President Salome Zourabichvili participated in the parliamentary session dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Georgia’s membership to the Council of Europe.
The President of Georgia adressed the President of PACE, the Prime Minister, and the Chairman of the Parliament:
“I would like to welcome the Chairman of the Parliament and the Prime Minister. Let me greet the President of PACE, the distinguished Members of the Parliament, and our dear guests!
It may have been difficult to imagine for our society, 20 years ago, that Georgia, by joining the Council of Europe, had taken a step that fully determined our country’s European perspective.
By joining the Council of Europe, we opened the first and main door toward Europe, meant to start us anew with a substantially new agenda. By joining this important European institute, our country started its irreversible process – moving toward Europe.
Membership to the Council of Europe became a great opportunity for our country – for a post-Soviet society that gained its independence through unhindered development of democracy; through preserving those values that were persecuted by the Soviet system. The Soviet system trampled on those values on which our identity was standing and on which our identity depended.
By signing the European Convention on Human Rights, we affirmed that we are devoted to these values and by doing this, we returned back to our natural environment. It is a remarkable fact that Zurab Zhvania’s star was recently inaugurated in Strasbourg in front of the Council of Europe.
His historic words – “I am Georgian, therefore I am European” – remain modern even today. This must be our main symbol as any European contemporary and democratic state stands on free and protected people at first. European states depend on democratic constitutions, rule of law, freedom of speech, equality. Fully sharing these principles is the only right path.
The new constitution, enacted a few month ago, clearly illustrates our aspiration for the development of democracy. Together with the enumerated fundamental rights and freedoms, the new constitution foresees a whole range of new rights, including social, economic, and environmental rights. By doing this, we outlined the path for our future progress. Raising these rights on the constitutional level demonstrates the strong will of our people to make a step forward in overcoming the current world’s challenges.
We all are aware that there is a long way from the reflection of these rights in the constitution to their practical implementation and we should not spare our efforts. However, the paramount fact is that this constitution illustrates the attitude of whole society.
It is the united position of both the people and the government. The main challenge for our country is the grave humanitarian situation and the violation of human rights in our occupied territories. At first, it touches upon the right to life (the recent death of Irakli Kvaratskhelia); it touches upon the native language, both, I ought to emphasize, state languages; freedom of movement; freedom of expression; protection of religious monuments. These facts have a systematic character.
Now, while we celebrate Easter, it is especially painful for our citizens that they could not visit the graves of their family members and relatives. The report presented by the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, in which he pays attention to the importance of so-called “Dark Zones”, is extremely important.
Together with our European partners, we express our readiness to start active work in this regard within the frames of protected norms. Also, systemic kidnappings happening along the occupation line must be noted.
We need the strong support of our partners to avoid these gross violations of human rights. It is significantly important that Georgia will chair the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe for a six-month term that illustrates this great confidence and recognition. This carries a high responsibility and Georgia is ready to take this responsibility. I believe that with this status we will further successfully accomplish our goal – Georgia toward Europe!’ said the President of Georgia.
PACE has expressed its deep concern at the extent of money laundering in Council of Europe member States, notably the recent examples known as the “Global Laundromat”, the “Azerbaijani Laundromat” and the “Troika Laundromat”, and has urged improved national mechanisms and international co-operation to combat it.
In a resolution based on a report by Mart van de Ven (Netherlands, ALDE), the Assembly said these “laundromats” involved large sums of money from wealthy businessmen, organised criminals and high officials. They exploited various weaknesses across multiple jurisdictions, including shell companies, often based in the United Kingdom or its Overseas Territories, and poorly regulated banks, notably in the Baltics.
The Global Laundromat involved corrupt Moldovan judges, the parliamentarians said, while the Troika Laundromat involved people close to the heart of state power and the Azerbaijani Laundromat contributed to corruptive activities within the Parliamentary Assembly itself. None has been adequately investigated by national authorities.
The Assembly makes a series of recommendations to member States, to the European Union and to the Committee of Ministers intended to reinforce the international fight against money laundering, organised crime and corruption.
PACE has called on Russia to “appoint a delegation to the Assembly and to resume obligatory payment of its contribution to the Organisation’s budget” since failure to do could lead to its suspension in both statutory bodies, if applied by the Committee of Ministers.
PACE adopted the regarding resolution on April 10.
As concerns the Russian Federation, PACE called for intensified dialogue to “avoid a situation in which the biggest member State would be asked to, or chooses to leave the Organisation”, with all the geopolitical implications this would have and consequences for Russian citizens.
The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe deprived Russia of voting right in 2014 for illegal annexation of Crimea. Moscow has no right to work at the Assembly’s managing body and to send observers on behalf of the Assembly. In June 2017, the Russian Government’s decision, in reaction to this situation, to suspend payment of its contribution to the budget of the Organisation. Russia’s annual contribution is € 33 million, which is 10% of the total budget of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
The Prime Minister of Georgia, Mamuka Bakhtadze, addressing the Assembly in Strasbourg said that, as a sign of gratitude, the Georgian government decided to make voluntary contributions to the Treasury of the Council of Europe.
Georgia’s Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze talked about problems with respect to human rights across Georgia’s occupied regions during the address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Bakhtadze said that 20% of Georgia’s territory still remained occupied by Russia and about 300 thousand IDPs were unable to return to their homes. According to PM, the militarization of occupied regions was ongoing and the de-population index was constantly increasing.
PM touched upon the frequent cases of abductions of locals and deaths of Georgian citizens Archil Tatunashvili, Giga Otkhozoria, Davit Basharuli and Irakli Kvaratskhelia.
PM thanked the PACE for supporting “Otkhozoria-Tatunashvili” list and said that Russia tried to block all peace initiatives of the Georgian government. “With means of ethnic discrimination, Russia is trying to fully erase the Georgian identity, but this will never happen,” Bakhtadze said.
Avtandil Otinashvili, Strasbourg
Georgia’s Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze talked about the peace initiative of the Georgian government “A Step to Better Future” during the address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Bakhtadze explained that with the initiative, the Georgian government tried to ensure locals residing across the occupied regions with access to healthcare and education.
According to PM, while Russia constantly violated commitments internationally taken as per the 2008 ceasefire agreement, Georgia trusted only in a peaceful resolution of territorial conflicts.
Bakhtadze then addressed the Abkhazian and Ossetian people. “Our success is your success. We see the future with you in a united and peaceful Georgia,” Bakhtadze claimed.
Avtandil Otinashvili, Strasbourg
Georgia’s Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze will address the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) today. Bakhtadze will have 20 minutes to deliver the speech. He will then have 40 minutes to answer questions of European MPs regarding the achievements and challenges of Georgia on path of European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Georgian PM is being in Strasbourg with a working visit. During the visit, the Prime Minister will hold meetings with PACE President Liliane Maury-Pasquier and Secretary General of the Council of Europe Thorbjørn Jagland, followed by joint statements for the press.
Other bilateral meetings are also scheduled within the frameworks of the visit. The Head of Government will also visit Georgia’s Permanent Representation to the Council of Europe, where he will meet with the students of the Sunday school.
Mamuka Bakhtadze will host an official reception celebrating the 20th anniversary of Georgia’s accession to the Council of Europe. The Georgian delegation includes Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani, Deputy Speaker of the Parliament Tamar Chugoshvili, and leader of the parliamentary majority Archil Talakvadze.
Avtandil Otinashvili, Strasbourg
The Assembly today called for a series of measures aimed at stopping sexism and sexual harassment in politics, including in parliaments. These recommendations are addressed to national parliaments, but also to political parties and governments.
They focus on raising awareness of this phenomenon (which is commonplace but widespread and systematic) through surveys and public debate, as well as the introduction of effective complaint procedures and mechanisms for parliaments with effective sanctions that are proportional to the seriousness of the facts and accessible to both Members and staff. Data collection, monitoring and research in this area should also be intensified.
Following the proposals of the rapporteur, Thorhildur Sunna AEvarsdottir (Iceland, SOC), the Assembly also called for the modification of its Code of Conduct to introduce an explicit ban on sexism, sexual harassment and sexual violence, and a reference to the protection of dignity.
As the extent of the problem of violence against women in politics has started to be understood only very recently - as part of the #MeToo movement and following a joint IPU/PACE study - all parliaments are invited to join and support the #NotInMyParliament initiative.
Today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, presented her first annual activity report in a debate before the Parliamentary Assembly of the organisation.
While the report covers a variety of the most pressing human rights issues in the Council of Europe member states, the Commissioner highlights migration, women’s rights, human rights of persons with disability, the protection of human rights defenders and the safety of journalists as the most recurrent topics of her work.
“Migration is among the most pressing human rights issues on my agenda”, she says. “National authorities should improve the treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and put human rights and the principle of responsibility sharing at the centre of their migration and asylum policies”.
As regards women’s rights, the Commissioner underscores the need to tackle gender stereotypes and prejudices and to put an end to violence against women. She also calls on national authorities to reduce the gender pay gap, which remains a “major obstacle to effective equality between men and women, and a widespread problem all over Council of Europe member states, both in the public and private sectors.”
The protection of human rights defenders and of journalists also requires more attention by the authorities of member states. “Violent physical attacks, as well as laws and practices significantly reduce the ability of human rights defenders and journalists to provide their contribution to the democratic fabric of our society.
Another problem that the report highlights is the difficulty that many member states still face in tackling discrimination or deep rooted prejudices against persons with disabilities, children, older persons, Roma and LGBTI people. The Commissioner notes that long-standing cultural, social and economic problems continue to breed inequalities and segregation.
“There is still much work to be done in order to protect human rights throughout Europe. I am determined to commit my energy to this task, and I fully intend to develop constructive co-operation with governments and civil society for the common goal of upholding human rights.”
PACE today called on national parliaments and local authorities to become actively involved in the implementation and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs). The mobilisation of all relevant stakeholders, including parliaments, local and regional authorities, citizens and civil society – in particular young people – is a decisive factor in the success of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 objectives, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, the Assembly said.
The resolution adopted on the basis of the report by Jennifer de Temmerman (France, NR) makes a set of recommendations to parliaments as holders of legislative power and body that scrutinises governments’ action, in order to strengthen their role in the implementation of SDGs. PACE also called on member States to involve parliamentarians and local and regional authority representatives in the SDG implementation steering bodies, and in the High-Level Political Forum.
In her opening speech at the PACE Spring Session, the President today reiterated the importance of preserving “the common home which provides a place to live for 830 million people and is governed by a common legal framework that protects the individual against arbitrary decisions and authoritarianism and defines our rights and fundamental freedoms”.
She called on PACE members to meet the expectations of “millions of Europeans who are reaping the tangible benefits of closer union between the peoples and nations of Europe, for which the Council of Europe has worked”.
For the President, the 830 million Europeans do not aspire to “a Europe of division where dialogue gives way to confrontation, a Europe torn apart once again by geopolitical tensions, where new borders and new walls would spring up. The European acquis, the values that unite us and the common legal framework that we have succeeded in building are more important for our fellow citizens who want a Europe of peace, prosperity, co-operation and dialogue.”
“I am not suggesting for one minute that we should compromise our values – that would be a betrayal of the European project. All members of our common European home have the same duty to abide by the house rules. They also have the same duty to help it run smoothly, including by honouring their financial obligations, just as they have equal rights - and an obligation - to participate in the co-operation mechanisms and forums for dialogue that exist within our common home,” she concluded.