AS (2012) CR 17
2012 ORDINARY SESSION
Thursday 26 April 2012 at 3.30 p.m.
In this report:
1. Speeches in English are reported in full.
2. Speeches in other languages are summarised.
3. Speeches in German and Italian are reproduced in full in a separate document.
4. Corrections should be handed in at Room 1059A not later than 24 hours after the report has been circulated.
The contents page for this sitting is given at the end of the verbatim report.
Mr Kox, Vice-President of the Assembly, took the Chair at 3.30 p.m
THE PRESIDENT – The sitting is open
1. The situation of internally displaced persons and returnees in the North Caucasus region
THE PRESIDENT – The first item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report on “The situation of IDPs and returnees in the North Caucasus region”, Document 12882, presented by Mr Christopher Chope, Chairperson of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, on behalf of Mr Nikolaos Dendias, Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons. There will be an opinion from Ms Marieluise Beck on behalf of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Document 12899.
In order to have sufficient time for our next two debates, we may interrupt the list of speakers at about 4.55 p.m. to allow time for the reply and the vote.
I first call Mr Chope. As you know, you have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – As the President has indicated, this report is very much the work of Mr Nikolaos Dendias, our colleague from Greece. He is busy fighting the elections in Greece, and that is why he is unable to be here today to present his report, although he had sincerely hoped to do so. Unlike many rapporteurs, Mr Dendias goes into a great deal of detail in his report and it is he who has made it what it is.
Last September, Mr Dendias spent about a week in the North Caucasus and, with the fantastic co-operation of Mr Fedorov, members of the Russian delegation and others, he was able to conduct a very successful visit. Many of the findings in the report are the result of detailed and extremely worthwhile work.
Since the early 1990s, over 800 000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the North Caucasus because of armed conflicts in North Ossetia and Chechnya, as well as persisting human rights violations and generalised violence. Using the international definition, the UNHCR estimates that there are still some 28 450 internally displaced persons in the region. Some 350 000 people have returned, but they account for only one third of those who were compelled to leave. This report underlines the fact that while significant efforts have been made by the Russian authorities to improve the situation in the region, more needs to be done to ensure that we find a durable solution for the IDPs who have returned, for those who would like to return, and for those who would prefer to settle permanently in their place of displacement.
Some eight years ago, this Assembly debated Mr Iwiński’s report on the humanitarian situation of Chechen displaced people. I think it is fair to say, as indeed the report makes clear, that a remarkable degree of progress has been made over the past eight years. This is borne out in the report of Mr Dendias’s visit to the North Caucasus. He came back to the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons with a photograph album of how life is now in the North Caucasus and contrasted what had been the charred ruins of Grozny, which stick in our memory from 10 years ago, with the new buildings that are making it look a bit like a new Dubai; that is the extent of the contrast. It was very imaginative of Mr Dendias to present a slideshow to the committee, which conveyed in pictures the enormous transformation that has been made on the ground.
I know that Mr Dendias would endorse the thanks that I would like to extend to the Russian delegation and to Mr Fedorov who, although he has ceased to be a member of the Russian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly, is, as I found out earlier today, still going to be among us because he has been seconded to the Russian secretariat to help with the Russian delegation – so we have not lost his services to this Assembly.
Behind the rebuilt facades and the revived economic situation, the circumstances of most IDPs and returned IDPs are still difficult, and there are all sorts of complex reasons for this. The general security and human rights situation is precarious, none of the conflicts has been finally resolved and, as is pointed out both in the report and in Ms Beck’s opinion, human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, torture, killing and so forth continue to be far too frequent, with the perpetrators often enjoying impunity. So the focus of today’s debate is not on human rights violations in the region, although obviously they are very relevant, but on the issue of basic rights such as access to housing, and the livelihoods and provision of health care for those displaced by conflict. Despite the focus of the report being on humanitarian aspects, we note the opinion of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and that of the rapporteur, and I support the opinion put forward by that committee from a legal affairs and human rights perspective.
One of the challenges to resolving the issue of internal displacement in the North Caucasus is the lack of authoritative data on the number of IDPs and returned IDPs, and the different interpretations made of those figures. Members will see among the recommendations that there is a call on the Russian authorities to standardise the method of calculation so that there is an objective basis on which those calculations can be made. The report also refers to the issue of housing. Too many IDPs continue to live in substandard or, in some cases, even dangerous conditions. That is not for want of money; the federal government has paid out more than 26 billion roubles in compensation for destroyed property. That is the equivalent of about €500 million – a lot of money. Yet the compensation schemes have been ineffective because so often the compensation does not pay for the rebuilding of housing or the purchasing of new housing; I am afraid that a lot of the money is consumed by corruption. A lot of the people who wish to be eligible to apply have not been able to apply, so there is a real problem in relation to housing and there is also an issue about the limited return options of IDPs, as the report states.
There are thousands of IDPs in Chechnya and Ingushetia in dilapidated hostels. There is a worrying trend of increased evictions from those hostels, an issue to which the report also refers.
Underlying all that is a lack of employment opportunity. Without a revival in the economy, conditions will never improve for the long term. Some 60% of forced migrants in the region are without work, with all the consequences that flow from that.
This report is very well researched and it is well worth reading. I am pleased that it seems that it will receive almost unanimous support from members of this Assembly. That would be a great tribute to the rapporteur, into whose shoes I have tried to step this afternoon.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Chope, for replacing Mr Dendias. You have five minutes left for answering. I call Ms Beck, Rapporteur of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to present the committee’s opinion.
Ms BECK (Germany) thanked the President on behalf of the committee and thanked the rapporteur for preparing an important report. She also thanked Russian colleagues who had made possible a fact-finding trip to witness the situation on the ground. The report contained items of welcome good news, including that of the construction work that was taking place in Chechnya.
Factors affecting whether internally displaced people would choose to return home included the extent to which they expected to face social stability, legal certainty and security from corruption and violence. People also needed to be certain that they could rely on state authorities to prosecute crimes committed against them. The Assembly had worked on these issues for a number of years. For example, two years ago a report concerning the rule of law in the North Caucasus had found that there remained a lot still to do. At that time, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Hammarberg, had been particularly concerned at the lack of progress in implementing court judgments.
Refugees were rarely welcomed, even when they had been displaced within their own countries. Such people needed support from their governments, and NGOs and citizen initiatives also played a key role. Of particular concern to defenders of human rights were cases of crime and murder against displaced people and those who sought to defend such people. The death of Natalya Estemirova was one example of a case which had never been fully investigated. Finally, it was vital for all returns to be voluntary.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Beck. I remind colleagues that speaking time in this debate is limited to four minutes.
In the debate I first call Ms Reps, who will speak on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms REPS (Estonia) – I congratulate our rapporteur on the very important topic addressed in this report. Once again, we are discussing the North Caucasus; once again, unfortunately, we have to address the difficulties of the area.
I will start on a positive note. Like the rapporteur, we would like to congratulate the Russian authorities on some progress and the efforts that have been made in this area. Unfortunately, there is no durable solution for many of these IDPs and returnees – one in which people have been integrated locally or resettled and in which they no longer need benefits or temporary solutions. They need a long-term solution whereby they can exercise their rights without any discrimination.
The report points out a serious problem about the adequacy of housing and the inefficiency of compensation schemes for destroyed property. Either the amount is not sufficient or, in some cases, corruption interferes and money does not reach the people in need. There are difficulties in obtaining documentation and that, in turn, impacts severely on the possibility of having legal jobs, resettling legally and having opportunities for further benefits. There is a continuous insecurity because of insurgency, unexploded ordnance and land mines. Land mines are a serious threat for people resettling in the countryside.
There is also a very serious problem of unemployment due to the lack of opportunities for finding jobs and the lack of training; educational opportunities are interfered with.
All in all, the problem, which is well highlighted in the report, is very often an insufficiency of political will. The rapporteur pointed out that even if there is sufficient will from the federal government – sometimes even the central government – it comes back to the local government, which actually deals with the people. At that level, the political will is often lacking.
We call on the authorities to monitor IDPs, especially vulnerable ones. Many IDPs have been subject to conflict and have disabilities, or they have been raped or otherwise made especially vulnerable. We should also involve the IDPs themselves in finding durable solutions.
I now come to the legal point of view, which was well set out by Ms Beck. There is a continuing climate of impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations. Especially worrisome for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe is the violation of human rights defenders dealing with IDPs, refugees and internees. There is not only insufficient help but violence against human rights defenders that can end up in murder or the threat of murder. We therefore call on the authorities fully to investigate and prosecute all criminal acts directed against these serious human rights violations, including murder, enforced disappearances and torture.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Reps. I call Mr Herkel, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – I congratulate all the rapporteurs, including Mr Dendias, who unfortunately is not present today for electoral reasons.
Like Mr Chope, I would like to start with some numbers. In this region, 800 000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of the 1990s, 350 IDPs have been returned, and there are 28 000 IDPs and 30 000 refugees. The situation of those people is the main subject of the report. We can easily conclude that we do not know the whereabouts of more than 400 000 people. They are most probably living in other regions of the Russian Federation or they are refugees in Europe. We do not know exactly, but we know that they were not returned.
We need to ask why this is happening. It is not always a question of compensation or housing, because people will go home if there is the minimum possibility of doing so. For example, opponents of Mr Kadyrov could be returned to Chechnya. One of them was killed in Vienna, and they are persecuted even without returning home, but returning home would be extremely risky, as Ms Beck said. In the elections in Russia, the results from Chechnya always showed 98% or 99% support for the ruling party or Mr Putin, with huge support in the whole of the North Caucasus. We have to ask whether opponents cannot be returned home because oppositional views are not tolerated in these territories. The key question is about freedom, democratisation and justice in the region. It will not be possible for refugees to be returned home if there is no development in the society in terms of democracy and human rights.
The EPP definitely supports the report. Yes, there is progress, but it is very limited. We particularly support the amendments proposed by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. It is clear that human rights workers and refugees must be protected and that the perpetrators of human rights violations cannot enjoy impunity just because they are supporters of Kadyrov in Chechnya.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Herkel. I call Mr Schennach, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr SCHENNACH (Austria) thanked the rapporteur. The report was clearly and dispassionately written, and highlighted the issue of internally displaced persons, which did not get the attention it deserved. Some of the states of the former Soviet Union had a history of forced resettlement, and it had become a part of everyday life for the citizens of those countries. Those who were expelled or forcibly deported often faced a loss of their rights as citizens, as well as the loss of their property.
The importance of a home could not be understated, and the impact of losing that home could be severe. People who were expelled from their homes usually became dependent on the authorities, aid and outside help. Their future would often be dependent on the capriciousness of others. For example, the camps in North Ossetia-Alania remained terrible places to live, and some individuals continued to be displaced time after time. The situation in these camps needed to be looked at more closely.
When displaced people were able to settle they needed guarantees concerning their security and their social status. NGOs also needed greater protection so that they could continue working in this region effectively.
Nothing could compensate for the emotional hardship experienced by refugees and internally displaced persons. But if compensation, as well as aid, were a possibility, then that would represent a step forward.
The situation in other areas also remained a concern. For example, the problems in Chechnya and Kazakhstan should be highlighted. Sadly, however, similar events could be seen in western Europe. In Austria there had been regrettable events, including murder and repression. Even in that country, refugees were subject to repressive measures.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Schennach. The next speaker is Mr Knyshov, who will speak on behalf the European Democrat Group.
Mr KNYSHOV (Russian Federation) thanked the President, the committee and the rapporteur. The report contained constructive recommendations and an objective assessment of the situation covering both positive developments as well as unresolved issues. It would provide a solid basis for a future dialogue on this issue between the Russian Federation and the Assembly.
In the report the state was seen as the starting point for support for refugees and internally displaced persons. But in the North Caucasus work was under way to place those people back on their own two feet. The high unemployment in the region, at 49% or higher in many areas, demonstrated clearly the need to create jobs and growth in the economy to support internally displaced persons and refugees. In the medium-term, the Russian Federation was attempting to improve the economic situation for these people. It was hoped that a programme would be agreed by the end of the year that would invest €125 billion in the region, along with a territorial plan and policies to promote tourism and improve regional infrastructure. Tens of thousands of jobs would be created as a result.
But if vulnerable people were to be made secure, a focus needed also to be placed on preventing terrorist activity in the area. It was unrealistic to think that this could be achieved through political means alone. Force would also be necessary. Military activity, however, inevitably led to objections from human rights organisations.
While there was no denying the fact that there were problems with upholding human rights in the region, the Russian Federation wished to improve the situation and was willing to listen to constructive criticism.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Knyshov. Mr Chope will reply at the end of the debate, but do you wish to reply at this stage?
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – No.
THE PRESIDENT – Then you may reply at the end. In the debate I call next Mr Bockel.
Mr BOCKEL (France) thanked the President and expressed his support for the report. With sufficient political will it would be possible to improve the situation in the North Caucasus. A particular problem for refugees and internally displaced persons was their feeling of insecurity. Yet safety was not the top priority in the draft resolution. There were, of course, many issues that needed to be addressed, including the economy and human rights. However, security had to be a core consideration. Violence in the region had remained high despite a relative decrease in the level of hostilities and attacks, which were often directed at citizens. The actions of security forces all too often made the situation worse rather than better. Abuses of human rights continued across the region and ensured a general feeling of insecurity.
It would have been helpful for this report to have been bolstered by a report from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on progress in the region, as well as a document detailing non-compliance with judgments made by the European Court of Human Rights. Despite this, the report was a welcome addition to the continuing debate on this subject.
Finally, it was important not to forget other conflicts in the region such as those in Azerbaijan and Georgia. Having visited refugee camps in those countries, it was clear that the situation there was tragic. The creditability of the Assembly was at stake. It could not focus on just one part of the region. Rather, it had to maintain a comprehensive overview of the situation.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Bockel. The next speaker is Ms Pashayeva.
Ms PASHAYEVA (Azerbaijan) – I congratulate the rapporteur on his comprehensive and substantial report. We clearly understand the bitter suffering of internally displaced persons in the North Caucasus. I am a representative of Azerbaijan, where one in every nine citizens is a refugee or internally displaced person, and the only country in Europe and in the world with such a high number of refugees and internally displaced persons. I therefore perfectly understand the difficulties suffered by internally displaced persons in the North Caucasus. I support all the recommendations that urge the improvement of the situation of internally displaced persons in the North Caucasus. However, those people expect more from us. We should not consider our work to be complete when we conduct discussions and adopt resolutions. People expect us to use more effective mechanisms for implementing the resolutions and documents adopted by us. We must be serious about implementing them.
Today we are talking about the North Caucasus, but the situation in the South Caucasus is much more terrible and tragic. One third of refugees and internally displaced persons in the Council of Europe area are from my country, Azerbaijan, as a result of the ongoing occupation of 20% of Azeri territory by Armenia. Already, nearly 20 years have passed since hundreds of thousands of Azeri refugees and internally displaced persons had to leave their homes. In a few days, in May, it will be the 20th anniversary of the occupation of Azeri territories – the city of Shusha and the Lachin region – by Armenia. For 20 years, the people of Shusha and Lachin have not been able to return to their homes. That is the gravest violation of human rights in the European zone.
However, let us recall the date when we conducted discussions on that matter. A considerable amount of time has elapsed. Let us remember. Have the documents adopted by us been implemented? There have been no results. Resolution 1416, adopted by us, states that Armenia should withdraw from the Azeri territories and enable Azeri refugees and internally displaced persons to return to their homes. Despite the fact that nine years have passed since the adoption of that resolution, Armenia refuses to implement it.
I bring the appeal of hundreds of thousands of Azeri internally displaced persons to your notice. These people call on you not to forget them. They call on the Assembly to increase its efforts to implement Resolution 1416.
I call on our Assembly to conduct discussions related to the position of internally displaced persons in the South Caucasus in the near future.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Ms Pashayeva. As Ms Papadimitriou is not here, I call Mr Huseynov.
Mr HUSEYNOV (Azerbaijan) – Every time we debate the issue of refugees and IDPs we talk about tragedies on a huge scale. It is impossible to cure the wounds of refugees and IDPs by rendering aid and solving some material problems; helping refugees and IDPs means returning them to their homeland. My country, Azerbaijan, has suffered many hardships as a result of the tragedies of the past 24 years. Armenia and the forces supporting it in the late 1980s forcibly deported more than 300 000 Azeris from the territories of their compact settlement, which historically belonged to Azerbaijan but was administratively left to Armenia during the Soviet period. Thousands of people perished in the mountains but the world did not react to this tragedy in time. Consequently, the number of Azeris subjected to this disaster reached 1 million. There are now many refugees and IDPs.
If we are to recognise the essence of the tragedy of refugees and IDPs we should put ourselves in their place for a moment. Imagine, on returning to your country being unable to enter and being prevented from returning to your city and home – to the place where all your belongings are. You would then have to start again from nothing and rebuild everything.
More than 300 000 Azeris who used to inhabit the territory of Armenia have left behind their history and historical monuments, including graves and stones with inscriptions that are 800 or 900 years old. Now nothing of that kind remains in Armenia. The history of Azeri territories is reflected in the geography of the area. In spite of the change that took place before the Armenian aggression and the last deportation of Azeris, thousands of Azeri toponyms still existed 20 to 25 years ago in the territory of Armenia, but none of them exists now. They have all been officially liquidated at the state level, but it is impossible to change history through artificial means. Photos and descriptions of those monuments and historical stones remain in scholars’ works that were published 30, 40 or 50 years ago. Topographical maps printed in the early 20th century remain in archives, clearly demonstrating the reality.
More than 300 000 people have been deported from Armenia and nearly 700 000 Azeri citizens have become IDPs as a result of Armenian aggression. Most of them were from rural districts so they were well aware of the language of the land and soil. The soils in Armenia and Azerbaijan long for those people because they are not being cultivated and ploughed and are therefore being eroded. The tradition of passing down agricultural skills from generation to generation in those territories is being lost.
The Armenian aggression towards Azerbaijan, including the events in the North Caucasus, and the problems of refugees and IDPs are not only a blow to the past and present but are a horror that threatens to destroy the future, like a buried mine. Sooner or later that mine will blow us all up. But it is not yet too late, so let us take practical steps to help refugees, IDPs and ourselves.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. As Mr Sidyakin is not here, I call Ms Erkal Kara. You have the floor.
Ms ERKAL KARA (Turkey) thanked the rapporteur for his detailed report. Turkey played host to a substantial population of Caucasian internally displaced people whose political importance and unity led the Turkish Government to consider closely such problems as low living standards, security and stability. Those people required attention. They needed resources. The Assembly should appreciate what Russia had done in recent times, but there remained much still to do.
The balanced and constructive report had been unanimously adopted by the committee.
Finally, the Assembly needed to maintain its interest in the tragic situation of the 1 million Azeris who had been displaced by Armenia .
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Ms Naghdalyan.
Ms NAGHDALYAN (Armenia) thanked the rapporteur for the excellent report. She had planned to speak only briefly but would say slightly more than she had intended as a result of what she had heard in the debate.
Many problems related to internally displaced persons arose in a variety of countries across Europe. Those problems included weak state support, low incomes and poor social conditions. The Russian Federation had made sterling efforts to improve their situation with respect to housing, jobs and compensation. There was a particular problem of internally displaced persons who lived within their own state but outside its jurisdiction. Russia, as a rich country, had been able to give help, and could offer more help. Displaced people needed resources and relied on the political will of authorities in the countries where they lived.
It was notable that some other rich countries were not rushing to solve these problems. Azerbaijan, for example, said that it was doing all that it could, but was solving its difficulties only by stealing Armenian housing and oppressing the Armenian population. No compensation for this had been provided and there had been tent camps in place for years. People were being used for political purposes while Azerbaijan spent billions buying arms. Azerbaijan shouted from the roof tops about its military doctrine and its weapons, but was not spending money to address its social problems.
The report was welcome but it was clear that while great demands were made of some countries, others escaped censure.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Vareikis.
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – Today we are discussing a problem that has been serious from the start. It may look like a small local problem of internally displaced persons in the North Caucasus, but I would describe it in a more substantive fashion.
Our picture of the Napoleonic wars is of battlefields where men are fighting each other. When we look at the Second World War, we see the front line and bombed cities. But when we look at the picture of war at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, it is no longer just the soldier but the refugee – the internally displaced person. Many people have to leave their homes and go elsewhere. That is not a simple side-effect of war; it is the politics of so-called modern warfare. We do not face only a technical problem of how to help people who have had to leave their homes as a side effect of war. It is politics, and we have to make political decisions.
A few months ago, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights issued a report, which I signed, on forcible population transfer. In the report, we explained what was meant by forcible population transfer and that some countries apply it as a deliberate policy. We know about ethnic cleansing and the deportation of entire nations, especially in North Caucasus. My father spent many years in Siberia; he met Chechens not in the Caucasus mountains but on the Siberian taiga, as a result of the policies of the country that sent them there.
I am happy that the report has made specific recommendations, but they are not enough. I am not as optimistic as Mr Chope; I calculate that if you divide €7 billion between 300 000 people, there would be €2 000 per person. If you were expelled from your country and later received Ł1 500, would you think that was okay? It is not okay, especially when we know that in Russia, not every penny is going to the people. It is a very small amount. The most important thing is not compensation; it is the restoration of justice.
Today, some people have talked about Armenia, Azerbaijan and North Caucasus. We can talk about the Muslims and Croats and Serbs in the Balkans. The problem is not money. We can give them money, but a solution will not come until justice can be done. While we think only about compensation, we postpone a real solution to the problem.
I congratulate the committee on the report, and I suggest that we continue to work on more important things: how to return people to their houses and how to restore a spirit of justice for the people.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. Mr Kandelaki is not here, so I call Ms Guţu.
Ms GUŢU (Moldova) thanked the President for having visited Moldova and for his close involvement in the question of frozen conflicts. Such conflicts were a humanitarian matter but it was essential to consider the source of those disasters. That source was military aggression. The Russian Federation was one of the countries that had conducted military campaigns, and it was a matter of regret that a state that was represented in the Council of Europe should have done so.
Mr Grachev, the Russian defence minister responsible for the aggression in Transnistria in 1992 had also inflamed the Kazakhs and treated Moldova as a farmyard. Representatives of the Russian Federation had referred to such attitudes and talked of interference. Mr Grachev was now a special representative for the Russian President, but should be responsible for finding a solution to the first conflict in Transnistria..
It had, however, been said that Transnistria was a sovereign entity and that Russia would open a consulate there. Many lessons had been offered on the history of the region. The current Russian minster of defence had seen the 20 000 tons of arms located in Transnistria, but had said that they were not dangerous and had told officials that Russia was merely modernising its army. The first conflict remained to be resolved and Russia would need to ensure that it did not breach Moldovan borders. Instead, it should turn its attention to resolving the human rights situation in Chechnya. The report was a good response to these crucial questions.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. I call Mr Kalmár.
Mr KALMÁR (Hungary) – In 1950, on the foundation of the Council of Europe, Konrad Adenauer said, “The aim of our work is to make the borders of the European national states disappear. Our aim is that Europe should become for all of us a common home, the home of freedom”. Unfortunately, for the second time this week, I have to start my intervention by going back to the roots of the Council of Europe.
Over many centuries, ethnic issues have been important in Europe. Many conflicts have broken out because of them, terrible wars have been fought, and national borders on our continent have been moved many times. Although we all know that the ethnic diversity of Europe forms the basis of our competitiveness and creativity, which as a result has led to the great success of this continent in the world, ethnic conflicts persist even today, but it seems that this issue, unfortunately, is not in the political mainstream in Europe. However, what Konrad Adenauer said in 1950 is still valid. His goal was achieved in the main in western Europe, but the rest of the continent is still waiting for solutions. Naturally, this is continuing work that will never end, but there are cases that could be resolved peacefully.
We Hungarians understand the problem under discussion as we experienced several influxes of refugees in the 20th century due to the Treaty of Trianon, the Hungarian-Czechoslovak population exchange, the war in Yugoslavia and the revolution in 1956. Despite these conflicts in the Caucasus region, which are rooted in history, increased efforts should be made to increase inter-ethnic and intercultural links and improve co-operation among the different ethnic groups. Education and confidence building are of the utmost importance in this regard, and here I stress the crucial role of history teachers in schools. We also think that the situation for young people is a key issue with regard to long-lasting stabilisation in the region. Young people need jobs, because without a legal income they are a potential target group for extremism and a potential supply of terrorists and/or criminals.
The question is: how can we help to solve these problems? In my opinion, our main task here at the Council of Europe is to prevent conflicts, and as most conflicts have their base in ethnic issues, even if they are related to large, strong states such as Russia, we should bring this issue back into the political mainstream. Although the resolutions made by the Council of Europe are not compulsory, we should co-operate with the European Union so that they can be made compulsory through the European Parliament. After all, it is a partner institution. That could be the subject of an interesting and important report.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. Before giving the floor to Mr Gaudi Nagy, I should inform the Assembly that we have some time left, so if other members want to speak in the debate, they should please make themselves known. We have time for two or three more oral interventions.
Mr GAUDI NAGY (Hungary) – I congratulate the rapporteur on this wonderful report. I remember very well another report produced by Mr Vareikis about the enforced transfer of populations, and I can see a strong link between these two aspects of human rights. I suggest that we should refer to the important Vareikis report because of the conclusions he reached in it.
Resolution 1863 states that, “Population transfer is a practice or policy having the purpose or effect of moving persons into or out of an area, either within or across an international border, or within, into or out of an occupied territory, without the free and informed consent of the transferred population and any receiving population. It involves collective expulsions or deportations and often ethnic cleansing.” And what does Resolution 1863, adopted just this January, also say? It reads: “Enforced population transfers have not only occurred in history, the practice and its consequences still affects present conflicts such as those in the Western Balkans, Cyprus and the Caucasus region.” So we have a very strong legal basis on which to deal with the problem that is the focus of the report prepared by Mr Dendias.
I agree absolutely with the main aim of ensuring that great efforts are made to find durable solutions to the plight of the remaining displaced persons. It is clear that what has happened in the North Caucasus is similar to what we have seen in terms of ethnic cleansing arising out of ethnic conflict. My colleague from Hungary, Mr Kalmár, referred to the fact that we Hungarians are strongly sympathetic to all kinds of displaced people – all those who have been forced to leave their homelands because of conflict. It is a deeply sad experience. For example, in the North Caucasus people have been forced out of their homeland for at least 20 years now.
I want to point out that there are other instances of this both in and beyond Europe that should be highlighted by the Council of Europe, perhaps in the form of scrutiny and then the publication of a report. I would cite the example of the enforced population transfer from Vojvodina in the north of Serbia that resulted in many refugees. That part of the country is inhabited by several different ethnic groups and, indeed, a great number of Hungarians. As a consequence of the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, many people were moved into this territory, which threatened the balance between the nationalities, resulting in a severe threat to peaceful co-existence between the various groups. I strongly suggest that we should try to deal with this problem.
I would also like to mention Palestine, which of course is outside Europe. However, several million people are forced to live away from their homeland. It is a very important issue and it must be dealt with.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you. As we have a few minutes left, does anybody else want to speak? That is not the case, but at least I have offered members the opportunity to participate.
The list of speakers is concluded.
I call Mr Chope to reply. You have a total of five minutes remaining.
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – The tenor of this debate shows the wisdom of the Assembly in renaming the migration committee and making it a committee that deals with displaced persons, among other things. Many of the contributions have related not to displaced persons in the North Caucasus but to those in the South Caucasus, Transnistria and even the Balkans. There is obviously a great appetite for discussing these issues in principle.
May I refer briefly to the speech made by Mr Knyshov of the Russian Federation? It was very useful to hear from him that the Russian Federation is going to invest €125 billion of federal support in economic development in the area. That is an enormous amount of money – far more than the sum to which I referred earlier, for which I was taken to task by Mr Vareikis. If that amount is invested in the economy of the area, it should redound to the benefit of all the population, including the residents and the displaced people.
I know that Mr Dendias would want me to draw attention to the fact that he was helped enormously in producing the report by Ivi Odrats, who was on the secretariat of the migration committee. She has finished her responsibilities on that committee and has been promoted elsewhere within the Assembly, but I pay tribute to her work and I am sure that Mr Dendias would also like to – not just on this report, but for the migration committee over a significant period.
I thank everybody who has participated in this debate. Ms Beck brought forward the ideas from the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights. We know that she has an ongoing report, which will involve her visiting the North Caucasus and taking forward some of the issues raised by Mr Marty, referred to during this debate, in relation to legal and human rights and the problem of impunity, which, sadly, is an enduring feature for many in the North Caucasus.
There is also a serious issue about the future of NGOs in the North Caucasus. If we cannot get sufficient resources for those NGOs, who will scrutinise what is going on in the area? Although that issue has not been referred to much during this debate, it is an important part of the report and recommendations.
That is enough from me on this. I shall not comment on the points made about the South Caucasus. It is a pity that issues relating to the South Caucasus have to be discussed in a debate specifically geared towards the North Caucasus. It means that a debate on any specific topic can be hijacked by people who want to discuss a topic other than what is on the agenda.
We have had some very thoughtful contributions. Our friend Mr Bockel made a very emotional contribution and Mr Vareikis made a thoughtful contribution. I thank all who participated in what has been a good debate. When Mr Dendias reads about it, I hope that it will give him extra enthusiasm for the last few days of his election campaign in Greece.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Chope. Does the Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Mr Santini, wish to speak?
Mr SANTINI (Italy) thanked the President. It was his pleasure and duty to speak as chair of the committee. He thanked Mr Dendias, who unfortunately could not be there today, but was represented brilliantly by Mr Chope. Thanks also were due to the many colleagues who had spoken in the debate and had broached the subject with style and sensitivity. The issues discussed represented a matter of daily concern for some colleagues, and it would have been wrong to have attempted to pass judgement.
A collective search for a new approach was required. Some progress had been made, particularly by Russia, but many people were still not able to fully enjoy their fundamental rights. They still encountered practical difficulties in relation to housing, jobs, and access to official documents and offices. Their persistent insecurity created obstacles and some found themselves in a situation of latent vulnerability. Further work was therefore required and everyone needed to do all they could, particularly Russia, which, it was clear had come a long way from its past. There was now clear evidence of Russian economic development and it was hoped that this would enable further resources to be dedicated to this matter, both for those who wished to return to their countries of origin, and for those who wanted hospitality and housing in their new country.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Santini. The debate is closed.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has presented a draft resolution to which 10 amendments have been tabled.
I understand that the Chairperson of the Committee on Migration, Refugees, and Displaced Persons wishes to propose to the Assembly that the amendments tabled in the name of the committee, 4 to 10, should be declared as agreed by the Assembly under Rule 33.11. Is that so Mr Santini?
Mr SANTINI (Italy) (Translation) – Yes, they have been unanimously taken on board, so we would like them to be integrated into the text.
THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone object? That is not the case.
As there is no objection, I declare that Amendments 4 to 10 to the draft resolution are agreed.
The following amendments have been adopted:
Amendment 4, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 1, to replace the words “at least 19 000” by “28 450”.
Amendment 5, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 5, at the beginning of the second sentence, to add the following words: “Although 124 700 persons have been paid compensation of 26,43 billion roubles,”.
Amendment 6, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.1.2, to replace the words “number and location” with the following words: “number, location and needs”.
Amendment 7, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.1.2, to replace the words “they face” with the following words: “require action to achieve durable solutions”.
Amendment 8, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, paragraph 8.1.3, to replace the words “take measures” with the following words: “prepare and implement an action plan with adequate financial resources”.
Amendment 9, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.1.8, to insert the following paragraph:
“take adequate steps to ensure the independence of the national human rights mechanisms in the North Caucasus, and support their continuous capacity to monitor the human rights situation of IDPs and the implementation of the Government’s obligations and commitments towards IDPs;”.
Amendment 10, tabled by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.1.9, to insert the following paragraph:
“continue availing itself of the assistance of relevant international institutions, particularly the UN, for the implementation of the recommendations in this report, including the survey of the situation of IDPs and the action plan;”.
We come to Amendment 1, tabled by Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.1.8, to insert the following paragraph:
“put an end to the impunity of perpetrators of serious human rights violations, including murder, enforced disappearances and torture, in particular by strengthening federal oversight of the activities of regional security and law enforcement bodies and by scrupulously implementing the numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights;”.
I call Ms Beck.
Ms BECK (Germany) wished to highlight the social and legal aspects of the issue. The implementation of many judgments of the European Court of Human Rights was required.
THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Makhmutov.
Mr MAKHMUTOV (Russian Federation) noted that less than a year ago the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights had passed a report that contained similar provisions to this amendment, and questioned the need to repeat those comments in this report.
THE PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons?
Mr SANTINI (Italy) (Translation) – The committee is in favour.
THE PRESIDENT – The vote is open.
THE PRESIDENT – We come to Amendment 2, tabled by Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 8.2.5, to add the following sentence: “; fully investigate and prosecute all criminal acts directed against such human rights workers as well as against returnees, including former prominent representatives of previous governments;”.
I call Ms Beck to support Amendment 2.
Ms BECK (Germany) said that this amendment aimed to ensure that criminal acts against human rights workers and NGOs were prosecuted. Such workers were vital to the region and attacks against them could not be tolerated.
THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? I call Mr Makhmutov.
Mr MAKHMUTOV (Russian Federation) said that he opposed the amendment for the same reason as before. As there had been no change since the last report it was not necessary to change the recommendation.
THE PRESIDENT – What is the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons?
Mr SANTINI (Italy) (Translation) – The committee is in favour.
THE PRESIDENT – The vote is open.
We come to Amendment 3, tabled by Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, which is, in the draft resolution, after paragraph 8.2.5, to insert the following paragraph:
“refrain from intimidating or pressuring Chechen refugees living in other parts of the Russian Federation or abroad to return to the Chechen Republic and to publicly submit to the current authorities; fully investigate the background of the murder of Umar Israilov in Vienna and prosecute also the instigators and organisers of this crime.”
I call Ms Beck to support Amendment 3.
Ms BECK (Germany) said that this amendment aimed to deal with situations where Chechen refugees living in other parts of Russia or abroad were intimidated into returning to the Chechen Republic.
THE PRESIDENT – Does anyone wish to speak against the amendment? That is not the case.
What is the opinion of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons?
Mr SANTINI (Italy) (Translation) – The committee is in favour.
THE PRESIDENT – The vote is open.
THE PRESIDENT – We will now proceed to vote on the whole of the draft resolution contained in Document 12882, as amended.
The vote is open.
(The sitting, suspended at 4.55 p.m., was resumed at 5.00 p.m., with Mr Mignon, President of the Assembly, in the Chair.)
2. Current affairs debate: The future of the European Court of Human Rights and the
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The next item of business this afternoon is the current affairs debate on the report on the future of the European Court of Human Rights and the Brighton Declaration.
I remind members that current affairs debates may not exceed one and a half hours. It shall be opened by Mr Hans Franken, as proposed by the Bureau. The first speaker in this debate has 10 minutes, and perhaps a little more.
I call Mr Franken.
Mr FRANKEN (Netherlands) – On 24 January, in this Assembly, we had an interesting debate about the authority and effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights. The Assembly adopted, with only one abstention and no votes against, a recommendation and a resolution in which it concluded that the European Court of Human Rights was an extraordinary instrument that has a profoundly positive impact on Europe’s law and practice. However, it cannot become a substitute for national protection of human rights; it is always meant to play a subsidiary or back-up role.
If the right of individual application is to be preserved in essence, and if the Court is to deliver authoritative and high-quality judgments in a reasonable time, the pressing priority must be to improve the situation in those countries where the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights are not properly implemented.
We decided that national parliaments can play a vital role by taking three measures. First, they should ensure that draft laws are compatible with Convention requirements. Secondly, they should press governments to comply promptly and fully with Court judgments. Thirdly, they should scrutinise current reform efforts.
Our general meeting has now been followed by the conference in Brighton last week, where a discussion was held of two problems that the Court faces. First, there is a huge backlog in handling cases, resulting in long waiting times before a decision is made. Secondly, some governments consider that there are some cases in which the Court crosses the border of its competence because they feel that the margin of appreciation of individual states to interpret the articles of the Convention is too small. For that reason, the Brighton Declaration aims, first, to agree on a series of reforms to the Convention system about the role of the States Parties and to assign some tasks for the Committee of Ministers in the Parliamentary Assembly, and, secondly, to amend the Convention to include in its preamble text the principle of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation.
The last point was strongly promoted by the UK. I would like to stress that the subsidiarity principle has two aspects: a procedural aspect, which means that the plaintiff has to pass all relevant procedures at national level before having access to the Court, and a substantial aspect. The latter stands for the fact that national governments are basically better equipped to evaluate the necessity and proportionality of specific circumstances in their countries. That means that there is a shared responsibility between the member states and the Court. That relationship is multifaceted. The Court itself has formulated a margin of appreciation doctrine. There will be certain discretion for the member states to decide how they will guarantee at national level the rights and freedoms laid down in the Convention. However, whether the margin is implemented is purely a decision for the Court, which must have the last word on how to interpret the Convention in each case before it. By handling that margin, the Court tries to diminish the divergence in the legislation and practice of different member states. Let us be aware that we are talking about 47 member states with 800 million inhabitants. The Court carefully pursues harmonisation but by no means sets general standards.
The margin of appreciation will vary in different circumstances. When the right to life or the prohibition of torture is at stake, there is no margin at all. On those subjects, we have consensus in Europe. In cases where consensus does not exist – public order matters, for example – the margin of appreciation will be a reality that can be broader or narrower depending on the case to be decided. We also see that in the jurisprudence of the Court. In that way, the Court succeeds in preventing judicial activism. It employs a self-limitation of the interpretation that is possible with regard to the text of the Convention. It is a matter of interpretation within the core competence of the Court that is part of its function as an external check on the actions of an individual state.
In contrast to the margin of appreciation doctrine, the backlog of cases is the real problem. As our President, Mr Mignon, states in his article in The Guardian of 19 April, “It has a huge backlog of cases – caused less by inefficiency than by the arrival under its jurisdiction of a swathe of new states where human rights protection is still patchy or flawed.”
Years ago, when it was already foreseen that a backlog would arise, a reasonable solution to the problem was unfortunately blocked for a long time by a single member state. Nowadays, the backlog is beginning to decrease, but much more needs to be done. For that reason, we can praise the British presidency, which organised the Brighton conference. Now there is an action plan based on consensus between all the States Parties to tackle the overwhelming backlog. We all know that justice delayed is justice denied. A consequence of the backlog is that repeat cases will be filed and requests for interim decisions will be stimulated – again, more work and larger stocks of files. It is important that the Brighton Declaration has an assignment for all concerned with the Convention. First, the Court has to continue to broaden efficiency measures in handling inadmissible and repeat cases. It will work with pilot judgments and additional judges. Here, I would like to propose that additional temporary judges should be chosen by the Assembly along the lines of the normal selection procedures.
Secondly, on the tasks for the States Parties, national governments have to implement the Court’s judgments rapidly and effectively. They have to control whether their rules and statutes are strictly in line with the Convention and they have to give the Court a realistic chance to uphold its authority and maintain its quality. Each member state therefore has to pay at least the cost of the membership of a national judge in the Court.
Finally, let me address the task for the Parliamentary Assembly. It should continue to promote compliance with the Court’s judgments – indeed, it should give that a more prominent role. It should urge the Committee of Ministers to ameliorate its procedures so as to ensure effective supervision of the execution of judgments. A structured approach and stronger publicity would be appropriate means of doing this. To conclude, colleagues, we have to focus on facts, not fiction. The functioning of the Court is not someone else’s problem, but is the responsibility of us all.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Franken. You did not even use up your 10 minutes. The next speaker is Mr Kox, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr KOX (Netherlands) – First, I thank Hans Franken for his excellent and wise introduction to the debate. Although he and I belong to different political groups in this Assembly and in the Dutch Senate, let me say on behalf of the UEL that we totally support his introductory remarks in this very important and timely debate.
Politicians should not rely on miracles, but they do happen once in a while and if they happen we should cherish them. In the opinion of our group, the creation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the accord was such a miracle. It started as a small miracle in the days when the Council of Europe was a council of western Europe, but then it developed into a great and serious miracle when all the European countries joined the Council of Europe and the Convention, therefore supporting the existence and the work of the European Court of Human Rights.
In a world that is too dominated by financial markets, big companies and rude capitalism, the Convention and the Court provide an island of civilisation, where people can seek shelter when their human rights have not been respected. Too often, people do not realise how unique this system is. It does not exist anywhere else in the world. It follows the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of the things that happen on this continent are not to be cherished, but we should be very proud of this: my group, at least, is.
It is therefore extremely important that the Committee of Ministers is very cautious when it meets on 23 May to discuss the Convention and the Court. Of course, improvements to shorten the waiting list and ensure that judgments are implemented properly and in a timely fashion should be endorsed and applauded. There are several such proposals in the Brighton Declaration, as Hans Franken has told us. However, that is all the Committee of Ministers should do – no more. It should not use these discussions and this debate on the Convention to deal with what I would call smaller political interests. Of course, we are all politicians and once in a while there is an opportunity to use something in relation to domestic debates, but the Convention and the Court are far too important to be misused for such small political arguments.
I therefore make an appeal on behalf of my group and, I hope, this Assembly to the Committee of Ministers: “Take care, leave what is good and change only what will really improve the Convention and the functioning of the Court.” That is more than enough and we are grateful to the Committee of Ministers. It should not do more than is necessary.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Lībiņa-Egnere, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Ms LĪBIŅA-EGNERE (Latvia) – First, I thank the United Kingdom chairmanship for raising the important issue of the European Court of Human Rights at the right time, so that we can all profit from the Brighton Declaration today.
For 60 years, the European Court of Human Rights has been a cornerstone of the system to protect human rights. It has been a source of inspiration for national governments and international organisations. In this regard, the Council of Europe has achieved far more in protecting people’s human rights than any other international organisation through its mechanism for hearing complaints, which is directly accessible to the relevant individual and can overrule the findings of national authorities and award compensation. We should be very proud of that.
As stated in the Brighton Declaration, however, member states and the Court share responsibility for ensuring the viability of the Convention. Member states are also encouraged to facilitate the important role of national parliaments in scrutinising the effectiveness of implementation measures taken at the national level. According to the Brighton Declaration, that is the task of the national parliaments and governments that we represent here.
Of course, we all recognise that reform is necessary so that the Court can focus its efforts on serious or widespread violations and on systematic and structural problems. However, we see that there may be risks in relation to the wording of the declaration. For example, the idea of introducing additional judges might destroy the balance in the Court. We also have reservations about placing further limitations on the right of individual petition. Current admissibility criteria are flexible enough to cover all necessary situations. The problem lies with the strict and consistent way in which they are applied by the Court. The introduction of new admissibility criteria would therefore not necessarily help us to reach our goal. The most recent data confirm that the full potential of Protocol No. 14 to the Convention has not always been explored when it comes to dealing with admissible and inadmissible cases.
We are also strongly convinced that reforms should focus not on creating obstacles to individual petition, but on stimulating national governments to apply the Convention properly at the national level, so that individuals will be content with the outcome of national proceedings and would feel the need to seek justice from an international court only in rare circumstances. We believe that reforms aimed at enhancing the execution of the judgments of national courts will provide greater added value than any other reform. That should be a guiding principle and an absolute priority for our approach in future.
We also believe strongly that a priority during the reform process should be to address the situation in the member states with the highest rates of applications to the Court. This is also homework for us here in the Assembly. Nevertheless, the outcome of the Brighton process is not only the declaration but the clear expression of our will to improve implementation of human rights measures within all member states. At first glance, the changes appear to be few in the short term, but it seems likely that the declaration will eventually be seen as a starting point for fundamental reform.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Michel, who will speak on behalf of the Socialist Group.
Mr MICHEL (France) said that the Brighton Declaration had not met all the British desires on questions such as admissibility or pecuniary sanctions in cases based on unfounded allegations. The declaration was far from the British ambitions. It would still be for the Court to consider questions of subsidiarity.
The Court was not so much a victim of its own success as a victim of national failings. It could not compensate for all these flaws. Reform was an acceptable idea, but individual national jurisdictions required greater change. For example, only 10 states were responsible for 80% of applications to the Court. There was a need to improve processes in those countries and to train judges, the police and lawyers.
The first reform necessary for the Court lay in the process by which judges were elected. The Council of Europe had the proper instruments with which to choose judges, but the choices made by national governments were sometimes questionable. Those chosen were not always as competent or effective as was desirable. The Assembly should now insist on quick negotiations with the European Union in order to increase the powers of the Court.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Heald, on behalf of the European Democrat Group.
Mr HEALD (United Kingdom) – The EDG welcomes the Brighton Declaration. It results from a process that started at Interlaken and was pursued at Izmir. The Council of Europe was involved in that process; it is vital work, and we should reflect that it is the duty of the Council of Europe to strengthen human rights protections for 800 million people. The Convention and the Court have brought remedies for human rights abuses to many people across a vast area who lived for years without the basic conditions of the rule of law.
As was said at Brighton, the Court made good the weaknesses of a number of member states – your remark, Mr President. However, the Court is inundated. As well as the important cases, many hopeless cases go into the Court process. Mr Franken was right to congratulate the British presidency and to welcome measures to deal efficiently with trivial and weak cases to speed up the process.
We welcome part A’s specific measures to improve implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national level. Mrs Lībiņa-Egnere was right to say that many of the weaknesses are in national domestic situations and not in the Court, but we welcome subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation that is to be inserted in the Convention. The Court must exercise self-restraint and refrain from interfering in matters that there is no vital need to address and that concern national traditions – again, your words, Mr President.
We welcome the fact that development of the law will be via the Grand Chamber to achieve consistency. The changes send a clear message that the European Court of Human Rights should not reconsider cases already properly handled by national courts unless they raise a serious question of interpretation or application. Let us be clear: where the Court meddles unnecessarily, it damages public faith. Excessive judicial intervention damages the Court.
Some say everything was rosy. Some say the Court was improving anyway. Some say the declaration makes no difference. I say they are wrong. This is a welcome move in the right direction. We have done it – the Council of Europe and the various layers of our Organisation. This is a necessary recalibration for the next 60 years, and the Council of Europe should congratulate itself.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Reps, on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe.
Ms REPS (Estonia) – Our group could not agree more with the remarks made by our colleague. We could sign up to almost everything. Our group held extensive discussions, and we raised three key questions: the nature of subsidiarity, the preservation of the right to individual application and the credibility of the Court and the quality of its judges.
On the first point, we recognise that there is subsidiarity. We should have it, and we should keep it. Countries have different backgrounds and different cultures. We need to fulfil all our obligations to the Council of Europe as well as our obligations on rights and freedoms in the European Convention on Human Rights. At the same time, we need to recognise that, if there is repetition of cases, and if case law points out flaws in the system, the excuse of cultural or historical background is no longer enough. We need an efficient mechanism to address the flaws of systems in individual countries. There is nothing wrong with the Court, but there may be something substantially wrong in a given country.
Secondly, we need to keep the right of individual application, but if people have to wait for years just to hear whether their application is to be considered, or if a “speedy” process means seven years, that is a serious matter for the Court. The Court must concentrate on important cases. We welcome the amendments to Article 35. We need methods to streamline the Court so that it works more efficiently.
Thirdly, the credibility of the Court depends on the judges. Not all the candidates brought before the Parliamentary Assembly are at the highest level. The Parliamentary Assembly and all member states need to address that point seriously, as it could undermine the whole procedure. It is understandable that some judges have more support from the authorities than others, but we need to say when someone is not acceptable and send back the list. The Committee of Ministers must be careful about who they accept. Our group pointed out that sometimes the judgments of the Court are not clear and consistent. We need to maintain the high quality that makes the Court trustworthy.
Lastly, we understand that the backlog of cases and the process of reform have arisen only because some countries do not fulfil the obligations they agreed when they joined the Convention and our Organisation. Let us address the real issues and find a mechanism to engage with countries that are not executing judgments and not fulfilling the obligations they have made.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Connarty.
Mr CONNARTY (United Kingdom) – It is very important that the two items that are taking up our time are considered separately. Our concern about efficiency is not just concern about the backlog. There has been a failure in the past to recognise the spectrum of seriousness. The citizens of Europe saw trivial cases clogging up the Court when serious cases were not brought speedily enough to a conclusion. I therefore welcome the proposal to amend the conventions of the Court so that trivial cases can be disposed of much more easily.
I turn to the question of the margin of appreciation, which is the debate that we have had in the United Kingdom. We have been seen, rightly or wrongly, to challenge the jurisdiction of the Court. For some, this debate has been a direct challenge to the idea of an overarching court that can hold to account even the behaviour of elected governments. It is not enough to be elected, it is what you do with the power when you have it that should be challenged. When I hear or read about subsidiarity, particularly after having spent 13 years serving on the UK Europe scrutiny committees both on the EU and the Commission, I always hear in the background the dog whistle sound of “opt-out”, because that is what some people mean when they talk about subsidiarity.
There may be some discomfort among people in the UK, particularly those concerned about human rights, about the fact that we may be challenged on the right to deny prisoners the vote or the right to expel terrorists. I am confident that there is no wish among UK citizens to deny the full implementation of human rights as set out in the Convention, but many UK citizens are concerned about protectionism in politicians, which sends out the wrong message to more oppressive regimes that wish directly to deny the human rights of their citizens. The margin of appreciation of claims of subsidiarity must not lead to jurisdiction being denied in any case and in any country. I refer to the written statement by the justice minister on the commitment to use the existing criteria and talk about the proper handling of cases in national courts before there is any question of these cases being referred to the European Court of Human Rights. Every citizen should be defended against human rights abuses and civil rights abuses, even by governments who think they have the elected right to deny those rights.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Sobolev.
Mr SOBOLEV (Ukraine) – This is a difficult and worrying topic. Everyone understands that this is not only a problem with regard to the European Court of Human Rights, it is a problem at the national level. I can illustrate this very clearly and briefly by citing the example of Ukraine. After the adoption of judges for our courts, we now have a very complicated situation in which all judges in the Ukraine are answerable not to our law, to our constitution or even to basic human rights, but to the President of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and the general prosecutor. Judges can be dismissed by him very quickly; it can be done in one day.
The second example is the adoption of a criminal code of procedure where the prosecutor is the principal person and controls everybody, including the advocates and judges. So now we have a problem with regard to the national legislative base. I refer to the events that took place last week when a decision was reached in the human rights court in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko, who for several months has suffered a serious health scare that needs medical care that cannot be provided in jail. She needs to be in a specialist hospital. However, even now that request has not been fulfilled. This health issue is a real one.
Only a couple of days ago, the majority party in the parliament and the president elected an ombudsman who is the agent responsible for human rights issues that are considered in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. I can provide a figure that shows that, over all these years, only 3% of the decisions made by the European Court of Human Rights have been adopted and fulfilled in Ukraine. Some 97% have not been adopted.
I return to the case of Yulia Tymoshenko. Four days ago, another horrible thing happened. Three people who work at the prison trapped her under a cover and beat her. After that, it was decided to change her diagnosis to one which had been reached by an international group of medical professors from Germany and Canada and medical practitioners from Ukraine, to proceed with another political process that will start the day after tomorrow in Kharkiv. After that, everyone has come to understand that we cannot control the decisions reached by the human rights court in Ukraine.
Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe and, unlike Ukraine, it has not adopted our resolutions and conventions. Ukraine has adopted all the conventions, but it does not fulfil them. I want to thank Mr Jagland, the Secretary General, for announcing this position so quickly following the last case related to Yulia Tymoshenko. Brutal force was used against her. It was adopted by the last ombudsman, whom they dismissed after the announcement.
It is very important that changes should now be made to the human rights court and to make sure that they are made through appropriate national legislation. Without this, millions of people will appeal to the Supreme Court in Ukraine. Their problems will not be resolved, so of course they will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Loncle.
Mr LONCLE (France) thanked the President. The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights were being put to the test. Several months ago the Assembly had been warned about the potential confusion between the Convention, which was based on solid legal convention, and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. It was difficult to avoid a contradiction between the two documents, which were being interpreted by two different courts: the Convention in Strasbourg, and the charter in Luxembourg’s Court of Fundamental Rights.
The UK had recently tried to call into question the status of the Convention. This attempt had failed and, happily, the Brighton Declaration had not reduced the Court’s powers as much as the UK government had hoped. The UK had not appreciated being found against in 2005, but in fact it had been found against three times fewer than France.
At Brighton, many European countries had rallied to the Court’s defence. The Brighton Declaration represented a massive failure to address the real issues facing the Court. The backlog of cases risked creating paralysis, and the Brighton Declaration’s attempt at petty reform did not offer a viable solution. The Court needed to be able to apply genuine deterrent statements against countries within its jurisdiction. The disjunction preventing this from occurring originated not in Strasbourg but in the signatories who did not apply the judgments properly. Indeed, the Brighton Declaration had clarified that the Convention was not itself the problem, but rather the failure to apply and implement judgments.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you Mr Loncle, I call Mr Gross.
Mr GROSS (Switzerland) – agreed with Mr Loncle’s comments, but feared something worse. If one had listened to the debate on the Convention in the UK, among the Conservatives in particular, the prospect of leaving the European Convention on Human Rights was a very real concern. The Convention had been the flagship of the Council of Europe – people had died for its protection and machinery, which allowed people to take their countries to court. This was a genuine achievement, but of limited value if the Court did not function properly. In some cases there had been up to three years’ wait for the acknowledgement of cases by complainants’ countries. This was not compatible with the upholding of their human rights. The larger countries were problems in and of themselves, but it was not the case that they were easier to condemn than smaller countries. It was necessary to realise that democracy and the rule of law were not achieved overnight, but were part of a long-term learning process. Countries needed to understand what they could do at home, and should consider and analyse others to determine how to be more effective.
At the beginning of 2012 there had been a significant backlog of urgent and important cases. In 2011 the Court had a capacity to undertake only a third of the cases that had been judged important. This backlog meant that serious human rights violations in member countries were not being addressed. It was, therefore, essential to assist the Court to work more effectively to ensure that such failings did not lead to further failures.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Gross. The next speaker is Ms Pourbaix-Lundin.
Ms POURBAIX-LUNDIN (Sweden) – Thank you, Mr President. The European Court of Human Rights is the crown jewel of the Council of Europe. In many of our countries, the ECHR is the only known branch of the Council of Europe. It is a very important instrument for the protection and development of human rights in Europe. I welcome the revision done in Brighton by the Committee of Ministers, which was aiming for a more efficient Court.
The Court and member states have a shared responsibility for granting the protection of human rights and freedoms set out in the Convention. However, I wish to emphasise that member states have the prime responsibility; the role of the Court is subsidiary. It is therefore crucial that relevant laws of member states comply with the Convention and that the Convention is implemented at national level.
I wish to highlight two of the issues of the Convention that are up for revision. The first is the age of the judges. I am in favour of taking away the age limit for judges. It is suggested that judges must be no older than 65 when taking up a post as a judge in the Court, but I am in favour of removing the limit because judges usually do not become experienced enough before they reach their sixties.
I am concerned about the suggestion to enable the appointment of additional judges to the Court. In my view, we should stick to the present recruitment system. As members know, the sub-committee is involved and this Assembly votes for the judges in a secret ballot. If we have an appointment process, I am afraid that we will end up with first and second-rate teams – an A and a B team – of judges. That would be no good.
I end by wishing good luck to everyone involved in making the Brighton Declaration come into force so that the European Court of Human Rights can continue to play an important role for citizens in our 47 member states.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Ms Pourbaix-Lundin. The next speaker is Mr Cilevičs.
Mr CILEVIČS (Latvia) – I will not repeat all the points that have already been made by colleagues. Needless to say, the Court is at the heart of Council of Europe activities. It is our common task to ensure its effectiveness, and the Brighton Declaration can be assessed as a somewhat modest step in the right direction.
In the meantime, I would like to mention two issues that, in my view, give rise to some concern and were not sufficiently addressed in Brighton. The first is the genuine independence of the judges. Certain important measures were introduced by Protocol No. 14; a longer and non-renewable duration of office eliminates the threat of any refusal to nominate an “overly independent” judge. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers’ resolution, adopted in September 2009, ensures social security and a pension for judges.
Nevertheless, I assume that governments still might have leverage that would permit undue influence on judges, both during their mandate and after its expiry – all the more so, given that a number of judges are still relatively young people who are not going to retire after the conclusion of their nine-year mandate in the Court. I believe that that issue should be carefully studied by the Assembly.
Another essential issue relates to the organisation of the work of the Registry, and in particular to the use of secondments. Paragraph 20, sub-paragraph (b) of the Brighton Declaration encourages more secondments, and I consider that to be a matter of concern. As a matter of fact, serious complaints against a given state may be considered by lawyers who are paid by the state against which applications are lodged, and whose further professional career may depend on the government. That situation creates an intrinsic conflict of interests, which might have an adverse impact on the effectiveness of the Court. Our Assembly should also take up a serious study of the issue and identify measures to prevent such threats.
In conclusion, let me stress once again how important the Court is for all in Europe. Any successful attempt to undermine or weaken the Court would inevitably lower the protection of the human rights of individuals and should therefore be strongly resisted.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you, Mr Cilevičs. I call Mr Herkel.
Mr HERKEL (Estonia) – I thank Mr Franken for introducing this debate.
The functioning of the European Court of Human Rights is our responsibility in this Assembly. I would like to start from the same point as Ms Pourbaix-Lundin and Mr Cilevičs by saying that the European Court of Human Rights is probably the most important pillar of the Council of Europe. Human rights and political interests – let us be realistic – are sometimes in contradiction, too often even in this Chamber, but that cannot be the case. We often discuss in the Monitoring Committee the deficiencies in the traditional systems of several countries, with malfunctioning of the judiciary, corruption, a lack of independence, and the impact of political power on the Court’s decisions. That is unfortunately what happens in terms of politics, although for many people the Strasbourg Court is the light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel.
Our previous discussion was about the North Caucasus, and many applications are coming from that region, although we must be realistic and accept that many people do not have the courage to appeal to the Court. There is a backlog of 150 000 cases – it may be even bigger – because of malfunctioning judicial systems in member states. It is therefore understandable that we are making efforts to do something to make the Court more efficient, but the real problems lie in the traditional systems of some member states. The margin of appreciation and subsidiarity cannot mean that human rights are to some extent relative in different member states.
I understand the hesitation about some aspects of the Brighton Declaration, but we are the politicians and the future is in our hands. We must therefore consider how the Convention should be changed and how the system would work. It is very important to follow the process and to do our utmost to keep in touch with what is happening. We should not exclude the possibility that some new aspects of reform are necessary, as we have already reformed the Court many times. We need an independent, high-quality, pan-European Court; that is very important. Let me repeat, however, that the problems sometimes lie in the national functioning of the traditional systems, and we can address those problems in the Parliamentary Assembly as parliamentarians.
THE PRESIDENT – Thank you very much, Mr Herkel. I call Mr Rogacki.
Mr ROGACKI (Poland) – I would like to refer to today’s discussion about the future of the European Court of Human Rights through the prism of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights concerning a very important matter to every Polish person – namely, the case of the murder of Polish officers committed in Katyn. Not all the people here know or remember this, and that is why I want to recall the fact that in 1940 Russians killed over 22 000 Polish officers. Breaking all conventions, they savagely murdered the Polish officers, shooting them in the back of their heads. It is over 70 years since that happened. To this day, Russia does not feel responsible for the Katyn massacre. To this day, families of the victims do not even know where their husbands, brothers and fathers are buried. Russians refuse the claims of Polish families. Therefore, a petition was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights.
I want to draw your attention to a dangerous precedent in the judgment of the Court concerning the murder in Katyn. The Court decided to judge the case without many fundamental documents on this matter. Although it has been over 70 years since the Polish officers were killed, Russia still keeps the truth secret. This is a very reprehensible activity on the part of Russia, which, as a member of the Council of Europe, should respect its rules. In accepting such a practice, the Court gives a green light to similar activities in future. Every country will have permission to hide the truth when it is convenient to them, and those who believe in the honesty of the European Court of Human Rights will not be able to assert their rights. I am surprised by the behaviour of Russia, which is a member of the Council of Europe and in which democracy may be doubtful. Families of the Polish officers murdered in Katyn have once again been degraded by Russia.
Speaking of human rights, let me add that the families of those who were on their way to Katyn to commemorate the Polish officers and died in the plane crash near Smolensk in April 2010 – Polish president Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria Kaczynski, and 94 people in the Polish delegation – still today, in the 21st century, have huge problems in finding the answers about why their loved ones died. Although it has been two years since the catastrophe, Russia has still not given Poland many documents concerning this matter, including the plane wreckage and flight data recorders. This is also a case that should draw the attention and interest of international public opinion and human rights activists.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Rogacki. I call Mr Pozzo di Borgo.
Mr POZZO DI BORGO (France) said that when the European Convention on Human Rights was created it represented an act of faith in the democratic future of Europe. It achieved notable success when the Berlin Wall fell and countries formerly under the control of the Soviet Union acceded to the Convention.
Successive reforms had sought to streamline the functioning of the European Court of Human Rights. France supported all these reforms. It was a positive step for the Brighton Declaration to include subsidiarity in the preamble to the Convention. The inclusion in the preamble of the principle of margin of appreciation was also to be welcomed. When the Convention was created it was clear that it was right, and the example of nearby states under the control of the Soviet Union threw the benefits of the Convention into sharp relief, making it easier to determine the margins of appreciation. Since 1989 it had been more difficult to determine the margin of appreciation. Nevertheless the Court had been careful and effective in its decisions over the past two decades.
The United Kingdom’s reservations about some of the Court’s decisions - for example, that on prisoner voting - were easy to understand. In addition the English and Welsh legal systems were based on case law, unlike many continental legal systems. Perhaps the United Kingdom could take inspiration from these continental systems so that its decisions did not, on occasion, appear so arbitrary. While this would be a fundamental change to the British legal system, it might be worth considering.
Finally, it was worth remembering that politicians were responsible for devising and implementing just policies. Judges at the European Court of Human Rights were not meant to stand in for politicians who were reluctant to do so.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Pozzo di Borgo. The next speaker is Mr Hancock.
Mr HANCOCK (United Kingdom) – Every member has spoken of the importance of the European Court, saying that it is the jewel in the Council of Europe’s crown. Unfortunately, the jewel has become somewhat tarnished. Some member states do not honour the Court’s judgments, and the Court’s slowness to react is obvious. Many people whose cases are before the Court will die before they are heard. Indeed, some people have died before their cases were heard. Other problems include the inadequacy of some of the judgments and the failure of some judges to place the judgments in the framework of what the Court was set up to do. By exercising their rights as judges, they have extended the quantity of those judgments to the point where they have reduced their quality. More and more member states will thus find it easier to oppose the judgments. We therefore have to do something.
I congratulate the British Prime Minister, who came here in January. I think most people in the United Kingdom expected him to make a speech that would horrify all of Europe, but he did the opposite. I congratulate the United Kingdom Government – not a government I support on a regular basis, even though my party is part of the coalition, and I am on record as voting against them more times than I have voted for them – on believing that the most important aspect of the UK presidency was to address the tarnished image of the Court and the undoubted need to improve the quality and timing of judgments.
The four points that the British Prime Minister presented to the Assembly and that were then discussed in detail in Brighton were the aspects that needed to be addressed most urgently. We will fail the people of Europe miserably if we do not work with the Court and with our Committee of Ministers to make those changes happen in a reasonably short time. The matter cannot be left in the long grass. We have to take seriously the fact that change must come at a speed that is acceptable to this Assembly. That will not diminish but enhance the work of the Court and make it more relevant. How can a court with a backlog of 150 000 cases be relevant to the people of Europe? How can the 150 000th person on the list be sure that they will get the justice that they deserve? Having a case lodged with the Court is irrelevant if it will never be heard.
We must sustain a process that will actually deliver an absolute change in the Court. Perhaps then we can polish the diamond in our crown and say that it begins to shine again. However, we cannot allow this matter to drag on and on. I hope that we, as an Assembly, will have a regular update on progress so that perhaps every six months or every year we have a proper debate in the Assembly on the operation of the Court and the implementation of the changes. When the Secretary General reports regularly to the Assembly, the first item in his or her report should be how these changes have manifested themselves in the Court. If we do that properly and quickly, perhaps we can have a court of which we can all be justifiably proud.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Hancock. That concludes the list of speakers.
The debate is closed.
Mr Franken, you have five minutes left.
Mr FRANKEN (Netherlands) – I was told that I should listen only after I had spoken. However, I would like to thank you, Mr President, and the Bureau of the Assembly for giving me the task of opening the debate in the plenary. The debate was interesting, and I am glad that there is consensus about the urgency of implementing measures in line with the Interlaken and Izmir process. That means not intervening in the competency of the Court and not limiting individual applications, but stressing the Court’s organisational problems in the work of national parliaments and in the Committee of Ministers. There is now a concrete “to do” list, so let us start the work.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Franken.
I remind members that at the end of a current affairs debate, the Assembly shall not vote. We can therefore move on immediately, a little earlier than expected, to the next item of business for this afternoon. I thank everyone who participated in the current affairs debate.
3. Follow-up by the Committee of Ministers to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The final item of business this afternoon is the debate on the report on the follow-up by the Committee of Ministers to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly, Document 12887, presented by Mr Serhiy Holovaty on behalf of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs.
I first call Mr Holovaty, rapporteur. You have 13 minutes in total, which you may divide between presentation of the report and reply to the debate.
Mr HOLOVATY (Ukraine) – The report’s starting point was some disagreement between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers in 2009, when the Secretary General of the Council of Europe had to be elected and each organ had a different understanding of its role in the process. Moreover, dissatisfaction was expressed at the time about the follow-up by the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly’s recommendations and opinions. However, several developments in institutional relations have taken place subsequently, and made it necessary for a larger number of topics to be covered in the report.
First, I underline the positive dynamic that was reached in the relationship between the two statutory organs and emphasise that improvements in working methods are not solely the responsibility of the Committee of Ministers, but are also that of the Assembly. Therefore, the draft resolution that echoes the resolution on the reform of the Assembly reiterates the need for more political relevance and consistency in Assembly actions.
I want to concentrate on two particular issues of relevance to the Parliamentary Assembly – the follow-up from the Committee of Ministers to the Assembly’s recommendations and the process for consultation between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. On the first issue, the 2009 joint agreement on “Enhanced dialogue between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers”, says that the “Committee of Ministers will seek to give an early and substantial reply to the Parliamentary Assembly texts.” In 2003, the Ministers’ Deputies decided that replies to Assembly recommendations should be given in principle within a period of no more than six months. That undertaking is most welcome.
For its part, the Assembly should clean up its own backyard. Its committees should be encouraged to adopt good practice in the drafting of recommendations and opinions. The Assembly has agreed in principle that there is a need to reduce the number of recommendations sent to the Committee of Ministers and to present better quality texts. The Assembly should seek to refocus the proposals in its recommendations on matters relating to the Organisation’s programme of activities. However, as a parliamentary body the Assembly should address all topical issues of great concern to Europeans and should continue to play a role in urging the Committee of Ministers to deal with new challenges. For the Assembly’s recommendations to be followed up properly, both the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly need to be engaged in true, active dialogue.
On the second issue – the process for consultation between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers – there are three key areas: statutory consultation with the Assembly on new legal instruments; consultation on the priorities of the chairmanship of the Council of Europe; and consultation on budgetary measures. Issues of consultation with the Assembly on new conventions and additional protocols arise at regular intervals and there is still room for real inter-institutional progress. The Assembly’s committees have at times been critical of the procedure followed and the content of the Committee of Ministers’ replies to the Assembly’s proposals.
The 2009 joint agreement on “Enhanced dialogue between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers” mentions the establishment of timetables “for consultation on new draft Council of Europe treaties” allowing the Assembly “to give its opinion without undue haste and within a reasonable timeframe.” We know that the Committee of Ministers is subject to tight time constraints but the Assembly’s statutory opinions could carry greater weight if the Committee of Ministers was willing to involve the Assembly in the drafting of legal instruments at an earlier stage. It would also be most useful if a timetable could be fixed well in advance to give the Assembly sufficient time to prepare its statutory opinion. That would also allow, where appropriate, for further consultation with the relevant intergovernmental experts committee regarding the proposals submitted by the Assembly.
In his 2010 report, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe suggested that a timetable for preparatory work on draft treaties should be adopted to allow at least three months for the Assembly to be consulted and to enable the drafting committee to take account of the Assembly’s opinion prior to final adoption by the Committee of Ministers. It would be useful if the Assembly was kept informed of any follow-up to draft amendments in its statutory opinions and if it received replies and other information in writing from the Chair of the Committee of Ministers regarding any action taken on its proposals.
The second key area I mentioned concerns a proposal aimed at strengthening the Assembly’s co-operation with the Committee of Ministers in relation to the setting of the Organisation’s priorities for the rotating presidency of the Committee of Ministers. The Assembly fully supports the proposal made by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in his 2010 report that the government of the country due to take over the chairmanship of the Organisation should “consult the national delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly to involve it in the work of setting priorities”.
The third key area concerns the Assembly’s consultative opinion on budgetary matters. As members will know, following the entry into force of Assembly reform, the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs was given responsibility for preparing the Assembly’s opinion on the Council of Europe’s draft budget. Today, it appointed its general rapporteur on budget and intergovernmental programmes from the French delegation. The committee hopes that the constructive working relations and exchange of information that the Rapporteur Group on Programme, Budget and Administration previously had with the Assembly’s Committee on Economic Affairs and Development will be maintained.
As of 2012, the Council of Europe has moved to a biennial programme and budget. Even though the next budgetary prospects will not be shaped until the first quarter of 2013, in my view the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs must already be concerned about the ongoing discussions taking place within the Ministers’ Deputies group of rapporteurs on budgetary matters. Indeed, various measures on the agenda would, if adopted by the Committee of Ministers, have either a short-term or long-term impact on Council of Europe budgets.
When drafting this report I noticed that concerns about enhancing inter-institutional co-operation had been voiced regularly since the Council of Europe was created. In 1955, the Assembly’s opinion on the special message to the Committee of Ministers called for better information-sharing and the need for Assembly officials to be regularly involved in the work of the Committee of Ministers’ rapporteurs groups. These issues were also discussed by the Assembly in 1993 when it adopted Recommendation 1212 on the adoption of a revised Statute of the Council of Europe and in 2006 during its discussions on Recommendation 1763 on the institutional balance at the Council of Europe. The reports I have mentioned and the report we are debating were drafted by committees dealing with the rules of procedure and therefore dealt with changes to structures, procedures and working methods. That is not surprising given those committees’ terms of reference.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Holovaty. You have four minutes left if you care to reply to speakers in the debate in due course. The next speaker is Mr Agramunt, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the European People’s Party.
Mr AGRAMUNT (Spain) said that the report would command widespread support in the Assembly. The Assembly was vital to the Council of Europe and co-operation between those bodies and the Committee of Ministers needed to be strengthened. There had been problems in relation to co-operation in the past, and there would probably be more problems in the future, but the report was a good one and its proposals could be fleshed out to improve interaction between all the bodies involved. The report identified suitable mechanisms for co-operation and set out the commitment required on the parliamentary side of the equation. The Committee of Ministers, for example, should consult on legal instruments, and the Assembly should seek greater participation in budgetary decision-making processes at an intergovernmental level. Greater transparency and visibility would be good for the Council of Europe and were within the spirit of its foundation in 1949. Arrangements for co-operation should become routine, and the report deserved the full and unqualified support of the Group of the European People’s Party.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Agramunt. I call Mr von Sydow.
Mr von SYDOW (Sweden) – I congratulate Mr Holovaty on his comprehensive recognition and repetition of what is at stake. He said that part of the root of the report is the conflict some years ago between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers about the election of the Secretary General. That may be why the role of the Secretary General is not at the forefront of the report. We need to consider that. In many respects, it would be possible for the Secretary General to take an active role in facilitating parliamentary interaction between us and the Committee of Ministers. It is not an easy task. We are a consultative Parliamentary Assembly, while the Committee of Ministers is represented here by diplomats. At home in the 47 capitals, there are differences for those of us who are members of the European Union. Ministers meet frequently, formally and informally, so the political link between Ministers and politicians and this Organisation is sometimes too weak.
Our group emphasises strongly the parliamentary element in our relations. We want the Assembly to play an initiating role. For example, this week, our discussion and report on what happened in the Mediterranean when 60 people lost their lives shone a light on a very serious human rights abuse.
I have some experience on the other side, so I understand that as a diplomat it is not easy to handle reports that are not very concrete. On the one hand, our reports must shine a light on abuses, and we are in favour of that, but we must understand that this partly non-political body gathered here in Strasbourg is sometimes not able to handle our demands. The Secretary General, especially someone with Mr Jagland’s background, could play a role translating our demands into politics and making it easier for ambassadors to get the right instructions from their governments.
Everything in the report is of value and can be used, but we should not lose perspective. We are politicians, and we want good politicians on the other side. The Chair of the Committee of Ministers can seldom operate when the ambassador is present. That is a reflection of the past, when this fabulous Organisation was set up in the early 1950s. We have to get over the absence of real government in the Council and allow the Secretary General to do more in that role.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Chope.
Mr CHOPE (United Kingdom) – The report is excellent. I want to dwell on one aspect – the need for co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and this Assembly in the execution of judgments. We have made a lot of progress. This morning, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights held its second hearing of the week. We had one on Tuesday about difficulties in Italy. Our hearing today was about Ukraine, and in June we shall have hearings on Russia, Romania and Bulgaria.
An example of the issue we face was raised in the previous debate by Mr Sobolev. He said that 97% of the decisions of Ukraine’s human rights court are not implemented. Non-enforcement of domestic judicial decisions costs this Organisation and the Court a fortune. Domestic judicial decisions should be implemented in their own jurisdiction. It is basic stuff, but it is not happening, and the efforts made by the Court to deal with the problem have not yet borne fruit.
In Ukraine, the Court issued a pilot judgment in 2009 saying that Ukraine had “demonstrated almost complete reluctance” to solve its structural problems. The Court gave Ukraine deadlines, but nothing happened, so on 21 February this year the Court decided to resume the examination of applications from Ukraine raising similar issues. The consequence is that there are now more than 1 000 new applications on the same issue – non-implementation of domestic judgments.
At its meeting in March, the Committee of Ministers concluded that the situation “creates a serious threat to the effectiveness of the Convention system,” and called on the Ukrainian authorities urgently to adopt an effective remedy and provide a revised version of the draft law they had promised to implement. At our meeting today, we heard from the Ukrainian delegation that they had been sent a paper from their Government saying that everything necessary had been done and that the law they had promised to implement was not necessary because existing enforcement procedure properly ensured effective execution. In other words, they were saying that while implementing no new enforcement procedure, the Government has ensured the solution of the non-enforcement problem in Ukraine. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I mention that case as a pilot that we might use for the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers to work together, to see whether by using our respective powers of persuasion we could reach a result that would have much less cost for the Court. It would enable cases with merit to go ahead, and there would not be a huge burden for the Court. It is fundamental that a country that belongs to this Organisation should have an effective system for enforcing its own domestic judgments. I throw that out as a challenge that I hope we shall be able to deal with, perhaps on a pilot basis.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Ms Brasseur.
Ms BRASSEUR (Luxembourg) said that this was not the first time that the Assembly had discussed the subjects covered in the excellent report. Much work had already been done on those subjects and much discussion had taken place.
Moments of tension had occurred between the two bodies of the Council of Europe, particularly on the occasion of the election of the Secretary General.
Looking around the Chamber at the ambassadors present – and welcome should be offered to those who joined them today – there was clearly a limit to the interest that existed for joining the proceedings of the Council of Europe. Attempts had been made to agree a process of formal meetings, as it was clear that personal contact was of great importance. The practice started a few years earlier, whereby rapporteurs attended meetings of the Committee of Ministers, had been successful in allowing much more personal contact than had been previously available. Parliamentarians should be invited to attend relevant committee meetings more frequently. For example, if a subject was being discussed by the Committee of Ministers, the secretariat and representation from the corresponding Assembly committee could be invited. There was also a question as to whether the Assembly was consistent in following up decisions made by the Council of Ministers. Efforts needed to be made by both sides and dialogue was necessary in order to make progress. In this sense, the report was hugely important and was supported by the ALDE group. Mr Holovaty should be invited to a meeting of the Committee of Ministers to discuss his ideas.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. I call Mr Kox, who will speak on behalf of the Group of the Unified European Left.
Mr KOX (Netherlands) – On behalf of my group, I thank Serhiy Holovaty for his excellent report, although of course we are used to seeing very good reports from him. However, it is important to acknowledge that the Group of the Unified European Left is very grateful to him.
As has been said, the Council of Europe is a unique intergovernmental treaty organisation with a parliamentary dimension, a strong Secretariat and its own Court. It is unique because it covers the whole of Europe and it has its own constitution in the form of the European Convention on Human Rights, which is supervised by the European Court of Human Rights. The Convention system covers all issues of co-operation, and it has a serious parliamentary dimension. The Assembly has real powers. We elect the Secretary-General, the judges and the Commissioner for Human Rights, so it has a real role to play. When Heads of State, government leaders and ministers come here, they describe this Assembly as the political engine of the Council of Europe.
Since the Council of Europe unites the whole of Europe, it is the opinion of my group that a new window of opportunity can be opened. This Organisation is quite capable of complementing other European organisations such as the European Union, the CIS, NATO, the OECD and other organisations. The Assembly has something more to offer that could benefit them all. It was good to hear at the beginning of the week about improved co-operation between the European Union and the Council of Europe, but if we want to utilise that window of opportunity we have to improve how we function. Let us not forget that when Secretary General Jagland was elected, he told us that he was honestly very surprised at the lack of synergy between the different bodies that make up this Organisation. Unfortunately, he is not present, but I am sure that he will read the record of these proceedings.
We have to ensure that there is more synergy between the various bodies of the Council of Europe –the Committee of Ministers, this Assembly, the European Court of Human Rights and the Secretary-General. I think that my group can endorse most, if not all, of the proposals made by Mr Holovaty. We need better follow-up by the Committee of Ministers on recommendations made by the Assembly. It takes far too long and often the follow-up lacks substance. It is no use if we have to wait for responses or if they are irrelevant. The Committee of Ministers could and should make improvements. The participation of Assembly rapporteurs in meetings of the Committee of Ministers is useful for both parties, and that should be added to the committee’s agenda for consideration. We should continue with informal contact between the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Presidential Committee of this Parliamentary Assembly. This has been a good development, one that was made under the Slovenian chairmanship, and it should continue.
Mr Holovaty has also proposed a formal procedure for consulting the Assembly on new draft legal instruments. Indeed, it should also be mentioned that we need to see the closer involvement of national governments and national parliaments, because this Assembly is comprised of representatives from them. If we press on with these proposals, I think that co-operation between the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers will be improved.
Furthermore, I am very glad to see that the Dutch ambassador is here and is listening to us. She is a very influential person and she will ensure that the Committee of Ministers is made aware of what has been said in this debate.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you. We have a little time in hand because we are ahead of schedule, so would any other members like to speak on this subject? That is not the case.
I now ask Mr Holovaty whether he wishes to respond to the debate, as he, too, has a few minutes left in which to speak.
Mr HOLOVATY (Ukraine) – First, I should like to express my deep gratitude to the leaders of the political groups, or their respective representatives, who endorsed the report. I also extend my thanks to the Secretariat for the excellent job that it has done and its highly professional assistance; the evidence for that is the lack of amendments, which is perhaps down not to the rapporteur but to the Secretariat.
Some speakers regretted that Ministers’ Deputies were not present. I only partly agree. They probably do not need to be here. We met on 12 January at the ad hoc working party on institutional reforms at the invitation of the Chair, Ms Ellen Berends, the permanent representative from the Netherlands. We had an exchange of views in respect of the formal draft report in the presence of Mr Jean-Claude Mignon, who was at that time the rapporteur on the reform of the Assembly.
I would say that a majority of the Ministers’ Deputies took the floor and expressed their positions. At that time, they were in favour of the approaches of the Assembly. In that sense, given that the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have joint responsibility for the proper functioning of the Council of Europe, we should be self-critical because the subject was raised a number of times previously. During the debates almost all the members of the Presidential Committee were present here but there were not too many members from the other committees or political groups.
In any case, I would like to insist firmly on the point that the basis of efficient co-operation will always lie in the good will of people sitting on both organs – in the Assembly and in the Committee of Ministers – as well as in the current needs of current Council of Europe institutions.
As a good illustration of that, I would like to mention the one issue that was not raised during the debates but is in the report – the institutional functioning of the Joint Committee. The proposal put forward in 1956 for the Joint Committee to be more flexible and to fit with how the Council was functioning made it possible to modify its composition – previously, only the relevant ministers were allowed to sit on it – and to adapt the number of meetings to what was necessary.
In the 1950s, when the various intra-institutional procedures were under discussion, the Joint Committee met more often than during the 1970s, for instance. Therefore, it will be up to the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers to decide whether the Joint Committee constitutes a suitable platform to elaborate various common positions, or whether its composition and working methods mean that discussion should be limited to statutory questions.
Finally, the organisational architecture of the Council of Europe was set up in 1949. It was based on the theory of the separation of powers, which is still a model for Council of Europe member states. That is why we have, on the one hand, the Assembly, which expresses the concerns of political parties, our constituencies and the people of Europe at large, and on the other hand the Committee of Ministers, which has appropriate tools to follow up the concerns expressed.
Therefore a genuine political dialogue within this Organisation under the current structure will always be built on its parliamentary and governmental dimensions. I underline that such a partnership has proven to be successful. The authority of the Council’s conventions and its several bodies, such as the Venice Commission launched by this Assembly and put in place by the Committee of Ministers, is objective evidence of this fruitful, mutual understanding and co-operation between the two institutions.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Does the chairperson of the committee, Mr Vareikis, wish to speak?
Mr VAREIKIS (Lithuania) – I have nothing to add to the substance of what Mr Holovaty said. The report was adopted without a long discussion. There are no amendments. We must now approve it and implement it effectively.
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – Thank you, Mr Vareikis. The debate is closed.
The Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs has presented a draft resolution and a draft recommendation, to which no amendments have been tabled.
We will now proceed to vote on the draft resolution contained in Document 12887.
The vote is open.
The draft resolution in Document 12887 is unanimously adopted, with 44 votes for, 0 against and 0 abstentions.
We will now proceed to vote on the draft recommendation contained in Document 12887.
The vote is open.
The draft recommendation in Document 12887 is unanimously adopted, with 46 votes for, 0 against and 0 abstentions.
4. Written declarations
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The following written declarations have been tabled: No. 512 on “Exploitation of homophobia for political ends by Moldova’s Communist Party”, signed by 25 members, Document 12910; No. 517 on “Violation of religious freedom in the Northern part of Cyprus”, signed by 26 members, Document 12917; No. 519 on “Degrading treatment applied to gay men by excluding them from service in the Turkish Armed Forces”, signed by 22 members, Document 12918; and No. 520 on “Moldovan authorities’ actions against mass media and freedom of expression in the Republic of Moldova must be stopped immediately”, signed by 20 members, Document 12919.
Any member, substitute or observer may add his or her signature to these written declarations in the Table Office, Room 1083.
5. Time limits on speeches
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) –It is clear already that there will be a large number of speakers and amendments in the debates tomorrow morning, so I propose that the speaking time tomorrow be limited to three minutes.
Is that agreed?
It is agreed.
6. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting
THE PRESIDENT (Translation) – The Assembly will hold its next public sitting tomorrow morning at 10.00 a.m. with the Agenda that has already been agreed.
The sitting is adjourned.
The sitting was closed at 6.50 p.m.
1. The situation of IDPs and returnees in the North Caucasus region
Presentations by Mr Chope of report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, Document 12882, and by Ms Beck of report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (for opinion)
Ms Reps (Estonia)
Mr Herkel (Estonia)
Mr Schennach (Austria)
Mr Knyshov (Russian Federation)
Mr. Bockel (France)
Ms Pashayeva (Azerbaijan)
Mr Huseynov (Azerbaijan)
Ms Erkal Kara (Turkey)
Ms Naghdalyan (Armenia)
Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)
Ms Guţu (Republic of Moldova)
Mr Kalmár (Hungary)
Mr Gaudi Nagy (Hungary)
Mr Chope (United Kingdom)
Mr Santini (Italy)
Amendments 4 to 10 and 1 to 3 adopted.
Draft resolution in Document 12882, as amended, adopted.
2. Current affairs debate: the future of the European Court of Human Rights and the Brighton Declaration
Mr Franken (Netherlands)
Mr Kox (Netherlands)
Ms Lībiņa-Egnere (Latvia)
M. Michel (France)
Mr Heald (United Kingdom)
Ms Reps (Netherlands)
Mr Connarty (United Kingdom)
Mr Sobolev (Ukraine)
Mr. Loncle (France)
Mr Gross (Switzerland)
Ms Pourbaix-Lundin (Sweden)
Mr Cilevičs (Latvia)
Mr Herkel (Estonia)
Mr Rogacki (Poland)
Mr Pozzo di Borgo (France)
Mr Hancock (United Kingdom)
Mr Franken (Netherlands)
3. Follow-up by the Committee of Ministers to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly
Presentation by Mr Holovaty of report of the Committee on Rules of Procedure, Immunities and Institutional Affairs, Document 12887
Mr Agramunt (Spain)
Mr von Sydow (Sweden)
Mr Chope (United Kingdom)
Ms Brasseur (Luxembourg)
Mr Kox (Netherlands)
Mr Holovaty (Ukraine)
Mr Vareikis (Lithuania)
Draft resolution in Document 12887 unanimously adopted
Draft recommendation in Document 12887 unanimously adopted
4. Written declaration
5. Time limits on speeches
6. Date, time and agenda of the next sitting
Representatives or Substitutes who signed the Attendance Register in accordance with Rule 11.2 of the Rules of Procedure. The names of Substitutes who replaced absent Representatives are printed in small letters. The names of those who were absent or apologised for absence are followed by an asterisk.
Alexey Ivanovich ALEKSANDROV*
José Antonio ALONSO*
Florin Serghei ANGHEL*
Daniel BACQUELAINE/Ludo Sannen
Viorel Riceard BADEA*
Pelin Gündeş BAKIR
Gerard BARCIA DUEDRA*
José Manuel BARREIRO*
Alexander van der BELLEN
José María BENEYTO*
Grzegorz BIERECKI/Marek Borowski
Eric BOCQUET/Yves Pozzo Di Borgo
Piet DE BRUYN*
André BUGNON/ Gerhard Pfister
Lolita ČIGĀNE/Aleksandrs Sakovskis
Ms Deirdre CLUNE*
M. Georges COLOMBIER/André Schneider
Carlos COSTA NEVES*
Joseph DEBONO GRECH*
Giovanna DEBONO/ Joseph Falzon
Armand De DECKER/Dirk Van Der Maelen
Arcadio DÍAZ TEJERA*
Peter van DIJK
Alexander (The Earl of) DUNDEE*
Josette DURRIEU/Maryvonne Blondin
Baroness Diana ECCLES*
Tülin ERKAL KARA
Doris FIALA/Elisabeth Schneider-Schneiter
Axel E. FISCHER
Gvozden Srećko FLEGO
Jean-Claude FRÉCON/Jean-Pierre Michel
Erich Georg FRITZ
Sir Roger GALE*
Tamás GAUDI NAGY
Martin GRAF/Martina Schenk
Andrzej HALICKI/Adam Rogacki
Davit HARUTYUNYAN/Hermine Naghdalyan
Jim HOOD/Michael Connarty
Michael Aastrup JENSEN*
Mats JOHANSSON/Jonas Gunnarsson
Birkir Jón JÓNSSON*
Dalia KUODYTĖ/Birutė Vėsaitė
Henrik Sass LARSEN*
George LOUKAIDES/Stella Kyriakidou
Nicole MANZONE-SAQUET/Bernard Marquet
Meritxell MATEU PI*
Liliane MAURY PASQUIER/Luc Recordon
Sir Alan MEALE
Ermira MEHMETI DEVAJA*
José MENDES BOTA
Jean-Claude MIGNON/Christine Marin
Dangutė MIKUTIENĖ/Egidijus Vareikis
Federica MOGHERINI REBESANI*
Joăo Bosco MOTA AMARAL
Mr Gebhard NEGELE*
Baroness Emma NICHOLSON*
Elena NIKOLAEVA/Svetlana Zhurova
Vassiliki PAPANDREOU/Elsa Papadimitriou
Lisbeth Bech POULSEN*
Marietta de POURBAIX-LUNDIN
Cezar Florin PREDA*
Lord John PRESCOTT/ Jim Dobbin
Valentina RADULOVIĆ-ŠĆEPANOVIĆ/Zoran Vukčević
Maria de Belém ROSEIRA*
Volodymyr RYBAK/Serhii Kivalov
Adalbi SHKHAGOVEV/Alexey Knyshov
Robert SHLEGEL/Anvar Makhmutov
Björn von SYDOW
Melinda SZÉKYNÉ SZTRÉMI*
Lord John E. TOMLINSON
Ahmet Kutalmiş TÜRKEŞ
Giuseppe VALENTINO/Renato Farina
Klaas de VRIES*
Karin S. WOLDSETH/Ingjerd Schou
Vacant Seat, Cyprus*
Representatives and Substitutes not authorised to vote:
Ms Rosario GREEN MACÍAS
Hervé Pierre GUILLOT