or a pathway to the future. To that extent, I applaud him for that; there is a basis to build peace there. I agree with my distinguished friend from the UK delegation, Mr John HOWELL, that we have to look to the future and build lasting peace.

I think the first issue that needs immediate addressing is, of course, the question of missing persons. It is a stark figure that there are 243 Armenians and 7 Azeris missing and, indeed, thousands of Azeris from the previous war. These people should be followed up on. Prisoners of war should be given an overall amnesty and released, and that includes ones recently arrested since the peace agreement.

I think Armenia should produce the map and the information on all the land mines. I think that should be non-negotiable and must be the case. There are internationally displaced persons – 36 000 of these – and also misplaced Azerbaijanis from previous wars. This issue needs addressing. These people need support, need help and need practical assistance.

I think the tensions around the border cited in the report, in this outstandingly good report, the tensions are on the border are of a great concern and do need international involvement and an international force there to deal with that.

I agree with the points around hate speech and Trophy Gardens, etc., because hate speech is something that is the prelude to war and is the oxygen that gives rise to violence and war.

I agree, lastly, with the point around the cultural heritage. If we could work with UNESCO and if Azerbaijan and Armenia would so do, we could build a basis for co-operation and peace there.

Well done to my colleague, Mister GAVAN, and I think it is a good evening's work and that we should adopt this report.

Thank you, President.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:16:18

Thank you very much, Mister O'REILLY.

Then I give down the floor to my Finnish colleague, Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN. 

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

17:16:27

Madam Chair,

First of all I would like to thank very much Mister GAVAN, the rapporteur, no, I cannot speak with that one. I'm so sorry, like, he also made the speech without his mask. If I cannot speak without that, I must stop.

Madam Chair, I'm sorry about that one. Thanks to Mister GAVAN for the good report, it was a balanced report and very good basis for our discussion what we are getting now through here in our Assembly.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:16:57

Kimmo, you have to wear a mask. I apologise.

Mr Kimmo KILJUNEN

Finland, SOC

17:17:02

(...what happens if I start to vomit. I'm so sorry - this is actually for health reasons for me that I... in my parliament I have usually actually not... but I will try to do my best, I will try to do my best. Can I start once again?)

Thanks Mr Paul GAVAN for an excellent report. It's a good base for our discussion.

Secondly I want to remind you about 2001, the year Azerbaijan and Armenia joined the Council of Europe. It was agreed - it was clearly agreed - that only peaceful means were to be used in settling this so called frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh. That was clearly a precondition for both countries to join the Council of Europe.

What you have now seen - as Ms Nicole TRISSE unfortunately nicely expressed - frozen conflicts are sometimes open conflicts. In this case it's very clearly the case.

There are lots of other frozen conflicts in Europe, as you very well know, and so that must be a warning for us.

In the six-week war last autumn, close to 10,000 people died. There was huge destruction, physical destruction, humanitarian suffering. Obviously you are right to speak about the hate and animosity among two neighbouring countries and people who have lived together for such a long time.

It's still polarising, the situation. Obviously that's very, very alarming. Obviously now we must try to find a way to solve the issue. This is a humanitarian crisis. It's absolutely a humanitarian crisis. There are still some prisoners of war, as we have discussed, and thanks to the Azeri authorities, they have released a few of them, but still it's an open question and the Geneva Convention is very clear on that issue. 

There is also, as is very well known, the very big issue of the land mines. That's also a humanitarian problem. I really sincerely hope that we'll find a way with international support to have the demining process taking place in the area. That's for the safety of the people and people of the future in the area.

Obviously you're absolutely right when you are stressing the key issue of historical cultural heritage. There are major monuments and places in the area - historical, historical. It's a much longer history than in my country Finland, in cultural terms, compared to Azerbaijan, Armenia and the Nagorno-Karabakh region. Obviously we should respect culture and heritage on those terms.

So I sincerely thank the Rapporteur for making this report. We can now address these questions openly.

Hopefully, hopefully we can help the two sides to agree to a step-by-step approach, and diminish - in the best possible way - the hate, and create a reconciliation process in the region.

Thank you very much, Madame Chair.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:20:20

Thank you very much, Kimmo. Mister KILJUNEN, I have to say.

The last speaker which I will have is Mr Ruben RUBINYAN from Armenia.

Mr Ruben RUBINYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

17:20:35

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dear colleagues,

Exactly one year ago on this day, Azerbaijan breaching its commitment to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict by peaceful means, which it undertook when becoming a member of the Council of Europe, attacked and started a massive full-scale war against Nagorno-Karabakh. This came after years of building institutionalized Armenophobia in Azerbaijan and constant warmongering by its leaders.

As a result of the war, both during and later after it, thousands of Armenians lost their homes only because they were Armenian. Cities were shelled, civilians were killed, prisoners of war were summarily executed, bodies were desecrated, ears and limbs where cut only because they were Armenian. In some footages released you could hear some of the thousands of terrorist mercenaries who were brought to fight in Karabakh by Turkey shouting that to individuals, that to Armenian pigs. The presence of these mercenaries from Syria has been confirmed by the State Security Agencies of France, Russia, Iran, and the United States international media Human Rights Watch.

Almost a year after signing the trilateral statement which put an end to the war, Azerbaijan keeps dozens of Armenian prisoners of war in a unlawful and cruel captivity, some of them are even charged with falsified criminal cases. Today people in the conflict zone and the bordering regions of Armenia and Azerbaijan live in everyday danger.

In May 2021, Azerbaijani military units violated the territorial integrity of the Republic of Armenia and illegally crossed the border. Armenian culture heritage that remains in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh, which came under Azerbaijani control, is under big danger. Many Armenian churches have been already destroyed. Furthermore, in a classic case of falsification of history, some very highest of officials claim that the Armenian churches in Karabakh are actually not Armenian but Caucasian-Albanian. This is done with the clear intention to erase the Armenian heritage from Nagorno-Karabakh. This is deplorable.

Dear colleagues, during this one year the leadership of Azerbaijan, including president Aliyev, have made numerous speeches and remarks containing hate speech towards our Armenians: dogs, devils, enemies. These are just some words used to describe me and my people by the Azerbaijani leadership. This is not normal. This is not right.

Azerbaijan must be stopped. Institutionalised hatred should stop including holding prisoners of war as hostages should stop, destroying churches should stop, warmongering should stop.

By the way, talking about warmongering. I think we hit a historic moment today because, for the first time, one of the members of this Assembly openly threatened war in this hemicycle, Mister SEYIDOV. This is truly historic and deplorable.

Concluding, I would like to thank Mr GAVAN for his report.

I know it has been hard and also want to mention that the fact that he wasn't able to visit Nagorno-Karabakh because Azerbaijan is not a good fact, and it weakened the report.

Thank you.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:23:58

Thank you very much.

As I said before, I had to close the speaker's list. However, speakers who are on the list and who have been present, physically or remotely, during this debate if they have not been able to speak, they can put their speech to the Table Office and then it will be published in the Official Report.

There is one thing I have to add, provided that speakers connected remotely can report the actual presence when the debate is closed. I remind colleagues that type-written text must be submitted, electronically, no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I call now Mr Paul GAVAN, the rapporteur, to reply to the debate.

You have still 3 minutes. Go ahead.

Mr Paul GAVAN

Ireland, UEL, Rapporteur

17:25:09

Thank you, Madam President.

I want to thank all of the contributors for their thoughtful contributions.

I want to tell you about my two most vivid memories of my trips to both Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In Yerevan I saw the military cemetery and all of the new graves of young men, the same age as my oldest son - 18 in many cases - and the heartbreaking cries of loved ones mourning their lost sons. It was absolutely tragic.

I'm sure my colleagues in Azerbaijan could have shown me a similar setting in their country.

Equally when I went to visit Agdam, a city that was once a thriving city of 30,000 people. When I witnessed first-hand the wasteland that was left there, it was hard to believe a city was actually once there. It was absolutely shocking. It brings home to me the absolute tragedy and futility of war.

I would respectfully say to Mr Samad SEYIDOV when he says "we are not afraid of war", I think every one of us in this Chamber should be afraid of war when we see the consequences, when we see what it can do.

Having detailed so many issues I want to try and focus, if I can, on what needs to happen now. I can tell you first-hand that there are good people on both sides of this conflict. I can tell you that because I have met them. We should recognise there has been  good co-operation in relation to some issues, in relation to the missing and the dead. What we need to see is confidence-building measures that will encourage a real dialogue. Hopefully I've spelled out what some of them must be.

We must see all prisoners released. We must see all mine maps handed over. One should not be dependent on the other: it should not be a trade-off. It should be done because it's the right thing to do, because it's what any human rights body worth its name should be calling for.

I agree with Ms Nicole TRISSE on the importance of establishing a demilitarised zone. I think that's extremely important. I do think that parties such as Russia who have played a very positive role, I have to say, in this to date, have a key role to play there in encouraging that, along with this body.

I agree with the call for the Committee of Ministers to step up after this report and play a more positive role.

Finally, I just want to say let's try and start with ending hate speech. Hate speech, as somebody said earlier, is the prerequisite. It's what happens before war.

If we could take that one message away from this debate, let's end hate speech on all sides. It would be a positive step forward today.

Thanks again.

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:28:13

Thank you very much, Mr Paul GAVAN, for your impressive reports and your impressive debate.

Now I will call Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, Chair of the Committee to reply. You also have 3 minutes.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons

17:28:31

Thank you, Vice-President.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues - I shall be brief. 

Last September, the continued conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh went through another dark hour, with consequences that we all know.

The debate in our committee did not deal with the political aspects of the conflict. Our colleague, Mr Paul Gavan, focused on the humanitarian consequences of the conflict, in particular, the remaining prisoners of war, but also raised questions relating to disappeared people and people who have died, the identification and return of bodies, and everything relating to the humanitarian aspects of the issue. Civilian populations have suffered; very often, they have lost everything. These populations have often been forced to leave their homes, they have been victims of mine explosions, and this is without mentioning the destruction that has taken place in the country. There has been continued high tension between the protagonists. 

 

I would like here, to pay tribute to the commitment, objectivity and ability to listen that Mr Paul Gavan has shown. He has really tried to establish an authentic picture of the situation following this conflict. There are multiple humanitarian consequences from this conflict and they really deserve a proper solution, especially in relation to the people who are still being detained. I hope that Mr Paul Gavan´s report, and our Assembly as a whole, will be able to send out a clear message to the various protagonists of the conflict, calling for appeasement, the release of all the remaining prisoners and for everyone to work together to help alleviate as much as possible the suffering and hardship of all the direct and indirect victims of this conflict.

I would like to thank Mr Paul Gavan once again for his balanced report on a subject that is so delicate and, unfortunately, has led to so many human tragedies.

Thank you for your attention.

Ms Maria RIZZOTTI

Italy, EPP/CD

19:38:04

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in Italian.

Mr Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:38:15

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear collegues,

First of all, I would like to remind the Assembly and the rapporteur that, the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was left in the past. Because Armenia is a defeated country, and its Prime Minister signed the capitulation act on 10 November 2020 in unknown place.

Furthermore, there is no administrative territorial unit called Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. We have created Karabakh and Eastern Zangazur economic zones with the Presidential decree. By using this opportunity, I call all my colleagues and the Secretariat to avoid using legally non-existing, politically biased and manipulative names while referring to our territories.

Secondly, the phrase in paragraph 78 referring “region which remained under the control of Armenia” is factually and legally wrong. Because the referred part is an internationally recognized part of Azerbaijan, and Russian peacekeeping contingent is temporarily deployed to these territories.

Thirdly, report refers to groundless allegation of use of Syrian fighters. We categorically reject that and demand everyone who voiced these fabrications, including Macron, to provide evidence. However, no conclusive evidence was provided. Because there is none.

Moreover, report fails to mention systemic and deliberate attacks by Armenia against civilians and civil objects in Ganja and Barda which is far from battlefield. Because of these war crimes, 100 civilians, including 11 children were killed, more than 450 wounded.

Therefore, this Assembly, should call on Armenia to investigate these war crimes, bring to justice anyone including at command level and fully co-operate with European Court of Human Rights.

My recommendation to Armenian leadership is to bear state responsibility for its war crimes, to refrain from making new mistakes, always remember that Iron Fist in its place.

 

Ms Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaijan, EC/DA

19:38:30

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Today, exactly 1 year ago, on 27th September war between Armenian and Azerbaijan started. This war was a final accord of the 3 decades long occupation by Armenia of part of Azerbaijan. From today on we mark this day in Azerbaijan as Memorial day.

Dear Mr Gavan,

I had a chance to accompany you to Aghdam, a city, once densely populated, which has been looted to the ground by the Armenian occupying forces. Military fortifications and remnants of foundations of buildings is all that is left there. “Hiroshima of the Caucasus”, this is how it is called now. What you’ve seen there is not just a destroyed city.. destroyed hospitals, schools, roads, mosques and infrastructure. This is destroyed lives, destroyed hopes, destroyed future. 3 decades of occupation means a whole generation. A generation of people who spent half of their lives as refugees.

Dear colleagues, the report is drafted, we disagree with some, agree with others. The report is missing information about Khojaly genocide, which is the bloodiest page in the history of the conflict. Khojaly town has not only been ethnically cleansed with 613 people killed, many missing, but it was later renamed by occupants with all traces of Azerbaijanis there removed.

Moreover, the cultural heritage of Azerbaijanis in Armenia was destroyed or appropriated, was reduced to zero, but there is not a single word about it in the report. Any signs of Azerbaijanis who used to be the second largest ethnic group in Armenia in 20th century have been erased.

Most importantly, Armenian side was using ballistic missile to attack densely populated civilian areas of Azerbaijan, located far beyond the frontline. Ganja city – 100 km away from the frontline, 60 km away from Armenian border hit by ballistic missile several times.Barda - 50 km away from frontline, 100 km away from Armenian border hit by ballistic missiles and cluster bombs. All of Azerbaijani civilian victims, every single one of them were killed far outside of war zone.

And there are 2 simple reasons for this:

Armenia was targeting civilians on purpose. The strategy was to cause as much human loss on Azerbaijan as possible. This is by all means a terror tactic, not a military one and it is well documented.

There were no Azerbaijani residents in the war zone itself, because they were all killed or ethnically cleansed from it 30 years ago.

This distinguished assembly sometimes has tendency of looking for truth in the grey zone. But the truth is there. Armenia was occupying piece of Azerbaijan for 30 years. International community did close to nothing about that. We should leave war behind and do our best to turn south Caucasus into peace zone. It is important for Europe, it is important for people of our region.

Ms Nazeli BAGHDASARYAN

Armenia, NR

19:38:47

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

One year ago, Azerbaijan with the direct support and involvement of Turkey and with the participation of foreign terrorist, launched full scale attack against ethnic Armenians in Nagorno Karabakh. It should be clearly stated, that initiator of the war and the disruption of the negotiation process was Ilham Aliyev, who rejected the peaceful political settlement of the conflict.

For a year the hundreds of the Armenian prisoners of war and civilians have been held captive in Azerbaijan. The number of Armenian POWs still remains unclear. Azerbaijan authorities do not publish the exact numbers of captives without any legal grounds and in gross violation of human rights requirements as per The Third Geneva Convention.

Approximately 90 percent of the alleged cases provided photo or video evidence, confirming that Azerbaijani forces had captured them and keep confined. Video Recordings of Armenian POW’s abuse have been posted on Azerbaijani accounts of social media. And now we realize, that from the very beginning of the war the Azerbaijani government established a special mechanism for processing and maintaining incoming captives in a way that abuse, beatings, torture, harassment, and intimidation are a customary practice. Systematic propaganda and strategically planted hatred against Armenians for over 20 years are worsening the conditions of the captives.

Armenian prisoners of war and other captives, have been and are being held in inhuman conditions, deprived of food, water, sleep and medical treatment; they have been humiliated, degraded and dehumanized in every possible way.

During the last months Azerbaijan has repeatedly abused legal procedures, falsified the requirements of international law, and prosecuted Armenian POWs using deprivation of liberty as punishment. Labelling Armenian servicemen and civilians captured by the Azerbaijani armed forces as "terrorists" is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in general. We emphasize once again that, regardless of the date of captivity, all Armenian servicemen held in Azerbaijan, including civilians, are prisoners of war by their current status.

There are still hundreds of individuals who remain in Azerbaijani custody. They must be identified, protected, and repatriated as soon as possible. The international community and human rights organizations must pressure dictator Aliyev to release all Armenian POWs immediately.

Mr Stéphane BERGERON

Canada

19:38:58

Speech not pronounced (Rules of Procedure, Art. 31.2), only available in French.

Ms Zeynep YILDIZ

Turkey, NR

19:39:07

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear President, Dear Colleagues,

Let me start by expressing my disappointment about the report.

To my knowledge, this report is the first official report which will be adopted by PACE as well as other international organizations in the aftermath of the 44-day war.

For this reason, our expectation from this report was a complete and fair description of the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and true account of how the conflict between two countries erupted over the decades.

This report unfortunately fails to address the realities with regard to the origin of the conflict. This conflict erupted due to the occupation of 20 per cent of the Azerbaijani territory by Armenia in 1990s. However, relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and PACE resolutions recognized the Armenian occupation.

In addition, Armenian attacks led to catastrophic effects on Azerbaijani civilians. Armenian forces employed internationally banned cluster bombs. In addition, populated areas around the frontline as well as cities far from the conflict area have been targeted and hit by Armenian forces during the conflict.

I am sad to say that these Armenian attacks on civilians, which had catastrophic consequences in populated areas, have not been properly documented in the report. All these attacks by the Armenian forces are clear violations of international humanitarian law principles.

This report should have been objective and impartial if its purpose was to serve peace and stability in the region. If we fail to recognize these established facts, our works in this Assembly does not serve in favor of peace, stability and justice.

It is quite worrying that this report with its current configuration is likely to lead to further accusations and disagreements between two sides.

Finally, Assembly should help find remedies to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict and restore a peaceful and friendly future for both Armenian and Azerbaijani people.

 

Ms Serap YAŞAR

Turkey, NR

19:39:17

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear President, Dear Colleagues,

I would like to begin with the allegations in the report with regard to Turkey.

Allegations with regard to the involvement of Turkey were based on fabricated facts. We strongly deny that Turkey involved in the transfer of mercenaries as alleged in the report. Furthermore, our colleagues from Azerbaijan has repeatedly stated that there was no use of mercenaries in the conflict. There is no compelling evidence proving the use of mercenaries with Turkey’s involvement.

However these allegations are still in the text despite the fact that we raised the issue in the committee and presented our amendments. Unfortunately, neither the Rapporteur nor the Committee accepted our amendments.

In addition, the report calls for Turkey to cooperate with the European Court of Human Rights. On 1 December 2020, European Court of Human Rights lifted its interim measures for Turkey adopted upon Armenian application because trilateral statement by Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russian Federation ended the hostilities in November 10.

For these reasons, I believe that referring to Turkey in the report is deceptive and irrelevant because it diverts our attention from the real origins of the conflict. I hope you all would consider these points while voting for the amendments.

Furthermore, current conflict between two countries led to displacement of more than 80 thousand Azerbaijani people. 1991-1994 war had already displaced around one million persons.

I believe that forced displacement should not be the fate of the people of Azerbaijan in this region. I do support the current initiatives of Azerbaijani government to make these people return to their homes. International community should support these initiatives and show solidarity with people who are forced to move due to the conflict.

Thank you.

Ms Arzu ERDEM

Turkey, NR

19:39:28

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

Dear President, Dear Colleagues,

I am disappointed with regard to the current configuration of the report. I will explain why I oppose some of the arguments and facts presented in the report.

We are friends of the brotherly Azerbaijani people. This brotherhood stems from history, culture and shared heritage. But our perspective on the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is not just based on brotherhood and friendship.

Our approach to this conflict is also based on stability and peace in the region, and equity and justice in the resolution of the conflict.

I believe that this report does not adequately provide a true and fair account of the conflict. This report overlooks the historical facts and origins of the conflict. This means that it does not present a fair and just approach towards Azerbaijan and Armenia.

This report does not acknowledge the fact that occupation of Azerbaijan territory by the Armenian forces in 1990s brought the conflict to this day. UN Security Council Resolutions demanded immediate and complete withdrawal of Armenian forces. But Armenia continued to pursue its aggression policy. I would expect from this Assembly to adequately refer to these resolutions and the occupation of Armenia.

Regrettably, there are some references to Turkey in the report as well. This conflict erupted due to the Armenian aggression at the first place and Turkey has never been part of the conflict between two countries. We always asked for justice, stability and peace in the region.

Despite the fact that Turkey is never a party to the conflict, Armenian government fabricated allegations with regard to involvement of Turkey. In fact, these allegation were even submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. I am very disappointed with the fact that the Court has been instrumentalized on fabricated on-sided allegations.

Finally, I call this Assembly to serve for peace and stability in the region. Thank you.

Lord Alexander DUNDEE

United Kingdom, EC/DA

19:39:40

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

I join with others in congratulating Mr Paul Gavan on his useful report. As he summarise for us : the main issues include the dead, missing and wounded; prisoners of war captives ; allegations of crimes, war crimes and other wrongful acts ; land mines and unexplored ordnance ; displaced persons ; border tensions ; cultural heritage; hate speech.

Today I will concentrate on the land mines problem. We are glad that Armenia has recently produced maps indicating 97,000 mines around Aghdam and a further 92,000 mines in districts of Fuzuli and Zangilan districts.

Nevertheless, a great deal more has to be done. More maps released by Armenia. And shared maps between Armenia and Azerbaijan, said to lack proper information for effective demining, are to have this deficiency removed.

The conflict area around Nagorno - Karabakh has the highest density of land mines worldwide.

The UK funds de mining work by the UN and has urged other states to join in.

A stronger UN involvement with humanitarian and security protection in the area is essential.

Then the de mining programme itself. This must not be delayed. Since the November cease fire 159 Azerbaijanis and 5 Armenia have already be killed or injured. Many others will also be killed or injured until land mines are removed.

All of us may well agree that this should happen immediately. However, the concern is that the de mining programme will be badly organised and procrastinated. Correctly, therefore, and to counter this caveat, the rapporteur prescribes the ingredients of competent intervention instead. Armenia and Azerbaijan should now increase mine and unexplored ordnance awareness programmes ; the international community must give equipment, training and funding for the clearance of about one million mines.

Not least and along with the United Nations, must the Council of Europe, representing its 47 state, insist upon action straight away.

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

19:41:23

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

All wars and conflicts, no matter how long they last, are finally over. There are no eternal conflicts and wars. However, the wounds and consequences of war do not heal quickly, and sometimes they are so deep that they do not heal at all.

In November 2020, a very significant event took place in the life of my people and, I think, in Europe and in the world. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict and war, which lasted almost 30 years, finally ended with the liberation of the occupied territories by the Azerbaijani army. Azerbaijan has succeeded in breaking the knot which would have likely continued indefinitely, had it been left to influential international organizations which had been constantly giving ineffective promises, and the OSCE Minsk Group which had the authority to work directly on the settlement of the conflict. Almost 10 months have passed since the end of the war, and intensive construction work was launched in the liberated territories. However, as a recent observer of the situation in the region at the end of August, I can confirm that the roots of this tragedy which has been raging since the end of the 1980s, run so deeply that it may perhaps take longer than the conflict to eliminate completely the aftereffect of the conflict. About 1 million Azerbaijanis had become refugees and internally displaced persons. This means that hundreds of thousands of families and homes had been destroyed. Walking along the roads built in a short time and meeting the most modern requirements, I saw invisible ruins to the right and left. Armenia has not left a single home in the occupied territories of Azerbaijan safe. As if a nuclear war had broken out in these places. The houses were demolished to the last stone. Once upon a time, the places where life was in full swing turned into empty plains. Instead, the Armenian side mined all these areas from start to finish. It takes years to clean them. This means that IDPs who have been homesick for years will not be able to return to their homes soon. Generations change over time. Today, the Azerbaijani state is focused on reviving these wounded territories and is doing a great job with incredible speed. A beautiful international airport was built in Fizuli in eight months after the occupation, and the first flights are already being made there.

In place of the destroyed buildings, the ones many times better than previous buildings will be built. Nevertheless, how to return hundreds of destroyed historical monuments, hundreds of destroyed cemeteries, hundreds of destroyed mosques, places of worship, hundreds of old plane trees, thousands of young people who died in this war? These fragments will forever remain in the memory and in the heart, from time to time they will move, hurt, sting and burn.

Of course, there are many ordinary people also among the Armenians who have suffered. The blow of war never strikes just one side. Today the screams of mothers from Armenia are constantly growing. Why have thousands of young Armenians died over the years? Why did the criminal leaders who usurped the power in Armenia sacrifice them for the sake of their vain dreams and ambitions? Was it worth it? What has been obtained besides break-up?

All these humanitarian tragedies tell us the truth which unfortunately many pneumonia-minded people unwilling to investigate tomorrow don’t wish to see. The truth is, revenge must end, and hands that have held onto weapons for years must now seek cooperation. No matter how complicated it is! This is the only way to get rid of the vortex, to develop and enjoy a good life!

Ms Ria OOMEN-RUIJTEN

Netherlands, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

17:30:40