Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

26 January 2024 morning

2024 - First part-session Print sitting

Sitting video(s) 1 / 1

Opening of the sitting num 7

Debate: Child abuse in institutions in Europe

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

10:36:26

Good morning.

The sitting is open.

The first item of business this morning is the debate on the Report titled “Child abuse in institutions in Europe” (Document 15889) presented by Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health, and Sustainable Development with an opinion from the Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights presented by Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU.

In order to finish around 11:55 a.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 11:45 a.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.

I call Mr FRIDEZ, rapporteur. You have 7 minutes to present the report, and then you will have a further 3 minutes to reply to the debate at the end.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC, Rapporteur

10:37:36

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In many European countries, cases of serious child abuse have occurred in the past in public and religious institutions, and for several decades now revelations have been coming to light all over Europe: physical violence, psychological violence, sexual abuse, deprivation of care, forced adoptions, forced sterilisations. The catalogue of abuses is endless.

My work on this distressing subject began in October 2022 with a hearing in the Social Affairs Committee; a high point with testimonies that brought many of us to tears. For example, a young Romanian woman who survived the death orphanages of the Ceaușescu era, a veritable system for purging disturbing children: it is estimated that 500 000 children, most of them dead, were involved. Children, some of them slightly disabled, were literally abandoned by the Romanian state, condemned to deprivation, hunger, cold, or even violence. And what can we say about the testimony of this German septuagenarian, an innocent victim as a child of abusive priests in a religious institution to which he had been entrusted?

Romania, Germany; but in fact, most European countries are concerned. The point here is not to stigmatise one country in particular or to establish a ranking of horror.

What has happened in many countries is beyond comprehension: orphanages of death in Ireland and Romania; sordid stories in Scandinavian countries; children placed, mistreated and exploited on Swiss and French farms; Catholic clerics committing sexual abuse in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France and Switzerland. Child abuse is unfortunately a universal reality.

And before talking about others, it's best to put one's own house in order.

My own country, Switzerland, is currently reeling from the revelations of multiple abuses perpetrated over the last few decades by priests on children or young people entrusted to their care, particularly in religious educational institutions. More than 1 000 cases have been revealed to date, dating from the 1970s to the present day; the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately. A country in shock, distraught parishioners leaving the Church by the hundreds.

But the aim of this report is not simply to take stock of the situation, to make an assessment, to recall all the ignominy suffered by hundreds of thousands of children and teenagers in our various countries over the last few decades. The aim of this report is above all to contribute to the prevention and, if possible, the reparation of what can still be done.

This approach is in line with the example of my country, Switzerland, a country which has been able to face up to its past, forced to do so by the mobilisation and testimonies of its victims, children placed in religious institutions or by administrative decision of the civil authorities in institutions such as farms; children who are therefore victims of exploitation and abuse.

Under the impetus of Mr Guido Fluri's foundation, this protest movement launched the Justice Initiative, a popular initiative on reparation, and succeeded in developing a strong mobilisation in Switzerland, creating the political conditions obliging the Swiss Federal Council - our government - to express to the survivors of this abuse the Swiss government's official apology for past actions, and to set up a programme of reparation and compensation to be borne by the state. Around 12 000 survivors of abuse have benefited from these measures.

Throughout Europe, groups of victims of abuse aspire to benefit, in their respective countries, from reparation treatment similar to that decided and implemented in Switzerland. They are united around the Swiss Justice Initiative and Mr Guido Fluri's Guidofoundation.

Two years ago, I was contacted by Mr Guido Fluri and his team. They suggested that I submit a report to our Assembly with a view to extending the exemplary strategy adopted and proposed by the Swiss authorities to the whole of our continent.

First of all, we need to take stock of what happened in our country, a task that is often difficult because the law of silence often reigns.

It will be necessary to create the conditions that will enable people to speak out freely in all our countries; to analyse and understand the mechanisms that enabled these unacceptable, unspeakable acts to take place; to prosecute and punish the perpetrators, if identified and still alive, and ideally to impose the imprescriptibility of the facts in law; above all, to recognise the suffering undergone and experienced by the victims; to offer them help and assistance and to take charge of any possible treatment, particularly psychological, if desired by those suffering; offer an official apology - the state and the authorities must acknowledge that they have failed in their duty to protect victims; provide substantial financial compensation to victims; create the conditions for "never again" through information, education, prevention, institutional monitoring and the strengthening of legal bases; and create places of remembrance so that we never forget these horrors.

My wish, and above all the wish of the members of the Justice Initiative, is that all European countries should do their duty to remember, carry out historical work, call for testimonies, with all the humanity and respect for people that these different approaches require; and that then, depending on the situations and characteristics specific to each of our countries, the authorities should take charge of the reparation process and make it a priority, a national remembrance project.

Bringing to light the suffering of the past, the wounds hidden, buried and repressed in the depths of people forever scarred, can be a source of fear, anguish and often feelings of shame, even though these people have nothing to reproach themselves for.

Ultimately, however, the proposed approach should bring relief, appeasement and liberation to victims who are still trapped in an intolerable silence. In any case, this is the example to which Switzerland can bear witness.

To conclude, I'd like to share a news item from a few weeks ago: according to a Romanian informant, there is talk in Romania of allocating survivors who lived in the orphanages of sinister memory between 1947 and 1997 a monthly pension and a monthly budget to benefit from care, such as psychotherapy sessions, as well as exemption from certain taxes. I will not allow myself to imagine any connection between this decision and my on-site assessment visit last September.

Thank you in advance for your support.

I would like to end by thanking Mr Guillaume Parent, who helped me to draw up this report.

I would also like to welcome Mr Guido Fluri and his team from Justice Initiative, who are on the rostrum.

Thank you, Mr Guido Fluri.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

10:45:14

Thank you, Mister Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

Now I call Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU for the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU

Cyprus, SOC

10:45:28

Thank you, thank you my compatriot President.

I would like to first start by congratulating Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for his excellent report.

This report raises awareness about the many forms of abuse perpetuated in public and private institutions against children in Europe for decades.

It reaffirms the Council of Europe's member states' commitment to combat violence against children in Europe and the intent to open a debate on how to acknowledge the true dimension of the problem, and the need to provide redress to all the victims and to prosecute the perpetrators.

It also makes a thorough analysis of child abuse situations in Europe, such as acts of physical and sexual violence, child removals, forced institutionalisation, and forced adoptions.

Relying on several NGOs and other sources, it presents an appalling truth about church and state-run institutions, foster homes, hospital homes, mistreatment of children, and its life-long consequences to their health and well-being.

It becomes clear from the reading of these report how these events were kept uncovered for too long and how most of the countries where such abuses have occurred have not yet implemented sufficient and/or adequate measures to provide redress to the victims.

From the analysis of several countries' cases and responses (France's, Germany's, and Romania's), it was possible to conclude that this is a pan-European problem that should be looked at and treated with the maximum concern from state authorities and good practices, such as the Swiss example.

This report, as well as its draft resolution and recommendations, deals with the main hurdles these victims face when trying to obtain justice, the usual lack of proof and the statutory limitations of illegal proceedings, and flags the persistence, in many European states, of a lack of suitable frameworks and reparation funds to victims.

Children are the most vulnerable group of society. Due to their value and ability and their inherent weakness, we have a duty and special responsibility towards them and, therefore, must adopt protective measures drawn specifically for their protection.

According to the well-established case law of the European Court of Human Rights, member states have a duty to protect children from violence and to provide redress to the victims of abuse under Article 3 (Prohibition of torture and ill treatment), Article 8 (Right to respect for private life), and 13 (Right to effective remedy) of the Convention.

For instance, in its landmark cases of child abuse of orphanages, X and Others versus Bulgaria, and in primary schools managed by the Catholic church, or O'Keeffe versus Ireland, the Court held that the states' positive obligations to protect individuals from ill treatment must be fulfilled through the establishment of an adequate legislative framework with effective criminal law provisions alongside a robust and suitable legislative framework.

It is crucial to the protection of children and institutions that these special safeguards exist and properly function.

As established by the Court, special safeguards such as the detection-reporting mechanism must not only be put in place, but they also have to be sufficiently effective in order to ensure that when abuse occurs, it can be reported by the victims, the allegations duly investigated, and the remedies provided.

The report refers to Council of Europe standards, such as the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and the European Social Charter.

Member states' obligations in this area also arise under the most important human rights treaty of our organisation: the European Convention on Human Rights.

The report is entirely in line with the obligations flowing from the European Convention of Human Rights and other international standards. It's an important contribution to the Assembly's work on the protection of children.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights unanimously supports Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ's report and asks the Assembly to do the same.

Thank you very much.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

10:50:08

Thank you, Mister Constantinos EFSTATHIOU.

In the debate, I call first Ms Lesia VASYLENKO from Ukraine for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

10:50:24

Thank you, President.

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group, I'd like to thank the rapporteur for tackling such an important subject in the realm of children's rights.

This report, in fact, is very much linked with the report on deported Ukrainian children.

As so many of you heard yesterday, during the urgent debate, the children stolen from their families in Ukraine go through a whole chain of abusive institutions in Russia.

First, there are the filtration camps, where the children are coerced and manipulated to give false evidence against their parents and consent under pressure to be taken away. Then, there are the orphanages themselves.

In the report, Paragraph 53 accounts the sheer horror of Soviet childcare institutions where children were labelled into categories, deprived of food, affection, and drugged into submission. This was the norm then in Eastern bloc countries: Romania, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and many more.

Since the collapse of the USSR, all these countries are long on the way to deinstitutionalisation. All but one. We can all guess which one that is.

In Russia, child care institutions still remain with all the cruelty and mistreatment. From the children rescued from deportation, we know that refusing to deny the facts of the existence of their parents, the continued wish to return to Ukraine, to speak the Ukrainian language, is considered a mental disability and is treated as such.

Children with PTSD who have had to hide in bomb shelters in Mariupol for days, and sometimes weeks, or who have seen the bloodsheds of war, are registered as invalids and given no care at all.

The saddest part is that little can be done. Russia defies change and sees deinstitutionalisation as an evil outburst of Western capitalist imperialism.

International rights protection organisations have long been dubbed foreign agents by Moscow and not allowed in the country for monitoring purposes.

Russia aside, we need to look at the global statistics.

According to the World Health Organization, almost 1 billion children between the age of two and 17 experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect in the past year alone. Over 100 million of such children suffer in European institutions.

War exacerbates the situation.

This Assembly must be made aware that the influx of displaced persons from Ukraine over the last two years has created extra opportunities for human traffickers. Corrupt individuals find ways to infiltrate social care systems and use orphanages as marketplaces for children.

The scheme is too easy. When you have a mother stretched beyond limits by having escaped bombings, finding herself alone, in a foreign country, where she doesn't speak the language, has limited resources, no support networks, and no knowledge of local laws, finding pre-text for guardianship authorities to take children from such mothers is not complicated, and requires just overly eager whistleblowers. Once the kids are placed in institutions, the criminal schemes kick in.

Colleagues, please be vigilant to situations like these in your countries. Upon hearing our rapporteur, we owe a higher level of responsibility to our children and our youth.

There are simple steps that each one of us can take when we come back home. We can make this resolution that we are about to adopt really work.

Finally, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group is in full support of the report and the recommendations, of course, too.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

10:53:53

Thank you, Madam Lesia VASYLENKO.

Now I call Mr Emmanuel FERNANDES for the Group of the Unified European Left from France.

Mister Emmanuel FERNANDES, the floor is yours. You have 3 minutes.

Mr Emmanuel FERNANDES

France, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

10:54:12

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

This report tackles a subject that is extremely difficult to read and even to conceive, and in that respect it echoes our work in this very Chamber yesterday, in the emergency debate on Ukrainian children in the context of Russia's war of aggression.

We would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, for this comprehensive, precise and much-needed work, which helps to open our eyes even wider to the despicable, the unbearable acts of which our societies, in the member states of Europe, have been and still are capable.

Yes, in times of war - which we obviously condemn in the strongest possible terms, and here we call for an immediate ceasefire in all war zones - as in times of peace, children are abused, children are forcibly displaced, children are sexually abused.

The aim of this report is clearly stated by the rapporteur, and we also hope that this objective will be achieved: to raise collective awareness throughout Europe and its member states, in order to free the word, enable the reconstruction and compensation of survivors, and put in place tools to ensure that such situations never happen again.

Yes, in Europe, 18 million children are victims of sexual abuse; 44 million of physical violence; and 55 million of psychological violence.

These infamous figures must be heard outside these walls.

The child abuse described in Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ's report has been committed by state institutions. In France, for example, from the 60s to the early 80s, more than 2 000 children were moved from the French department of Reunion Island to France, in particular to the department of Creuse.

There is still a great deal of work to be done to fully understand the institutional mechanisms that made this possible, and the associations are calling for total transparency in order to bring the families concerned closer to the reconstruction they need.

The report also points to progress in the recognition of crimes against children, committed in particular by the Catholic and Lutheran Churches in France and Germany; but despite this progress, it also underlines the immense amount of work that remains to be done.

In this list of horrors, the report also deals with the orphanages in Romania, as has been said: an absolutely unsustainable policy of child selection initiated by Nicolae Ceaușescu which resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims of abuse, many to the point of death. Here too, the task of transparency and recognition is immense.

But it's the whole of Europe, as has been said, that is concerned - and beyond. This report calls on us to face up to the recent past, which is still alive and ever present, in order to contribute to a better future for children.

Various tools such as the Lanzarote Committee, in which our Assembly participates, and the non-governmental organisations, which need to be supported, are the levers we can use to ensure that every case of abuse is the subject of a fully documented inventory, necessary to achieve recognition of the suffering, compensation, official apologies, and punishment of the perpetrators of acts of abuse with no statute of limitations.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

10:57:32

Thank you, Mister Emmanuel FERNANDES.

Now I call Ms Heike ENGELHARDT for the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Ms Heike ENGELHARDT

Germany, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

10:57:43

Thank you Mr President, dear colleagues, [spoken in French]

We are very grateful to Mr. Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for this very important report. His travels have shown in a shocking way the abuse to which children in Europe were - and in some cases still are - exposed.

It is the duty of our member states to recognise, process and make visible violence against children in private, public and religious institutions. The report rightly calls for those affected to be given the necessary financial and therapeutic help to recognise and alleviate their suffering.

I myself worked for years in a psychiatric centre in the south of Germany. From my time there, I know how important it is to specifically educate employees about their special responsibility when dealing with children and young people - through training, certificates of good conduct, declarations of commitment and clear rules on dealing with patients in terms of closeness and distance. These are important preventative measures. Any suspicion of sexual or other abuse must be raised immediately, parents or guardians must be informed and perpetrators must be removed from the service.

Our Parliamentary Assembly has done groundbreaking work with various recommendations, strategies and, last but not least, the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. However, we also know that there is still a lot to be done in terms of protection mechanisms and the prosecution of perpetrators. The report calls for reparation from states and institutions that are guilty of abuse.

In Germany, there are various funds to make amends for the suffering inflicted on children in homes in the former GDR, for example. The many cases of child abuse in church institutions are also finally being dealt with after a long period of looking the other way - albeit slowly and laboriously. The report also calls for memorials to be created for past injustices against children.

An exhibition will be opened in the Bundestag next week to commemorate the victims of National Socialism. It is called "I said, 'Goodbye' - 85 years of Kindertransport to Great Britain", and is dedicated to the stories of the approximately 10 000 children, most of them Jewish, who were brought to Great Britain on the so-called Kindertransports from Nazi Germany. A desperate rescue operation that tore families apart. It left behind a generation of children, most of whom never saw their parents again. It is up to us to shed light on the darkest chapters of history in our countries, so that it is not forgotten - and above all, so that it is not repeated.

Children are among the most vulnerable groups in our society. As human rights defenders, it is our duty to stand up for children and continue to fight for their rights. We agree with the report and the recommendation. I recommend that you do the same. Thank you very much.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:01:03

Thank you, Madam Heike ENGELHARDT.

Now I call Ms Carmen LEYTE from the Group of the European People's Party.

Ms Carmen LEYTE

Spain, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

11:01:13

Thank you very much, President. 

I would like to thank Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for this excellent report in which he describes in a detailed fashion what child abuse is in institutions and the need for proper and just reparations for the girls and boys who have fallen victim, without stigmatising institutions or countries. 

I am encouraged that we are speaking about an issue that has caused considerable harm to millions of people throughout the world and unfortunately continues to do so. Child abuse, be it sexual, physical or psychological, is a blot that causes permanent harm and is even more cruel because this abuse takes place for the most part in the family environment, where children are to be most protected, as well as in boarding schools and by people who they admire and love and form part of their games and activities.  

In the hearings that we had in our Commission, it was very difficult to listen to these stories of abuse from victims, to hear the afflictions they suffered and their courage in rebuilding their lives, despite the terrible effects.

I would also like to pay homage to those numerous children who committed suicide or died at the hands of their aggressors. It is hair-raising and shameful that they suffered in silence, that they hid or apologised because they preferred to protect the perpetrators at the cost of silencing the few victims who have come forward. You cannot imagine their torment.

Scandalous are the numbers of individuals who have been abused in religious and in secular institutions. Currently, most of the ecclestical authorities have recognised the harm caused and have opened investigations and have asked for forgiveness. In the case of the Catholic church, even the Pope himself. 

Also ombudsmen in most countries, including in mine, Spain, where victims have been heard and publicly reported the events. 

Unfortunately, even today, children are still abused. Not only in religious institutions but also in children's homes, shelters, sports institutions, internet and others.  

In my own country, in Spain, there have been flagrant cases on the Balearic Islands and on the Canary Islands, and despite having supposedly progressive governments in power there, there have been numerous cases of initial cover-up and unfortunately, silencing of the allegations of minors. 

It undoubtedly happens in other countries as we read and see in the media. Unfortunately, this is not going to stop. Cases of abuse shall continue. That is why for early detection and minimising the damage, it is absolutely imperative to involve society as a whole – everybody, friends and families, doctors, social services, teachers, law enforcement and judges.

As Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ urges in his report, it is time to defend these victims, to apologise to them, to provide reparations for the harm suffered with appropriate professional help, free of charge, and indemnity in cases considered necessary by the evaluating teams and courts. 

I think it should be taken seriously and it is now the time for decisions to be made in favour of these individuals who have suffered terribly and in silence.

The mere fact that we are bringing this matter to light in this House and in this report – in this House which defends human rights, democracy and the rule of law, is already an important step. 

Thank you to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for his excellent report. 

Thank you very much, everyone.

 

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:04:58

Thank you, Madam LEYTE.

This concludes the political groups' speeches.

Now in this debate I call next Mr Gergely ARATÓ from Hungary.

Mr Gergely ARATÓ

Hungary, SOC

11:05:16

Dear Chair, dear colleagues,

I would like to thank the rapporteur for drawing our attention to this important problem.

Child abuse in institutions is a shame, the scale and seriousness of which our society may still not have realised.

Shame, shame on perpetrators.

Shame on those who tolerate this.

Shame on those who covered it up, who knew about it, and were silent.

In all countries where the phenomenon of child abuse was confronted, consequently and publicly, with protecting the victims, it was not only revealed that there were many more affected victims and the phenomenon was much more widespread than previously thought, but also that the institutions often covered up and hid such cases.

They didn't provide real redress to the victims and worst of all they did not do enough to prevent further cases.

A heavy shield of silence protected the perpetrators and made the victims even more vulnerable.

It is therefore a shame for those who still do not want to reveal the causes and background of institutional child abuse, but instead protect the honour of the uniform and authority of the institutions, whether they are religious or secular ones.

Shame on those for whom it is still the victims who feel guilty and not their perpetrators and their accomplices.

We all have to deal with our conscience too.

Did we ask enough and loud enough?

Did we speak up when needed?

Can we listen to every sign, every victim?

Were we bold enough to demand changes?

What should we do differently, stronger, louder?

I am sure we all agree that today's excellent report is still only the beginning of a necessary process.

We must face the past, offer relief to all victims, and track down the perpetrators and their accomplices.

But that's not enough.

We must prevent the re-establishment of institutional environments where children's rights are trampled upon.

New institutions, new solutions, new guarantees and stronger protections are needed, both at national and international level.

Most importantly, we must dispel the darkness of silence with the light of honesty and dialogue.

Thank you very much.

[Sporadic applause]

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:08:25

Thank you, Mister Gergely ARATÓ.

Now I call Mr Georgios STAMATIS.

Mr Georgios STAMATIS

Greece, EPP/CD

11:08:36

Thank you, Mister President.

I would like to congratulate Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, because his report shows that for many years, in many countries in Europe it was hidden. It was hidden, but with the tacit approval of governments as well.

After the war, we had the social state that was created. Many children were institutionalised without providing any support to these children. Why didn't we support these children? We didn't support these children because as countries, we decided to hand over protection of the children to the Church or to individuals who had no experience in caring for children.

I'm glad that this report is at the centre now or focuses on children's rights or on the protection of children. I'm glad that all of these issues are being discussed openly.

The next steps are to be the participation of children in all of this, because we have not yet heard the voice of those children in institutions, institutionalised children.

When did we hear their voices?

We heard their voices when they were abused, when they were poorly treated and when these children are released into society without any prospects for the future. Those who have committed these crimes of abuse of children have to pay for their crimes. They have to be prosecuted, and the victims have to be treated in a special fashion in society. They have to be protected. They have to be cared for by society.

That's why it's ever so important for a dialogue to be developed, for us to talk about the issue of institutionalisation, and what's going on in institutions as well, both secular and non-secular. After decades, in my country, right now, in Greece, we don't have proper institutions for children.

It's necessary to use national funds to put together special programmes to provide for children who need the help of the state, to protect them against sexual harassment.

A couple of years ago, when we legislated against sexual harassment of children, sexual abuse, and what type of support ought to be provided by the state, it was said that there has to be some sort of party responsible, some sort of agency responsible, to which children or their families could refer.

Once again, I feel that now is time for children to participate in this process.

Colleagues, let's not forget one thing. How are we going to support families, and how are we going to fight inequality, the numerous inequalities that lead to vulnerable children –either because of war, or because they are refugees– that lead them to these institutions?

This alone is a form of abuse.

The causes of these children ending up in institutions, in other words.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:11:44

Thank you, Mister STAMATIS.

Now I call Mr Rostyslav TISTYK from Ukraine.

Mr Rostyslav TISTYK

Ukraine, EC/DA

11:11:54

Thank you, Mister President. [said in French]

Dear colleagues,

I express my gratitude to the rapporteur for addressing the vital issue of child abuse in institutions in Europe, which is vital for every society.

In Europe we must never again turn a blind eye to the abuse of children, whether they have been victims of gratuitous violence, ill treatment or sexual predators in public, private or religious institutions that are supposed to be safe havens.

Too many children's futures have been shattered beyond repair.

The topic of child abuse is especially relevant as a result of Russia's aggression. We can only guess what inhuman methods the occupiers use for Ukrainian children in the temporarily-occupied territories. Let me remind you. According to official data, Russia illegally deported almost 20 000 Ukrainian children.

Unfortunately, in many countries of Europe and the world, there are isolated cases of violence. The accounts of these crimes are always harrowing, whether they took place in orphanages in Ireland and Romania, schools in Sweden and Norway, church-run institutions in Germany, Belgium, Spain, France, and Switzerland, as well as farms in Switzerland or France, or in summer camps.

According to the the World Health Organization, child maltreatment involves physical, sexual and mental abuse, and/or the neglect of children younger than 18 years old.

In Europe, around 18 million children suffer from sexual abuse; 44 million from physical abuse; and 55 million from mental abuse.

The most serious cases have occurred and continued to occur within public and religious institutions.

When mistreatments occur elsewhere, the state institutions often fail to fulfil their responsibility to prevent and address such abuse.

However, we all understand that this number is not final and is probably even bigger than we can imagine. And it's terrible.

In the Council of Europe, which is the source of democracy and human rights, we need to take stock of the situation of child abuse in institutions in our countries.

In-depth investigations must be carried out in the various institutions that may be involved today and of the past.

I want to emphasise the need to return all children illegally deported and kept by Russia home to Ukraine.

We have to influence. The victims must be granted compensation, regardless of their age. There must be official redress for all of the victims, for all children who have been subjected to any form of violence.

Of course, to prevent this in the future, states must embark on comprehensive programmes of prevention, and evidence-raising measures including monitoring institutional care facilities, and any situation in which children are taken into care, in order to minimise risks and detect problems at the earliest possible stage.

Thank you for your attention.

[Sporadic applause]

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:15:07

Thank you, Mister TISTYK.

Now I call Mr Hubert BÜCHEL from Liechtenstein.

Mr Hubert BÜCHEL

Liechtenstein, ALDE

11:15:17

Thank you, Chair.

Dear colleagues, at the onset, I would like to express my gratitude to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for compiling this report.

Reports such as this play a crucial role in bringing visibility to child abuse within institutions.

The statistics presented by the World Health Organization regarding individuals who have experienced sexual, physical or psychological abuse during childhood are staggering.

These acts often have lasting consequences, significantly impacting the quality of life for those affected, socially, psychologically, economically.

Individuals who have experienced violence during their childhood are frequently confronted with exclusion, stigmatisation, and poor living conditions.

All of this is unacceptable.

For far too long there has been a collective turning of a blind eye, in prevention, in law enforcement, and in addressing the aftermath.

The taboo surrounding child abuse must definitely be eradicated at all levels.

The appalling history of child abuse in institutions in Europe must be thoroughly investigated. There should be no more turning a blind eye. Perpetrators must be held accountable.

In this context, I would like to draw particular attention to the criminal prosecution with the statute of limitations mentioned in the draft resolution.

Turning our attention to the present, it is crucial that individuals who were abused during their childhood within an institution feel safe to speak about their past, regardless of how many years have passed since the incident.

The suffering must be acknowledged, responsibility must be assumed, and restitution, to the extent possible, must be made.

We must create an environment that can best mitigate the consequences and ensure that each individual receives the support they need.

Looking towards the future, prevention measures and awareness-building initiatives are imperative to ensure that child abuse within institutions is no longer possible.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:17:35

Thank you, Mister Hubert BÜCHEL.

Now I call Ms Aysu BANKOĞLU from Türkiye.

Ms Aysu BANKOĞLU

Türkiye, SOC

11:17:45

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Dear colleagues,

I want to express my gratitude to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ and the colleagues who contributed to the report addressing the need for comprehensive measures to recognise, address, and prevent child abuse.

As our founder, Atatürk, stated, children are the assurance of our future and our joy in life.

Therefore, I believe the destructive consequences of the abuse of children are not only the victims, but also on the whole of humankind.

The report highlights some striking examples in which institutions, including religious establishments and state facilities, take part in the maltreatment of children instead of combating it.

The consequences of these institutional abuses are specifically destructive, as these cases are mostly neglected and persistent.

This report, therefore, calls upon member states to recover the shame of historically rooted child abuse, and seek compensation for the past and present victims.

Although I'm content that the proposed reparation-seeking mechanism is a significant way of highlighting the importance of the issue, I think the damage in the lives of many victims has been shattered beyond any repair. We all need to focus more preventive measures.

Thus, I would like to underpin two points.

Firstly, the role of leadership, authority and environmental factors in institutional abuses shall be well analysed.

Traditional institutions where child abuse occurs might be tolerated by populists or strict conservative governments. Vast responsibilities and the role of the governments, political institutions and religious establishments should be scrutinised.

Secondly, as the report stated, institutional abuses are especially under-reported due to various threats.

In this manner, mandatory reporting systems can contribute to creating the right conditions for victims to speak out; granting the reporters anonymity, immunity and free legal assistance would elevate the voices of child victims of abuse.

We are all responsible for providing well-being in the future of these children.

I hope our studies will contribute to the protection of children by raising measures and awareness in society.

Thank you.

[Light applause]

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:20:26

Thank you, Madam BANKOĞLU.

Now I call Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK from Ukraine.

Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK

Ukraine, EPP/CD

11:20:34

Thank you, dear Chairman, dear colleagues,

I would like to address a deeply troubling issue that demands our immediate attention: child abuse in institutions across Europe.

We find ourselves confronted with a disturbing reality where vulnerable children often placed in the care of institutions face unimaginable suffering and abuse.

This is a grave violation of their basic human rights, and it's our responsibility, as members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of the Europe, to address this issue head on.

The report presented to us today titled Child abuse in institutions in Europe is a stark reminder of the extent of the problem.

It sheds light on shocking instances of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that have occurred within institutional settings where children should be safe, nurtured, and protected.

It is disconcerting to read about the pain and suffering endured by the children, many of whom have already experienced trauma and adversity in their lives.

We must recognise that child abuse in institutions is not confined to a single country or region. It is a pervasive problem that transcends borders and affects children across Europe.

This report serves as a wake-up call urging us to take collective action to protect the rights and well-being of all children under our jurisdiction.

To address this issue effectively we must take the following steps:

- Immediate investigation. We must call for thorough and impartial investigation into all allegations of child abuse in institutions. Accountability is essential, and those responsible for such heinous acts must be brought to justice.

- Preventive measures. We must work together to establish robust mechanisms for preventing child abuse in institutions. This includes structure oversight, improved staff training, and the implementation of clear guidelines for the treatment and care of children in these settings.

- Support for victims. We must prioritise the support and rehabilitation of victims of child abuse. These children require specialised care to heal from the traumas and rebuild their lives.

- Legislative reforms. We should review and strengthen existing legislation to ensure that it provides adequate protection for children in institutional care. This may include enhancing reporting mechanisms and whistleblower protection.

- International co-operation. Child abuse is a global issue and we must collaborate with international organisations and neighbouring countries to share best practices and strategies for combating this problem effectively.

- And public awareness. Raising public awareness about child abuse in institutions is crucial. We must encourage open discussion and empower individuals to report any suspicious activities or concerns regarding child welfare.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:23:33

Thank you, Mr Yuriy KAMELCHUK.

Now I call Ms Pelin YILIK, from Türkiye.

Ms Pelin YILIK

Türkiye, NR

11:23:40

Dear colleagues,

I congratulate the rapporteur for his report on the distressing matter of child abuse within European institutions. The draft resolution rightly calls for immediate action to rectify the reprehensible acts perpetrated against vulnerable children in settings intended for their safety.

Children in orphanages, schools, and religious establishments have faced sexual predators, violence, and maltreatment. Drawing inspiration from Switzerland's commendable practices, this resolution rightly calls upon representatives of our nations to join forces in safeguarding these young lives.

As parliamentarians, we must acknowledge the heart-wrenching reality that institutions entrusted with children's welfare have become breeding grounds for the violation of their fundamental rights. This resolution underscores the gravity of the situation, urging us to address offences with utmost seriousness and dismantle the veil of impunity shielding perpetrators.

The Council of Europe, dedicated to championing human rights, has consistently led efforts to protect children. Aligned with this commitment, the resolution’s support of the Council's dedication to the fourth Strategy for the Rights of the Child, underscoring the urgency to terminate all forms of violence against children is important.

As representatives of our nations, we are obligated to conduct meticulous assessments of violence prevalence, recognise endured suffering, issue official apologies, and prosecute perpetrators without temporal limitations. In doing so, we reaffirm our commitment to justice, accountability, and the protection of children's rights.

Furthermore, let us extend our influence internationally. The encouragement for the European Union and Morocco to accede to the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse emphasises our commitment to fortifying children's rights on a global scale.

In conclusion, let us carry out our parliamentary duties with unwavering resolve. The draft resolution delineates a strategic framework, urging member states to adopt substantive measures towards holistic reparation, acknowledgment, and preventive strategies.

I invite each of you to support this paramount cause, ensuring our actions reflect the fundamental principles of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:26:33

Thank you, Ms Pelin YILIK.

Now I call Mr Stefan SCHENNACH, from Austria.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC

11:26:40

Thank you very much, Mister President.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to the rapporteur for this contribution and for this resolution, because I have worked in many institutions throughout my life and have repeatedly had to deal with such cases from history. Children were not only virtually disposed of in state institutions, but also handed over to agriculture and the Church as auxiliary workers. It is important, and we have tried to do this after painful years of coming to terms with the past and setting up commissions, to set up restitution funds.

For example, the Church in Austria has set up its own reparation fund for victims of abuse, but also the State. There are various mechanisms. One thing is, of course, always particularly difficult: that people who experienced these terrible things here so long ago now have to talk about it at an advanced age. They have to in order to heal their souls, but we also have to empower them psychologically to make it public. That is very important. It's not enough if there are only resignations from the Church. The Church must finally, well, the Catholic Church, but there are also Protestant Churches, it's not like that, but it must finally name its perpetrators and release documents, because even the current Pope in the Church is still dragging his feet when we think of the situation with Canada. Unfortunately, it still has to be said that the Church protects perpetrators, especially in the context of sexual abuse.

Nevertheless, dear rapporteur, Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, we know each other well. Among the countries to be mentioned here, one could certainly have mentioned Austria, because our history here is anything but glorious. I can remember when I was a young man, working in a boarding school, I wrote a report about such inhumane treatment of children. Back then, the state authorities said to me, "If you publish this report, you won't get a job in this one part of Austria." Incidentally, that's one of the reasons why I left my home state and went to Vienna.

You can see that a lot has changed and people react much more sensitively. There were also so-called corrective education homes for young girls who then had to sew uniforms and other things for soldiers. Thank goodness all that is history. We have to face up to this history for those who are alive and have experienced it all. I hope this report receives a high level of approval.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:30:24

Thank you, Mr Stefan SCHENNACH.

Now I call Ms Larysa BILOZIR, from Ukraine.

The floor is yours.

Ms Larysa BILOZIR

Ukraine, ALDE

11:30:32

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear colleagues,

I would like to thank Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for his permanent and persistent work for the protection of the most vulnerable, children and refugees.

This is another important, highly valuable report of yours that presents a sensible strategy to eliminate the suffering of children, and emphasises the crucial need for reparations in cases of violence against them, serving historical justice and so guaranteeing human rights protection today.

Violence against children can have profound and lasting consequences, affecting their physical, emotional and psychological well-being.

It is imperative for me to highlight gross violations of children's rights as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Ukrainian children studied the war not from history books but from their own lives.

Russia brutally destroyed the childhood of all seven million Ukrainian children who were traumatised by the war from one extent to another.

During the first month of the war half of Ukrainian children had to leave their homes.

Russia violates the fundamental rights of Ukrainian children on a daily basis: the right to life, safety, education, family upbringing, a safe environment, and medical care.

Children are dying in their beds, while sleeping in maternity hospitals, in playgrounds, in cars during evacuations, in hospitals from injuries.

Children are killed in Kyiv, in Vinnytsia, in Kharkiv. The rockets in my homeland, there's no place where they haven't been.

There is no safe place in Ukraine, because Russian missiles know no borders.

I want to tell you about the youngest victim, a two-day old boy from the Zaporizhzhia region, who was killed in a maternity hospital.

I want to tell you the story of a small girl who was four years old, Liza with Down Syndrome. She was going to kindergarten with her mother in my home town Vinnytsia. This rocket attack killed 23 people. Three of them were children: four-year-old Liza and two boys, six and seven years old. Liza was killed in her stroller. Her mother saw her body torn apart. She got to the hospital, and she had severe injuries. She didn't even come to her daughter's funeral.

By killing and abducting Ukrainian children Mr Vladimir Putin wants to deprive us of our future.

Russian policy towards Ukrainian children is part of the genocide of our nation, and violates and brutally neglects all international humanitarian law.

I urge you and thank you for your support to stand with Ukrainian children and people, to further keep the Ukrainian dimension and Ukrainian children, human rights protection on the Assembly's and your national parliaments' agendas.

Thank you very much.

[Applause]

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:33:45

Thank you, Ms Larysa BILOZIR.

Now I call next Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS, from the United Kingdom.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

United Kingdom, SOC

11:33:55

President and colleagues,

The sad story of the abuse of children in contexts where they should have felt safe has been well chronicled by our friend Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ.

This report makes sad reading. It's been well addressed by previous speakers, especially Ms Larysa BILOZIR who preceded me, and others from Ukraine.

Sad reading indeed. It urges us to deal with issues he raises in a constructive and compassionate way. We're in his debt.

And yet for all the urgency which he points to, I feel there's a huge gap in the story he tells. I'm referring, of course, to the arrival of the internet and social media.

I've played a small part in putting legislation on the British statute book that aims at protecting children from online abuse, with giants in the field who worked in these matters for a long time, and with support from every part of Parliament. We've introduced a groundbreaking piece of data protection legislation called the Age Appropriate Design Code, which requires online services to offer heightened privacy to under-18s, to reflect the need of their age and stage of development, taking into account their rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

This has prompted the redesign of digital products and services, and introduced concepts and definitions that have become the benchmark for child-focused digital legislation in the European Union, in the United States, and beyond.

I've met families whose children committed suicide through their use of social media. I've worked with the Mental Health Foundation of the United Kingdom to ensure that all providers, all platforms, large and small, take due regard for material which leads to eating disorders, self-abuse, suicide.

There have been some tragic cases, but children are now far better protected by the laws we passed. Platforms are now under close scrutiny by our regulator, and will be heavily fined if they fail to carry out their monitoring duties.

I hope, colleagues, this will allow me to feel just a little bit of personal pride at the small part I've played in achieving these developments.

The places focused on by Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ are churches, state orphanages, care homes, and other institutions. Places where children should have been safe.

It's a sad comment in the times we are living in, that abuse can happen so easily in a child's own home, in a child's own room, reached by the malign tentacles of the internet which bring pornography and so many other kinds of wickedness into the minds of young people in their moments of greatest vulnerability.

We must act.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:37:16

Thank you, Lord GRIFFITHS.

Now I call Ms Mireille CLAPOT from France.

Ms Mireille CLAPOT

France, ALDE

11:37:29

Mister Chairman,

Mister rapporteur,

Dear colleagues,

My middle name after Mireille is Yvonne, named after my godmother, who was a child in the welfare system, placed in a family in the Ain region and abused. I dedicate this speech to her memory.

I welcome your report, Mister rapporteur. It's time to enshrine the rights and supreme interests of children in our institutions. For a long time, children did not enjoy specific rights and protections.

Yet, children are by nature vulnerable to predators and institutions that commit acts of abuse. Physical, sexual, psychological and other forms of abuse have profound consequences for the health, mental well-being, and lives of their victims.

The Council of Europe has established international standards through the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, of which our Assembly is a member of the Committee of Parties. This Convention obliges its States' Parties to criminalise all sexual offences against children, and to take measures to prevent them, protect victims and prosecute perpetrators.

All too often, however, cases of child abuse go unpunished and are not compensated in a manner commensurate with the seriousness of the harm suffered. Your resolution and recommendation will enable us to take a step forward towards full reparation, recognise this suffering, punish the perpetrators, compensate the victims, but also support victim support structures and create places of remembrance.

Finally, allow me to say a few words about the case of France, which is the subject of a specific section of the report. First of all, like you, I welcome the work of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, but I'd like to talk about that dramatic episode in French history when more than 2 000 children from Réunion were forcibly moved to France, to the Creuse Department in particular. This uprooting had terrible consequences for these children and will, unfortunately, never be completely repaired. So much did it disrupt their lives.

However, I would like to point out that, contrary to what your report suggests, France has taken action on this issue in recent years. In 2014, a National Assembly resolution recognised the State's moral responsibility. Then, an information and research commission set up by the Government issued a very precise report on the subject in 2018, pointing to the State's role and the failure of child welfare. This commission has done essential memory work on this still vivid trauma, and President Macron recognised a fault on the part of the State in 2018.

On the question of the BUMIDOM archives (the Bureau pour le développement des migrations dans les départements d'outre-mer) cited in the report, they are not under threat as they have been deposited with the National Archives along with 174 000 individual files. Lastly, a memorial site has been inaugurated on Réunion Island, and a plaque was recently unveiled at Orly Airport.

Admittedly, much remains to be done to right all wrongs, particularly from a financial point of view. But the situation is moving forward, and your excellent work and that of the associations will help to make it even better to protect our children.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:40:42

Thank you, Madam CLAPOT.

Now I call Ms Olena KHOMENKO from Ukraine.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA

11:40:54

Fellow colleagues,

I stand before you to address an issue of profound gravity.

The plight of our children, especially those residing in Europe, the alarming instances of child abuse and institutions across Europe call for urgent collective actions.

In this context, we urge our European partners to acknowledge and support our specific requests.

First we call for rehabilitation abroad of status children: those who have been subjected to the worst forms of abuse and neglect. It is a humanitarian imperative that transcends the borders.

Moreover, we advocate for the fostering of information exchange among all countries regarding Ukrainian children in institutional care.

Developing a mechanism of co-operation between Ukraine's national social service and the competent authorities of foreign states is crucial in this regard. This will enable better tracking, support, and protection of those vulnerable children.

In line with the Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility and Protection of Children, we employ strict adherence to its norms. Violations of this Convention not only undermine legal frameworks but also the safety and well-being of children.

Furthermore we call our partners for support in building housing for foster families and orphan children, especially for those whose homes have been destroyed.

Ensuring the protection of the best interest of the child is not only a legal obligation, but a moral one.

In conclusion, as we strive to protect our children and rebuild our nation, the role of international organisations, including the Council of Europe, becomes even more crucial.

Protecting our children is a responsibility we all share. Ukraine is committed to this cause and we hope for your support and co-operation.

Thank you, dear colleagues.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:43:06

Thank you, Ms Olena KHOMENKO.

Now I call Mr Mehmet AKALIN, from Türkiye.

The floor is yours.

Mr Mehmet AKALIN

Türkiye, ALDE

11:43:18

First of all I would like to thank the rapporteurs for this report and for bringing this important subject for discussion.

The pervasive issue of child abuse within various institutions across Europe is a matter of utmost urgency and moral significance.

As representatives of the people, it is our collective responsibility to ensure the well-being and safety of the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. As laid out in the report, child abuse is a deeply troubling reality that extends its roots into institutions that are meant to nurture and protect our young ones.

Victims have been known to suffer from physical injuries, emotional trauma, low self-esteem, mental health issues, and difficulties forming trusting relationships in the future.

Many survivors also struggle with feelings of shame, guilt, and a sense of betrayal.

It is an issue that knows no borders, affecting children across Europe and the world in various settings such as schools, childcare facilities, religious institutions and, more recently, war zones. There have been many examples illustrating the diverse settings in which child abuse can occur.

Of course the vast majority of institutions and organisations are working tirelessly to create safe environments for children.

It is important to recognise that child abuse is not confined to a particular region or nation. The current case unfolding in America of the late financier Jeffrey Epstein, provides fresh details about a series of abuse that grew over three decades and damaged dozens of teenage girls being one example.

Child abuse is a transnational challenge that requires a collaborative response, especially for child migrants who are particularly vulnerable and easily accessible to traffickers and abusers.

To address this issue effectively, there should be a three-pronged approach:

First, standardised reporting mechanisms; harmonised legal frameworks; and finally, preventive measures and education.

In conclusion, protecting the future of our children lies in our ability to confront the uncomfortable truths and take decisive actions.

Together, let us send a powerful message that the safety and well-being of our children are non-negotiable priorities.

It is time to stand as one, with a shared determination to eradicate child abuse from our institutions and pave the way for a future where every child can grow and thrive in an environment of safety and care.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:46:15

Thank you.

I now call Ms Olena MOSHENETS.

Ms Olena MOSHENETS

Ukraine, ALDE

11:46:21

Thank you.

Dear colleagues,

We express sincere gratitude to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ for addressing a critically important and relevant topic.

It is imperative to emphasise the necessity for co-ordinated measures to protect children’s rights in public, private, and religious institutions that are supposed to be safe havens.

We appreciate the adoption of the Resolution "Situation of the children of Ukraine" yesterday. And thank you, dear colleagues, for the unwavering support with regards of the return of deported children.

Further exploration of the topic of the cruel treatment of Ukrainian children in the Russian Federation is essential. The deportation of even a single Ukrainian child is genocide.

The Russian Federation is creating conditions in the temporarily occupied territories that are entirely unsuitable for children.

This is done with the purpose of later deporting them from Ukraine.

One of the gravest crimes committed by the Russians is the genocide of the Ukrainian people through Ukrainian children.

The children's citizenship is changed, and they are handed over for illegal adoption under the care and custody of Russian Federation citizens.

The Russian Federation initially deports Ukrainian children, then grants them its citizenship, and includes their data in a single federal database of children deprived of parental care.

This allows them to transfer such children to Russian families for care and adoption.

Currently, it is known that, according to Russian data, 380 children were transferred to Russian families under so-called guardianship.

Russian authorities compel Ukrainian children to assimilate into the Russian language, culture, and history, fostering an allegiance to Putin and gratitude for their supposed salvation.

In camps, children are coerced to sing the national anthem of the Russian Federation, and if they refuse to do so, they are locked in a room.

There is no tolerance for the pro-Ukrainian stance of our children or their desire to return home; they are systematically oppressed.

Instances are known where children, during their stay in Russian filtration camps, were separated from their parents and placed with Russian families. And the Ukrainian boy Illia, who was admitted to a Russian hospital, underwent surgery without anaesthesia.

To grant these children adequate conditions, we are to repatriate them to Ukraine. For this, it is crucial to engage international mechanisms, particularly by adopting a resolution at the level of international organisations.

One of the most critical obligations of the Russian Federation should be to facilitate the identification of deported Ukrainian children.

Cruelty and violence have no place in this world. Russia must cease its aggression and return all captured Ukrainians, including deported children, to Ukraine.

This can only be achieved through a collective effort — the concerted endeavours of democratic and free world nations.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:49:47

Thank you.

Now I call Ms Beatrice TIMGREN from Sweden.

Ms Beatrice TIMGREN

Sweden, EC/DA

11:49:54

Thank you, Mister President.

It is very important that we, as the main guardian of human rights in Europe, stand strong against all violence against children.

Our children are not only our future. They are our hope for a strong and free society.

Every child deserves a safe childhood. It is our work to make sure that that happens.

This is important for fairness and for our future, together in Europe.

Protecting our children is at the heart of our work.

One of the biggest problems we face is sexual violence against children.

It's indeed sad that many children in Europe suffer this kind of abuse, often in a place where they should be safe.

We see adults, for reason of cruelty or ignorance, hurting children or even abusing them.

Such terrible acts or crimes against children and against our society's fundamental views.

We need to take strong steps to stop such events.

Sexual violence against children is always wrong. We must make our laws strong enough to punish people who commit such awful deeds.

We need tough punishment for those who harm children in this way. We have to apply this law as widely and strictly as possible.

Child marriage is another violence against children's rights and freedom. We must stop this completely. They are no valid reasons to allow child marriages. They are abusive and cruel.

Children should be allowed to be children.

We remember the important step the Council of Europe and the Parliamentary Assembly have already taken to protect children's rights. We started out by establishing the standard rules. But our work is far from finished.

We must work together to make protection even more effective, and make sure our children never have to face fear and pain from grown-ups.

As the guardians of children's rights in Europe, we have a major responsibility. We must speak up for those who often cannot speak for themselves.

We must work to build a safe and brighter future for our children. We must stand together in this fight and show that we will not permit any violence or abuse against our children to go unpunished.

Thank you, Mister President, for letting me address this vital issue.

Let's build a world where all children can grow up safe and free.

Thank you.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:53:31

Thank you.

Well with this, this concludes the list of speakers.

Now I call Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, our rapporteur to reply. You have 3 minutes.

Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

Switzerland, SOC, Rapporteur

11:53:45

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

I'd like to sincerely thank you for all your contributions, which show that you have understood, received and share the values of this report.

A few brief comments.

To Ms Aysu BANKOĞLU from Türkiye - I'd like to thank you for you contribution: yes, in my country, Switzerland, financial compensation has been an important element in reparation. But it's true, you're right, we can't repair everything, and the ideal is prevention. That's another very important point in this programme.

Here, I fully agree with what Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS said: yes, it's not mentioned in the report, but new technologies, the Internet, can do enormous damage. It's now a new means of action for predators, so it's part of this whole field of prevention that I was also asking you to take into account in all your reflections.

Concerning France: yes, Madam CLAPOT, I recognise that we were perhaps a little critical but, in the report, I do indeed quote that measures have been taken; it's just that what's perhaps missing now is, in addition to reactions from the state, a stance from the national Assembly, from your president, etc. It's true that there may be people's personal reparations that need to be addressed. And I invite you to take up this torch and, for these victims, these children from Creuse, etc., to carry the message to improve the situation.

In fact, this is something I'd like to say to all of you.

We're talking about a very serious situation that affects you, I can feel it, but I'd like you to feel that when you leave here, you have a mission: to take the message, today's words, to your various parliaments so that things can happen. So that the past can be dealt with in a concrete way, so that we can look at what happened with a clear eye, to ensure that the victims are compensated and, above all, that all these practices disappear.

I'm going to be a little pretentious, but I think this resolution will be accepted, I hope perhaps unanimously.

I'd like to dedicate this success to the people in the gallery up there, to the people from Justice Initiative, to the people concerned who are behind this initiative and whose lives have, for some, been totally turned upside down by the tragedies they have experienced. They deserve our applause and, I hope, your support later on.

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

11:56:47

Thank you.

Does the Chairperson of the Committee, Mr MOUTQUIN, wish to speak? 

Mr Simon MOUTQUIN

Belgium, SOC, Chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development

11:57:01

Thank you, Mister President.

First of all, I'd like to reiterate my thanks to Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ, not just for the Belgian-Swiss agreement, but for his excellent work, all the work and all the truth, as he said, that he brought to our Committee by organising this magnificent and deeply moving hearing.

As Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ said, children are victims of abuse, gratuitous acts of violence and mistreatment in public, private and sometimes religious institutions that were supposed to be sanctuaries. This is perhaps what makes this report so special: the realisation that these places were supposed to be places of protection for these children, and in reality have been places of destruction, of nightmare: it is this today that is undoubtedly the most striking.

Faced with this reality, the solution is truth, an end to the omerta. Once again, as chairman of my Committee, I would like to thank the rapporteur for his work.

Finally, there are three main points in this report that I would like to reiterate.

The importance of the consequences:

We've talked about the psychological consequences for these victims, but I'd also like to mention the social and sometimes professional consequences for these people who, through the violence they've suffered, through the horrors they've endured, also lose confidence in society. There are also consequences in terms of precariousness for these people, who we need to be able to listen to and look at today, and also support them socially, in addition to offering psychological support.

So, indeed, revelations are important, they are made possible by these reports, like the one that - I hope - we're going to vote on today, but we have to continue, as politicians, as member states, to be able to allow a space for these revelations to emerge.

And then, dear colleagues, you've done something admirable today: as Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ said, everyone has to clean up after themselves.

So, as a Belgian, I'd also like to clean up my own house. I'd like to remind you that Belgium finally "captured" or "brought back", as it put it, 20 000 mixed-race children from the Congo colonial period, children born to Belgian fathers and Congolese mothers, and wanted to hide these children by taking them away from their mothers and bringing them to Belgium: this is the subject of a great deal of work in Belgium.

Today, in Belgium too, we have launched a committee on sexual abuse, particularly in the church, since we know that almost 1 000 cases - and we're only at the tip of the iceberg - have been recorded and that we also have work to do. I think that's what we need to do: really look at ourselves and be able to assess the situation.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, Mr Constantinos EFSTATHIOU of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, for his report.

In conclusion, I'd like to reiterate that the most important thing is freedom of speech, and that we need to free up speech.

I'd also like to pay tribute to our Ukrainian colleague, who reminded us of the figure we mentioned yesterday in a report: 20 000 children deported from Ukraine.

I'll end with one last figure: since 2018, 17 exiled children, 17 migrant children a day since 2018 have disappeared off the radar, particularly from centres for exiled minors. We don't know where they are, we don't know what their fate is. It's also our job in this House to be able to say that child abuse happened yesterday and, unfortunately, is still happening today.

I'd like to thank you, and I'd like to say hello to everyone in the audience today.

Thank you very much.

Vote: Child abuse in institutions in Europe

Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

Türkiye, NR, President of the Assembly

12:00:17

Thank you, Mr MOUTQUIN. And the debate is closed now.

The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development has presented a draft resolution and a draft recommendation [Document 15889] to which no amendments have been tabled. 

We will therefore proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15889. A simple majority is required.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed now.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft resolution in Document 15889 is adopted.

 

We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 15889. A two-thirds majority is required.

Now the vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft recommendation in Document 15889 is adopted.

Debate: The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2023)

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:05:09

The next item of business this morning is the debate on the Report titled “The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2023)” in Document 15893 presented by Mr Piero FASSINO on behalf of the Monitoring Committee.

In order to finish by 12:55 p.m., I will interrupt the list of speakers at about 12:45 p.m. to allow time for the reply and vote on the draft resolution.

I call Mr FASSINO, rapporteur. You have 7 minutes now, and 3 minutes at the end of the debate to reply.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

12:05:55

Thank you, Madam President. [said in French]

I will speak in Italian.

As you know, the Monitoring Committee has a twofold task: that of putting into practice an assessment of the state of application of the commitments made by each country by signing the founding Charter of the Council of Europe, and a periodic follow-up on the same issue with the member countries.

Regarding the implementation of the commitments made, we have developed a monitoring action on 11 countries, including Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Serbia, and Türkiye. All countries where problems related to the rule of law and enforcement of civil rights have become apparent in recent years.

We then developed a post-monitoring action in Bulgaria, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Finally, we have subjected San Marino and France to periodic verification over the past year.

As far as the countries that have been audited, being many now, I will not talk about every country. You have the report. I will recall what are obviously the themes that, however, are found in almost all these countries in our monitoring action.

The theme of independence of justice, often at risk. The theme of freedom of information, often challenged by governments. The issue of widespread corruption, particularly corruption of those with governmental and parliamentary responsibilities or in the judiciary.

The respect for minorities, because all the countries we monitored have minorities within them. The issue of respect for women's rights, in particular the application of norms, of rules that in consistency with the Istanbul Convention guarantee gender equality.

The issue of respect for citizens in their sexual orientations, in particular the fact that in many countries these rights are not recognised.

And, of course more directly political issues, such as election laws that are often electoral laws that do not give representativeness to all political forces. The non-application of the rulings of the European Court of Justice. The Kavala case is one that this Assembly has dealt with many times and will continue to deal with, but it is not the only case.

There are other countries of those being monitored that, with difficulty, apply the judgments of the European Court of Justice, which instead is an obligation, to which countries that are members of the Council of Europe have agreed to submit.

Political polarisation. Many countries, especially in Eastern Europe, are characterised by a very polarising political dialectic, which often leads those who are defeated in elections immediately to contest them, to not recognise them, to delegitimise those who won them, with a polarisation that objectively weakens the rule of law and the functioning of democracy.

In developing this monitoring action, of course, we have availed ourselves of co-operation with the Venice Commission, an essential co-operation, because the Venice Commission has enabled us with its avis to give legal force and substance to our recommendations.

Co-operation with GRECO, the committee that deals with the fight against corruption.

As far as periodic review countries are concerned, they are the countries France and San Marino, where the rule of law, of course, is largely respected. Yet, there is no shortage of issues there as well that we have recalled. The condition of prisons, the tendency of the executive to prevail beyond what is reasonable and proper over the legislature, respect for the autonomy of the judiciary, these are issues that, albeit in a different way than in the countries I mentioned earlier, also arise in some countries, let's say, of long democracy such as those we have periodically reviewed.

The reports, on the basis of which the final report was made, were made by our rapporteurs, who conducted mission visits to the countries covered by the monitoring action. In those countries they had discussions with governments, with parliaments, with  the expression of civil society. They eventually, before submitting the report to our Committee, discussed with their interlocutors also their final report so that they could gather all the necessary comments and all the necessary considerations.

So, very thorough, careful work, and I would like to thank here all our rapporteurs who conducted their work.

Also part of the Monitoring Committee is a sub-committee on conflict resolution, where conflicts between member countries break out, such as between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which we have dealt with extensively.

The experience of the activities of this sub-committee led its chairman Mr Claude KERN to propose an evolution of this sub-committee, especially transforming it into a committee dedicated to putting in place early warning mechanisms where conflicts arise before these conflicts can break out dramatically.

Addressed at the 4th Summit of Heads of State and Government in Reykjavík, as we all know, was the need for a revitalisation, a strengthening of the work of the Council of Europe in light of the ever-increasing centrality of the issues that we deal with: the rule of law, human civil rights, minority rights, people's rights.

I believe that from Reykjavík came indications that will enable the Monitoring Commission to improve its work. As a Commission, we had had an important seminar on 4 and 5 December in Rome in which we just looked at the Reykjavík follow-ups, how these follow-ups should and can improve the work of the Monitoring Commission.

This is the report I am presenting. Of course, in the report all our country-by-country directions are detailed.

I thank you for your attention and invite you to vote and approve the report.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:13:28

Thank you, Mister FASSINO.

In the debate I call first Mr Iulian BULAI, representing the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group.

Mister BULAI, you have the floor.

 

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

12:13:46

I thank the Chair.

I didn't know I would be the first to speak, but I wanted to thank you.

You have done an important job for us. I really appreciated your helpfulness, impartiality, your way of being with the Members of the Commission. I am sorry that I could not also attend your invitation to be in Rome because of things that happened at home.

I thank you for this report. I also thank you for the way you presented the last very important report on the situation in Israel.

I know there was a lot of pressure here, but I think the report there was accepted by all sides.

I congratulate you for this report.

Mr Iulian BULAI

Romania, ALDE, Spokesperson for the group

12:14:49

Now this institution, I said it, I will repeat it, it is not a club of perfect countries. It is a gathering of countries accepting to do better. And here we have the tools to do better. And the Monitoring Committee is the tool of the Parliamentary Assembly that is giving the exact indications on how a country can do better in terms of observing the rule of law, protecting human rights and strengthening democracy.

I am very sad that the electoral law in Hungary has been changed within six months before the elections as has been criticised in many, many cases by the Venice Commission. It is very sad that this took place and I really call upon the Hungarian government and authorities, Mr Orbán, to take all the feedback and to respect all these observations and opinions from the Venice Commission in order not to go in the wrong direction. We see where other countries go –  that is not the way to do it.

I want to congratulate Ukraine for amending the bill on national minorities. That was really important and this is a great example of a country complying with the recommendations of the Venice Commission. I also want to congratulate the Republic of Moldova for continuing its commitments on the path of democracy, and for always investing in decisions that are to build a better future for this country.

And I am very happy that our colleague has been appointed this week, Mihai Popsoi, Chair of the Moldovan delegation, the new Minister of Foreign Affairs. That is a great recognition of his work here too.

I strongly condemn on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) the fraud that took place within the Serbian election. That is serious. That type of behaviour that took place in Serbia might have negative repercussions for the whole region. I am very happy that we in ALDE have already invited the representatives of the Serbian opposition to share with us their concerns and their thoughts and I hope that your Committee will have this type of meeting in the coming months too.

Now I want us to have good rapporteurs on both Spain, Sweden and Greece, and I wish us good luck with electing the best ones to have great reports in order not only to point a finger at countries and play the arrogant role from a Pan-European level but stretching a hand to do better.

Thank you.

Congratulations and break a leg [in Italian].

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:17:51

Thank you, Mister BULAI.

And the next speaker is Mr Andrej HUNKO who represents the Group of the Unified European Left.

Please, you have the floor.

 

Mr Andrej HUNKO

Germany, UEL, Spokesperson for the group

12:18:04

Thank you very much, Madam President,

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Piero FASSINO for the work he has done in the Monitoring Committee and now also for this report.

This debate that we always have about progress, so-called progress, which is not always progress in every case, is always a kind of general debate and I would perhaps like to say at the outset that I believe that this Assembly must do even more to end the current wars. We have a terrible war in Ukraine, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We have the war now in Israel and Gaza. And I believe that this is very important. This is not a core competence of the Council of Europe - I know that. But we should also do everything we can.

And that is why, Mr Piero FASSINO, I would like to thank you once again for the invitation to Rome, where the Italian president Mr Sergio Mattarella also called on us to look for a way out with regard to the ongoing war between Russia, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the war taking place there.

The monitoring procedure used to be conceived like this; there are the teachers and the students. The students come from the East, and they are in a monitoring procedure; they learn from the old democracies how democracy works. We have changed this in recent years. We not only have the monitoring procedure, we also have the periodic review procedure and I believe this is a good thing. And as is also mentioned in this report; we have France, we have the Netherlands, we have San Marino in this periodic review procedure, and these are also very important references that are included here.

I believe one thing is very important; if this system is to work, we must all be aware that ultimately we are all students in terms of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. And not one teacher and the other student, and that we support each other and help each other to implement this better and better in our respective countries.

I have just looked again; finally, I would like to point out this very important website that we have for the protection of journalists. I believe that far too little work is being done on it. We have several dozen journalists in prison there, unsurprisingly, above all in Azerbaijan and Türkiye and also in Ukraine. But we also have the case of a journalist, like Mr Julian Assange, which I would like to point out - since we have discussed this a lot this week - Mr Pablo González, who has been in prison in a single EU member state, in Poland, for two years, without charge. A Spanish journalist in Poland - I don't think that should happen.

Thank you in any case for this report, Mr Piero FASSINO, I think we will also agree with it.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:21:27

Thank you, Mister Andrej HUNKO.

Now I call Mr Stefan SCHENNACH to make his speech on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group.

Mr Stefan SCHENNACH

Austria, SOC, Spokesperson for the group

12:21:41

Thank you very much, Madam Chairwoman,

Also from my side as former Chairman of the Monitoring Committee; my compliments to Mr Piero FASSINO, who has done an excellent job in these two years.

This progress report is actually always the big summary of the various rapporteurs we have.

There has been a very important change since 2015 in that there are not only those who are never looked at and those who are obliged to be looked at, but that every member state is subject to periodic monitoring. I think that's very important and also improves relations.

I was, I think, the last Chairman to completely end the monitoring procedure in a country. That was Monaco. In Monaco, we ended the monitoring procedure after many years; it was a special moment that you don't often experience and the delegates from Monaco were delighted that we had come so far. Don't think it was an easy process. It was quite a difficult process - also in terms of the changes in Monaco. Now, I believe it's very important that we have this appreciation of the reporting of the monitoring procedure. I believe that this is one of the most important pillars of the Council of Europe in this Assembly, and that is why I also hope that the committee that we set up at the time as a subcommittee for states in conflict will be maintained as a working unit for the specific challenges of the rapporteurs. I believe that this is very important.

There are, of course, many construction sites and much to be done. Some things are also developing very well, but there are always setbacks - especially in the area of media freedom, freedom of the press and so on, and also in the development of democracy.

And I would like to say this once again: anyone who is under monitoring has obligations to fulfil. For example, to invite the Council of Europe to observe elections. When we brought Poland under monitoring at the time, it was no question for the Polish government that an invitation to observe the presidential election was on the table within a very short space of time. We have a small but excellent team and observed both the first election and the run-off. This is part of our obligations, as is the fact that all representatives are allowed to enter the country.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:25:28

Thank you, Mister SCHENNACH.

Now I call, to have the floor, Ms Denitsa SACHEVA, from the Group of the European People's Party.

Ms Denitsa SACHEVA

Bulgaria, EPP/CD, Spokesperson for the group

12:25:41

Thank you, Madam Chair.

Dear colleagues,

On behalf of the Group of the European People's Party, I would like to say that we highly appreciate the report presented today by Mr Piero FASSINO, and to recognise with gratitude his personal efforts as Chair of the Monitoring Committee.

The monitoring procedure of the Assembly has been a booster to our democratic development. We appreciate the role of the Council of Europe in consolidating democracy, rule of law, and human rights.

Being Bulgarian, I would like to emphasise on the fact that for Bulgaria, the procedure of post-monitoring has been lasting for 24 years. For all those years, we co-operated promptly and made a lot of efforts and achievements.

We are grateful for the dialogue with the Assembly during this whole long period.

With the formation of the current regular government in April 2023, Bulgaria overcame a two-year political crisis during which five governments succeeded each other.

We recently amended the Constitution, following the recommendations of the Venice Commission, to strengthen the judicial reform.

The recommendation of the Assembly on concentration and transparency of media ownership was fulfilled with amendments made back in 2018.

I call upon the rapporteur to revisit once again the particular recommendation in item 5.1.

Recommendations should be clear and reflecting current state of development. If there are expectations, they are to be fulfilled.

Amendments to the criminal code have been made, introducing heavier sentences for hate crimes and criminal liability for domestic violence.

The law on protection against domestic violence expanded victim protection further.

The monitoring procedure is a dialogue between the Assembly and the particular member states within the European family. In this dialogue we need to receive clear messages, and our arguments have to be listened to.

Only in this way, the monitoring procedure could play its supportive role in our democratic development based on mutual understanding and respect.

As all of you, we are now through challenging times after the beginning of Russian war against Ukraine, which is characterised by the wide spreading of fake news and anti-European feelings.

We don't want our quite long post-monitoring dialogue to fuel such negative attempts further.

In conclusion, the base post-monitoring dialogue has fulfilled its purpose successfully. We look forward to continuing co-operation with PACE through periodic reviews, just like the vast majority of member states.

Thank you.

Ms Olena KHOMENKO

Ukraine, EC/DA, President of the Assembly

12:28:06

Thank you, Madam SACHEVA.

Now I would like to give the floor to Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU from the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.

Mr Sorin-Titus MUNCACIU

Romania, EC/DA, Spokesperson for the group

12:28:22

Thank you very much, Madam President.

I would like to refer, as a Conservative, to some very worrisome aspects of the political climate in the countries that were already on the monitor and, of course, I would like to thank Mr Piero FASSINO for the work that he has done to gather all those reports.

Now, what I am trying to refer to is the position of our Conservative friends and partners in different countries. They have now in the parliament, they have already in place some cordon sanitaire – non-co-operation with your fellow MPs, members of the parliament. I think that is a very worrisome phenomenon and it was not addressed at all.

I would like to remind you that we have passed through a pandemic situation and in certain countries, certain parliaments and governments took it upon themselves to have coercion, to disregard human rights when it comes to experimental vaccination. So the Nuremberg Code was violated. Unfortunately, this kind of violation of human rights was not an object of the rapporteurs, and to tell you the truth, I found that very interesting due to the fact that we are here, an organisation to defend human rights.

Secondly, I would like to remind you that there is a climate in the media, and in the communications in those parliaments of the countries that were under monitoring, that a certain [amount of] censorship is going to be instituted at the government level.

Again, this organisation is for human rights. We should not let the censorship of journalists, of ideas, to set in just because we disagree with those ideas.

I think censorship should be one of the central issues in the next Monitoring Committee.

Thank you very much.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:31:32

Thank you so much.

Next is Mr Armen RUSTAMYAN.

Mr Armen RUSTAMYAN

Armenia, SOC

12:31:41

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I would like to congratulate our rapporteur on his progress report on the monitoring procedure during a rather difficult period, especially for those countries subject to a full monitoring procedure.

In this respect, the Assembly expresses its concern at certain negative developments and persistent shortcomings, and calls on all these countries to intensify their efforts to fully honour their obligations as members and the commitments they entered into on joining the Council of Europe.

Above all, it is very important to listen to criticism and take on board relevant recommendations.

In the case of my country, Armenia, for example, the Assembly calls on the authorities to strengthen the freedom and independence of the media, to continue reforming the judicial system and efforts to combat corruption, and to establish a genuine democratic culture.

With regard to Armenia's neighbour, Azerbaijan, the state of affairs in that country is in some ways directly relevant to the situation in Armenia. Every report on Azerbaijan contains a long list of serious violations of the country's obligations and commitments. I can only emphasise those violations which indicate this country's incompatibility with its status as a member state of the Council of Europe, and which can be interpreted as a total disregard for international law and a discrediting of international institutions:

- Azerbaijan has completely ignored the orders of the International Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights;

- Azerbaijan continually creates obstacles for our organisation's rapporteurs to carry out their various missions, which is a flagrant example of lack of co-operation;

- the forced exodus of all Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh, following the military aggression after ten months of blockade imposed by the Azerbaijani authorities, is recognised as an announced and planned operation of ethnic cleansing;

- the systematic destruction of Armenian monuments and cultural and religious heritage in order to erase all traces of Christianity and Armenian culture.

Finally, in this resolution, the Assembly also monitors the situation concerning Armenian prisoners of war, civilians and other captives, as well as all representatives of Nagorno-Karabakh currently detained in Azerbaijan.

The Assembly calls on Azerbaijan to release all detainees immediately. Indeed, we have legitimate concerns about people of Armenian origin who are currently in prison in Azerbaijan, seeking justice in a country where we ourselves note so many problems in the judicial system, so many violations of human rights and in the area of torture prevention.

Finally, in view of all these serious violations of our fundamental principles, the Assembly decided not to ratify the power of attorney of the Azerbaijani delegation. But this is not necessarily a question of punishing the country, but above all of preserving our common values. Sanctions are a forced measure to put an end to new violations and rectify a situation that is clearly incompatible with the status of a member country of the Council of Europe.

Thank you for your attention.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:35:41

Thank you, Mister RUSTAMYAN.

Next is Mr Hayk MAMIJANYAN.

Mr Hayk MAMIJANYAN

Armenia, EPP/CD

12:35:50

Thank you, honourable Mister President, dear colleagues,

What is the definition of the word "crime"?

That is the question I want to raise here, at the altar of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Is revealing the truth government tries to hide from its citizens a crime? That's exactly why the Vice-President of the Republican Party Mr Armen Ashotyan is under pre-trial arrest for more than seven months.

Is expressing your political views via Facebook live or status a crime? That is why Narek Malyan is in jail for more than four months.

Or is winning in a local election a crime? That is why the elected mayor of Vanadzor Mamikon Aslanian is in jail for more than two years.

Or would you call a crime peacefully protesting in the centre of Yerevan demanding from government to do something to rescue their parents blockaded in Nagorno-Karabakh by Azeri armed forces? This is why, at this very moment, 11 students are in court, four of them spent months in jail and are still there.

As of November 2023, there were more than 50 political prisoners in Armenia. And these are not just words of an opposition MP. The European People's Party and the Centrist Democrat International adopted resolutions regarding Armen Ashotian and other political prisoners.

Is a fighting in a war that Azerbaijan started against us a crime? That is exactly why Armenian POWs have been kept hostage in Baku, as a bargaining chip since 2020 until now.

Or maybe peacefully living in your homeland is a crime. Because the civilian Vagif Khachatryan was convicted of enormous sentence by the Azerbaijani court just for that reason.

Or is organising the defence of your own people against aggression a crime? That is exactly why Levon Mnatsakanyan and David Manukyan are in Baku jail at the moment.

Or perhaps giving a hope to your compatriots or simply being a philanthropist is a crime. That is the reason why Aliyev's regime is holding Ruben Vardanyan accountable by arresting him.

Since when serving your own country with honour and duty is such a crime that David Babayan and Davit Ishkhanyan have to be kept under custody in Baku.

Or is running a country that by the reports of various international organisations was incomparable by the level of democracy to Azerbaijan such a crime that Presidents Arkadi Ghukasyan, Bako Saakyan, and Arayik Harutyunyan should be in prison?

Well, it turns out that being a democratically elected president is a crime for Mr Aliyev.

Mentioning these facts in the reports and resolutions adopted by this Assembly and other international organisations gives those people a tiny light of hope while they are looking at the checkered sun for a very long time.

We owe it to them, at least.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:39:00

Thank you.

Next is Ms Eka SEPASHVILI.

Is Ms Eka SEPASHVILI here?

Yes.

Ms Eka SEPASHVILI

Georgia, EC/DA

12:39:17

Thank you.

First of all, let me thank Mr Piero FASSINO, for his excellent work on his report.

I highly appreciate that this report once more underlines and reiterates its full support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders. This is very important for the people of Georgia.

During our session in Strasbourg, we speak and spoke much about Russia's aggression towards Ukraine. But such kind of aggression was in Georgia in 2008. Now our territory is 20% occupied by Russian territories.

The conflicts are going on on the territory of not only Europe, but on the whole planet of our Earth.

So this is very important for every nation and every state.

Currently, as you may know, we are implementing our reform agenda which is dedicated to our European agenda.

As you may know, last December, Georgia was granted candidate status. We are very proud of such kind of developments because it's a recognition of Georgia's aspiration and work we have done during the implementation of those 12 recommendations that the European Commission issued for Georgia, on the one hand.

On the other hand, it is the implementation of the association agreements that we signed approximately 10 years ago.

Georgia is fully committed to fulfil all the obligations and make harmonised our national legislation, national institutional building to the European acquis and Europe best practice.

Of course, we are going to implement and to go on with our reforms. Now we are implementing the nine steps the European Commission issued to open the negotiations for Georgia on membership.

I can proudly announce it, in the main rankings that are issued by different organisations such as the World Economic Forum, International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and so on, Georgia is on the positions. These positions are advancing year after year.

I can name such important issues such as rule of law, control of corruption, confidence in the independence of judiciary, and so on.

Our economy is continuing to grow. Last year, last several years we had 11% and 10% of economic growth, and GDP per capita is growing constantly.

Of course, it is very important as well because the welfare of population should rise gradually and eventually in order to make it easier for Georgia to become a European member.

But it is a great pity, and unfortunately I have to announce that the opposition parties are against this process. They are boycotting this process.

For instance, during the last years they did not participate in the reforms that we implemented during parliamentary work to meet the issues, these 12 recommendations that the Commission had issued.

Moreover, yesterday...

[The President calls on the speaker to conclude her speech]

...opposition party has addressed the Assembly and announced a huge bulk of disinformation. I think it is not acceptable.

We all should work towards the benefit of our country.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:43:40

Ms Olena MOSHENETS.

Ms Olena MOSHENETS

Ukraine, ALDE

12:43:44

[beginning of speech is cut off]

... Monitoring Committee for its assessment of Ukraine's progress and recommendations. So we thank the EU member states for their trust and for granting Ukraine the status of a candidate for accession to the Union. Indeed, as a result of the Russian Federation's war of aggression against Ukraine, it is difficult to monitor the fulfilment of the commitments undertaken. Nevertheless, I would like to know the extraordinary progress made by Ukraine amid these difficulties.

Ukraine is confidently making great strides on the past two years in European integration. For us, it is not just a question of being in the Union or not. It is a question of the values that we defend in this Assembly – democracy, human rights and freedoms. Granting Ukraine the status of EU candidate and recommending the start of accession negotiations will only be possible if Ukraine makes progress in reforms and implements the recommendations of the European Commission.

As Deputy Chairperson of the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy in Ukraine, I can say that this year Ukraine has made a big step towards overcoming corruption. In particular, the approval of the State Anti-Corruption Programme for 2023–2025 is a significant achievement. This will help to bring additional funds to the Ukrainian budget and strengthen transparency in the sectors most affected by corruption.

Moreover, in these difficult times and risks, we are opening declarations for public officials to the public. Institutional strengthening remains a key area for Ukrainian politicians as exemplified by the adoption allowed to increase the staff and strengthen the institutional capacity of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. Anti-oligarchical laws are already in place. As a result, several oligarchs have given up their media assets. But some have been forced to give up their freedom and ended up in pre-trial detention centres. The Constitutional Court has also been reformed in line with the recommendations of the Venice Commission, making it more transparent and giving it more integrity.

Ukraine's diverse and multinational population has faced challenges, especially against the backdrop of Russia's aggression that denies the existence of the Ukrainian identity. But despite their manipulation of the Kremlin's propaganda machine, we have protected all groups living in Ukraine.

We thank the international community for recognising these efforts and for standing in solidarity with Ukraine as it moves towards a more secure and democratic future.

Effective reforms are our tool for survival in the face of constant shelling, information from the frontline and in memory of all those who have fallen for free independent, democratic Ukraine.

Thank you.

Ms Nadejda IORDANOVA

Bulgaria, NR

13:01:39

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Dear Mr Chair,

Dear colleagues,

Dear Mr Fassino, thank you for the detailed report.

Monitoring procedure is one of the CE’s tools for dialogue with the member states.

Therefore I would like to elaborate on some aspects of Bulgaria’s contribution to the process in 2023.

After having 5 Parliamentary Elections for the last two years, now we have achieved political stability and we have a Government elected by the Parliament.

Political parties that at times over the years were fierce oponents recognized the problems, accepted the necessity to talk to each other to achieve mutual decision on the most important issues for our country.

Thus we succeeded in finally introducing the long awaited ambitious reform.

Amendments to the Constitution that effectively guaranteed the judges’ independence following longstanding recommendations of the Venice Commission were adopted.

The intensive legislative work done by our Parliament marked a substantial progress in the executions for more than 70 ECHR decisions.

After more than 20 years since the Kolevi case Judgement, a mechanism for effective investigation in case of crime committed by the prosecutor general was introduced in the law.

Two other reforms were completed in relation to implementation of the judgements for Velikova group cases (2000) in countering torture and all forms of ill-treatment by police and detention officers.

The offence of torture was established as a crime.

A procedure for judicial review of the prosecutor’s refusal to open criminal proceedings was introduced in the Code of Criminal Procedure, aiming to overcome possible reluctance of a prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings because of working relations with the suspect.

Comprehensive legislation was adopted in the area of prevention of and protection against domestic violence, meeting high international standards.

In the area of better guaranteeing media freedom, we’ve also made progress in the implementation of Bozhkov and Kasabova Judgment by improving the regulation of the offense of insult and defamation and aligning the level of protection of politicians and lay citizen.

All these reforms are not just a theoretical exercise, they are being actively implemented in practice and we in Bulgaria are determined to continue our commitments.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:47:03

Thank you so much.

I must now interrupt the list of speakers.

The speeches of members on the speakers list who have been present during the debate but have not been able to speak, may be given to the Table Office for publication in the official report.

I remind colleagues that typewritten texts can be submitted electronically, if possible, no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I now called Mr Piero FASSINO to reply to the debate.

Dear Mister Piero FASSINO, you have 3 minutes.

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

12:47:37

Thank you.

Mr Iulian BULAI rightly started his speech by saying, "We are not perfect, and no state is perfect" He's right.

Mr Andrej HUNKO said, "In this exercise that we do of checking on the state of implementation of the Charter of Rights of the Council of Europe, there are no masters, there are no schoolchildren". He is equally right.

I would add, "We are not a tribunal. The Council of Europe has an instrument of jurisdiction, which is the European Court of Justice."

We are a Commission of the Council of Europe whose objective is to check the state of implementation, to encourage where these rights are not respected, or in any case are uncertain to apply them, to accompany countries in this application with proposals, with indications, through our recommendations and resolutions, in a spirit that is positive, because our objective is not to judge. Our objective is that the fundamental rights of citizens are respected.

We know how democracy needs to implement its credibility every day in respecting citizens' rights: individual rights such as the collective rights of minorities, rights related to the independence of the judiciary, freedom of information, democratic standards in the activity in the political life of a country.

In short, also those social rights that emergencies and the life of the world pose to us. I think of the fact that this Assembly has been dealing carefully with the rights arising from the Covid-19-related health emergency. Just as this Assembly is dealing, there have been reports in this session as well, with the rights arising from climate change and the problems that climate change poses to the life of the world and the lives of people.

We always need to put at the centre of our initiative, precisely, the ability to then verify and intervene where rights are not sufficiently fulfilled.

Of course, this work meets those who, and they are the majority of countries, accept our directions, and also those who resist. The case of Azerbaijan is an obvious case. It is no coincidence that yesterday we took a suspension procedure, because a large part of the indications that the Monitoring Commission gave on Azerbaijan have not been complied with, even the work of our rapporteurs has been hindered. Or there are cases, as I have already mentioned, that of Türkiye not complying with European Court of Human Rights rulings, the Kavala case and not only the Kavala case.

We feel the duty to intervene, especially, where non-compliance with rights often results in repressive measures of imprisonment of journalists, political figures or citizens. I want to mention here the case of an Italian citizen, Ms Ilaria Salis, who is being detained in with absolutely inhumane conditions in Hungary these weeks. I take the opportunity also from this forum to ask that her condition be resolved instead, allowing Ms Ilaria Salis those absolutely essential conditions that we grant to all those who are subject to judicial proceedings.

That is what I felt I had to say. Allow me, Chairman, a final second to express my thanks.

This is my last act as Chairman of the Monitoring Committee that I chaired for two years. I thank those who have spoken here in the room for their appreciations, which of course are very gratifying to me. I thank the Secretariat. The work that our Committee does would not be possible were it not for the passion, the expertise, and the dedication of the Secretariat and our officials.

I thank the Chairmen of the groups and the Chairman Mr Tiny KOX, who have trusted me to lead this Commission. I thank the Secretary General, with whom we have had continuous interaction over the past two years. She has been an invaluable help to me in the action of leading the Commission.

Leading a Commission like this has been a really important political and human experience for me. I thank all my colleagues on the Commission, the rapporteurs. Of course, I am pleased and delighted to be able to continue as a member of the Monitoring Commission, and I will try to make the experience from these two years as chairman count.

Thank you all and again. I urge you to approve the resolution.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:53:02

Mister FASSINO, I have been following your speeches in the last years since 2019, since I have been a member of this honourable Assembly.

I want to thank you because, whenever I was listening to what you were saying, I was gaining experience out of your wisdom.

Thank you for your job. Thank you for what you have done in two years chairing the committee, and I want to thank you for organising and excellent meeting with President Mattarella in Rome.

 

Dear colleagues,

The Monitoring Committee has presented a draft resolution in Document 15893 to which two Amendments and one sub-Amendment have been tabled.

Amendments will be taken in the order in which they appear in the Compendium. I remind you that speeches on amendments are limited to 30 seconds.

I understand that the Monitoring Committee wishes to propose to the Assembly that Amendment 2 to the draft resolution (Doc. 15893), which was rejected by the Committee with a two-third majority, be declared as rejected. 

If no one objects, I will consider the Amendment to be rejected. Is there an objection? If there is, we will need to verify that the objection has the required support of 10 people. Please could those who object raise their hand? 

Amendment 2 to the draft resolution is therefore rejected and will not be called.  

I call Mr Givi MIKANADZE to SUPPORT Amendment 1. You have 30 seconds.

Vote: The progress of the Assembly's monitoring procedure (January-December 2023)

Mr Givi MIKANADZE

Georgia, SOC

12:54:45

Thank you, Mister Chairman.

We understand that the Monitoring Committee had now a chance to consider the progress which Georgia made after candidate status was granted in December 2023. Therefore, we directly have no objection just to move to the sub-Amendment, which has been agreed by the Committee.

Thank you.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:55:26

The Monitoring Committee has tabled a sub-Amendment to the Amendment.

Does anyone wish to support this sub-Amendment?

Mr Piero FASSINO

Italy, SOC, Rapporteur

12:55:37

We very much appreciate, and it is said in the Report, all the efforts that Georgia is making to comply with all the indications that come both from the Council of Europe and the European Union on the basis of the application procedure.

However, several problems still remain open, and this is the reason why we propose to delete in the Amendment the words "du travail très intense effectué par la Georgie". But in the Amendment thus sub-amended there is a recognition of the importance of the efforts that Georgia is making to comply with the directions of both the Council of Europe and the European Union.

So, I think that this sub-Amendment in no way diminishes our appreciation for the effort that Georgia is making.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:56:40

Does anyone else wish to speak against the sub-Amendment?

No.

What is Mr Givi MIKANADZE's opinion on the sub-Amendment?

Mr Givi MIKANADZE

Georgia, SOC

12:56:52

As I have already underlined, we have no objections.

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:56:58

What is the opinion of the Committee?

I shall now put the sub-Amendment to the vote.

The vote is open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The Amendment is adopted unanimously.

 

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 15893 as amended. A simple majority is required.

The vote is now open.

The vote is closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The draft resolution is adopted unanimously.

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

Mr Theodoros ROUSOPOULOS

Greece, EPP/CD, President of the Assembly

12:58:41

The next item on today's agenda is the continuation of the debate on the Progress Report of the Bureau and the Standing Committee (Document 15885, Addendum 6).

At its meeting this morning the Bureau has proposed several references to committees. They are set out in Document 15885, Addendum 6.

These references must be submitted for ratification by the Assembly in accordance with Rule 26.3.

Are there any objections to these references?

There are no objections.

The references are approved.

I now propose that the other decisions in the Progress Report (Document. 15885 Addendum 6) be ratified. Are there any objections?

No objections.

Therefore, the Progress Report is approved.

 

The final business today is to constitute the Standing Committee. The membership of the Standing Committee is determined by Rule 17.3, as follows:

· the President of the Assembly,

· the Vice-Presidents of the Assembly,

· the Leaders of the political groups,

· the Chairpersons of national delegations, and

· the Chairpersons of the general committees.

A full list of members is set out in Document Commission (2024 [02]).

The Standing Committee is accordingly constituted.

 

We have now come to the end of our business.

I would like to thank all members of the Assembly, particularly rapporteurs of committees, for their hard work during this part-session.

I would like to thank the vice-presidents who chaired during this part-session:

- Mr Pierre-Alain FRIDEZ

- Ms Olena KHOMENKO

- Mr David MORRIS

- Mr Marco NICOLINI

- Ms Snježana NOVAKOVIĆ BURSAĆ

- Mr Yıldırım Tuğrul TÜRKEŞ

- Ms Tamara VONTA

I would also like to thank the staff and interpreters, both permanent and temporary, who have worked hard to make the part-session a success.

The Second part of the 2024 Session will be held from 15 to 19 April 2024.

Before leaving, ladies and gentlemen, I would remind you to place your voting cards in the ballot box provided for this purpose at the end of the Chamber.

I declare the first part of the 2024 Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe closed.

The sitting is closed.

The sitting is closed at 1 p.m.