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14 March 2022 afternoon

2022 - Extraordinary session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting No. 2

Address: Mr Denys SHMYHAL, Prime Minister of Ukraine

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:07:46

The sitting is open.

As we agreed earlier this morning, we will now hear an address by the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Mr Denys SHMYHAL.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

As you know, unfortunately, his Excellency President Zelenskyy had to cancel his intervention to this Assembly this morning due to urgent unforeseen circumstances and asked the Prime Minister of Ukraine to speak on his behalf.

I'm grateful that the Prime Minister was able and willing to listen to the request of his President.

Now it's my honour to welcome his Excellency Mr Denys SHMYHAL, the Prime Minister of Ukraine.

Mister Prime Minister, you are with us on online. We are most happy and very honoured that you are joining us virtually today. We can imagine your time constraints, so I will not take long. I would like to express, on behalf of this Assembly, my heartfelt solidarity with you, your country, and your citizens.

This morning at the opening of the extraordinary session we observed a minute of silence in memory of all those victims of this war of aggression, which should never have started and we should now stop immediately.

The moments you and your citizens are living through are devastating due to the brutal military aggression of our member States Russia against our member State Ukraine.

For this blatant violation of the Statute of the Council of Europe, Russia has been suspended from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe. Our extraordinary session, which we started this morning and will last until tomorrow evening, will further discuss the consequences of this aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine and formulate a statutory opinion at the request of our Committee of Ministers.

Mister Prime Minister, I'm now honoured to give you the floor.

Mr Denys SHMYHAL

Prime Minister of Ukraine

16:10:19

Thank you very much, Mr President, Ms Secretary General, dear Members of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Thank you for inviting me to address the Parliamentary Assembly so that Ukrainian people's voice can be heard. More than a hundred ethnical communities, the whole country—north, south, east and west—is, unfortunately, being temporarily occupied.

I want to tell you about the voice of every citizen of Ukraine, from the East to the West, from those areas that are free and those that unfortunately have been occupied. The voices of children and women who now have to hide in bomb shelters and, of course, the voices of our military people who for 18 days now have been courageously resisting the Russian aggressors. The voices that for the past three years not everyone has heard or didn't want to hear as they wanted to do business as usual with an aggressor in spite of the agressor's numerous violations of International Law and human values.

When the Russian Delegation was brought back to the Parliamentary Assembly back in 2019, where you're gathering now, once again showed a poor understanding by the world of the real threat that Putin's regime is. Europe chose the road of pacifying the aggressor rather than defending the values of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

For the past 18 days the world finally opened their eyes. We never closed our eyes, not for a second. Eighteen days of this open war, thousands of deaths, the loss of almost 90 children, thousands of Ukrainians without any food, any water, or any heat; destruction of hundreds of schools, hospitals that have been shelled, nuclear power plants on the brink of a disaster. That's at the time when Russia, according to the Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, vowed that it would promote the right to life and defend any person from unlawful violence.

Dear Members of the Assembly, the right to life is one of the key fundamental rights. Today, at the centre of Europe, this right is being violated every minute and every second. For the leaders of the Russian Federation there are no values at all. The Russian armed forces behave like terrorists, then bombard schools, kindergartens, hospitals. They kill children, they take them hostages, they kidnap representatives of the local authorities, they torture civilians, and all of that started 18 days ago.

The violation of those fundamental rights and freedoms by Russia sets the very beginning of the Russian aggression against Ukraine discussed by the Assembly dozens of times. In the territories under Russian control for eight years, systemic reprisals have continued against anyone who does not agree with the aggressors. Today the Russian government is mobilising the residents of Crimea to the armed forces of Russia, forcing people who are to be protected by the 4th Geneva Convention to serve in the armed forces of the enemy state.

A Russian military pilot is dropping bombs on his own mother in the Poltava region. It is hard to believe that, but even such crazy things become a normal life for the aggressors. Every day where you see more and more news about violations of the freedom of speech, the right to live, to work, to have medical services and education: all those actions have to be properly assessed by the International Community.

Dear Members of the Assembly, today Russia is saying that there is no war, that nobody has declared this war, and that they're just conducting it. At this time they're calling it a "special military operation". We have confirmed information that more than 12 000 Russian soldiers have been killed, 389 tanks, 1 249 APCs, 77 fighter jets, 90 helicopters. I'm convinced that among you there are former military people. Just ask them whether in history there have ever been such special military operations that would have such consequences for a country that initiates this kind of military operation.

Those flows of lies and hatred that are disseminated by the Russian media and Russian propaganda have to be stopped. Russian fakes that are trying to establish those lies in Russian society have to be stopped.

I can tell you that Russia and President Putin and have started a full-scale war in the centre of Europe that can become a Third World War.

Starting in 2014, Ukraine has asked not to break the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly and not to bring them back. Today the Russian Delegation has stopped its work with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I'm sure that this just reflects Putin's wish to avoid punishment and to restrict, to put an end to thousands of complaints and applications by Ukrainian citizens for all the crimes that he and his people have committed against Ukraine for the past eight years. We all know that punishment for genocide terrorism cannot be avoided, and we have to be tough in our response.

We demand that a decision be approved to immediately oust Russia from the Council of Europe. The ones who definitely support this unprovoked and unjustified aggression cannot stay in the single European family, where human life is the highest value.

Dear ladies and gentlemen, Ukraine is on fire. Hundreds of houses have been built and are short of water, of light, of heat, for millions of our people. We need to join our efforts not only to protect, to defend Ukraine but to defend all of Europe today. We need to stop the aggression before a nuclear disaster arises, before all of Europe is on fire.

We are asking, we are demanding to close the skies over Ukraine, to close the sky for the sake of the millions of people in Ukraine, for the sake of European and world security.

In the end I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart. To all the neighbouring countries—Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldova, Lithuania, and other countries of Europe—for their is support. It is support that they have given to our women and children, to all those who, on a temporary basis, have to look for shelter in your countries, and those who have found shelter, who have found warmth, hospitality, attention, all these values that our joint European family is rich with.

Thank you for your support, thank you for your attention, and thank you for your solidarity, for your position, for the solidarity that you are showing us.

Glory to Ukraine, and glory to a free and democratic Europe.

[long applause]

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:19:27

Thank you very much, Mister Prime Minister.

This Assembly is not used to loud applause. Therefore, I think you can take the unanimous applause of this Assembly as a sign of our support for the Government of Ukraine, its authorities, and especially the citizens of your now beleaguered country.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart that you took the time to preview under very difficult circumstances as we are all aware, about what is happening in Ukraine. The need for international solidarity, which is now seen and shown, has to remain and has to be strengthened.

In this meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly we will now examine the question posed to us by the Committee of Ministers: whether Article 8 of our Statute, written down already in 1949, has to be further applied, which could lead to the exclusion of a member State of the Council of Europe for the first time ever in modern history.

As you pointed out quite clearly, it is not only that the Russian army has crossed the borders of Ukraine in an illegal and an aggressive way, but it also has crossed the red lines of this organisation. That will not be without consequences. The precise measure and size of these consequences, as said, will be debated now and in the coming hours and tomorrow.

May I again thank you, may I wish you strength, wisdom, and courage. You'll have to be aware that not only the Council of Europe, but I think the vast majority of the international community, stands with you and stands up against aggression by the biggest state on Earth who has shown to understand so little about international law and civilisation.

Thank you very much Mister Prime Minister. Stay safe and sound. We wish you, your government, and your people well.

Thank you very much.

The next item on the agenda is the communication from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly presented by Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA, Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy. This will be followed by questions to Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA.

Now, dear colleagues, it's my pleasure to welcome Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA, Undersecretary of State speaking on behalf of the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA, we are very pleased to have you with us today in this exchange of views. The Italian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers has a lead at a very difficult time for Europe and humanity. After the pandemic crisis in Europe, the Italian Presidency is now facing this blatant violation of the Statute of the Council of Europe from one member State against another.

I would thank you for the effective co‑operation, the communication, and the dialogue between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, and the Secretary General of the organisation, especially since the beginning of the military aggression by the Russian Federation. I would like to thank you for that.

The consolidation of the discussions and consultations within the trilogue format is ensuring our co‑ordination and has increased the impact of our work, and allows us together with the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to remain united around our common values.

Mister Undersecretary, today we are here in this extraordinary session to discuss one of the most severe challenges that the European continent has faced. Military aggression by the Russian Federation towards Ukraine needs a co‑ordinated response from all over the Council of Europe based on the core values of our human rights, democracy, and rule of law.

We are looking forward to hearing your intervention and the exchange of views with our members of the Assembly.

Mister Undersecretary, you have the floor.

Communication from the Committee of Ministers

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:24:28

Mr. President of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Madam Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Members of Parliament,

Ambassadors,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me first of all, Mr. President, join you in your words of support to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.

When I spoke at the first part-session this year of the Parliamentary Assembly on 25 January 2022, I re-asserted Italy's conviction, and my own, that the Council of Europe is a fundamental part of the collective effort to counter global challenges. It is a continental emblem of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and an expression of a multi-lateral vocation in which Italy fully recognizes itself.

We find ourselves today, a little more than two weeks after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine; a premeditated attack, despite the fact that until the last moment, the Russian authorities spoke of exercises on the border.

We have witnessed, and continue to see, a member state of the Council of Europe attacking, invading and killing civilians of another member state. This repugnant, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of aggression, contrary to all the most basic norms of international law and considerations of humanity, is continuing to fuel one of the most serious humanitarian catastrophes in Europe since World War II, if not the most serious.

The Russian offensive continues unabated and in open violation of the norms of international humanitarian laws, indiscriminately targeting children, women, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, hospitals and schools and other civilian or critical infrastructure, even including nuclear facilities, causing appalling suffering to the Ukrainian population.

The Russian Federation and Belarus, its ally in this horrendous military campaign, bear full responsibility and those responsible: instigators and perpetrators will have to account for their crimes.

We have therefore welcomed with satisfaction the decision of the Prosecutor General of the International Criminal Court to open, motu proprio, an investigation into the war crimes committed in Ukraine, for which evidence is already being collected; as well as the activation of the European Court of Human Rights by the Ukrainian Government for the identification of interim measures against the Russian Federation.

Italy has also strongly supported the initiatives promoted by Ukraine within the Human Rights Council at the United Nations to denounce the appalling impact of the conflict on human rights, and ensure full accountability for the violations committed; supporting and actively promoting the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on violations of human rights and humanitarian law abuses in the context of Russian aggression.

In the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), we have joined the activation of the Moscow Human Dimension Mechanism through which a mission of independent experts will be mandated to gather information and evidence on violations and abuses committed, in the context of the war, by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian people.

I also recall the call by European Union leaders to the European Council in Versailles and to the Russian Federation to fully respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access to victims and internally displaced persons and allowing for the safe passage of civilians wishing to leave the country.

To such barbarity, which takes us back to the darkest pages of World War II, the international community could not remain indifferent. The breadth of the political-diplomatic front against Moscow is demonstrated by the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly approved on 2 March 2022 by a majority of 141 votes, with only 5 against.

Numbers that indicate the almost unanimous condemnation of the whole world for what is happening in Ukraine. It is indicative that even countries such as Cuba and China have not sided with Moscow, by abstaining.

The Council of Europe, depositary and guardian of the fundamental principles of co-existence, respect for human rights, promotion of democracy and the rule of law, has not remained indifferent. On the contrary, it was rightly in the front line to ensure a prompt, cohesive and strong reaction. On 25 February 2022, the day after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces, the Committee of Ministers, which Italy currently chairs, adopted an exceptional decision voting for the suspension, with immediate effect, of the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe, with reference to the Committee of Ministers and your assembly.

The Committee took this decision considering that, with its military attack on Ukraine, the Russian Federation has seriously violated Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe. This is an unprecedented decision in the history of our organisation, as the President has just recalled, and which was made necessary by a situation of exceptional gravity.

On 2 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers urgently adopted a resolution detailing the many legal and financial consequences of the suspension of the Russian Federation.

On 10 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers adopted a new decision, initiating consultation with the Parliamentary Assembly. Today and tomorrow you are called upon to express your direction, which, although not binding, will be valuable for our future decisions.

At the moment, the only reaction of the Russian authorities was our beloved one on 10 March 2022 from the Foreign Minister Mr. Sergei Viktorovič LAVROV, in which it is stated, among other things, that "Russia does not take part in the NATO and European Union attempt to turn the oldest European organisation into another place where the mantras of Western supremacy and narcissism are exalted. Let them enjoy each other without Russia's company."

To date, this anticipation has not been acted upon. Previously, the Committee of Ministers had already condemned in the strongest terms, the armed aggression against Ukraine and urged the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally cease its military actions, re-affirming its unwavering commitment to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.

Dear Members of Parliament,

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Italian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has acted in close co-ordination with the Parliamentary Assembly and the General Secretariat.

The tripartite declarations issued on 15 February and 8 March 2022  testify to the firm will of our organisation to speak with one voice in the face of the abomination of this war and the attack launched by the Russian government on the values and principles in which we recognize ourselves.

In this regard, I would like to remind you that the Joint Committee met on the same morning that the Committee of Ministers adopted the decision to suspend the Russian Federation. The meeting allowed the representatives of the 46 Governments to hear the views of the leaders of the political groups and other members of your Assembly. Above all, it confirmed the convergence of views between our Committee and your Assembly on the suspension of Russia.

I would like to express my deep gratitude to Chairman Mr. Tiny KOX for excellent co-operation. Beyond the joint declarations, the Italian Presidency considers it essential to feed a constant channel of contact with you, Mr President, to ensure coherence and unity in our action. In a crisis situation, such as the one we are going through, it is essential that the two bodies of the Council of Europe act jointly.

It is our strong hope that the dialogue between the three institutions will remain constant and in-depth, with a view to the continuation of discussions on further Council of Europe initiatives, carefully assessing the impact of our decisions on the future of citizens and the safeguards placed to protect their rights. In accordance, not only with our statutory obligations, but also, and above all, with our sincere conviction of the absolute usefulness of close co-ordination with the Assembly, we are listening carefully to the debate that is taking place in this Chamber and we are ready to welcome its results as a contribution to the ongoing reflection within the Committee of Ministers on the next steps to be taken.

This debate will be launched immediately after this extraordinary session of the Assembly at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers on 17 March 2022.

Our Presidency cannot fail to take into account the directions and assessments that will emerge from this section, including in the continuation of its action, its presidency program and the events planned between now and 20 May 2022.

The firmness of our reaction, the extraordinary political value of the commitment of all of us to protect our organisation and the values it represents do not distance us from the sadness and desolation we feel.

Sadness for the terrible suffering of the Ukrainian people and for the many victims of the conflict, especially children and women. Sadness because the actions of the Russian Federation have dealt a serious, I hope not decisive, blow to our ambition to create a common European home and an ever-stronger community of democracies. I remember that at the first summit of the Council of Europe held in Vienna in 1993, the Heads of State and Government of the member states declared that: "Europe is the source of an immense hope that under no circumstances of the must be destroyed by territorial ambitions, by the resurgence of aggressive nationalism, by the perpetuation of spheres of influence, by intolerance or totalitarian ideologies". These are words full of hope and ambition, words that must guide our actions and our future decisions.

Since then, the Council of Europe has worked tirelessly to keep that hope alive. Together we have created a system of protection of human rights and democracy that is unique in the world, offering guarantees and hope to the millions of citizens of the States of the Council of Europe, including the citizens of the Russian Federation.

The very serious responsibilities of the leadership of the Russian Federation must not obscure the need to carefully evaluate the consequences of the measures we will adopt on the system of guarantees that the Council of Europe has built to protect the rights of all European citizens.

It is up to us to continue the work we have done, without forgetting that our ultimate goal is to safeguard the ideals of peace and justice on which the Council of Europe is founded, and which are so brutally challenged in these days.

It is these ideals that must guide and inspire us in facing the dramatic humanitarian situation. With nearly 3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, according to UNHCR figures, and 1.8 million internally displaced persons, the source is the Ukraine Protection Cluster. As Italy we are ready to contribute to the European and international efforts to assist Ukraine and neighbouring countries to cope with the difficulties related to these massive flows. We will not fail to make our contribution and we are committed to respond adequately to the financial appeal of the United Nations for the management of the Ukraine crisis.

Our country has so far welcomed some 30,000 people fleeing the fighting. Our commitment will continue in concrete solidarity in response to the needs; consistently with the spirit of welcome that has always characterised the Italian action in the field of migration, within the European framework.

I would also like to recall here the extraordinary commitment to welcome; as the Prime Minister recalled, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Republic of Moldova and Romania who have assured the Ukrainian refugees a testimony of profound humanity and solidarity. In the spirit that animates the membership of the community of the Council of Europe.

In parallel with the strengthening of existing tools, Italy has already put in place innovative solutions to deal with the emergency, such as the use of real estate structures confiscated from organised crime whose census is being finalized. These structures, after the necessary suitability checks, will be promptly made available.

In addition to €110 million of direct support to the Ukrainian budget decided on 27 February 2022, we have adopted urgent measures on a humanitarian level to which further initiatives on a multi-lateral level are added. In this context, Italy is ensuring its support to the initiatives of multi-lateral bodies active in Ukraine and in the region to provide assistance to the most vulnerable people.

In addition to the 1 million euros donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross immediately after the start of Russian military operations, contributions of 25 million euros have been approved in response to appeals made by the United Nations system and the International Red Cross Movement. This is a package that will help alleviate the suffering of the millions of Ukrainians in difficulty both within the country and in neighbouring countries.

Financial contributions are joined by donations of goods, a valuable aid that requires complex logistical operations.

Through the Italian Red Cross, on 7 March 2022, we sent 5 tons of health kits, and from the base of humanitarian aid of the United Nations in Brindisi, a load of about 20 tons of humanitarian materials of various kinds, which will reach a collection center in Poland.

In this spirit, Italy will continue to make contributions and support every effort to achieve effective humanitarian measures that tangibly alleviate the dramatic suffering of the population and an immediate cessation of hostilities.

In this regard, it warms the heart to see how civil society organisations and a multitude of ordinary citizens in our countries are welcoming the refugees in an effort to provide every possible relief.

As reaffirmed at the Council of the European Union held in Versailles last week, we commend the Ukrainian people for their courage in defending their country and our shared values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

As Italy, as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, we will not leave them alone.

Thank you, President.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:44:28

Thank you very much Mr Undersecretary for briefing our Assembly.

The applause may show that we really appreciate that.

As I said at the beginning of this Session, our Session has two covenants. Today is the moment to gather information. Tomorrow is the moment to discuss, to debate, and to decide upon the information that we received.

I'm grateful for the information we got from the Prime Minister of Ukraine and your information, Mr Undersecretary, and later we will get the information from our General Secretary of the Council of Europe.

In order to save time and to give as many people as possible the floor, I now first ask the representatives on behalf of the political groups to ask their question of information, and then you'll answer the five of them together.

First I call, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE, from Turkey.

You have the floor Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

 

Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turkey, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

16:45:56

Thank you very much.

Dear Mr Undersecretary, I welcome you on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, at a time of devastating destruction, with millions bearing immense uncertainty.

We as a group have emphasised that it is time for crystal clarity and defending the core values of our very own organisation.

In this capacity we have two questions.

First, given once again a dire humanitarian crisis we face, and given the unfortunate prospect of it prolonging, what further concrete steps does the Committee of Ministers plan to take to ensure those who are seeking refuge actually have access to their basic needs and rights, and that the responsibility is shared fairly and equally shared across Europe?

The second question is, once the immediate necessary and decisive steps are taken by the organisation, what could be the further and future role of the Council of Europe, according to your discussions, to rebuild peace, to make sure that such aggression does not repeat itself?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:47:01

Thank you very much Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE, also for sticking to the time.

Next I call in the debate on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, Mr Davor Ivo STIER from Croatia.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER, you have the floor.

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:47:15

The European People's Party strongly condemns the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine. Tomorrow we will vote our opinion as requested by the Committee of Ministers.

Mister Undersecretary, can we expect a prompt response to our opinion and prompt action by the Committee of Ministers?

Mr Davor Ivo STIER

Croatia, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

16:47:40

Mr Undersecretary - another point: we all want to prevent any possible spillover of this war of aggression into other corners of Europe.

In this sense the Western Balkans are always a very sensitive area.

Can we expect the Italian Presidency to, for example, further encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina to reform the electoral law in order to prevent instabilities?

Do you envisage probably some other further activities in order to protect democracy and human rights in this region?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:48:15

Thank you, Mr Davor Ivo STIER.

Now I call on the debate, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance Sir Christopher CHOPE from the United Kingdom.

Sir Christopher CHOPE, you have the floor.

Sir Christopher CHOPE

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

16:48:40

Sorry, it's technology.

Okay.

Sir, can you give us an assurance that the Committee of Ministers, at its meeting on Thursday, 17 March, will vote to immediately exclude the Russian Federation from membership of the Council of Europe? If not, why not?

Surely, the time for procrastination is over.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:49:04

Thank you, Sir Christopher CHOPE.

Next I call in debate on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group, Mr Rik DAEMS from Belgium.

Mr Rik DAEMS, you have the floor online.

Mr Rik DAEMS

Belgium, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

16:49:15

Thank you, Mr Undersecretary,

Dear colleagues, words matter, but action matters more today.

As the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, we welcome what we have done, but we think that we can do more. We can do much more. As you flagged in your intervention, you said that more measures are needed. My first question would be what are the measures that you are thinking about as the Committee of Ministers?

More importantly, as far as I'm concerned and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is concerned, all actions taken should be concerted, co‑ordinated and synchronised between the statutory bodies, which is the Committee of Ministers, which is the Assembly, and the Secretary General.

Do you consider it appropriate and needed that we set up a task force of these three, associating, if need be, the congress and even our own bank, in order to develop an additional set of measures that would address this terrible situation, put them into practice in a very transparent way, and make sure that all three of us always act together.

Do you think that it's appropriate to set up a task force to take this on?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:50:15

Thank you, Mr Rik DAEMS.

Now last in the list of speakers on behalf of the political groups, I call Mr Andrej HUNKO from the Group of the Unified European Left, from Germany.

Mr Andrej HUNKO, you have the floor.

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

16:50:29

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Mister Secretary of State,

This Assembly is very united in condemning this aggression against Ukraine. My group, the Group of the Unified European Left, also agrees. We are also very united in the need for humanitarian aid and aid to the refugees and so on.

Nevertheless, the question for me is: what possibilities does the Committee of Ministers still have to work towards a ceasefire and to try to de-escalate this situation and to avoid further escalation?

Are there any discussions on that in the Committee of Ministers? I would be very interested in that.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

16:51:22

Thank you, Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Mister Undersecretary, you have the floor to respond to these five remarks from political groups.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:51:35

Thank you, Mister President.

The first question by Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

The Council of Europe has a wide range of instruments, conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights embodied, the Human Rights Commissioner, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to help and guide member States.

I'm sorry. I'll start from the beginning.

The answer to the question from Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE.

I was saying that the Council of Europe has a wide range of instruments, Conventions, including the European Convention on Human Rights embodied, the Human Rights Commissioner, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to help and guide member States in providing appropriate reception facilities and proper assistance to refugees.

The Committee of Ministers recently decided to step up co‑operation with other international organisations including the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR).

Allow me to recall that the Council of Europe was created after World War II. Its raison d'être is peace and solidarity among the peoples of Europe. All the Council of Europe's instruments are geared towards this goal.

The Council of Europe has been pursuing an ideal of peace for more than 70 years with those states that so desire.

Indeed, it is because the Russian Federation has distanced itself from this ideal by attacking Ukraine that we have to collectively suspend it from our organisation.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:54:14

The second question by Mr Davor Ivo STIER, representative of Croatia.

The Italian Presidency condemns and will continue to condemn any attempt to discredit the Council of Europe.

As we know, activating a war against another country implies that the aggressor uses also communication and propaganda as a means of war. The best way to react is by maintaining calm, firmness and proceeding together with the Statute of the Council of Europe. The rule of law is also a way to respond to attacks on the rule of law.

Member States must continue to be consistent on common values and continue with the commitments that derive from membership in the Council of Europe. The Russian Federation must remember that a suspended member cannot participate in our discussion, but as long as they are suspended, and not expelled, they must adhere to the rules, norms and principles.

Regarding Bosnia, what has been raised concerning Bosnia and Herzegovina, I visited Sarajevo a few weeks ago, a month ago, for a bilateral visit. There I had the opportunity to address with the various interlocutors the issue of electoral reform and elections.

I hope, because it would be very important for stability in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that we go through a rapid and shared process of electoral law reform. I also hope that the lessons can be held on the scheduled date, because a postponement could trigger a situation more difficult to control.

I have recommended to the interlocutors that with a sincere will it will be possible to arrive both at the reform of the electoral law and at the holding of the lessons on the scheduled date.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

16:57:14

The question by Sir Christopher CHOPE from the United Kingdom, the issue of the activation of Article 8, is a top priority for the Committee of Ministers, which already met seven times since the beginning of the crisis.

On 25 February the Committee of Ministers decided to suspend the rights of representation of the Russian Federation, as we said. The Committee of Ministers will not refrain from its commitment to evaluating all possible further steps in the implementation of Article 8. The Committee of Ministers attaches the utmost importance to the opinion that the Assembly will deliver tomorrow.

A meeting of the Committee of Ministers has been convened on Thursday to examine your opinion as a matter of urgency. If an expulsion decision is taken, it is not for the presidency to decide when this decision will come into force. The decision is to be taken collectively by the 46 member States.

As of now, all options are possible, of course, including expulsions. We will also wait for the decision, the resolution that you are going to approve tomorrow.

On the question raised by Mr Rik DAEMS from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, the Council of Europe's support is primarily political and institutional. The Committee of Ministers acted very quickly not only to suspend Russia but also to express the Council of Europe's support for the Ukrainian authorities and our solidarity with the population.

The Council of Europe has adopted a very ambitious action plan in Ukraine to support the country's efforts in its democratic reforms. Russia's military aggression has inevitably led to the suspension of its implementation. As soon as it is possible to take up our work, this action plan will be rediscussed and re‑oriented to address the new situation.

The Council of Europe is not a humanitarian organisation. However, initiatives are being taken to alleviate the suffering of people without interfering with the work of humanitarian agencies.

The Development Bank of the Council of Europe has already adopted measures, including grants, to help member States in providing assistance to Ukrainian refugees.

The Council of Europe has a wide range of instruments, including a ECHR Human Rights Commissioner, the European Committee for Prevention, as I said before, of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to help and guide member States in bringing proper assistance to the refugees.

About the task force, I got the point. I think that so far the co‑ordination and co‑operation among the three bodies of the Council of Europe is okay. We are working together, but of course, if in the future we see that the co‑ordination or co‑operation are not enough, we can also think about something like a task force. I can say—I don't know if the President agrees with me—that so far the co‑ordination or co‑operation are really okay, and we work together.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:01:37

The last question. You got the fifth question from Mr Andrej HUNKO.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

17:01:43

Yes, sorry.

Well about the de-escalation and cease fire, of course we are following, but we are not involved in the negotiations that are taking place, first of all the negotiation directly between two delegations from Ukraine and Russian government.

We are following. We are ready to provide, if requested, any support in order to solve specific issues related to human rights. We are fully aware that the promotion of human rights, democracy, and rule of law is in itself a way to create conditions for sound negotiation between the two counterparts.

Broadly speaking, we are following the attempt to provide a table of negotiation from Turkey or from Israel. Today in Rome prominent figures from the Foreign Affairs Ministry from the US and from China were here to discuss the issue. However, we are not directly involved.

We are looking for a de-escalation, first of all military one, a ceasefire, at least to allow people and humanitarian agencies to go inside the cities and to save people. We are concerned for everybody, of course, but first of all for disabled people who are suffering more than ever because of the difficulties for the disabled in bombarded cities and where the infrastructures are totally destroyed.

 

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:03:59

Thank you, Mister Undersecretary.

We only have time for 5 more questions. One-minute questions.

Now I call first in the debate Mr Pavlo SUSHKO from the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance. He is from Ukraine.

Mister SUSHKO, you have the floor.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:04:21

The next speaker is Ms Nicole TRISSE, from France, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Nicole, you have the floor.

Ms Nicole TRISSE

France, ALDE

17:04:35

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Mister Undersecretary of State,

By launching a totally unjustified war against Ukraine, the Russian Federation has plunged our continent into the throes of an armed conflict with an unpredictable outcome.

The response was not long in coming. On 25 February, Russia was suspended from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe. On 1 March, the European Court of Human Rights took urgent interim measures, calling on the Russian authorities to refrain from military attacks on civilians and their homes, schools and hospitals.

Mister Undersecretary of State, what initiatives does the Chair of the Committee of Ministers intend to take to ensure the implementation of this decision of the European Court of Human Rights? More generally, what concrete actions do you intend to take, with the services of the Council of Europe, to support Ukraine and its population in the long term?

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:05:29

Thank you, Ms Nicole TRISSE.

Now I call in the debate Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania. He is a member of the Group of the European People's Party.

Emanuelis, you have the floor.

Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lithuania, EPP/CD

17:05:47

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

From my point of view I would like to ask you only a few questions. It's related to our presence in Ukraine.

Which type of missions do you foresee us being able to send to Ukraine and being there, let's say, using our instruments, our presentations, instead of Ukraine collective materials now. That's my question to you. Thank you for everything that has been done from the Italian side.

Secondly, I would like to present to you the 27 European National Association for Children, doctors and nurses together work with more than 70 world academic leaders on the situation of children in Ukraine. It is a terrible document I would like to share with you: what they collected and what has happened now with the children.

Thirdly, I would like to ask you to say what Italy can do to mend our democracy together. Now a new democratic world is emerging from the ruins of the Russian war against Ukraine in solidarity with Ukraine.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:07:00

Thank you, Manuelis.

Now I give the floor to Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK from Poland and he is a member of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.

Arkadiusz, you have the floor.

Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK

Poland, EC/DA

17:07:10

Thank you.

Mister president, we must do everything we can to stop the war.

Sanctions against Russia are a very important element, As you see from the headlines and the TEP reports, the EU sanctions already implemented are still not severe enough to stop criminal war aggression of Putin's Russia and Lukashenko's Belarus.

At the same time there is a range of assets of many Russians oligarchs already frozen in accordance with the EU and US American sanctions. In order to make peace in Europe, restore Ukrainian territory integrity, and save dozens of thousand lives and extricate hundreds of thousands of children and women from incredible suffering we should act decisively.

Therefore we should be resolved as PACE and Committee of Ministers that the frozen assets of Russian and Belarusian oligarchs will be allocated to Ukrainian refugees as well as be used to rebuild Ukrainian cities and villages including totally destroyed by Russian criminals hospitals, schools and other things.

Please, take your position in this issue.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:08:20

Thank you Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK.

Now I call Mr Pieter OMTZIGT from the Netherlands in the debate, from the Group of the European People's Party.

Mr Pieter OMTZIGT

Netherlands, EPP/CD

17:08:30

Thank you, Mr President, and thank you to the Undersecretary of Italy. Thank you very much.

You just answered to Sir Christopher CHOPE that all options are possible, including expulsion of the Russian Federation.

I've got news for you. The Assembly just adopted the following text: "The Assembly considers that the Russian Federation can no longer remain a member state of the Council of Europe."

What other options are possible? Is there any option, any, after Putin has now bombed for about three weeks Ukraine, damaged hospitals, cost thousands of deaths, now starving to death and depriving of drinking water people in Mariupol, is there really any other option possible than expelling Russia from the Council of Europe, and if so, what more does Putin need to do?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:09:30

Thank you, Mr Pieter OMTZIGT.

To clarify, not the Assembly has taken a decision, but there has been a decision in the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy. Tomorrow we will take our decision.

Now I call in the debate Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES from Spain. He is a member of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

You have the floor, Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES.

Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES

Spain, SOC

17:09:52

Thank you very much, Mister President.

I've been quite fortunate in a way. I would like to first of all greet the Undersecretary of State representing Italy.

On the 25 February, the Committee of Ministers suspended immediately Russia's right of representation in the Council of Europe. As you said, Undersecretary, a number of decisions have been taken and resolutions are on the table.

A couple of questions for you, if I may:

Does the Committee of Ministers intend to launch an interstate application against the Russian Federation before the International Court to find a breach of the European Convention of Human Rights?

What actions does the Committee of Ministers intend to take in order to protect the citizens of Russia in occupied territories if the Russian Federation were to leave the Council of Europe?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:10:53

Thank you very much, Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES.

Now I ask the Undersecretary to respond to these five questions.

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

17:11:05

Thank you Mister President,

In response to Ms Nicole TRISSE, tangible initiatives, as you know, it is difficult to achieve a concrete intervention given the war that is underway; as something that would satisfy all of us

That doesn't mean that we are not working; the Congresswoman also mentioned the long-term initiative. There is a legal framework that allows us, through the Presidency, the General Secretariat, and the Presidency of the Assembly, to approach the Russian authorities to implement the interim measures decided by the European Court of Human Rights. This will have consequences in any case, whatever the decisions of the Russian authorities.

This I link to the last question, that of Mr Antonio GUTIÉRREZ LIMONES from Spain: what actions to protect Russian citizens in case of a complete exit of Russia from the Council of Europe and therefore also from the European Court of Human Rights.

This is a question that we have been asking ourselves, that I think any of us should ask ourselves. We know that in all these years the Russian leadership, the Russian authorities, the Russian judicial system has never respected the rulings of the Court. Unfortunately, the Russian citizens have not actually been the ones who have turned to the European Court of Human Rights; they have not received effective protection of their fundamental human rights at home. It is clear that from this point of view the assessment that needs to be made is an overall assessment.

Unfortunately, it has not been even until now an effective instrument of protection of human rights. We have seen in recent days, in all these days the arrests, arbitrary detentions, the most blatant violations of freedom of speech, expression, demonstration in major Russian cities, Moscow, St. Petersburg but not only. Indeed, allow me to take this opportunity also to express, as a promoter and defender of human rights, to express my gratitude as well as my admiration for the people in Russia who protest peacefully. Simply by putting up placards, knowing that for this they risk being arrested. I also express my admiration for the Ukrainian citizens who have the strength to demonstrate peacefully in front of the tanks and soldiers of the Russian occupation, perhaps as happens in some cities demanding that the legitimate mayor of that city, who has been arrested, be released.

We have, as the Committee of Ministers, a request from the Committee of Ministers to release Mr Alexei NAVALNY, who is continuing his initiative to support the initiatives of mobilisation of public opinion. Our request to the Russian authorities was, alas, completely ignored.

Regarding the question of Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania, about the possibility to support the activity of European associations dealing with children: what comes of these children. I can say that on the level, for example of the countries of the European Union, a directive has been activated, the European Directive number 55 for refugees in extraordinary conditions. This directive allows a full visa to be granted to these people simply because they come, in this case from Ukraine, a visa that can then be extended, and that allows them to work, to have access to health care, and allows children to go to school.

This is important. It is obviously not so easy to organise it. For example, I am speaking as far as Italy is concerned. As soon as children arrive, they are welcomed in Italian schools. Then it is a matter of intervening, so that they do not lose familiarity with the issue of education. Then it is a matter of organising in practice the school insertion of these children.

With regard to the question of Mr Arkadiusz MULARCZYK from Poland, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude, our gratitude also as the Committee of Ministers for what Poland is doing in terms of reception of refugees. It is clear that at the moment the biggest part of the reception work, the biggest burden is on Poland, then certainly also on the other neighboring countries that I mentioned before.

What to do in order to save lives and how to use the confiscated goods in favour of refugees. I was saying that in Italy we are thinking of using the assets confiscated from the mafia, from organised crime. There is a topic that has been raised, for example first of all by the British government, and which I raised for the Italian Government: the use of the confiscated resources, within a framework that must be respectful of the rule of law. We must not move according to the rule of law and the laws in force. As you said, there is an advancement to the refraction just in the countries of confiscation, I think of Italy, Great Britain, of how to use the confiscated assets for the benefit of refugees. Right now or maybe in perspective, as you said, to participate in the reconstruction of the country. Reconstruction that will have to be a reconstruction of a free, democratic country based on the rule of law.

The last answer: what other options are possible? Of course, I do not want to be reticent in any way. I have my own very precise idea about what needs to be done as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. Of course, this is a decision that the Committee of Ministers will take. In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that the Committee of Ministers, at least as far as the Presidency is concerned, but I think I am interpreting the absolute majority opinion, will take into great consideration the request that will come from the Parliamentary Assembly. If that request will be of the expulsion.

In view of the meeting of the Committee of Ministers to be held on 17 March, we will wait. I understand that there are already some texts. In short, Mister President, we will of course wait until the plenary adopts a resolution tomorrow. Before making a decision, we will of course consider your opinion first.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:21:58

Thank you very much, Mr Undersecretary.

For all, underlining once again that decision that we will prepare tomorrow and finally decide tomorrow evening will be of relevance for the final decision to be taken by your Committee of Ministers.

May I thank you for the cooperation until now, and we will stay in touch together with you and the Secretary General.

Now I would like, and I'm sorry for those who are on the speakers list but could not take the floor because we are running out of time.

(See below for written questions and replies)

Now, the last item of business on our agenda is to listen to our Secretary General, Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. We do not need to introduce you, Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ. You have been elected by this Assembly in this job, and you never could have imagined that one day you should have to address us in these sad circumstances.

I'm glad that you're working hard and that you're very much involved in doing whatever this organisation can do.

So without further delay, I would like to give you the floor.

You will answer questions after your introductory remarks.

You have the floor Madam Secretary General.

Mr Pavlo SUSHKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

19:00:16

Written question

Dear Mr. Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA,

Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, signed at Geneva on 12 August 1949, in Article 18, provides that "Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the Parties to the conflict."

On 9 March, Russian troops destroyed the maternity hospital in the city of Mariupol.

Don't you think that the level of guarantees and liability envisaged by the Convention is insufficient and jeopardises world security?

How can the Council of Europe, in co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), begin the process of revisiting the guarantee for the protection of victims of wars and their humanitarian consequences, since there is clearly a need to talk about a change in the established order since World War II?

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

19:00:16

Written reply

1. The images of the pediatric hospital in Mariupol heavily destroyed by Russian forces have shocked the world. I agree with you that we must find new ways to narrow the gaps of safety nets provided by international protection instruments.

2. The Geneva Conventions, including Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, and their Additional Protocols form the core of international humanitarian law. These Conventions have been ratified by all States and are universally applicable.

3. While the Council of Europe legal norms are not specifically designed to regulate armed conflicts, including international humanitarian law issues, the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe, in particular respect for human rights and dignity of the individual, have to be considered together with international humanitarian law. The Committee of Ministers acknowledges the importance of taking measures at all possible levels within the Council of Europe to achieve the effective implementation, dissemination and enforcement of international humanitarian law conventions.

4. In view of the above, the Committee of Ministers recalls the Council of Europe co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), an uncontested international actor in the field of humanitarian law. It highlights that international humanitarian law is a regular item on the agenda of the Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI). Member States and observers to the CAHDI regularly report on national norms and events aimed at the promotion and dissemination of international humanitarian law and hold exchanges of views on this subject. The ICRC, as an observer, contributes actively to the work of the CAHDI and inform the committee about the ICRC's on-going projects and initiatives.

5. Moreover, the European Convention on Human Rights should in principle be applicable in armed conflict situations alongside international humanitarian law. The European Court of Human Rights would thus be competent to deal with cases of alleged violations brought by individuals or States in such situations. It may be noted in this context that the Court has decided on interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of Court in relation to individual applications following the aggression by the Russian Federation against Ukraine to protect the civilian population, including refraining from attacks on schools and hospitals.

 

Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaijan, ALDE

19:00:16

Written question

Since the liberation of the territories of Azerbaijan occupied by Armenia for almost 30 years at the end of 2020, one issue is still unresolved. It constitutes a danger that could lead to a large-scale humanitarian disaster as well as a serious obstacle to the establishment of future bilateral cooperation. Armenia refuses to hand over the maps of the territories completely mined in violation of international law, which prevents about 1 million internally displaced persons from returning to their permanent place of residence, as well as from starting the restoration of the ruined territories.

Mr Huseynov asks the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers:

What effective mechanisms of influence can the Committee of Ministers use to achieve the quickest possible resolution of the issue of handing over the maps of the totally mined territories, which directly raises a problem of respect for human rights and strengthening mutual understanding between the Council of Europe member States?

Mr Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA

Undersecretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation of Italy

19:00:16

Written reply

The Committee of Ministers provides a forum for representatives of member States to raise issues which fall within the mandate of the Council of Europe and possibly find satisfactory solutions in line with the standards and values of the Organisation.

However, I would like to recall that, as repeatedly stressed by the Committee of Ministers, mediation for the settlement of the conflict is the responsibility of the OSCE Minsk Group. The ongoing efforts under the aegis of the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, in particular with a view to addressing the multiple dramatic consequences of the conflict, have my full support.

In this regard, I note that the Co-Chairs have recently reminded the parties that further efforts are needed to resolve the remaining issues of concern and to build mutual confidence for a lasting peace. "These include, inter alia, issues related to the return of all prisoners of war and other detainees in accordance with the provisions of international humanitarian law, the exchange of all data necessary for effective demining of the conflict areas, the lifting of restrictions on access to Nagorno-Karabakh, including for representatives of international humanitarian organisations, the preservation and protection of religious and cultural heritage, and the promotion of direct contacts and cooperation between the communities affected by the conflict as well as other confidence-building measures between peoples."

Communication from the Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

17:23:17

Thank you, President.

President of the Parliamentary Assembly, distinguished parliamentarians, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

I begin by paying tribute to Prime Minister SHMYHAL for his powerful address this afternoon. These are hard days for Ukraine, but the Ukrainian government's determination was clear from his words and evident from the way in which his administration and the Ukrainian people have responded to the terrible acts of violence that continue in their country.

We stand with them.

This session of the Parliamentary Assembly was neither foreseen nor one that any one of us would have wanted.

The Russian Federation's ongoing aggression against Ukraine, one Council of Europe member state on another, is shocking and it is appalling.

We have all seen the harrowing images in recent days: mothers and children leaving partners and fathers, transformed into refugees, fleeing for their lives; frail older people struggling across makeshift plank bridges replacing the structures that have been destroyed; the remains of Mariupol maternity hospital bombed last week, killing civilians and injuring children, pregnant women and doctors who look after them. Above all else, this is a tragedy for Ukraine. It is Ukraine's civilians who are taking up arms against an aggressor that has invaded their country, their homes that are subject to unprovoked and devastating attacks, their blood that is being spilled in the streets. Our thoughts are with all these people, but thoughts are not enough.

It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to support Ukraine in concrete terms too. This is true for the governments, for parliamentarians, and for the international organisations in which they are represented. I was clear from the beginning of the attack that Russia's actions are a flagrant violation of the Council of Europe statute. The speed and manner in which both of our statutory organs addressed this issue was impressive, and, after consultations with the Parliamentary Assembly, I'm pleased that the Committee of Ministers was able to agree on the suspension of Russia's representation so clearly and so quickly.

They were: the very day after the attack began on both this and the subsequent resolution on legal and financial implications I wrote promptly to Russian foreign minister Lavrov informing him of these measures and thereby bringing them into effect.

As it stands, the Russian Federation is now suspended from the Committee of Ministers itself, the steering committees and subordinate committees and from bodies such as CEPEJ and the judges and prosecutors councils.

The country is neither represented in the Congress nor, as you know, in this very Parliamentary Assembly, but it does remain a party to those conventions that it has ratified. As such it is bound by their obligations and can participate in the work of the bodies set up under these treaties.

Crucially, they include the most important of all: the European Convention on Human Rights. This means that Russia is still subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights and has a legal obligation to implement and execute its judgments. Similarly, it is duty-bound to abide by the Rule 39 interim measures decided by the court on 1 and 4 of March. These are not mere technicalities, rather they are stark reminders, instructions to the Russian Federation about what it must and must not do by law to respect human rights on the ground in Ukraine. That there should be no military attacks on civilians or civilian objects, and that the safety of medical establishments, personnel and emergency vehicles should be ensured, that the civilian population should have unimpeded access to safe evacuation routes, and to healthcare, food and other essential supplies. And fourth, that there should be rapid and unconstrained passage for humanitarian aid and the movement of humanitarian workers.

We cannot be physically present to engage these measures, but we can spell them out as law rooted in moral obligation and be crystal clear that the Russian Federation must respect them. This brings us to the matter that you are considering this week. Since the decision to suspend Russia's representation was taken on 25 February, its authorities have neither withdrawn from our organisation, nor stepped back from their brutal campaign in Ukraine.

The serious violation of Article 3 of our Statute remains. It is for our Committee of Ministers of our member states to determine what, if anything, should now be done. Whether to leave the suspension in place or ask Russia to withdraw. But in line with the Statute they are rightly seeking the opinion of this Parliamentary Assembly about what the next step should be. I know that you will consider the issue carefully and I too look forward to hearing your conclusions.

Over the past two weeks, in dealing with this matter our organisation has demonstrated strength and unity at a time where these are profoundly needed. And I'm grateful to you, President, to the leadership of the parliamentary groups and to all members who continue to play a constructive role in finding the best way forward.

Certainly there will be difficult times ahead, but our objectives will not change.

The Council of Europe exists to protect and promote European standards in human rights, democracy and the rule of law to the benefit of every citizen. Where those standards are set aside, where positions take precedence over people, injustice sets in, sometimes with truly terrible consequences. We see this today in the violence inflicted on Ukraine and its people, but we also see it in the Russian Federation itself. A state where opposition politicians are wrongly imprisoned, where independent journalists are intimidated, shut down and silenced. Where peaceful anti-war protest is prevented through crackdowns and mass arrests.

This is a country whose suffering does not compare with Ukraine's, but it is nonetheless a state whose citizens' fundamental rights are being taken from them. And if the inevitable conclusion of current events is that the Russian Federation leaves the Council of Europe, this too will be a tragedy of sorts. A tragedy for the Russian people, who will no longer be protected by the European Convention, no longer be able to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, and no longer be part of our pan-European family. It will be a country led into darkness.

The lesson from all of this is that where are our standards fracture, people suffer. And we must redouble our efforts to ensure that our values and our organisation remains central to life on our continent.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

17:33:26

To be strong, the Council of Europe needs adequate resources.

The Russian Federation is legally obliged to meet its financial commitments in accordance with our 2022-2025 program and budget. A first payment should have been made two weeks ago, but has not been received. The full amount should be paid by June. In any case, we will make projections to assess the possible impact on the program and budget if these amounts are not paid, and we will identify the measures that need to be taken if this scenario occurs.

I am pleased, however, that some countries have already stated that the Council of Europe should not be financially penalised as a result of the decision to suspend the representation of the Russian Federation: these statements are most welcome. Given the pressures on our values today, it would be wrong to reduce the capacity of our Organisation to act. Therefore, I would like to pay tribute to the efforts made by you, Mister President, and by your colleagues, in particular Mr Frank SCHWABE and Mr Jacques MAIRE, to guarantee the financial stability of our Organisation. I am grateful to you for this.

If our finances are stable, this will enable us to continue our activities, the need for which is obvious, here in Strasbourg, of course, but also and above all in the field, where our collective efforts are of crucial importance. For obvious reasons, our capacity to implement co‑operation activities on the ground in Ukraine is now severely limited. That said, we are also taking other specific steps to help those in distress. These include support for member States to take care of refugees who have arrived from Ukraine.

Our Commissioner for Human Rights and my Special Representative on Migration and Refugees are doing their utmost to help improve the situation considerably, as is our Development Bank, which has made a significant financial contribution to Ukraine. We are also working on a series of priority measures that could be implemented as soon as the armed conflict has ended.

We attach great importance to Ukraine. In particular, we are committed to assisting Ukraine and adapting to changing circumstances as they arise. Once Ukraine emerges from this conflict, it will need the Council of Europe all the more to rebuild a strong democracy to serve its people.

Just recently, at the end of last year, I made an official visit to Ukraine. I went to its administrative border with Crimea and met with members of local NGOs and was deeply moved by what I heard. I told them that I would do everything in my power, within the mandate of our Organisation, to ensure that the human rights of everyone are respected, and I meant everything I told them. We were there on the ground before this outbreak of violence, and we will be there when the violence has stopped to accompany the people as closely as possible in concert with them.

Finally, a word about our staff. In these difficult times, we are doing everything we can to help our Ukrainian colleagues and their families. We are working to ensure that the salaries of the local office staff are paid, and I have instructed that the contracts of all local staff in Kyiv be immediately extended to the end of this year. Whenever possible and desired, we also facilitated the movement of these colleagues and their relatives to neighboring countries.

For the Ukrainian staff working in Strasbourg and other duty stations, we have made sure to provide the same support to their families and relatives in Ukraine. Two minibuses were sent from Strasbourg to the European Youth Centre in Budapest; from there we co‑ordinated efforts to bring colleagues from the Ukrainian border.

Dear colleagues, as I speak to you about all this, I am well aware of the powerlessness of words in the face of the enormity of this situation. Nothing we can say will ease the pain of those who have lost their homes, their livelihoods or their loved ones. The Council of Europe is not a security organisation and, let us be clear, it will not be the Council alone that will stop the aggression that is taking place. What we can do, what each of us must do, is to examine our conscience: we must ask ourselves how we can do what is right, what influence we can exert to make things happen.

We are all here today because we believe in a Europe where peace is based on justice, a Europe where, through international co‑operation, human rights, democracy, and the rule of law flourish.

Over the decades, and despite enormous difficulties, we have seen this culture take root and flourish in many places on our continent. What we see unfolding in Ukraine is the hell that can take over if these values wither. That is why, for the years to come, we must take care of these values for the sake of every European and, for the time being, we stand by the Ukrainian people and our Ukrainian colleagues and give them support and solidarity.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:42:16

Thank you, Ms Secretary General.

Now we are going to take the five speakers on behalf of the political groups together in order to save some time.

After these five speakers, Ms Secretary General, please respond as precisely as possible, and then we can take more questions.

First I call on the debate, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA from Ukraine.

Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA, you have the floor.

 

Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA

Ukraine, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

17:42:46

Mister President, Dear Colleagues,

Just now during this discussion, about 20 minutes ago I received messages from two of my friends in the city of Kharkiv. The houses of two of my comrades have been bombed and practically destroyed. An hour ago a relative of mine who is in Kyiv at the moment sent me pictures of the flying rockets.

This war of aggression by Russia against Ukraine presents a threat to the whole of Europe. This has to be addressed rather sooner than later.

My question to you is what are your thoughts on the new possible architecture of our common European security?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:43:42

Thank you, Ms Yuliya LOVOCHKINA.

Now I call in the debate on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO from Ukraine.

Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO, you have the floor.

Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO

Ukraine, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

17:43:53

Thank you.

As you said in your speech, thousands of people don't have homes right now. Children, elderly women, everyone in need are waiting for humanitarian corridors that, unfortunately, are not happening successfully because the bombs and shelling continue.

My question is what the Organisation and Assembly can do, and you personally, to ensure that the humanitarian corridors are happening. When will you be able to come to Ukraine to look at it through your own eyes?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:44:28

Thank you, Ms Yelyzaveta YASKO.

Next I call on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Mr John HOWELL from the United Kingdom.

Mr John HOWELL, you have the floor.

Mr John HOWELL

United Kingdom, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

17:44:38

Thank you very much, Mister President.

Ms Secretary General, I would like to look to the future a little.

What does this crisis say about the future of multilateralism in Europe?

And a similar question to my socialist colleague earlier: what changes will this make for the better for the Council of Europe?

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:45:03

Thank you, Mr John HOWELL.

Now on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, I give the floor to Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK from Ukraine.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK, you have got the floor.

Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

17:45:13

Mr President, dear colleagues, Madam Secretary General,

We have to be frank here. The Council of Europe did fail to prevent this war of aggression in any way.

So my questions are: What conclusions can we draw from this situation? How can the architecture of the Council of Europe be adjusted? Another question, and a very, very important one: what is the action plan of the Secretary General to do something in this situation - to be on the ground? What can the Council of Europe do to be on the ground with the matter of refugees; with the matter of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in assessing any other cases that we can - because we have to be active.

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:46:09

Thank you, Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK.

I now call as the last speaker on behalf of the political group of the Group of the Unified European Left, Ms Laura CASTEL from Spain.

Ms Laura CASTEL, you have the floor, thank you.

Ms Laura CASTEL

Spain, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

17:46:18

Thank you, Mister Chair.

The right to seek refuge and asylum is applicable to all, regardless of race or origin. We must avoid racialising human rights and ensure that the principles of equal treatment and protection are applied to all.

We've seen increasing reports of racist violence and discrimination against students from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East when fleeing Ukraine.

The Council of Europe has an obligation to ensure protection to all; race, skin colour or ethnicity does not make us less worthy of protection.

War is always a devastating experience. We must ensure that all people who seek refuge can be protected and given full access to their rights, without being discriminated on the basis of race or nationality.

What concrete steps will you take to avoid this outrageous situation?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:47:16

Thank you, Ms Laura CASTEL.

Madam Secretary General, could you please react to these five questions on  behalf of the political groups?

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

17:47:24

I think some of the questions actually overlap, so I will try not to repeat the answer from one to the other.

The issue of the new architecture has risen from several speakers. I would like, when it comes to the Council of Europe, I can say that what we can learn from this terrible experience that we are still going through, Ukraine is going through, and we, as a multilateral organisation that has Ukraine as a member.

If we succeed to continue unitedly and strongly as we this time are on this issue, the Council of Europe will be strengthened. If we succeed with that, then I think understanding what the Council of Europe is doing, and why, it will actually help make our standards be applied in all our member States, throughout the 47, or 46 possibly in the future.

I think, if we understand this very message, that the values and standards need to be respected everywhere. If we fail with that, and as we see the failure very clearly and where it can lead to, then we would certainly make the Council of Europe able to respond to any of the future crises or future challenges that we may have.

That also leads me to the answer of what the role of multilateralism is.

If you recall, two years ago, my annual report was partially dedicated to multilateralism. It was a response to the crisis we were going through, or we are still going through, which is the crisis due to COVID-19. Multilateralism, however, was also challenged by many other things.

Again, as it goes for the Council of Europe, that goes for me to all multilateral fora. Since the Second World War, the commitment to multilateralism secured peace and security, relatively. There were some some wars around Europe, but relatively, we succeeded in carrying on in peace and security.

This is why this very decision that your opinion tomorrow, and then decision, consequent decisions of, or decisions by the Committee of Ministers will be crucial. If we send a clear message this time, I think that would be a very strong message to multilateralism in general.

The value of multilateralism is very clear to me in this time of crisis. Only recommitting to it, and living by it effectively in all of our member States, would be the right way to continue to ensure prosperity to all of our citizens.

I think yes, multilateralism has been in crisis not only because of this war; it was for several and many reasons. I think with this very blatant aggression and war that is ravaging one of our member States, probably the message can be stronger. I hope to reach all of our policymakers and all of our citizens so that together we make sure that first this terrible aggression stops and then that we recommit to multilateralism and the end of war for a better Europe and a better life for our citizens.

Now, for whether we have an action plan for Ukraine. We did have or we do have an action plan that was in place. However, as I said in my speech, for obvious reasons, it cannot be completely or in great part applied now, though here are some requests that we still help some of the branches of power in Ukraine. However, knowing that we are certainly going to a new phase of work with Ukraine, I already asked my colleagues to set out a set of measures that could be applied in Ukraine immediately, as I said again in my speech, when the atrocities are behind us and when we work together on building a democratic and prosperous Ukraine again.

We are working on that. At this moment we are doing what we can, and we will do certainly much more in the future. Just for you to know that, so far, our action plan and our local office in Kyiv was absolutely the biggest one that we have. From what I see, from the needs that I can foresee, I think it will continue to be so in the future.

Now, for specific questions related to the things that are going on on the terrain, mainly to refugees, how do we go about it? You mentioned rightly the Commissioner for Human Rights. Obviously, you may know that she is independent in her work. I cannot say, or no one can say what the Commissioner should do. I'm very certain that she has a number of things on her mind. She already visited, as you may well know, some of the neighbouring countries of Ukraine that have so wholeheartedly accepted refugees.

From Poland, that came literally overnight, in millions from Ukraine, to those places. She was notably in Moldova, but I know that her plans certainly encompass some other member States.

When it comes to my Special Representative on Migration and Refugees, she already started the co‑ordination among what we call focal points in all of our member States, in order to see, and in particular for those countries who are now in the front line of those who are receiving refugees from Poland, what can be done, and what we as the Council of Europe can further do.

We are certainly going to consider what more we can do.

I must say here something that the I think also the Chair of the Committee of Ministers mentioned. We are not a humanitarian organisation. We cannot do what other international... It is just not our mandate what others do. But we are concerned by a number of issues that are raised within this.

To the question of possible or allegedly discrimination to some people coming from some nationalities, I can only reiterate. The European Convention on Human Rights is very clear. It needs to be applied to anyone who finds themselves on the territory of the country that has signed and ratified European Convention on Human Rights.

From what I know, I can again pay tribute to all the surrounding countries that have taken in so many refugees in such a short time.

I have been in contact with some ministers from those countries, and from what I heard from them, I haven't understood that there was discrimination. In my statements, and I did make quite a few, unfortunately, since the outbreak of this war, from 24 February, I always ask. I first thank all the countries that are giving refuge to those who are in need. At the same time, underlining two aspects: one is non-discrimination of any kind, and the other is to pay special attention to those who may find themselves in a vulnerable situation. Those are, in contemporary wars, most often women and girls, but also other vulnerable people.

I also made on the International Day for the Protection of Women's Rights, I made a specific aside of general nature, but one that is dedicated to Ukrainian women and girls finding themselves in that situation.

I completely agree with you. The shelling and bombing makes no difference on whom it is inflicted. Anyone can be a target, so all people should be protected and taken care of when they find themselves as refugees.

I hope I answered.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:57:40

I think you answered the five questions.

As we are running out of time, I can only give the floor to three more speakers on the list.

First, I call in the debate, Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA from Ukraine.

Mariia, you have the floor. 

Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA

Ukraine, EPP/CD

17:57:59

Thank you, dear president.

Madam Secretary General, as I have become an IDP myself and witnessing how my colleague counterparts, their families, and many more in Ukraine are becoming refugees, I don't have a question I have a kind request to you.

Recently, within these couple of weeks of war, several generous volunteers have united their efforts in the IT sector and they created the platform which is called Stand Up Ukraine. It was presented to your team earlier today. It unites donors, volunteers, governments, countries, and everyone who can be in the system of help. I highly ask to review this possibility because this is something... The work that already has been done can be of great help to us, in the institution, and to you personally with your team.

We do hope that peace will prevail.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

17:59:06

The next speaker is Ms Nicole DURANTON, from France.

Ms Nicole DURANTON, you have the floor.

Ms Nicole DURANTON

France, ALDE

17:59:14

Madam Secretary General,

The war launched in Ukraine is a shock for Europe and reminds us of dark hours. I would like to express my solidarity with the Ukrainian people at this time.

The Russian Federation had its rights of representation suspended on 25 February. You have presented to the Committee of Ministers the legal and financial consequences of this decision. Today, the Parliamentary Assembly is called upon to reach a decision on a possible future use of Article 8 of the Statute of the Organisation. The Kremlin spokesman himself mentioned a withdrawal from the Council of Europe.

Let us be clear: after this action, Vladimir Putin's Russia cannot remain a member of our Organisation, and believe me, I deplore this for the sake of Russian citizens, whom we must not forget.

Madam Secretary General, what room for maneuver do you have today as long as Russia is still a member of the European Convention on Human Rights, and what actions are you taking to address the crisis of refugees and displaced persons? What consequences do you draw from this major crisis on the functioning of the Council of Europe so that it will be in full capacity tomorrow to promote democratic security in Europe?

Thank you.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

18:00:33

Thank you, Ms Nicole DURANTON.

And now, the very last question of today will be brought by Ms Marta GRANDE, from Italy as at 6 o'clock the political groups have to start their meetings.

Ms Marta GRANDE, you have the floor.

I cannot hear you. Are you muted?

Please, try again, we do not hear you.

Can we solve the problem? You are still muted. This does not work, Marta, and this is a big pity because you also tried in the Bureau to ask a question to the Secretary General.

Give it one more try now.

Sorry, it's not going to function, Marta. We cannot hear you. Sorry, the technique is not functioning.

Madam Secretary General, you have two more questions to answer before we close this session.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

18:02:01

Thank you, thank you very much.

Now for the question or rather plead to see this project that Ms Mariia MEZENTSEVA has mentioned... of course I haven't seen this and I may assume that tomorrow's meeting with the ambassador of Ukraine may be the opportunity to talk about this as well.

Of course from our side we will do whatever is possible. However, knowing that our limitations, as I try to explain in the speech, are visibly there, but in the areas where we can we will certainly do our utmost.

Ms Marija PEJČINOVIĆ-BURIĆ

Secretary General of the Council of Europe

18:02:47

Now, for Ms Nicole Duranton's question. Thank you very much for your words. I think that I have largely spoken about refugees and democratic security in Europe. I can only agree with you. This is the central role of our Organisation, the role of the Council of Europe. It is through the application of standards, the application of human rights, democracy and the rule of law that we help this democratic security. If we want to say what the role of the Council of Europe is, we can explain it through democratic security. Some other international organisations are really committed to working on security in their own time, but without democratic security, it cannot be achieved.

In my opinion, the work that we do here in the Council of Europe on democratic security is essential for our member States, for almost all the European countries that are members of our Organisation. I can only say that all the adjustments that can happen in the security architecture itself must be focused on democratic security.

I think I said that in my speech. I can only say that it is difficult to imagine these days, after so many days, that aggression is progressing, that we can sleep peacefully with Russia among us. Of course, there is the institution within the framework of the Council of Europe that is responsible for decisions. You will give your opinion tomorrow and then it will be up to the Committee of Ministers to decide. It is true, though, that it is very difficult, in these moments, even if we would like to have a pan-European organisation, an organisation that covers the whole continent, to imagine that this is possible if things remain as they are.

You also mentioned that there are announcements from the Russian speakers: they were not very clear about whether they were going to leave or not, but they were saying that it could happen. Right now, I'm reading it that way. I'd rather they read a lot of the other messages we send from here every day. The message has always been, "Stop the aggression, stop the war, and get back to dialogue and diplomacy."

We haven't seen any of that so far. I can only renew that request to stop the war, stop the aggression, and return to dialogue.

Thank you very much.

Mr Tiny KOX

Netherlands, UEL, President of the Assembly

18:06:28

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary General.

And thank you very much for the fact that you answered our questions.

Many questions remain, many answers still to have to be given, but you made it clear that one answer to many questions is already there. That is: stop the war and stop it now. Tomorrow we are going to debate all day. There will be, as I said, a record number of speakers in that debate. I'm looking forward to it.

I thank the Secretary General, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, and the Prime Minister of Ukraine for updating us today.

Tomorrow we can use that information and additional information to discuss the proposal made by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy.

For now, the seating is adjourned.

We will come back at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow morning.

The sitting is closed at 6:05 p.m.

Next sitting on Tuesday 15 March at 9:30 a.m.