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lundi 25 avril 2022 après-midi

2022 - Deuxième partie de session Imprimer la séance

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Ouverture de la partie de session

Ouverture de la séance n° 10

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

16:40:03

Ladies and gentlemen,

I declare the second part-session of the 2022 ordinary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe open.

In view of the high numbers of members physically present participating in this part-session, and the increase in the capacity of the chamber, I remind you that wearing a mask is compulsory.

Speakers are allowed to take off their masks when they take the floor.

So please, colleagues, put up your masks. In June we will have different rules.

 

Madam Secretary General,

Mr Deputy Secretary General,

Madam Secretary General of the Assembly,

Ambassadors,

Members of the Assembly,

May I welcome you all here in the hemicycle or online in the second regular part-session of this year of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe after our first part-session at the end of January and our extraordinary part-session, or extraordinary session, on the 15 and the 14 of March of this year.

At the end of that extraordinary session we concluded, sadly but unanimously, that the membership of the Russian Federation had to come to an end due to the Russian's blatant violation of the Council of Europe Statute by starting a war of aggression against our member state Ukraine.

After having communicated our unanimous position, the Committee of Ministers decided, only one day later, to indeed exclude the Russian Federation from Europe's oldest and broadest treaty organisation with immediate effect.

Since then, we are no longer 47, but 46 member states, represented in both the Committee of Ministers and our Parliamentary Assembly.

Our message was clear and well understood in Europe and the rest of the world. If you cross red lines there is no longer place for you in the Council of Europe, neither in our Assembly nor in our Committee of Ministers, nor in any other part of our organisation.

Starting a war of aggression against your neighbours, in spite of your solemn commitment to pursuing peace, is a red line.

I again want to thank both the Committee of Ministers, the Secretary General, and all of you in the Assembly, for acting so clearly, decisively, immediately, and in exemplary synergy.

Dear colleagues, I call on you to continue this effective synergy in the Council of Europe, first and foremost with regard to the best possible ways to help to restore peace in Ukraine and in our continent, and to help our member State Ukraine to regain its national sovereignty and its territorial integrity and rebuild its society, which is until today suffering so terrifying from this brutal assault by the Russian army.

Until today thousands have lost their lives or have been injured. Millions have left their homes looking for shelter inside or outside Ukraine. More than 5 million citizens of Ukraine are now within one of our other 45 member states, depending on our solidarity with them. Among them, are more than two million children and youth.

Inside Ukraine, people continue to die every day. We all are watching, with horror, the tragic fate of the city of Mariupol, where thousands of innocent civilians have been killed by indiscriminate shelling. We were all terrified by the images of the atrocities and war crimes committed by the Russian forces in Bucha and other towns around Kyiv, where hundreds of people were tortured, where women were raped, and so many people were killed.

We know that after each and every statistical number there is a real human being whose life is taken away or whose future is devastated.

May I, therefore, ask for a moment of silence for all the victims of this war that should never have started and should now end immediately.

Thank you so much.

Dear colleagues, mourning should go hand in hand with offering concrete solidarity and support to the citizens and the state of Ukraine.

At the invitation of the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, I therefore recently visited Ukraine together with the leaders of our five political groups in our Assembly, as our Assembly Secretary General, and offered full solidarity and support of the Council of Europe for now and for the many months and years to come.

Dear colleagues, it's cynical but also real: destruction is done within days, reconstruction will take years and years and years.

This first visit on behalf of the Council of Europe to Ukraine after the beginning of the war was received most positively by our counterparts in Ukraine, and appeared to be very open and fruitful. I thank again speaker Mr Ruslan Stefanchuk and all our Ukrainian counterparts for updating us to the best of their abilities.

I wish to particularly praise the Ukrainian Parliament for maintaining its key legislative and other activities in this most difficult time, thus, ensuring that democracy and the rule of law continue to work in Ukraine even under martial law.

Today I welcome especially the female members of the Ukrainian delegation who did meet us in Ukraine and are now with us here in Strasbourg. They themselves are an example of what parliamentary diplomacy can do when it's needed most. Ukraine and we are proud of you, dear colleagues. Please take care, and stay safe and sound in these dangerous times.

Dear colleagues, the focus of this session will naturally be on the situation in and around Ukraine. We will discuss the consequences of the Russian aggression against Ukraine during a general policy debate on the draft report coming Wednesday.

Also, in case our Assembly agrees, we will hold an urgent affairs debate on Thursday to discuss the role that the Council of Europe can play in ensuring accountability for serious violations of humanitarian law while considering important actions already initiated by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and other organs of the organisation.

I know that more than 100 Assembly members have already indicated their wish to participate in one or more of these debates, and I appreciate all your involvement very much. I wish, however, to encourage you to be as concise as possible in your interventions to allow everyone to express their views. That would be a concrete act of parliamentary solidarity.

I also wish already to thank the interpreters, who showed understanding and agreed to work longer with a view to allowing the maximum number of members to speak.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

16:48:40

Dear Colleagues,

When I described this Assembly last January as an "agora" for Europe, I could not imagine what would happen. But the turn of events only underlines the urgent need for such a European meeting place, where everyone can contribute to finding the best possible answers to pressing questions and problems.

What is currently happening on our continent forces us to rethink the very nature of our Council of Europe and its objective of pursuing peace through the protection and promotion of the rule of law, human rights and democracy in all our member States. When I say "we", I am not just talking about us, the members of this Assembly, but also about our national parliaments and governments, all of whom have ratified the Statute of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights and so many other key conventions. We all need to redefine the main objectives of effective multilateralism, as do other international organisations.

The war in Ukraine makes us aware of the need to work together to avoid the worst. That is why I look forward not only to this week's discussions, but also to the Ministerial Conference in Turin in May, where I hope our Foreign Ministers will join in this call for the redefinition of European multilateralism and for the confirmation of the need for a vibrant and effective Council of Europe, especially in these very difficult times. I also look forward to meeting with the leaders of other international organisations to hear their ideas on how to make multilateralism more effective.

Colleagues, it goes without saying that we regret that our Organisation has one less member State, but that does not mean that it has lost its relevance. Indeed, the scope of our work remains broad and important for the entire continent, and the agenda for this session is a perfect illustration of this.

We will have a crucial debate on the future of the Lisbon Treaty and co‑operation between the European Union and the Council of Europe. We will discuss the Georgia monitoring report, the issue of confiscation of criminal assets and other major issues. We will have the honour to welcome the President of the Italian Republic, Mr Sergio MATTARELLA, as well as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Italian Republic, Mr Luigi DI MAIO, in this Chamber. We will also elect the judge representing Ukraine at the European Court of Human Rights.

This session is still taking place in a hybrid format, despite the relaxation of the rules. I note that the vast majority of members will be present here in the Chamber during this week. I hope, however, that our next session in June will be in person only, which I am sure we all look forward to.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

16:52:51

Dear Colleagues,

Before dealing with this week's agenda, I would like to pay my respects to one of my predecessors who recently passed away, former President, Ms Leni FISCHER, the first female president of this esteemed Assembly.

I have expressed on your behalf, my sincere condolences to the President of the German Bundestag, the Parliament of which she was for more than two decades a dedicated and most respected member. Among her numerous achievements, of Ms Leni FISCHER, we will remember her statement at the Second Summit of the Council of Europe in October 1997 – a historic summit of the organisation whose decision shaped the future of Europe. On that occasion Ms Leni FISCHER declared, and I quote "Europe is an imposing construction but it needs a solid foundation. This foundation is provided by democracy and human rights in a pluralist society governed by rule of law. These principles are defended by the Council of Europe."

Her words, dear colleagues, then are more actual than ever and do inspire us. Now we are hopefully heading for a fourth Council of Europe Summit of Heads of States and Government to redefine our principles and our role in the years to come.

Allow me as well, dear colleagues, to pay my respects to another remarkable former female member who has recently passed away: Elsa Papadimitriou, former Vice President of the Hellenic Parliament and former Vice President of our Assembly. Elsa first joined the Assembly in 2004 as a Chairperson of the Greek delegation, bringing her true commitment to democracy and wide political and scientific experience, in particular in the field of environment, regional affairs and minority protection, to the organisation. I am sure that many of you remember Elsa for her charismatic personality, generosity, and dedication to peace. She will sorely be missed by all her friends in Strasbourg who, like me, had the privilege of knowing her and of appreciating her deep dedication to the defence of fundamental values of the Council of Europe.

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to end these introductory remarks by wishing us all a fruitful session week. In line with what is stated in the Preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe and I quote "We are convinced that the pursuit of peace based upon justice and international co-operation is vital for the preservation of human society and civilisation."

Thank you very much for your attention.

The first item on the agenda is the examination of the credentials of new members. The names of the representatives and substitutes are in Doc. 15504. If no credentials are challenged, the credentials will be ratified.

Are any credentials challenged?

I do not see any, so the credentials are ratified. I welcome our new colleagues.

Our next business is to consider the changes proposed in the membership of committees. These are set out in document Commissions (2022) 04 and Addendum.

Are the proposed changes in the membership of the Assembly’s committees agreed to?

I do not see any objection. They are agreed to.

Before we examine the draft Agenda, the Assembly needs to consider a request for a debate under urgent procedure.

The Bureau received a request submitted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights for a debate under the urgent procedure on “Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine: ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law”.

At its meeting on Thursday, the Bureau of the Assembly approved the request for an urgent debate and therefore recommends to the Assembly that the matter be debated during this part-session as the second item of business on Thursday morning.

Does the Assembly agree to this recommendation?

I do not see any objections, so it is agreed.

I propose that the topic of the debate we have just agreed be referred to the Committee on legal Affairs and Human Rights for report.

Is that agreed? Okay, the reference is agreed to.

 

The next item of business is the adoption of the agenda for the second part of the 2022 Ordinary Session (Doc. 15478 prov2). The draft agenda submitted for the Assembly’s approval was drawn up by the Bureau on 21 April.

 

Does the Assembly agree with the Agenda as we have discussed including the urgent debate?

 

I do not see any objections, so it is agreed.

 

The next item on the agenda is the debate on the Progress report of the Bureau (Doc. 15503 and Addendum 1 and 2) presented by Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER.

In order to finish this debate by 6:00 p.m. and allow time for the second debate, we must conclude the list of speakers at about 5:55 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.

 

I now call Mr LIDDELL-GRAINGER to present the progress report. You have 7 minutes to present the report and then will have a further 3 minutes to reply to the debate at the end.

 

Débat : Rapport d'activité du Bureau

M. Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Rapporteur du Bureau de l'Assemblée

16:58:58

Thank you very much.

I'm absolutely delighted to be able to give the progress report, but I want to take you back because progress is the omnipresent of everything we do.

In 1939, we all stood across Europe and said, "Good old Poland, they will hold back the hordes." 1939: Cavalry men on horses charged tanks; it was a catastrophe. The rest is history between '39 and '45. Eight weeks ago, roughly, we suddenly were surprised again "Ukrainians, they will stand up, they will fight, they will do what they have to do". And Europe once again was plunged into another war.

I'm 63. I hoped in my time I would never see this, ever. Back in the 80s I stood in Germany looking at a wall wondering what on earth we were doing. Then a very brave man, Mikhail Gorbachev, made a dynamic speech and brought it tumbling down. We then said there is a new norm, from 1990. That norm is democracy. That norm are countries in Europe working together for the good of all.

We saw the bear, Russia, slowly metamorphosise in a way that I don't think any of us expected, through powerful oligarchs, hugely powerful people, massively rich, massively powerful under a new tsar who brought a thought of democracy, but with dictatorial background. In that time we have seen country upon country subjected. I don't need to go through them all. There's a long list; you know them. They are all democrats.

But my worry is this: some years ago we allowed Russia back in. I remember sitting over there taking nearly 400 amendments through the night, not because I felt it was a good thing to do, not because I particularly wanted to. But I was pretty sure the Russians would not change what they are. Their history is against them changing. You only have to go back for the last 600 years in Russia. It seems a long time in Russian history that isn't actually. They haven't really changed.

The reason we took those men was to just try to get people to understand where was the change, what had changed. Now, for never one second did I ever dream we'd be in the position we are now. I never thought it would happen. But we allowed the bully to continue to bully. We allowed bullies to stand up, and they think they can get away with it. It doesn't matter which country it is. It doesn't matter how you get to that basic premise, but that is what really has happened in this case.

And here we are. This terrible situation with hundreds of thousands of refugees in countries around Europe. A country being devastated by heavy artillery, missiles, ship-launched missiles and just about every drone you can imagine, not targeting military assets a lot of the time, targeting civilians. Collateral damage in war is the worst type of war. When it is perpetrated because that is the way you grind down a population's morale, then you know there is something fundamentally wrong.

When this started, I think like most people thought Russia was thinking this is going to be easy. Well, you've all seen the Ukrainians here, haven't we, Mister President, they are pretty tough bunch. There is one or two of them who have been asked to leave this Chamber for speaking out. Well, maybe they had a point. They have not stopped. They have not given in. And what have we seen Russia do? Resort to the oldest type of warfare. The oldest. Going back into the mists of the millennia, which is take it out on the civil population, do what you can to destroy. It doesn't matter if you rape, you murder, you gas, you poison, you do whatever you have to do to break that down. And that is what we're seeing. That isn't warfare, that genocide. That is an abjective, disgusting ideal.

It's not the first time in history that we have seen that. Of course it's not. But it is now the 21st century. 2022. We're seeing it again. We quite rightly threw the Russians out. We had no choice that is what's right. In 1949, when this was set up, it was set up to defend democracy, human rights, and culture. We will leave culture for now. But look, democracy is under threat. Human rights are being abused every single hour of every day in what's going on. And it's not getting better: it is getting worse.

When you have a pocket of isolated people, regardless of who they are or where they are, in a steel factory, and aluminium factory within a town, the humanitarian disaster is bound to follow.

I'm sorry that is the way it is. So, I say to you all this: that we now have a moral responsibility through these reports which we're going through here over the next few days. I've been very critical of certain people here, maybe be critical again, but I urge us all now to stand together.

You cannot say you cannot have armed conflict when you are in the middle of an armed conflict. This isn't an aggression. It's an armed conflict. Yes, plenty of people have got views about whether shall we send weapons, shall we not; shall we be passive, shall we not. That is personal, that is up to you, but the reality on the ground is people are being murdered, not killed: murdered. That is our responsibility to stand, and I would urge the rapporteurs, on the basis of these reports. Look at the military options, understand the humanity, listen to history, because history is now being written that will be remembered for the years and the millennia to come.

May I say, Mister President, this Assembly should be on the right side of history, leading history, pushing history, and understanding history, because we defend democracy standing together.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:06:07

Thank you very much, Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER.

To start the debate, I first call on behalf of the political groups the speakers of the groups.

The first is, on behalf of the Socialists, Democrats and Greens Group, Ms Petra BAYR from Austria.

Ms Petra BAYR, you have the floor.

Mme Petra BAYR

Autriche, SOC, Porte-parole du groupe

17:06:27

Thank you very much, Mr Tiny KOX.

I will take another focus. I want to remind you all that about a year ago, or last year at least, we have taken a decision to change our rules of procedure. This change in the rules of procedure obliges us to bring more women into this Assembly.

It is now a friendly reminder to all of you not to forget that by January 2023, the number of the women in your national parliaments has to be mirrored here in your delegation. But at least, there will have to be a third of the under-represented gender, which is usually the women.

So, to include women in your international work at your national parliaments already now, to have them ready to take the floor also here at the international banquet. It is a reminder that gender representation by the end, or by the beginning of 2023, has not only to be in line with the rules of procedure, but also in line with the requirements of the year 2023, or already 2022, of course. That's about committees, that's about election observations, that's about the leadership of political groups and much more.

Since our last Assembly, there was established an informal women's working group enshrining all political parties and also women that are not affiliated politically here in the Assembly. Of course, at the moment, our strongest focus is on the situation of women in the Ukraine. I'm very convinced that our network will consist longer than the Russian war in Ukraine will last.

What we want to do is to bundle our forces and possibilities to strengthen women's issues in the work of the Assembly, and to really perform gender mainstreaming, to give our work a feminist spin, if you want it like that.

The relevant debate is not about who gets sandwiches for free and who doesn't. The relevant debate when it comes to gender balance is about the voices of women to be heard, about the realities of women to be included in our reports. It is about the experience of more than half of the population really to be mirrored in our work, and it is about representation of women and men in all political bodies of the Assembly.

I personally also would very much welcome if men would take the opportunity and debate in peer groups, because I think there is also a lot to debate for men among men, about changing role models, about shrinking influence, of a fair share of care work, filled with toxic masculinity and misogyny, and how to curb male violence and vanish the gender pay gap.

I'm sure all of us are needed to reach this gender parity until 2023. Please don't forget about it and start to work about it now.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:09:50

Thank you very much, Ms Petra BAYR.

Now I call in the debate on behalf of the Group of the European People's Party (EPP) and Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS from Lithuania. 

You have the floor, Emanuelis.

M. Emanuelis ZINGERIS

Lituanie, PPE/DC, Porte-parole du groupe

17:10:01

Thank you so much.

Talking about the last events here and overviewing our work and our activities from last year, I just remember that we tried to warn all of you that we are coming to the brink of the war. What was the reason for that? The reason was that we possess the knowledge, especially in Vilnius, of the Russian language, and we observed the slogan, which was actually not seriously taken by some of you colleagues. The slogan was degrading by the rulers of the Kremlin.

The slogan became like a sound of Mussolini or even Adolf Hitler when during the last 20 years we saw every second Russian democrat in prison and that did not start with Ukraine, that started with Russia, it started with Boris Nemtsov's assassination in front of the Kremlin, Litvinenko in London and other tragic cases and tragic fate, ending with Vladimir Kara-Murza a few days ago arrested in Moscow under terrible charges of the absolutely freak law based that, if you will say, that is Russian war. They are doing the war against Ukrainians, it is acceptedly humiliation against the Russian army and can be prison for 15 years.

So, having the story from the 1990s, especially for those who took part in the liberation of the countries in Middle Europe against communist rule. Middle Europe, Baltic countries, Caucasian nations, Ukraine, and Russia, and those who tried in the 1990s to say "no". So Mister Putin was among those who tried to stop Russia and he was from KGB structures. And now we have a country based on the ideology that we never, ever discussed here in this Chamber.

Mr Chairman, dear speaker, I would like to turn your attention not only to Mr Frank SCHWABE's report, which is brilliant, of course, and the amendments that will be there to the report, not only to Mr Aleksander POCIEJ's current urgent report but to the case of ideology. We should evaluate the ideology of the regime and if you will not make any summary and any outcomes, any solutions for us about ideology. We will liberate Ukraine, yes, but we have Russia with this ideology.

How we will take Russians and will convince them to just dismantle the ideology that is behind the war, behind their military aggression, behind the racist Russkiy Mir approach, Ethnicity above? Humanity is above, human rights are above – not ethnicity is above. I am talking as a Holocaust survivor family and my mother who spent four years in a Nazi camp.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:13:40

Thank you, Mr Emanuelis ZINGERIS.

Now I call to the debate, on behalf of the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance, Mr Zsolt NÉMETH from Hungary.

Mr Zsolt NÉMETH, you have the floor.

M. Zsolt NÉMETH

Hongrie, CE/AD, Porte-parole du groupe

17:13:50

Mister President, Dear Secretary General,

Important elections are behind us. Yesterday we had two very important ones, and I would like to draw your attention to the Hungarian elections. I would like to express my gratitude to the observation. Many of you have participated in it and everybody who has to protect the integrity of elections, including the Hungarian elections.

Secondly, about the war. I would like to thank Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER for his very eloquent speech. I believe that the Council of Europe reacted quickly to the war and expelled Russia imminently. In the name of the EC/DA I would like to reiterate here that we condemn the military aggression of Russia. We step up for the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. We remain committed to the unity of Europe reflected in the Council of Europe and the European Union, NATO, and other international important organisations.

The key to our success is this unity. What is the real goal in front of us is peace. We should step up and do our utmost to achieve ceasefire immediately and to come back to diplomatic solutions.

Where the Council of Europe has got a very special role, I believe, is justice. The international investigation into war crimes, into genocide, into crimes against humanity. For that reason I am very glad that we are having in front of us on Thursday morning this very important debate on this justice subject.

Finally, obviously, solidarity.

Dear colleagues, it is utmost, and I know that all of your country is doing what you can. The assistance to Ukraine's fight at present is crucial. We neighbouring countries with Ukraine receive a lot of refugees, and we are doing our utmost to have them. Also, it is extremely important that we do our utmost to tackle the humanitarian catastrophe happening in the country.

Dear colleagues, finally the Parliamentary Assembly from the 1st of May is back to normal operation. I hope that our physical presence in the coming days and months will strengthen our unity under these very difficult circumstances.

Thank you very much for your attention.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:17:06

Thank you very much, Mr Zsolt NÉMETH.

Now I call in the debate, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, Ms Lesia VASYLENKO from Ukraine.

Ms Lesia VASYLENKO, you have the floor.

Mme Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ADLE, Porte-parole du groupe

17:17:18

Thank you President.

Dear Colleagues,

Secretary General,

First of all, I would like to thank the honourable rapporteur, not so much for the report, but for the presentation of this report, for this excursion into the history of Europe in the recent years, but also in the history of this Assembly in recent years.

The last three months have marked a renaissance of thought of the Council of Europe and this Assembly.

After Russia escalated its military aggression against Ukraine two months ago, we have seen immense solidarity among all member States and among all of us colleagues: solidarity against aggression, against war crimes, inhumanity, terrorist states, and indeed genocide.

The solidarity is not just around Ukraine or about Ukraine alone though. The war has unveiled a whole level of issues in the sphere of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

Russia's war on our continent has caused a unity to tackle all of these issues, a unity which we haven't seen for a long time.

As we discussed how to strengthen the core principles that allow us to co-exist as nations and our societies to strive in a socially just and fair environment, we are also making history, colleagues. Our discussions and our reports are more than just words.

Today we are setting the guidelines to allow democracy, human rights, and individual freedoms, to win over the threats of autocracy.

This is why we debate terminology so scrupulously and take extra care to use the right words as we revise old mechanisms and install new instruments to protect the people we represent.

As we are fixing the mistakes of the past and look to the future during this session, we have two very important reports to consider. One on the role of the Council of Europe with regards to the consequences of Russian aggression, and another on the accountability of international crimes and breaches of international humanitarian law.

These reports play a crucial role in restoring peace and security in Europe but also in fixing the rather broken system of global security, particularly the one enshrined in the UN Charter.

For the Council of Europe to be able to be an effective organisation, it's important for us to identify challenges honestly and correctly, to seek solutions in a timely manner, and to unite efforts to lay the preventive mechanisms down.

I wish us all a very good session, a fruitful one, and one which will lead to decision, so very necessarily, for the welfare of Europe and beyond.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:20:08

Thank you, Lesia.

Now I call in the debate, on behalf of the group of the Unified European Left, Mr George KATROUGALOS from Greece.

George, you have the floor.

M. George KATROUGALOS

Grèce, GUE, Porte-parole du groupe

17:20:20

Thank you very much, Mister Chair.

Of course, the great challenge we had before us was the Russian aggression. And we reacted to that in an unequivocal and unanimous way.

We condemned it as contrary to international law and all the leaders of the groups, together with our President, we have visited Ukraine in order to demonstrate the solidarity.

But now we are arriving at a time when we should discuss policies about the end of the war and its aftermath. And we have heard already, by my dear Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER, a version of these policies. Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER has told us it was good that we have reacted to the Russian aggression, but everything we had done before was wrong. It was wrong to bring back Russia in the Council of Europe, because history proves that Russia does not change. We told you so.

I have completely the opposite opinion. I think that the joint procedure we have agreed on is the basic reason now we can have a unanimous stance against the violation of international law. And I think it was a very good policy to try to bring Russia, not any kind of Russia, a democratic Russia within the institutions of the Council of Europe and to try to incorporate it in a system of architecture of security. And when Russia has proven to violate the basic rules and values of this institution, we used this joint procedure in order to expel it.

But exactly because I wanted to refute the most basic historical argument made by Ian, I would not like to use my personal opinion. I tried to find an author with much greater authority than mine. I found in a recent article in New York Times by Thomas Friedman a very pertinent excerpt of George Kennan. George Kennan, as you know, was one of the major theoreticians of the Cold War. On his Long Telegram has been based all the containment policies of the United States vis-a-vis Soviet Union.

Kennan was writing in the late 90s when the dilemma was: NATO expansion was effort of incorporation through OEC of Russia to a system of architecture of peace in Europe. And he was writing, critical to the expansion, the following "I think it is the beginning of a new Cold War. I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake."

Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then the NATO expanders will say "we always told you so, that is how the Russians are". But this is just wrong. This is not to justify the crimes committed in Ukraine, this is not to justify the Russian invasion, this is just to think about what is going to be the aftermath. I think we should by all means try to avoid the return to a bipolar world without the guarantees of the Cold War, and that means we should work on new rules and a new architecture of security in our continent.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:24:08

Thank you, George.

That concludes the speeches on behalf of the five political groups.

Now I call in the debate Mr Eduard AGHAJANYAN, from Armenia.

You have the floor, Sir.

M. Eduard AGHAJANYAN

Arménie, SOC

17:24:25

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear Colleagues,

Indeed the crisis in Ukraine and its humanitarian consequences are of utmost importance for the Council of Europe at this point.

Unfortunately, as one could anticipate, Azerbaijan took advantage of the total preoccupation of the international community with the Ukrainian crisis, undertaking blatant actions in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and fundamental freedoms.

More specifically, based on the government's request, the European Court of Human Rights indicated interim measures by calling on Azerbaijan to refrain from actions that would contribute to breaches of civilian's Convention rights, and to respect their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Despite the foregoing, even after the indication of the interim measures by the court, Azerbaijan has continued to violate its obligations under the Convention.

As such, since February 2022, Azerbaijani armed forces have continuously terrorised the population of the bordering villages of Artsakh through various criminal acts of physical threat and psychological pressure, through direct threatening and intimidating statements addressed to the civilian population using loudspeakers. In the regularly played statements, the population of bordering villages are being told to stop farming and leave their homes otherwise being threatened by physical reprise of their families.

During the same period, on 7 March, the gas supplied to Nagorno-Karabakh was disrupted, leaving over 150 000 people without heating with 1.5 meters of snow on the ground, at an unprecedented freezing condition. With much international pressure, Azerbaijan restored the gas supply on 19 March, only to cut it again after two days.

Dear Colleagues,

All of the above mentioned is a classic example of an act of ethnic cleansing. While on international prep-platforms, Azerbaijani officials often state that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is over, and that Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh can live peacefully in their homes. On the ground, however, Azerbaijan is attempting to force a final round of ethnic cleansing of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, taking advantage once again of the international community's distraction by the Ukrainian crisis.

Despite this, however, Armenia remains committed to an agenda of peace in the South Caucasus, and sees the final and peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict under the auspices of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmanship.

Thank you very much.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:27:04

Thank you very much

Now I call in the debate Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN, from Armenia.

Vladimir, you have the floor.

M. Vladimir VARDANYAN

Arménie, PPE/DC

17:27:22

Dear Chair, Dear Colleagues.

Yesterday, on 24 April, Armenians all over the world were commemorating the memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide, organised and perpetrated by the Ottoman authorities in such a cruel and inhumane manner that the international community was obliged to invent a new term for the qualification of such international outrages "crimes against humanity".

Despite the fact that the consequences of the Armenian Genocide are still echoing within the Armenian community, and despite the fact that even today after 107 years, this issue is still quite sensitive for all of us, the Republic of Armenia, from the very beginning of its independence, has declared its policy of normalisation of relations with Turkey without any precondition.

We are consecutively following this path and reiterating our willingness to normalise bilateral relations. But are our counterparts as sincere in this process as we are?

I would like to show you something. Look, this is a sign of so-called "Boz Qurd" or "Grey Wolves" a radical terrorist organisation responsible for a series of terrorist attacks and other crimes committed against Armenians, Kurds and other minorities. An organisation that is allegedly connected to the assassination of John Paul the second, the Pope, and so on. You may ask why I am showing you this sign and what is the interrelation between my speech and the progress report.

Now, dear colleagues, I have no intention to deviate from the discussion. We are discussing here the progress of our organisation, the progress of fulfillment of our obligation, and the progress in the protection of our wellness. I am showing you it because two days ago Mister Mevlüt Çavusoglu, the incumbent Turkish Foreign Minister, has shown this to the participant of the peaceful demonstration worldwide demanding the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. It is strange, dear colleagues, that a high-level European Diplomat and politician promotes such a sign. It becomes even more unacceptable when it is done by a former president of this Parliamentary Assembly – a person who here in this hemicycle spoke about democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The person whom all of us gave support and right to represent all of us and disseminate ideas of the Council of Europe, protect the European values, allows himself to promote such a radical symbol. It is also worth mentioning that these kinds of actions endanger the possible confidence-building process between the two societies.

Dear colleagues, here I would like to once again state clearly that Armenia is very devoted to the European values and we continue to do our best to normalise Armenian-Turkish relations expressing hope that our Turkish counterparts will have enough will to open the mutual border and establish normal relations with Armenia and contribute to the de-escalation and building of sustainable peace in our region.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:30:46

Thank you, Vladimir.

Now I call in the debate Mr Samad SEYIDOV from Azerbaijan.

Samad, you have the floor.

M. Samad SEYIDOV

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

17:30:57

Thank you, Mister President.

You see, dear friends, how difficult to speak in this Assembly is when your colleagues from Armenia try to mislead this organisation, try to present everything belonging to Azerbaijan and Turkey in a black way.

Why didn't my colleagues mention that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Turkey, Mr Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, was physically attacked?

Why didn't they mention that in the centre of Yerevan they erected the statue of Garegin Nzhdeh, the pro-fascist and fascist representative?

Why didn't they mention that the one million refugees we still have in Azerbaijan are not able to return back to the liberated territories because they are polluted by mines, the territories of my country? Still yesterday, Azerbaijanis were killed by these mines in my territory.

I prepared the report, the speech about the peace process, which the President of Azerbaijan and the Prime Minister of Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, agreed with under the auspices of Charles Michel in Brussels.

I was going to speak about this peace, because the new reality gave us the golden opportunity to create this peace.

It's very strange, I have some cognitive dissonance in my brain because your prime minister said we agreed with the Azerbaijani proposals. We agreed to accept the Azerbaijani suggestions which we gave to Armenian colleagues. Now, the representative of the Armenian delegation speaks against their prime minister's position, against the national interest of Armenians who are looking for peace in the region. Azerbaijan has done and will do everything for this peace.

My dear friends, time has come to think about reconciliation and confidence-building measures between Azerbaijanis and Armenians.

You know I'm very frank with you, my dear friends. We are even against being a part of the committee on conflict between member States. I think, and on behalf of my delegation, we should create an ad hoc committee on reconciliation between Armenia and Azerbaijan, I mean relationships.

Enough of speaking about the wall. Enough of thinking in revanchist ideas. Return back to the values of the Council of Europe.

My last point. If in very many years ago, the international community properly reacted to ethnic cleansing, to the occupation by one state of another state, nothing would happen with Georgia, with Crimea, and now with Ukraine. Time has come to be proper and to do our best for peace in the region. I invite all my friends and colleagues from Armenia to sit together with Azerbaijan and to think about the peace for Armenians and Azerbaijanis.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:34:26

Thank you, Samad.

Before giving the floor to the next speaker there is a request for a point of order by Mr Kamil AYDIN.

Mister AYDIN, you have the floor for a point of order.

M. Kamil AYDIN

Turquie, NI

17:34:47

I'm very disillusioned, honestly, you know, because we are having a very private session which is based on the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Unfortunately again, the tradition repeats itself when I listen to my Armenian colleague, Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN. He made an unsubstantiated accusation about a signal, about a symbol, which is done by every single Turkish citizen, wherever he or she lives. And why? Because I'm a professor of culture at the same time. I know most of cultural heritage is based on legends and stories. If you look at the Turkish background, the Turkish culture, we believe that it is the symbol of the exodus from Ergenekon. That symbol is used by any political figure in Turkey, from left to right, from any group. It turns out to be a kind of friendship hand symbol.

Now as if it were a symbol which is totally illegal or forbidden and, having said that, trying to accuse the foreign minister Çavuşoğlu of making that symbol.

I am telling that that symbol is also made by very famous American university students, at the University of New Mexico. It is the symbol of that University as well. It is called, in Latin, "Lobo". The symbol of Lobo is being a member of that University, which requires making that symbol. So, please, after such a very good normalisation period which has been started between those two countries, why are you still trying to use any simple opportunity to create a crisis?

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:36:44

Thank you very much, Mister Aydin.

Thank you very much for making your point of order known. We are not going to continue this discussion.

The next on the speaker's list is Mr Rafael HUSEYNOV from Azerbaijan.

You have the floor, sir.

M. Rafael HUSEYNOV

Azerbaïdjan, ADLE

17:37:04

Thank you, Chair.

Dear colleagues,

I would like to reiterate the views I expressed in my recent speeches on progress reports. In addition to demonstrating the work done and achievements during the reporting period, these reports should propose answers to questions about what we should do tomorrow and what we should be prepared for.

A timely step is significant in all areas of life. 

A step taken in time signifies a slight anticipation of the future. The timely step is to anticipate what is happening and help control it. Simply observing events or making conclusions after they have happened is, in the old fashioned way, just a chronicle, a historiography.

The situation on the continent is far from satisfactory. Various crises replace each other, the arrival of new waves of anxiety is clearly felt. The Council of Europe, as an influential and experienced international organisation, is certainly accountable to the continent and the world. All current developments also demonstrate that we have been spectators on many issues and have not reacted more seriously in time.

If 20 years ago the sharpest reaction had been taken to the fact of the occupation by one member State of the territory of another one, if decisive measures had been taken to correct such a strange situation without delay, then similar conditions would not have been repeated in the fate of others.

We, as representatives of Azerbaijan, are talking about this not only now, after the events. We had taken our timely step. In the very early 2000s, we talked about it with all our might and passion.

In fact, speaking of our own problems, we sounded the alarm about the approaching disasters. When we raised these questions two decades ago, we had in mind not only ourselves, our own tragedies of occupation and exile. We also made it clear that if action was not taken in time, the disaster would move towards you, and one million refugees and displaced persons would turn into tens of millions.

The necessary, decisive steps were not taken in time, including also by the Council of Europe. The outcome is a shaky Europe and the world we now live in, the tense reality we now find ourselves in: the bitter reality of war, millions of refugees, and economic problems.

We must get rid of the habit of looking after the departing train. Instead of commenting on what is happening today, we need to think about where all this will lead, and we must take urgent action in advance to prevent deeper crises.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:40:00

Thank you very much, Rafael.

Now I call in the debate Mr Armen GEVORGYAN from Armenia.

You have the floor, sir.

M. Armen GEVORGYAN

Arménie, NI

17:40:08

Mister President,

Yesterday, on 24 April, Armenians all around the world and many other nations were commemorating the Armenian Genocide – a crime against humanity that two members of the Council of Europe – Turkey and Azerbaijan – are denying. The International Association of Genocide Scholars calls denial the last stage of the same crime of genocide. There is something else that in our days other than Azerbaijan supported by Turkey denies too: the right of Armenians to live in their historical homeland.

After the Fourty-Four Day War unleashed by Azerbaijan in the fall of 2020, the Armenian people in the Republic of Artsakh, Nagorno-Karabakh, has faced a dilemma: continue pursuing their path of independent development and life in dignity, preserving their national identity, or repeat the dire destiny of our compatriots that once lived in what now is part of Azerbaijani region, by the name of Nakhchivan.

In the course of 70 years as a part of Soviet Azerbaijan, the entire Armenian population of Nakhchivan has completely disappeared. Armenian cultural and religious heritage in Nakhchivan have been completely demolished. Now Azerbaijan is trying to force the Armenians of Artsakh to have the same destiny.

I call on the Council of Europe to send a clear and strong signal to all parties of the Karabakh conflict, that the international community will continue to support three main principles for the conflict resolution defined by the OSCE Minsk group co-chairmanship. One of these principles, namely the non-use of force or the threat of force, has been violated by Azerbaijan many times and continues to be violated these days. That is why the international community cannot demand the Armenian people of Artsakh to live under the rule of Azerbaijan, which has been carrying out a state policy of ethnic cleansing of Armenians. A state that has unleashed three large-scale wars against them in three decades. A state that is trying to rewrite the history of the region in order to deny the mere existence of Armenian heritage and culture. Finally, a state that is not shy to publicly declare its territorial ambitions against the Republic of Armenia, too.

Mister President, I believe that peace in our region does not have any alternative. For long and sustainable peace, solutions are needed that must be mutually acceptable. The important challenge for our organisation is to limit Azerbaijani efforts to secure the silent consent of Europe in its business of denying the right of the people of Artsakh to self-determination in exchange for gas and oil.

Finally, Mister President, it was shocking to see that the person who was the president of this Assembly for two years, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of a member State, Mr ÇAVUŞOĞLU, communicating with the Armenians with the gestures of a Turkish nationalist terrorist organisation. Such beahviour should be unacceptable and condemned by the Council of Europe. I call on my colleagues from Turkey with the same efforts to recognise the genocide of Armenians.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:43:33

Thank you.

Next on the list is Lord George FOULKES from the United Kingdom.

Lord George FOULKES, you have the floor.

Lord George FOULKES

Royaume-Uni, SOC

17:43:45

Well, Mister President, that was a very impressive, albeit novel speech by Mr Ian LIDDELL‑GRAINGER on the progress report of the Bureau.

Although I agree with a lot of what he said, I'm going to leave that now. We've got a couple more debates on the Russian intervention, which I hope to participate in. I'm certainly not going to enter into the debate between Armenia and Azerbaijan, not tonight anyway.

I want to raise these two rather more mundane issues. Day after day, night after night, along with all of us here, I spend a lot of time discussing well-written reports, detailed amendments, voting on them. We really do spend a lot of time. We put a lot of effort into it. What I wonder sometimes is, when these reports then go to the Committee of Ministers, then what happens to them? What do we do to press them with national governments? The only people who can really take some action on that.

Then, the second point I want to raise is the image, the profile of the Council of Europe. Now in the United Kingdom I've been encouraging even more information and understanding of the Council of Europe, particularly that we are, sadly, no longer members of the European Union. I could go into a bar or a café in Edinburgh, and I don't think I'd bump into anyone who knew about the Council of Europe.

Now, I thought the Bureau had a particular role to pursue and to promote the work that we do and to make sure it followed up and to make sure our profile is raised. My question to you, Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER, is what are you and the Bureau doing to increase the knowledge and understanding of the work of the Council of Europe and particularly of the Parliamentary Assembly, and what are you doing to make sure that the resolutions that we spent so much time and effort on are picked up and acted upon? Otherwise, we might feel that we could be wasting some of our time here.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:46:17

Thank you, George.

There is a point of order again, but we are not going to continue the same debate, so you have 30 seconds to make your point Ahmet.

M. Ahmet YILDIZ

Turquie, NI

17:46:30

Sure, Mister President.

Indeed, I suppose also that we will proceed based on the introduction presentation by Mr Edouard GRANGIER as we did in the Bureau. But again, this session was hijacked by Armenian colleagues. It turned into a discussion...

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:46:52

Sorry, Mr Ahmet YILDIZ!

Sorry!

Shut up! Shut up!

Sit down.

Relax please.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ has the floor for a point of order, not for a debate, because then you should have been on the list.

So, make your point of order, and that's it.

It doesn't help if you all stand up. You won't get the floor.

Mr Ahmet YILDIZ, 30 seconds, point of order. If you don't have one, then we continue the debate.

M. Ahmet YILDIZ

Turquie, NI

17:47:25

... substantial issue, Mr Edouard GRANGIER, made introduction. I blame Armenian colleagues because they criticised the deep political national movement in Turkey unfairly. Minister Çavuşoğlu, President of this Assembly, former one, he is doing his job. Unfortunately, also in Latin America, there are many radicals hijacking the meeting also that he reacted to.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:47:55

Thank you.

Yes, Mister Ruben RUBINYAN, you have 30 seconds for your point of order. It does not help if everybody stands up. That's not very [unintelligible word].

Mister RUBINYAN.

M. Ruben RUBINYAN

Arménie, PPE/DC

17:48:15

Thank you, Mister President.

I have a problem with how you deal with this session.

You gave two points of order to two of our Turkish colleagues, who spoke no words about the point of order. This is a problem.

Secondly, you are not in a position to tell anyone in this hemicycle to shut up.

Thirdly, I want to ask you, Mister President, is any kind of sign, an aggressive nationalist sign allowed this in this hemicycle or not? If your answer is no, please make sure those signs are not used here.

Thirdly, please, continue dealing with the points of order as they are, and don't allow our colleagues to make statements which are not dealing with the order.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:49:06

Thank you very much.

Now we have Mr Vladimir VARDANYAN, who also asked for a point of order. 30 seconds, Mister VARDANYAN, for a point of order.

Please.

M. Vladimir VARDANYAN

Arménie, PPE/DC

17:49:21

Mister Chairman.

First of all, dignity is the basis of human rights. Nobody can offend anybody sitting here. The words "shut up" are offensive. Sorry for saying this.

The second, yes, points of order is only for the procedure but not for substance.

The third, I would like to request Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER to answer the question of whether it is normal for the former president of this Assembly to use the signs of a radical organisation.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:49:56

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Now we are going to continue our debate.

I will ask the leaders of the delegations of Azerbaijan and Armenia to meet me during the week to discuss this way of debates.

Next on the debate will be Mr Kamal JAFAROV from Azerbaijan.

You have the floor, sir.

M. Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

17:50:28

Dear Colleagues,

I would like to inform you about the meetings between Azerbaijan and Armenia initiated by the President of the European Council, Mr Charles Michel. The results of the two meetings in Brussels can be considered as positive on the whole.

The first good news is that the European Union accepts the realities of the post-conflict situation. The words "Nagorno-Karabakh" and "conflict" do not appear in the final communiqué. This is natural because there is no longer a conflict; the conflict has been resolved. The European Union is currently working on the normalisation of Azerbaijan-Armenia relations. We also appreciate this.

The second important news is that an agreement has been reached on the delimitation of the borders and the creation of working groups to work out a peace agreement.

The third, and perhaps most important, is that Armenia also accepts the realities of the post-conflict period. Armenia accepts five principles presented by Azerbaijan.

We consider these comments to be positive. However, Armenia must prove its seriousness at the negotiating table. At the same time, Armenia must take seriously its commitments to regional communication and take practical steps. It must behave sincerely.

Why do I say this? Because 80 of the mine plans provided by Armenia to Azerbaijan are false. We understand that Armenia has done this in order to create an artificial image in front of the international community. 21 people could have been killed if the inhabitants who recently visited the destroyed houses in the village of Gunachli in the Kelbajar region had not been warned in time. It has been established that these mines were buried by Armenians between 10 and 25 November. We want PACE not to remain silent on the problem of mines.

M. Kamal JAFAROV

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

17:52:57

Finally, my regard to that symbol. You should also know that, maybe you can Google that, as well Barack Obama even made it. This is very old totem belong to Turkish people, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:53:13

Thank you very much.

Before continuing the debate, the moment that I said "shut up", that was not correct.

I wanted to say be silent, because it's the President who gives you the floor, you cannot take the floor. So excuse my English language in that respect. But we stick to the rule that the President decides who is getting the floor and who's not getting the floor.

Next on the list of speakers is Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO from the Ukraine.

He's online I think. No, he's not with us.

Okay.

Then the next speaker will be Ms Nigar ARPADARAI from Azerbaijan.

Madam, you have the floor.

Mme Nigar ARPADARAI

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

17:53:57

Thank you very much.

Dear Colleagues,

I'm from Azerbaijan. For 30 years we lived through the occupation, ethnic cleansing, aggression by another member state of the Council of Europe: Armenia. All this, while Europe and its institutes watched and did nothing.

But I don't want to talk about that now. I want to talk about peace. Despite obvious military upper-hand in regards to Armenian-Azerbaijani stand out, Azerbaijan is willing to achieve a fair and lasting peace based on the principles of international law.

Such peace will bring stability and prosperity not only to the countries concerned, but to the entire region of Southeastern Europe. It would mean new economic and transit opportunities. It would mean a safer Europe for all.

I am glad to see that there are signs that Europe seems to support it to.

The recent meeting of the President of Azerbaijan, the Prime Minister of Armenia, and the President of the European Council in Brussels, and the rhetoric and atmosphere around it are a good sign.

Dear colleagues, Azerbaijan placed on the table five straightforward and simple principles as a basis for the peace treaty between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Among others, these include mutual recognition of territorial integrity as well as mutual confirmation of the absence of territorial claims against each other. Armenia's leadership, Prime Minister Pashinyan, flirts with this idea. But we are yet to see it materialising into a solid document.

The reasons for such position are clear to me. The Armenian Constitution is based on territorial claims to neighbours. The modern Armenian political system is entangled in the trap of the myth of ethnic supremacy and expansionism. It is based on the dream to recreate some ancient Armenian empire from sea to sea, and avenge for all kinds of old grievances. But it is a way to nowhere. 

A year and a half have passed since the signing of the trilateral statement ending hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Unfortunately, even now, the remnants of military Armenian groups continue to hide in Karabakh. Why are they there? Why didn't Armenia move its military from our land?

If Armenia is sincere about peace, there is a very obvious way to show it. Stop direct and indirect support to secessionist and separatist groups on the territory of Azerbaijan. Make a clear statement about that.

We in Azerbaijan are ready for peace. And I ask, is Armenia ready for it?

The time has come to decide. Europe this time must be proactive for the sake of its own future.

Dear colleagues, and again again and again, regarding the Armenian rhetoric, regarding coming back to the genocide issue. The Turkish side, Turkey has said many times that they are ready to open all the documents. They want to investigate. Why would Armenians not do that? Why are they making loud statements and then hiding?

Come on. Let's open.

Again, in our case also, if you want a sign, if you want a peace deal, come to direct talks with us, and let's sign this peace deal.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:57:10

Thank you, Madam.

The last speaker on our list is Mr Piero FASSINO from Italy.

Piero, you have the floor.

M. Piero FASSINO

Italie, SOC

17:57:26

I apologize, I will take just a few seconds, because I do not believe that much progress will be made if in every session of our Parliamentary Assembly we have such a debate, where representatives of Armenia stand up and reproach and recriminate against Azerbaijan and vice versa, representatives of Azerbaijan do the same.

This is not a step forward. We will continue in this mutual recrimination. So I believe that the Council of Europe, which is a forum where dialogue, reconciliation and problem-solving should be fostered, should act to help overcome this opposition.

Since the Monitoring Committee has within it a sub-committee to settle conflicts between member states, I propose that this committee put on its agenda the initiation of an intermediary activity for dialogue between the Azerbaijani delegation and the Armenian delegation.

Thank you.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

17:58:43

Thank you very much, Piero, for this proposal.

We will come back to that proposal. Now the list of speakers has ended.

I give the floor to Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER to reply.

You have 3 minutes, Ian.

M. Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Rapporteur du Bureau de l'Assemblée

17:58:59

Thank you very much indeed, Mister President.

I thought it's my job to tell you to be quiet. I'm quite shocked somebody stealing my thunder, but actually, in the words of English, as you know, Tiny, English is a very broad language and you were quite right to be able to use those words as many other words you could use. So, don't worry about it.

Can I just thank Lithuanians, our Hungarian colleague, and our Ukrainian colleague for bringing forward the report on the way Russia has acted, the way that aggression has no place, and that for the refugees and for the people that are displaced, the people that are suffering every single day that we continue to watch this war escalate.

My Hungarian colleague mentioned the Hungarian elections. Many congratulations. I think a lot of people were very pleased to see that they went well. I believe in Serbia they did as well.

I would say to George gently because you have no way to plan to understand that. It wasn't a case of I-told-you-so, it was a case I thought it was pretty obvious that what was going to happen with the Russians. Unfortunately we learn by the lessons of history. History does tend to repeat itself, not always for the better. I'm sorry about that.

On Armenia and Azerbaijan, I have both countries in my group. I understand the sensibilities and the enormous emotions it triggers. Many of the things I talked about Russia are in fact encompassed in that. I would urge all sides to sit down. I hope, Tiny, you can broker an understanding when you meet them in your office and to get this understanding across.

George, you're quite a jo... sorry, Lord FOULKES, you're quite right, George. It's a novel progress report, but progress is in the eyes of the beholder, I would suggest. In my eyes this is the most important thing that we are going to face, certainly probably in the next 10 years, this situation in the Ukraine. By sorting this out, we will set the tone for democracy not just for Ukraine and Russia, but for all of us because the norms have disappeared.

I never thought Sweden and Finland would ask to join NATO. I never thought I'd see Germany rearming the way it is. I didn't think I'd see countries changing the way they look at the world. I didn't see, for instance, America taking this position in the way it has. I think so much has changed. You're right, George, this is a novel approach, but I think novel times need novel approaches.

You made a very good point, George. These reports, we do hundreds of the damn things, I think we did one on football recently, George, and where do they go to? It's not just in the pubs in Edinburgh where nobody knows the Council of Europe. In the House of Commons nobody knows the Council of Europe. Never mind going out to the pubs. And that is the problem.

How do we get the reports out there? There is no easy answer. I think we do too many reports. I think our scattergun approach means that they are diluted. I think we need to focus much more on what really matters to us. I think that all of us, perhaps, take the reports there are so many that we can't be bothered to read them. They're quite long! I dare say slightly boring, and I've done some myself. On that note, Mister Speaker, I present the progress report to the plenary session, and I wish you good luck for the rest of the week, sir.

M. Tiny KOX

Pays-Bas, GUE, Président de l'Assemblée

18:02:06

Thank you very much, Mr Ian LIDDELL-GRAINGER, for your presentation and your reply.

The Bureau has proposed a number of references to Committees for ratification by the Assembly and they are set out in document 15503 and Addendum 1.

Is there any objection to the proposed references to committees?

I do not see any, so they are approved.

I now propose that the other decisions in the progress report and document 15503 and Addendum 1 and 2 be ratified. 

Is there any objection?

There is no objection.

Then we now interrupt the debate for a moment to change the Presidency.

 

Débat : Pour une évaluation des moyens et des dispositifs de lutte contre l'exposition des enfants aux contenus pornographiques

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:03:18

The next item of business at this sitting is the debate on the Report titled “For an assessment of the means and provisions to combat children’s exposure to pornographic content?” (Doc. 15494) presented by Mr Dimitri HOUBRON on behalf of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.

We shall hear an opinion from Mr Stefan SCHENNACH on behalf of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media (Doc. 15505).

The sitting will conclude at 7:30 p.m. so I propose to interrupt the list of speakers at about 7:15 p.m. to allow time for the replies and the vote on the amendments and the draft resolution and draft recommendation.

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

Mister Houbron, you have the floor.

M. Dimitri HOUBRON

France, ADLE, Rapporteur

18:04:35

Thank you, Mister President,

My dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to say that it is a great pride for me to speak before you today, before such a prestigious institution, to present to you the fruit of many months of work relating to an evaluation of the means and devices to fight against the exposure of children to pornographic content.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the many colleagues and experts for their opinions and advice; the members of the PACE Social Affairs Committee from Croatia, France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom for their written contributions; Mr John Carr, an expert in Internet safety and security, Ms Julie Miville-Dechêne, a Canadian senator, Mr Corby, the Executive Director of the Age Verification Providers Association, who shared their thoughts on this topic; and the written contribution provided by MindGeek, which helped identify the challenges in this area from the perspective of adult content providers.

I would also like to thank in particular Ms Yulia Pererva, administrator of our Assembly, for her work, her advice, her availability and of course her support throughout the preparation of this report.

First of all, I would like to set the context in which this report was commissioned. It was proposed to reinforce the path traced by the Council of Europe Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse, known as the Lanzarote Convention.

We started from the observation that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe should produce more documentation and resources on the means and devices to strengthen the protection of minors from exposure to pornography.

I would like to point out that the first draft of the motion for a resolution on this topic was drafted at the end of 2019, that is, at a time when the Covid-19 was just journalistic briefs from correspondents in China.

In this context of the pandemic, screen time increased, supervision decreased and many children ended up accessing and sharing sexually explicit content. The website PornHub has reported an increase of about 24% in 2020 in the number of pornographic content views. While most of the people viewing this content are of course adults, there are also children. With the average age of first exposure to such content being 11, parents are increasingly concerned and need clear and concrete recommendations.

In this context, some member States of the Council of Europe have sought to reform the legal texts that govern their interactions with digital platforms and social networks.

They have adopted legislation requiring social networks to have a representative on national soil and to obey court orders to remove content within 48 hours, under penalty of fines. They have also provided for a ban on advertising revenues or a sharp reduction in bandwidth. However, almost all the social networking giants refused to comply with these measures, considering that they could open the way to censorship requests.

In the end, it appeared that any legal provision on this subject could be swept aside on the grounds that it would ultimately undermine freedom of expression. On this last point, France has moreover seen one of its laws aimed at fighting against hatred on the Internet censured by its Constitutional Council.

Dear colleagues, as you will have understood, it is in this singularly complicated, uncertain and heavy context that we have prepared this report. It has enabled us to confirm two fundamental elements that are known to all, but which it is nevertheless necessary to recall.

On the one hand, the easy and anonymous access to pornographic contents constitutes the deep causes of our problem. On the other hand, it is not an exaggeration to say that a child can be destroyed by exposure to these increasingly violent pornographic contents. This scourge jeopardises his well-being, his relationship with society, his interactions with women and men, and even his sexuality. It is a slow psychic mutilation.

This report has allowed us to detail the different means and devices that exist to fight against the exposure of these children to pornographic contents.

First of all, we can rely on parental control and blocking software on computers. It was essential to make it easier for parents and those looking after children to control their children's online activities.

With this in mind, France has enacted a law to strengthen parental controls on Internet access devices. It requires manufacturers of connected devices to install parental control software by default when the device is first updated. The law introduces penalties for non-compliance with this obligation, provides for "black" and "white" lists of websites or applications, and aims to ensure a common minimum standard for all manufacturers.

The state must also take responsibility and take stronger measures, such as implementing an effective age verification system.

There are several laws and technological tools to force a user to prove his age to access certain content. We can mention the method of visual identification by a scanned and authenticated ID; the service of age estimation through artificial intelligence; or the creation of a reusable "digital identity wallet". In 2020, the French Parliament passed a law introducing a national age verification system for pornographic sites. The law leaves it up to the sites to decide how they will do this. One of the most popular measures seems to be to ask users to enter a credit card number.

Of course, the people concerned are used to remaining anonymous and feel that their surfing on adult sites is an extremely sensitive matter. It is therefore essential to ensure that age verification tools are created in such a way as to guarantee a maximum level of privacy protection, while allowing for effective action against criminal activity.

Finally, the report reiterates the fundamental role of education and awareness within schools. Education professionals should be trained to engage in open communication with children, based on the principles of respect for human dignity and equality between women and men, and using critical thinking skills. We should be confident that young people, even at an early age, can reflect on the messages conveyed by sexual content and understand the differences between real life relationships and the "fiction" of pornography.

Moreover, the pornographic industry itself is aware of the problem and is ready to work with us. It has in fact contributed to this report.

In terms of recommendations, I also propose the creation of a partnership with relevant UN bodies, such as UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children. Such a partnership could bring together platforms and public authorities, as well as digital companies and adult content providers. The goal is to develop a co‑ordinated, sustainable and affordable global response.

As you will have understood, dear colleagues, many points have been addressed in this report in order to provide concrete solutions. I will conclude this speech, perhaps, with a quote from a French politician, Pierre Mauroy, who said "that by stubbornly believing in one's dreams, one ends up imposing one's reality".

My dear colleagues, let us be great obstinate dreamers this evening.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:12:11

Thank you, Mister Houbron.

I now call on Mr Stefan SCHENNACH who is rapporteur of the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media to present the Committee's opinion and you have three minutes.

M. Stefan SCHENNACH

Autriche, SOC, Rapporteur

18:12:27

Thank you, Mister President,

Dear colleagues, 

First, let me really express my congratulations to Mr Dimitri HOUBRON and to the whole Social Committee for this excellent report, which is very important and whose analyses and recommendations I fully support. And it sometimes is good if you are a long time in an institution like the Council of Europe. I remember a few years back, you will see, I asked for the floor at that time, our Assembly adopted the resolution on violence in and through the media, discussing the impact of media violence, including sexual violence, on the behaviour of individuals, in particular children, who have increasingly easier access to pornographic content in an often unregulated internet environment. 

The Culture Committee adopted unanimously two amendments I made and the Social Committee also adopted those two amendments today unanimously. I thank the rapporteur that he agreed to the adoption of those amendments.

For me, it was the fuel to drawing attention to sexual violence on the internet – video games, social media platforms, as well as virtual environments – which remained largely unregulated. This is Amendment 1.

The Committee also draws your attention to virtual reality environments such as the Metaverse, where users can interact  online in a three-dimension multi-sensory way, which can affect the minds and bodies of children through potentially violent and pornographic content and sounds. Unwanted images and context can become even more intrusive and difficult for parents to control. We want to encourage the development of an anonymous complaint and reporting mechanism also complemented by a code of conduct of safe internet programmes and of possible forms of content moderation.

The Culture Committee intends to further investigate the risks, challenges and human rights implications of emerging technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality and immerse technology. We would like to associate the Social Committee in this endeavour with a special focus on the physical and psychological aspects of immerse technology on children and youth.

Thanks again for this report and I hope that this report will find a large majority.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:15:46

Thank you, Mister Schennach.

Now in this debate, I move to speakers on behalf of political groups.

The first of those is the Group of the European People's Party and Mr Alain MILON.

The floor is yours, sir.

M. Alain MILON

France, PPE/DC, Porte-parole du groupe

18:16:02

Mister President,

My dear colleagues,

First of all, I would like to thank our colleague Mr. Dimitri HOUBRON for this work which highlights the dangers of children's exposure to pornographic content. Due to the development of information and communication technologies, our children are exposed to pornographic content much earlier in life and much more easily than in the past.

This exposure has an impact on their psychological and physical development. If it is still too early to draw up a complete assessment of this evolution, numerous studies and testimonies attest to the harmfulness, for our children, of the exposure to these contents. Studies agree that this early exposure has neuropsychiatric consequences, and that it can lead to addiction. It can also lead to sexual behaviour disorders characterised by excessive obsessive sexual fantasies that can generate suffering and, as a result, depression. Erectile dysfunction has also been associated with early exposure to pornographic content. Finally, the psychic impact of these images on children and the behavioural disorders they induce are not yet fully measured. In this regard, people exposed to pornography report nightmares and negative repercussions on their future relationships.

We cannot therefore remain inactive in the face of this subject. It is our duty to look after the welfare of our children and, as parliamentarians, we must force sites offering pornographic content to check the age of their users. We therefore share the rapporteur's desire for an appropriate certification process; we share the idea of making compliance with age verification requirements mandatory and addressing the problem of search engines highlighting non-compliant sites, and considering the establishment of a blacklist of URLs for domains that violate the law.

We also support the use of parental control and content blocking software. We believe this should be encouraged. It is up to parents to ensure that the equipment used by their children is equipped with this type of software, which must be set up and activated. In France, as the rapporteur said, at the initiative of parliamentarians, we have just adopted a law to reinforce parental control over internet access means. It provides for the obligation for manufacturers of connected devices to install parental control software that can be activated free of charge. This seems to me to be an interesting solution.

Finally, the international conventions in force today on the protection of children do not specifically target exposure to pornographic content. Therefore, we think that the Council of Europe should take up this issue and develop guidelines.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:19:07

Thank you, Mister Milon.

Now we move to the European Conservatives Group and Democratic Alliance.

I call Lord Simon RUSSELL.

Lord Simon RUSSELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Porte-parole du groupe

18:19:17

I would like to start by thanking Mr Dimitri HOUBRON very much for a very timely and comprehensive report.

This is a global problem. It affects us all, every nation, but it is global. The only way we can tackle this is by tackling it globally as well as nationally. To prioritise either over the other will not and does not work.

The online world has no borders. It recognises no borders, it respects no borders. What it does respect is profitability.

While welcoming this report, I do feel it's important to acknowledge and use the best practice approaches that have already been developed around the world. In particular, first and foremost, what I'm holding is the Gold Standard. The Gold Standard was developed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2021, it produced general comment number 25 on children's rights in relation to the digital environment. It largely says it all with very clear views and guidelines lines for countries, which it refers to as states parties, to develop comprehensive policies laws and protocols to protect children.

I urge all parliamentarians and policymakers to study it carefully. Otherwise, we will be in danger yet again of reinventing the wheel.

Secondly, the EU is doing some good work. The Digital Services Act, hopefully, will include children's safety by design. The new Artificial Intelligence Act, hopefully, will ban all online systems which exploit vulnerabilities.

In the United States of America, the federal government is looking at child online privacy acts in a variety of forms. Most interestingly in California, where of course so much technology emanates, a new children's online code was voted through unanimously in the California legislature. To find something that both Republicans and Democrats agree on in the United States is unusual, to put it mildly. Many of the California technology companies themselves are getting on board.

But we are always in danger of being behind the curve. Mr Stefan SCHENNACH mentioned the metaverse. The metaverse of course is partly why Mr Zuckerberg renamed Facebook Meta. This is what he's betting the future on.

A story in today's Daily Mail in the United Kingdom refers to a documentary, which will be shown on Channel 4 television shortly, and it is about the metaverse. A reporter found grooming sexual material, racist insults, and rape threats, all over the metaverse. So, please go back to your countries, ask your government to act with speed, with determination, and above all, to work globally and nationally.

Above all, and I'm thinking of my colleague Baroness Doreen E. MASSEY, who can't be here in person, listen to your children. They want protection, they know what they're talking about, and they usually know far more than we do.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:22:31

Thank you, Lord RUSSELL.

Now for Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), I ask Ms Fiona O'LOUGHLIN to take the floor.

Mme Fiona O'LOUGHLIN

Irlande, ADLE, Porte-parole du groupe

18:22:39

Thank you very much, Chair.

I, firstly, would like to thank the rapporteur for the absolutely excellent work, for the detail that he has gone into and for the very strong recommendations that he has made.

There is absolutely no doubt that children are spending a considerable amount of time on the internet and many may be exposed to content that simply is not suitable for them to see, such as pornographic material, which initially can be very extremely damaging and traumatising for them to see. Then there is the danger of them normalising that. Some people are simply unaware of what lies on the internet and how easy it is for children to come across mature content without meaning to. This can have an impact on them right throughout their lives.

It is a reality that pornography is now the most prominent sexuality educator for many young people, and that's quite shocking to hear. Most young people discover porn well before they encounter sex. Perhaps even before they have had a kiss. We know from research that has been done that 50% of boys have seen porn before the age of 13 and 50% of girls have seen porn before the age of 15.

Shockingly, 30% of porn websites show non-consensual sexual acts. We have to ask what message that is giving out to our young people. So, I'm going to make just a few statements that are short simple statements but that really give us the nob of the issue.

Porn can shape sexual tastes and expectations.

Porn bodies are not normal bodies.

Porn sex is not safe sex.

Porn is a performance and it misrepresents pleasure.

They are simple statements. But there's a lot of weight and a lot of truth in those, and a lot of the reasoning why we absolutely need to do something. We all have a role. Legislators have a very strong role. Teachers have a very strong role. Parents have the most important role of all. We need collectively to work to make sure the strategies are put in place to combat exposure to pornography. These strategies need to be comprehensive, and they need to be coherent.

The main conclusion of the report and, again, I think we have to say it, that we cannot leave the answer to just a group of concerned individuals and associations. It needs to become priority for society as a whole with media acting responsibly and with all of our governments acting accountably to do what they can to address this really huge concern.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:26:00

Thank you, Fiona.

And now, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left, I call on Laura CASTEL.

Mme Laura CASTEL

Espagne, GUE, Porte-parole du groupe

18:26:07

Thank you Chair,

Dear all, on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left I want to start by thanking the rapporteur for the efforts Mr Dimitri HOUBRON has put into researching this report, this topic, and writing this highly relevant report. A report that deals with a controversial and complex topic but is of utmost importance to be debated today for the rights of the children, but also, as the pornography industry is the one directly benefited from exposure from an early age.

The literature on the subject is characterised by attention between youth rights to sexual expression and privacy, and child protection. But what is the reality is that children's exposure to pornography content is harmful for their personal development. This type of content is a kind of sexual abuse, because a child cannot be considered as able to consent to engage in online child sexual exploitation.

Often, as the rapporteur stresses, they stumble upon the pornographic content on digital devices even without actively looking for it. This kind of pornography prospectively harms the psychological health of the society and increases risk of gender stereotyping and violence against women, and undermines their human dignity and physical integrity.

More negative aspects of exposure to pornography appear to affect young people's sexual attitudes, expectations and beliefs. This kind of pornography normalises abuses and violence against human beings and can negatively affect the picture of children about sexuality.

Group raping often appears in films produced by this industry, and that impacts the children exposed. The liberalised capitalist market of the pornographic industry commercialises human beings and commercialises unhealthy relationships.

The current scale of children's exposure to pornography calls on measures that have been clearly identified in this report. Therefore, urgent need to ensure safety of children is needed by providing parents and social actors the relevant information. On one hand, the rights of children to adequate standards of mental health according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Children. On the other, sexuality and education is important as part of the development of the child.

Also, relevant legislation for the prohibition of such content in certain age is needed, as well as penalty for non-compliances by the industry and the providers.

We should urge national parliaments to adopt a specific, comprehensive and harmonised legal framework to introduce national online child sexual exploitation and abuse laws.

I finish, it is also time for the IT industry to start being committed in designing technical solutions that are user-friendly and provide effective safety controls against pornographic content availability to children.

Thank you again to the rapporteur.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:29:49

Thank you very much indeed.

And just before I move to the last of our political speakers, can I remind everyone that, unless they're speaking, they are supposed to be wearing the mask. So, can those that are just sitting listening to this debate please put their masks on?

Thank you very much indeed.

Lastly, I call Ms Tonia ANTONIAZZI on behalf of the Socialist Group.

Mme Tonia ANTONIAZZI

Royaume-Uni, SOC, Porte-parole du groupe

18:30:15

Thank you, Mister Chair.

I warmly welcome this report from the committee and the rapporteur Mr Dimitri HOUBRON.

For 20 years I was a school teacher, a secondary school teacher, and I have been increasingly concerned about the influence of online pornography on society, but especially on children and young people.

The Assembly is right to be alarmed at the unprecedented exposure of children to pornography in society. We must all be alarmed because today’s mainstream internet porn is free, hardcore, and harming young people and children.

This report covers the main points, but it could be sharper, it could be more direct, because the horrific situation that we find ourselves in. It's the Wild West online and for far too long the victims are children.

Studies have shown that the first age of viewing internet pornography is between 11 and 14, but the harsh reality is that an even younger age is targeted at less than 10 years of age.

Most young people today access porn on mobile phones, through social media sites, that are targeted to teenagers and free internet porn sites.

Porn sites get more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined, research has found that young people are increasingly exposed to porn – either intentionally or by accident – through Snapchat and Instagram, which are becoming gateways to increase hardcore porn use among adolescents.

Lets not mince our words here:

90% of pornography content can be categorised as sexual or physical abuse.

As Lord Simon RUSSELL has already mentioned, the Channel 4 programme "Dispatches" has exposed the metaverse and the issues around virtual reality and the sexual and racist abuse that is online there.

Porn is racist, ableist, and fetishises body size and shape.

Porn supports the objectification and sexualisation of women and children.

The way that porn addiction works drives the user to more extreme content including sexual images and videos of children, which means that there is a growing market for sexual images and videos of children.

Porn makes children confused about sexual orientation and leads to dysphoria and eating disorders.

I make no bones about it, it is education that we need. We need to tell children why the production of porn is as important, for them to know and understand that porn is made through exploitation.

Now, I have so much more to say but the Online Harms Bill gives some strong powers to us, but it could go further in the United Kingdom.

We have a problem of "breadcrumbing": this is where abusers organise in plain sight, signposting illegal content to each other in a way that doesn’t meet the criminal standard. So steps must be taken across Europe, across the world to prevent child abuse at the earliest possible opportunity.

But thank you for your report.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:33:41

Thank you very much and thank you to all the speakers on behalf the political groups.

Now we move to the to the main speakers list and I start with Ms Margreet De BOER.

Mme Margreet De BOER

Pays-Bas, SOC

18:33:55

Thank you, President.

In addressing this report, resolution, and recommendation I would like to commend the rapporteur for his comprehensive assessment of this important topic. The technological measures presented in the resolution, such as parental controls, ad-blocking, and age verification tools are relevant and have the potential to address the issue of children’s exposure to pornographic content rather quickly. For a more structural and long-term solution, I would like to stress the importance of education. This is already included in the resolution, which states that comprehensive sexuality and relationship education in schools should be strengthened.

Pornography should not be the first and, surely, not be the only way in which children learn about sex.

In current times, we see trends in many countries moving away from sexuality education. Examples are the ‘’LGBT-free zone’’ resolutions in Poland, in which local government units pledge to block, among other things, sexuality education in schools according to World Health Organization standards. This is done with a reference to "parental rights" and the freedom of parents to educate kids within their own worldview. However, as stated in Mr HOUBRON’s resolution, educating children about sexuality in a comprehensive way is a parent’s duty, as well as the state’s. Rather than endangering or "corrupting" children, as is often feared by those that oppose sexuality education, it will ensure children’s age-appropriate and safe introduction to topics that will eventually spark their interest anyway. In this manner, it is an essential step to protect children from the impact of unwanted exposure to pornographic content.

A second example of regression in sexual education is that of the United States, in which Florida’s recent “Don’t Say Gay” bill has banned teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity to young children. With a view of this, I would like to stress that the comprehensive sexuality education proposed in the resolution should always include education about sexual orientation and gender identity as well.

I would like to thank the rapporteur for these proposals, and I am confident that the implementation of the measures proposed will help address the issue of children’s exposure to pornographic content.

Thank you.

 

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:36:41

Thank you very much

I now call Ms Laurence TRASTOUR-ISNART.

She should be online. I'm not sure whether she is.

Well, maybe we'll come back to her if she comes online.

Now I call Ms Mónika BARTOS.

Mme Mónika BARTOS

Hongrie, CE/AD

18:37:18

Mister Chair, thank you for the floor.

First of all, congratulations to the rapporteur.

In this report he undertook to solve a particularly important and serious problem. Children’s exposure to pornographic content has been a concern in the past, but has risen sharply due to confinement and increased virtual life due to the coronavirus epidemic.

Access to digital services affects more than 60% of the European Union's population. There are a lot of children among the users.

According to a 2020 study, 90% of 4 to 6-year-olds use the internet and spend 2 to 3 hours on smart devices a day.

Perhaps I do not even have to say how much emphasis Hungary places on protecting children from content that could be harmful to their mental, spiritual, moral or physical development.

Of course, we support all initiatives that help and protect the healthy development of our children.

The solution is not easy, as we need to regulate an ever-changing environment. Therefore, as the report points out, there is a need for wide-ranging co‑operation. To bring together a wide range of national and international regulators, authorities, specialist services and experts, and, of course, market players. Users can’t be left out either; neither children nor parents and families.

In addition to technical solutions, and for example, the use of filtering software, it is important to focus on other tools.

Emphasis on awareness and training is essential. It is important to monitor regulations constantly and adapt to change. Market players and service providers need to be addressed and made interested in success.

Research shows that parents are the primary help for children when exposed to pornographic content. Turning to peers is less common and turning to teachers is the least common in these cases. For this reason, the proper preparation of parents is essential. On the one hand, children should be taught to use the internet consciously and responsibly from an early age, but on the other hand, the installation of parental control applications are highly recommended in order to keep our children safe. Parents must protect their children from violent and sexual content.

The Hungarian regulation also serves this purpose.

Finally, I would like to congratulate the rapporteur once again and assure him of our support.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:40:21

Thank you very much indeed.

Now I moved to Ms Marta GRANDE

Mme Marta GRANDE

Italie, NI

18:40:32

Thank you, President,

The issue before us is urgent and extremely timely.

The exposure of minors to pornographic content will have devastating impacts on the future of our societies.

Stereotypical and deviant messages about interpersonal and romantic relationships are created and perpetrated. We enthusiastically welcome the passage in the text declaring the need for sex education, emotional education, and most importantly, dialogue.

If the family does not want or does not know how to deal with this subject, the school and society must be able to teach and explain.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, this subject is not dealt with in an appropriate or comprehensive manner, and all of this harms our societies and harms the dynamics of relationships that support our social structures.

Talking about it and engaging our parliaments is now decisive. It is up to us to follow up on these commitments and, above all, to take these data into account in order to give answers to our countries.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:41:56

Thank you very much indeed.

I now ask Ms Susana SUMELZO. Do we have Ms Susana SUMELZO? Okay, thank you.

Mme Susana SUMELZO

Espagne, SOC

18:42:15

In May 2021, almost one year ago, Spain approved a law on the protection of children and adolescents vis-à-vis violence. We did this, bearing in mind the rights of children, the rights of adolescents, they should not be the subject of any type of violence. This new law was necessary because the cases of violence against children – young girls, young boys –  were unfortunately covered by a layer of silence. We have to remove that silence. We have to prevent violence. If we are to prevent violence, we have to have information about society as a whole. We also need to have protocols in place in order to have an early detection of such possible cases of violence against children.

In Article 1 of the Spanish law, we establish and define violence, which includes access to pornography. It is therefore defined as a form of violence, and for that reason, it is absolutely necessary for us to support the magnificent report before the House today. We know that we have a lot of work ahead of us.

The law adopted by the Spanish parliament last year regulates the actions that should be promoted by public administrations in order to guarantee safe use of the internet for children, for adolescents, for families, for teachers, and for professionals who work with minors. We also encourage public administrations to roll out awareness-raising campaigns and to provide regular information on the use of the internet very much along the lines of what we are discussing here today in this House. 

Also, we talk about co-operation with the private sector. This is necessary to make sure that we create a safe internet environment. We also need to have better standardisation in terms of the classification of content according to age and look at digital content much more closely. 

Furthermore, the Spanish law regulates public administrations and their obligation to introduce parental control tools. This is also mentioned in the report to protect minors against risk, to block content, where necessary.

Furthermore, our Spanish legislation also sets forth the need to make sure that the industry is on board. The industry needs to be there in order to implement protocols for age-verification tools in applications and services, making sure that some content that is restricted to adults, remains restricted to adults. 

We still have a lot of work ahead of us. We will be meeting our responsibilities as legislators by doing this work together to protect the rights of young girls, young boys and adolescents and we will have a better world. 

Thank you very much to all those who have contributed to the report.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:45:11

Thank you very much indeed.

Now, Mr Frédéric REISS.

M. Frédéric REISS

France, PPE/DC

18:45:20

Thank you, Mister President.

Mister Rapporteur,

Dear colleagues,

The development of information technology in recent decades has made pornographic content easily accessible. Many children, who are heavy Internet users, are exposed, sometimes accidentally, to this content which is harmful to their psychological development. This phenomenon leads to the trivialization of sexist stereotypes and socially unacceptable behavior. Today, law enforcement agencies are reporting a dramatic increase in cases of harmful sexual behavior by children. This is very disturbing. Children sign up for their first social network at an average age of 8.5 years old, and by the age of 12, one third of them have already been exposed to pornographic images.

Awareness campaigns are therefore essential to make everyone aware of the extent of the phenomenon and the harm it causes: addiction, behavioral problems, social phobia, or even depression. Fighting against children's exposure to pornography requires action at different levels.

In France, a recent bill, voted unanimously, aims to encourage and facilitate the use of parental controls on certain equipment. Most national legislations provide for protection measures, but wouldn't it be simpler to consider setting an international standard?

Legislators must ensure that adult-only sites, as well as general social networks with adult content, use effective age verification tools that cannot be easily circumvented. A simple anonymous click is not a true verification. Providers of pornographic content should be held liable for transmission to a minor, even if the minor has made a false declaration of majority.

Even if teachers are not meant to replace parents, schools obviously have a role to play by offering educational programs that promote respect for human dignity, physical integrity and equality between girls and boys. Sexuality education classes should be taught by trained professionals and be age-appropriate.

Protecting children is necessary but not sufficient. We must arm them to defend themselves, develop their critical thinking skills and enable them to build a balanced environment. This requires education.

I will obviously vote in favour of the resolution and recommendation before us, and I congratulate the rapporteur on his excellent work.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:48:13

Thank you very much indeed.

And now I ask Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS to take the floor.

Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS

Royaume-Uni, SOC

18:48:20

Mister President and colleagues, so good to be here.

This report simply has to be commended.

It establishes the need for action and lays the ground for future work.

It needs to be invested with a sense of the greatest urgency. Others have mentioned pieces of legislation in their parliament. In the United Kingdom, over the last three years, we've been giving our attention to a new bill, the Online Safety Bill, whose provisions include a number of actions intended to address this very cause.

Our debates, seminars, panel discussions, consultations, inquiries, focus groups have involved leading voices in the worlds of technology, commerce, journalism, the law, the church, as well as parliamentarians. Every effort has been made to keep, and this is a core element, our duty of care running right through every aspect of the proposed legislation that will afford some security that the protection of children will be prioritized.

A few things have happened as a result of this long period of gestation.

Firstly, the recognition that effective legislation on all matters relating to the internet needs to be global.

Now, Lord Simon RUSSELL made that point and I can skip therefore quickly to the second.

Lawmakers are up against platforms and enterprises who show themselves to be motivated supremely by the need to make money.

Shoshana Zuboff's 2014 classic about what she called "surveillance capitalism", a new expression of power which constitutes hidden mechanisms of extraction, commodification, and control, that threatens core values in society such as freedom, democracy, and privacy, which this place is all about.

Our concern to protect children, if it's to be realistic, must face this threat from a commercialized technological sector openly, and with passionate conviction.

Thirdly, it's become increasingly clear that a robust system of age verification must be included in any proposals put forward.

I was heartened to hear the repporteur deal with this when he presented the report. An internet service providers must be held to account for any breach of the proposals we all agree on.

And finally, in the short time I've been involved in front-line politics in the United Kingdom, I'm a late arrival to the scene of politics, into sitting with people like you, let me tell you. I've, in the five years between 2017, when a Digital Economy Act was passed by the British government and the current Online Safety Bill, I've been able to perceive, and this is important, how the internet advances far faster than the speed it takes to produce a new law or convention.

By the time we've got the law on the statute book the movement's acting somewhere else.

So, for the sake of our children, we must work our socks off – the interpreters will enjoy that – to act urgently and nimbly to ensure they can take full advantage of the internet whilst being protected from its worst features.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:52:00

Thank you indeed Lord Leslie GRIFFITHS.

Now, Ms Konul NURULLAYEVA is, I think, online.

Yes.

Mme Konul NURULLAYEVA

Azerbaïdjan, CE/AD

18:52:16

Dear Mr President,

Honorary members of the Council,

Initially, I would like to thank Mr Dimitri HOUBRON and Mr Stefan SCHENNACH for holding such an accurate report on the means and provisions to combat children's exposure to pornographic content.

I advocate that children should be able to access and safely engage in the digital environment without being harmed by exposure to pornography. It has been shown to affect the brain like a drug by undermining people’s ability to have normal sexual relationships in the long-term that are necessary for establishing healthy marriages and families.

Looking at the case of Azerbaijan, I would highlight some laws such as the Law on Protecting Children from Harmful Information, Article 242 of the Criminal Code, Article 10 of the Law on Mass Media, and Article 35 of the Law on Television and Radio Broadcasting, which prevent the promotion of pornographic content for inadequate groups.

I would like to make some proposals regarding the prevention of children's access to pornographic content. To mention it specifically, member states should pass laws requiring computer and smartphone companies to pre-install filters on all devices they sell that access the internet. Such content filters can block access to content on the internet harmful to children. These filters would not be easily turned off, relying on techniques that maximise parental control, such as only providing codes to adults who want to deactivate them.

Moreover, I think that schools should have a bigger role in educating children about pornography. It would be better to include this topic in the curriculum in order to build a child’s resilience, and make a clear distinction between real-life relationships and the fiction of porn.

Furthermore, I would like to emphasise the importance of preventing the wider sexualisation of popular culture. It will disallow children to have access to explicit sexual images in films, television, music videos, and games.

I am assured that the implementation of such policies will successfully prevent children’s access to pornographic content. Let’s work diligently to improve children’s lives, who are our hope and future for a better world.

Thank you for your attention.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:55:08

Thank you very much.

Now, is Ms Jennifer DE TEMMERMAN in the hall?

Is she in the room?

No?

Okay.

Then we move on to Ms Zeynep YILDIZ.

Mme Zeynep YILDIZ

Turquie, NI

18:55:32

Dear President,

Dear colleagues,

I congratulate Mr Dimitri HOUBRON for his report. A crucial step to develop mechanisms to protect children's exposure to harmful content.

It's all accepted that widespread digitalisation has benefits for all of us. However, there are also increasing risks of digitalisation, particularly for children.

Without any restrictions regarding age or competence, children can easily have their own smartphones or tablets and even their own social media accounts. So in an insufficiently regulated online environment, they are at significant risk of exposure to harmful content.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also accelerated these risks by increasing screen time and decreasing parents supervision.

What is more, it's also hard to estimate its effect, since never before children have been exposed to as much harmful content as today.

Studies show that depression and anxiety are consequences of early exposure to harmful content. Hence, to protect the mental well-being of our children, states and parents, as the primary regulators of children's online activities, should work together in this realm by developing harmonisation strategies.

I think that while parents have some controlling role in planning to protect children from exposure to harmful content, states should also ensure regulatory measures are applied to internet providers. For example, clear rules and regulations should exist and strictly be controlled whether they are applied.

In Turkey, the law numbered 5651, sexual abuse of children is among the crimes committed on internet. When the abuse of the child is in question, the removal of the content from the internet environment is compulsory.

Having international accessibility, bearing in mind that reality to strengthen the international cooperation has also crucial role in protecting children from all kinds of abuse as being mentioned in the report.

Besides enhancing parental control, the regulatory framework should not be left out. In order to achieve the objectives presented in this report, all member states need to contribute to these efforts by enhancing their regulatory mechanisms on this issue.

We must defend the right of young boys to be a boy. We must defend the rights of young girls to be a girl. We must provide means so that children can live their childhoods. We must protect the children on every platform from all kinds of abuse.

Thank you for your attention.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

18:58:41

Thank you very much and now I call Ms Carina OHLSSON.

Mme Carina OHLSSON

Suède, SOC

18:58:48

Thank you, Mr President.

Colleagues,

Thank you I will say to the rapporteurs for a very important report. As we can read in the report, exposure of children to pornographic content is a growing concern in Europe and across the whole world. Children, in some cases at a very young age, access and share pornographic content at home, at school or with friends in their neighbourhoods or online. 

A Swedish survey shows that a large majority of the Swedish people want a legislation that restricts the spread of porn to children under 18 on the internet. For teenagers, as many as 79% state that they want legislation that protects themselves against pornography. Only 7% of young people do not want legislation.

A girl who applied for support from a young relationship organisation, she writes, "My boyfriend, he will kill me if it continues like this. He commits brutal rapes. He has sick porn fantasies that he performs with me, against my will, I am so afraid."

And she is not alone in her experience. Organisations that work against men's and boys' violence against women and girls have for many years been alerted to the harmful effects of today's completely unregulated internet porn. The research is clear: with the influence of porn, reports and studies show that sexual abuse of girls and young women is increasing. Police and criminologists who investigate sexual crimes say that the perpetrators themselves refer to porn as inspiration for abuse. Receptions for raped, alarms, midwives, alarms and young people call themselves "the porn-damaged generation".

Surveys show that 70% of women in Sweden do not watch porn, while 70% of men do. Forty-one per cent of all boys between the age of 16 to 29 watch porn frequently – daily or almost daily. It is this last group who watch every day who are most affected and who are looking for courses and course materials. It is the consumers who make the porn industry make money by exploiting people and spreading it freely to young people. Legislation that limits the harmful effects of porn on children under the age of 18 is the least we can do together until we get legislation that also protects women and girls who are exposed in the production of porn.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:02:09

Thank you very much. And now we go to Canada and Mr Larry BROCK, who I believe is online.

M. Larry BROCK

Canada

19:02:29

Thank you Mister President, dear rapporteur, and colleagues.

As a new member of parliament, I am delighted to speak for the first time in this assembly although this topic is a difficult one – difficult because it presents hard challenges that we must solve and difficult because we know about the harmful impacts on children from exposure to pornography.

As a Canadian, it is helpful to participate in these discussions. A real, workable solution to these challenges will require international cooperation. We know, for instance, that if one country imposes age verification mechanisms on pornography websites, then many consumers of pornography will simply find websites from other countries that have fewer barriers between them and the content they are seeking.

Canada’s Parliament is working to solve these challenges.

In 2017, our House of Common’s Committee on Health reported on the health effects caused by the viewing of violent and degrading sexually explicit material online.

The committee called for, among other things, more investment in sexual health promotion strategies and education for young people and parents, as well as for the development of better content filters to protect children online.

In 2021, our House of Commons’ Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics tabled a report regarding the protection of privacy and reputation on online pornography platforms. This included an examination of non-consensual material and other illegal content posted online. It recommended that the government develop clear regulations to require Internet service providers to be more legally accountable for content moderation.

Our Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently studying a bill that seeks to hold organisations criminally responsible for making sexually explicit material available to young people over the Internet for commercial purposes. To avoid liability, they would need to implement an age verification system.

While we don’t know if this bill will become law, the evidence presented by Canadian experts before the committee is concerning. I have no doubt this evidence is similar to what you are also hearing in your own countries.

These witnesses explained the harmful health impacts that young people may experience from exposure to pornography – particularly when it depicts violent sexual images and misogyny. Some young people see pornography by accident and are too young to understand what they are seeing.

Some of the evidence suggests that pornography use by young people can result in more permissive attitudes around sex, objectification of women, violence against women, earlier ages of sex initiation, risky sex behaviour, sexual aggression, depression, anxiety, or lack of empathy for rape victims.

These are just a few examples of the work our Parliament is doing to better address these issues.

We are also watching what European countries are doing and eager to learn your lessons, best practices, and workable solutions.

If we find ways to address these challenges together, our efforts are certainly more likely to succeed.

Thank you, sir.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:05:40

Thank you Mr Larry BROCK.

And now I call Ms Cherilyn MACKRORY.

Mme Cherilyn MACKRORY

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD

19:05:49

Firstly I'd like to thank the rapporteur for his hard work on this very important issue.

I speak today as a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, but more importantly, as a mother. I know that I speak for every parent in this room when I say that we would do anything to protect our children, and we all deserve the peace of mind that they are protected from online things that they should not see. In fact it's my opinion that every adult in this world has a duty to protect the children and the concept of an innocent childhood, whether they be a parent, or a politician, or even a tech company executive.

Since the World Wide Web was launched in the early 1990s, it has revolutionised information sharing. In doing so, it has dramatically altered the way we communicate. The technology has developed rapidly and continues to do so with apps and sites and gaming becoming a global phenomenon.

The internet, however, was developed assuming an ideal world where all users were honest and respectful of others. Sadly we know this is not the case. The internet has facilitated a long list of dangers, including enabling children to access damaging content online.

As we've already heard, research is now conclusive that accessing this content impacts the way that young people understand healthy relationships, sex, and the issue of consent, and it can normalise abusive behaviour.

Half of parents in the UK are worried that online pornography is giving their kids an unrealistic view of sex. More than half of mums fear that it gives their kids a poor portrayal of women.

This is why people are rightly asking governments and technology companies to step up and act. Big tech companies have the opportunity and the resources to ensure that their platforms are designed to be safe for children. There is no excuse not to put our children's safety first. But many popular tech companies fail, and have failed, to put these safeguarding measures in place.

Years of self-regulation failure by the big tech companies and the ever-changing nature of technology, and children going online more and more at even younger ages means that comprehensive regulation from governments, global governments, is now urgently needed.

In my opinion, children have the right to learn, play, and communicate with friends safely, without fear of avoidable risk and harm. But online, this is just not yet enshrined in law. This is why the UK government's proposed online harms bill is one that I have expressed my support for in Parliament. It is so important. For the first time, it will create a legal duty of care on companies to identify and eradicate avoidable harm to children on their sites before they are put at risk.

But let's not be complacent. Legislation must keep up with fast-moving technology. The bill includes a new legal duty requiring that all sites that published pornography to put robust checks in place to ensure that their users are 18 years old or over. If sites fail to act, the independent regulator Ofcom will be able to find them up to ten percent of their annual worldwide turnover, or can block them from being accessible in the UK at all.

These measures will have a clear and immediate effect, and encourage policymakers worldwide to take inspiration from this groundbreaking action so we can achieve the aim that we all want, which is a safer place for children, protecting their precious childhoods.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:08:58

Thank you very much indeed.

And we now go to Ms Lesia VASYLENKO.

There you are.

Mme Lesia VASYLENKO

Ukraine, ADLE

19:09:13

The topic in this report is extremely important to tackle in the highly digitalised age that we live in.

I would like to thank the rapporteur, first and foremost also as a mother. I have two young children, and everything that I've read in this report is actually a very detailed analysis which provides a guideline for parents and governments alike.

Age-verification software, laws obliging device manufacturers to strengthen parental control, black and white lists of domains and websites are definitely something all our governments should take on board.

Before Russia escalated its aggression in Ukraine to a full-fledged war, the Ukrainian government had had an excellent track record for digitalisation and was working on instruments in the realm of protecting children's rights, too. And I probably could have been saying more about this today, however, two months ago Russia's aggression paused all development projects in Ukraine.

So, today, when I talk about children's rights and online safety for our children I have to raise the issue of physical safety and security of the children of Ukraine. Apart from killing 215 children in less than 62 days, Russia has also created conditions where children become victims of sexual crimes, fall prey to human traffickers, become part of the sex slave and phonographic industry.

The 4.5 million children of Ukraine have become displaced as a result of Russia's War. Two million of these children have found themselves abroad often in very vulnerable circumstances. Today I would like to draw the attention of all the honourable members of this assembly to this very fact, and to the fact that it is important to understand that most countries assembled here lack protocols to monitor the rights of displaced children travelling on their own or without documents.

Moreover, it is important to note that the children fall prey to traffickers through the very online tools referred to in the report.

While seeking help and trying to find homes, Ukrainians often use forums, employment websites, social media matching websites, all of those these tools are also used by traffickers and barriers criminals that target children in particular.

Governments today must exert utmost efforts to have a better understanding of platform through which displaced and refugee children may be targeted and contacted by criminal elements. These must be proactive monitoring of high-risk platforms to identify patterns of sexual exploitation.

Online platforms should proactively enable default safety and privacy settings for minors. Moreover governments should budget for increased online undercover operations and proper financing should be allocated to these. Partnerships between law enforcement, tech companies, and NGOs must also be enhanced.

These are just a few suggestions. There's an extensive list which has already been adopted by the OOC on the 22nd of April to which we can all refer to and to which we can point our governments. And it's a united effort again that we must all make for the safety and security of all our children and the exposure they have today to to these crimes.

Thank you.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:12:41

Thank you very much.

I now move to Mr Gusty GRAAS.

M. Gusty GRAAS

Luxembourg, ADLE

19:12:49

Thank you, President.

Dear colleagues,

In the last few decades we have witnessed an enormous spread of digital culture. Digitalisation has now taken over many areas of life, and its progress is unstoppable. And yet, its evolution is a double-edged sword. While digital culture is a source of enormous opportunities, it can also harm the most vulnerable among us: our children and young people. The expression "The world at your fingertips" aptly describes the current context. More than ever, we can access a multitude of information, just by a simple click, in all fields and for all subjects.

In this context, two facts are known: pornographic contents are also more accessible than ever, and the early contact with these images harms the mental health of our children.

It is now easy to search and find adult content. It is also very likely to be exposed to content just by browsing through the meandering spheres of the internet. Advertisements and links are scattered throughout the web, luring users directly to these programmes.

However, viewing pornographic materials confronts young people with unrealistic scenarios and provokes illusory expectations. While watching these more or less explicit products, constraints develop in the minds of young people. The more they watch these contents, the more this idea becomes fixed in their minds. With time, the visualised practices, the objectification of the woman, the brutality of some contents, become a goal.

If, in this case, this goal is not satisfied, frustrations develop. Young people no longer know how to meet their expectations and, ultimately, aggressive and even intrusive behaviour can result.

Ladies and gentlemen, parents and schools play an important role in education. There is a need for more public awareness. In my country, Luxembourg, for example, there will be a campaign in May organised by the National Reference Centre for the Promotion of Sexual and Emotional Health.

In this context, there is also talk of an alert button allowing young people to denounce explicit content. The usefulness of such a button is obvious. However, it is also important to avoid that sex as such becomes a taboo subject. Although the targeted contents are inappropriate for a young audience, it is not necessary to aim at a total isolation of young people from the subject itself.

It is not enough to protect young people: sex must also be demystified through appropriate education and treated in an open and reasonable manner. We need to teach young people a healthy relationship with their bodies and encourage strong relationships with those around them so that they can talk about it naturally and without embarrassment. This is how we will raise children to be responsible young adults.

Finally, let me congratulate Mr Dimitri HOUBRON for his excellent report.

Thank you very much.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:16:21

Thank you very much and now I move to our last speaker – I must close the list after this speaker – Ms Lucie MONCION from Canada. She is online? Yes, then I pass over to her.

Mme Lucie MONCION

Canada

19:16:41

Thank you, Mister President.

Dear Parliamentarians,

The debate on an assessment of the ways and means of combating the exposure of children to pornography is very timely.

As you heard earlier in my colleague's speech, the Canadian Parliament is also grappling with the challenges posed by children's exposure to online pornography.

Currently in Canada, the Criminal Code does not prohibit the mere provision of sexually explicit material to children for commercial purposes. It is considered an offence when such material is shared for the purpose of facilitating the committing of other offences or committing other violations. There are, of course, other criminal laws dealing with various sexual offences and obscene material.

The Canadian Senate is currently considering a bill that would make organisations criminally liable for disseminating sexually explicit material to young people on the internet for commercial purposes. To avoid liability, these organisations would be required to have age verification systems in place.

There are several challenges to consider in reviewing this bill. I will mention only three.

The first is the difficulty of creating a law that respects other competing rights for adults. Viewing pornography is a legal activity in Canada for adults who have a right to privacy and freedom of expression. The Privacy Commissioner of Canada has stressed the importance of ensuring that any legislation to impose age verification is consistent with privacy laws. He added, and I quote, "Adopting clear practices about how to verify users' ages will help reduce the risk of leakage, unauthorised use or reputational damage."

The second is associated with technology, namely whether it can provide both effective age verification while preventing personal data breaches.

The third is related to law enforcement. Law enforcement must have the resources to investigate and prosecute violators. When websites are hosted on servers outside of our respective countries, international co‑operation becomes essential if we are to stop the proliferation of online pornography.

Each country must determine the best way to enforce their law and consider whether criminal law is the best option or whether a regulatory approach would be more effective. Through debates like this one, we can all become better informed to legislate on these issues in our respective parliaments.

Before closing my speech, I would like to thank the rapporteur Mr Dimitri HOUBRON for his report as well as my colleague, Senator Miville-Dechêne for her contribution.

Thank you for your attention.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:19:50

Thank you very much indeed.

I must now, unfortunately, interrupt the list of speakers. The speeches of members who are on the speakers list and who have been present physically or remotely during the debate but have not been able to speak may be given to the Table Office for publication in the Official Report, provided that speakers connected remotely can report their actual presence when the debate is closed.

I remind colleagues that typewritten text must be submitted electronically no later than 4 hours after the list of speakers is interrupted.

I now call Mr Dimitri HOUBRON, the rapporteur to reply to the debate. You have 3 minutes.

M. Dimitri HOUBRON

France, ADLE, Rapporteur

19:20:38

Thank you, Mister President.

Thank you, dear colleagues, for your testimonies and for sharing your experiences in your respective countries. Thank you for the support of most, if not most of you, for the recommendations of this report.

I think it has been said. The impact on our children, and ultimately on our society itself, is considerable. Exposure leads to psychological disorders, to behaviors that can be described as "deviant", to complicated, even violent, sexual behaviors with their partners.

We see more and more this young generation reproducing what they have seen through mobile phones, very easily, in everyday life, with finally a judicial matter which is today in charge of answering while, we see it today. We have all the tools to fight effectively against this exposure, of course, the digital, technological tools, with age checks, with parental controls by default on digital tools, but not only that. You all underlined it: the major subject of prevention, of raising awareness among our young audiences - our young children - within schools, with essential training for the teaching staff; with, and this has also been said, the fact of addressing these subjects without taboos, because children also need to have explanations for images that they cannot understand, being so young. Sometimes when the family cannot, does not have the tools to provide these clarifications to the child either.

We must, as a state, as a representative of the state, provide answers. I think that these recommendations that I propose to you to accept this evening, in any case, still respond in part to this problem. Then, as has been indicated, we have a respective stake in our Assemblies to vote legal provisions that allow us to provide answers. However, we will really need international co‑operation, both of course of public bodies but also of private bodies, so that this objective is well fulfilled and that all the actors are involved in this common ambition.

In any case, the exchanges we have just had give me great optimism for the future and for the protection of our children.

I thank you again for your support.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:22:57

Thank you very much.

I now call on Ms Selin SAYEK BÖKE, who is the Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development to reply to the debate.

You have 3 minutes also.

Mme Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turquie, SOC, Présidente de la commission des questions sociales, de la santé et du développement durable

19:23:11

Thank you very much, Mister Chair.

Dear Colleagues,

I take the floor now as the Chair of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development to, hopefully, give a summary of what has already been debated in the Plenary, I think, in a very unified way.

Clearly, today, children's exposure to pornography is massive and largely uncontrolled. There seems to be an agreement, even in this Plenary, that such exposure is detrimental to children's well-being. Hence, it is our duty to make sure that we have the proper policy and instruments. While this is the case, many measures have been taken by several of our member States. However, we fail to protect our children as of today. Therefore, we need a discussion as such.

Unfortunately, efforts to regulate content and restrict children's access to pornography have not kept pace with the ongoing technological shift so clearly. We need a coherent and comprehensive approach for the online safety of our very own children.

This report is a step in that direction. I would like to congratulate our rapporteur, and in advance, I would like to thank our Secretariat, the opinion, the Secretariat of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination as well as every member who has contributed to this very critical discussion. 

Indeed, it is not an easy one given the complex interplay between the right to privacy with the right to freedom of expression and the right to protection from violence. Therefore, we have to be very careful in our design. There is also an inherent tension between the profitability of an industry and that of public interest. We have to be very careful in our design in making sure that we put children's well-being well in front of profits.

At the same time, there is a plethora of useful tools and levers that can help address and prevent children's exposure to pornography that are compliant with other rights and freedoms. We do have the instruments to do so; what we need is the political will to do it. I believe this report and the debate we have had so far are proof that that political will is actually in place.

Once again, I congratulate Mr Dimitri HOUBRON. I sincerely hope that this report will encourage each and every one of us to step up the relevant parliamentary work in our very own parliaments. I also hope that it will lead to stronger parliamentary co-operation, at the European and international level. As was said rightfully, this is a global issue and therefore it requires our concerted action. I am very happy to see that that action has grounds over here.

I invite our colleagues to support this report.

Thank you.

M. Jean-Pierre GRIN

Suisse, ADLE

19:30:01

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

Mme Nicole DURANTON

France, ADLE

19:30:17

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

Mme Hilkka KEMPPI

Finlande, ADLE

19:30:48

(Undelivered speech, Rules of Procedure Art. 31.2)

 

Let me start by condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Ending the war, sorting out human rights violations committed in Ukraine and prosecuting those responsible is our main goal. But other human rights issues also need our attention. At the start of the war there was great concern over graphic war-related content spreading on TikTok before the eyes of children. Yet, the problem of children seeing and accessing disturbing content online is not new as Mr. Houbron rightly points out in his excellent and important report.

The UN Committee on the rights of the child highlights the right of children to operate in the digital environment. At the same time, adults are responsible of ensuring that children are exposed only to age-appropriate content. Adults must be involved in and aware of children’s actions online. Parents and teachers can, for example warn children that they may see disturbing videos of naked people online and prepare them for how to act in such situations. It is crucial that children are not left alone to deal with the emotions that such content may provoke. I fully support the proposal to improve parental control and ad-blocking by the rapporteur.

I am particularly concerned with the impact of media and images. Children and young people are not mature enough to deal with graphic images or filtered pictures. Being exposed to such content might have a detrimental effect on a child’s development and understanding of the world. Improving media literacy is critical to prepare our children for disturbing and twisted content online.

Schools are important for fostering critical thinking and sexuality education. In Finnish schools, special attention is paid to self-determination and respect for personal space. Comprehensive sexuality education should start in early childhood with body and boundary awareness. For older children the aim is to build self-confidence and understanding so that they can take care of themselves and avoid risks. We must keep in mind that all adults working with children are sex educators in one way or another. Without planned comprehensive sexuality education, children’s ability to understand sex and question pornography is limited.

Upbringing also plays an important role in this regard. We must maintain good communication with children and offer them a safe environment to allow for difficult conversations. For this reason, we must all pay attention to our own sexuality-related attitudes and consider how we convey them to children.

Vote : Pour une évaluation des moyens et des dispositifs de lutte contre l'exposition des enfants aux contenus pornographiques

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:26:03

Thank you very much, well, that brings this debate to a close and I would like to thank everyone who has participated for making this a very interesting and fascinating debate. Now the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development has presented a draft resolution, which is document 15494, to which two amendments have been tabled and a draft recommendation to which no amendments have been tabled.

So let's start with consideration of the draft resolution and then we will consider the draft recommendation.

I understand that the chairperson of the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development wishes to propose to the Assembly that amendments 1 and 2 to the draft resolution, which were unanimously approved by the Committee, should be declared as agreed by the Asembly.

Is that so, Ms BÖKE?

Mme Selin SAYEK BÖKE

Turquie, SOC, Présidente de la commission des questions sociales, de la santé et du développement durable

19:27:01

Yes, that is so.

M. John HOWELL

Royaume-Uni, CE/AD, Président de l'Assemblée

19:27:03

Does anyone object?

If so, please ask for the floor by raising your hand.

No?

As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 1 and 2 to the draft resolution have now been agreed.

And now, please allow me to turn over my pages.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Doc. 15494.

A simple majority is required.

The vote in the hemicycle and via remote voting is now open.

The vote is now closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

The Resolution is unanimously adopted.

Congratulations.

We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Doc. 15494.

Members present in the chamber should use the hemicycle voting system, and members participating remotely should vote using the remote voting system.

Both votes are now open.

The vote is now closed.

I call for the result to be displayed.

Another unanimous Recommendation.

Thank you very much.

The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow at 10 a.m. with the agenda that was approved this afternoon.

The sitting is now adjourned.

La séance est levée à 19h30