EMBARGO UNTIL DELIVERY D 07(2022)
Communication from the Committee of Ministers
Benedetto DELLA VEDOVA
Undersecretary of State of the
Ministry for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy
on the occasion of the
March 2022 Extraordinary session
of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
(Strasbourg, 14-15 March 2022)
(extract of the verbatim records)
Mr. President of the Parliamentary Assembly,
Madam Secretary General of the Council of Europe,
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first of all, Mr. President, join you in your words of support to the Prime Minister of Ukraine.
When I spoke at the first part-session this year of the Parliamentary Assembly on 25 January 2022, I re-asserted Italy's conviction, and my own, that the Council of Europe is a fundamental part of the collective effort to counter global challenges. It is a continental emblem of the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and an expression of a multi-lateral vocation in which Italy fully recognizes itself.
We find ourselves today, a little more than two weeks after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine; a premeditated attack, despite the fact that until the last moment, the Russian authorities spoke of exercises on the border.
We have witnessed, and continue to see, a member state of the Council of Europe attacking, invading and killing civilians of another member state. This repugnant, unprovoked, and unjustifiable war of aggression, contrary to all the most basic norms of international law and considerations of humanity, is continuing to fuel one of the most serious humanitarian catastrophes in Europe since World War II, if not the most serious.
The Russian offensive continues unabated and in open violation of the norms of international humanitarian laws, indiscriminately targeting children, women, the elderly, the sick, the disabled, hospitals and schools and other civilian or critical infrastructure, even including nuclear facilities, causing appalling suffering to the Ukrainian population.
The Russian Federation and Belarus, its ally in this horrendous military campaign, bear full responsibility and those responsible: instigators and perpetrators will have to account for their crimes.
We have therefore welcomed with satisfaction the decision of the Prosecutor General of the International Criminal Court to open, motu proprio, an investigation into the war crimes committed in Ukraine, for which evidence is already being collected; as well as the activation of the European Court of Human Rights by the Ukrainian Government for the identification of interim measures against the Russian Federation.
Italy has also strongly supported the initiatives promoted by Ukraine within the Human Rights Council at the United Nations to denounce the appalling impact of the conflict on human rights, and ensure full accountability for the violations committed; supporting and actively promoting the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry on violations of human rights and humanitarian law abuses in the context of Russian aggression.
In the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), we have joined the activation of the Moscow Human Dimension Mechanism through which a mission of independent experts will be mandated to gather information and evidence on violations and abuses committed, in the context of the war, by the Russian Federation against the Ukrainian people.
I also recall the call by European Union leaders to the European Council in Versailles and to the Russian Federation to fully respect its obligations under international humanitarian law, ensuring safe and unhindered humanitarian access to victims and internally displaced persons and allowing for the safe passage of civilians wishing to leave the country.
To such barbarity, which takes us back to the darkest pages of World War II, the international community could not remain indifferent. The breadth of the political-diplomatic front against Moscow is demonstrated by the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly approved on 2 March 2022 by a majority of 141 votes, with only 5 against.
Numbers that indicate the almost unanimous condemnation of the whole world for what is happening in Ukraine. It is indicative that even countries such as Cuba and China have not sided with Moscow, by abstaining.
The Council of Europe, depositary and guardian of the fundamental principles of co-existence, respect for human rights, promotion of democracy and the rule of law, has not remained indifferent. On the contrary, it was rightly in the front line to ensure a prompt, cohesive and strong reaction. On 25 February 2022, the day after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian armed forces, the Committee of Ministers, which Italy currently chairs, adopted an exceptional decision voting for the suspension, with immediate effect, of the Russian Federation from its rights of representation in the Council of Europe, with reference to the Committee of Ministers and your assembly.
The Committee took this decision considering that, with its military attack on Ukraine, the Russian Federation has seriously violated Article 3 of the Statute of the Council of Europe. This is an unprecedented decision in the history of our organisation, as the President has just recalled, and which was made necessary by a situation of exceptional gravity.
On 2 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers urgently adopted a resolution detailing the many legal and financial consequences of the suspension of the Russian Federation.
On 10 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers adopted a new decision, initiating consultation with the Parliamentary Assembly. Today and tomorrow you are called upon to express your direction, which, although not binding, will be valuable for our future decisions.
At the moment, the only reaction of the Russian authorities was our beloved one on 10 March 2022 from the Foreign Minister Mr. Sergei Viktorovič LAVROV, in which it is stated, among other things, that "Russia does not take part in the NATO and European Union attempt to turn the oldest European organisation into another place where the mantras of Western supremacy and narcissism are exalted. Let them enjoy each other without Russia's company."
To date, this anticipation has not been acted upon. Previously, the Committee of Ministers had already condemned in the strongest terms, the armed aggression against Ukraine and urged the Russian Federation to immediately and unconditionally cease its military actions, re-affirming its unwavering commitment to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders.
Dear Members of Parliament,
Since the beginning of the crisis, the Italian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has acted in close co-ordination with the Parliamentary Assembly and the General Secretariat.
The tripartite declarations issued on 15 February and 8 March 2022 testify to the firm will of our organisation to speak with one voice in the face of the abomination of this war and the attack launched by the Russian government on the values and principles in which we recognize ourselves.
In this regard, I would like to remind you that the Joint Committee met on the same morning that the Committee of Ministers adopted the decision to suspend the Russian Federation. The meeting allowed the representatives of the 46 Governments to hear the views of the leaders of the political groups and other members of your Assembly. Above all, it confirmed the convergence of views between our Committee and your Assembly on the suspension of Russia.
I would like to express my deep gratitude to Chairman Mr. Tiny KOX for excellent co-operation. Beyond the joint declarations, the Italian Presidency considers it essential to feed a constant channel of contact with you, Mr President, to ensure coherence and unity in our action. In a crisis situation, such as the one we are going through, it is essential that the two bodies of the Council of Europe act jointly.
It is our strong hope that the dialogue between the three institutions will remain constant and in-depth, with a view to the continuation of discussions on further Council of Europe initiatives, carefully assessing the impact of our decisions on the future of citizens and the safeguards placed to protect their rights. In accordance, not only with our statutory obligations, but also, and above all, with our sincere conviction of the absolute usefulness of close co-ordination with the Assembly, we are listening carefully to the debate that is taking place in this Chamber and we are ready to welcome its results as a contribution to the ongoing reflection within the Committee of Ministers on the next steps to be taken.
This debate will be launched immediately after this extraordinary session of the Assembly at the meeting of the Committee of Ministers on 17 March 2022.
Our Presidency cannot fail to take into account the directions and assessments that will emerge from this section, including in the continuation of its action, its presidency program and the events planned between now and 20 May 2022.
The firmness of our reaction, the extraordinary political value of the commitment of all of us to protect our organisation and the values it represents do not distance us from the sadness and desolation we feel.
Sadness for the terrible suffering of the Ukrainian people and for the many victims of the conflict, especially children and women. Sadness because the actions of the Russian Federation have dealt a serious, I hope not decisive, blow to our ambition to create a common European home and an ever-stronger community of democracies. I remember that at the first summit of the Council of Europe held in Vienna in 1993, the Heads of State and Government of the member states declared that: "Europe is the source of an immense hope that under no circumstances of the must be destroyed by territorial ambitions, by the resurgence of aggressive nationalism, by the perpetuation of spheres of influence, by intolerance or totalitarian ideologies". These are words full of hope and ambition, words that must guide our actions and our future decisions.
Since then, the Council of Europe has worked tirelessly to keep that hope alive. Together we have created a system of protection of human rights and democracy that is unique in the world, offering guarantees and hope to the millions of citizens of the States of the Council of Europe, including the citizens of the Russian Federation.
The very serious responsibilities of the leadership of the Russian Federation must not obscure the need to carefully evaluate the consequences of the measures we will adopt on the system of guarantees that the Council of Europe has built to protect the rights of all European citizens.
It is up to us to continue the work we have done, without forgetting that our ultimate goal is to safeguard the ideals of peace and justice on which the Council of Europe is founded, and which are so brutally challenged in these days.
It is these ideals that must guide and inspire us in facing the dramatic humanitarian situation. With nearly 3 million refugees fleeing Ukraine, according to UNHCR figures, and 1.8 million internally displaced persons, the source is the Ukraine Protection Cluster. As Italy we are ready to contribute to the European and international efforts to assist Ukraine and neighbouring countries to cope with the difficulties related to these massive flows. We will not fail to make our contribution and we are committed to respond adequately to the financial appeal of the United Nations for the management of the Ukraine crisis.
Our country has so far welcomed some 30,000 people fleeing the fighting. Our commitment will continue in concrete solidarity in response to the needs; consistently with the spirit of welcome that has always characterised the Italian action in the field of migration, within the European framework.
I would also like to recall here the extraordinary commitment to welcome; as the Prime Minister recalled, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Republic of Moldova and Romania who have assured the Ukrainian refugees a testimony of profound humanity and solidarity. In the spirit that animates the membership of the community of the Council of Europe.
In parallel with the strengthening of existing tools, Italy has already put in place innovative solutions to deal with the emergency, such as the use of real estate structures confiscated from organised crime whose census is being finalized. These structures, after the necessary suitability checks, will be promptly made available.
In addition to €110 million of direct support to the Ukrainian budget decided on 27 February 2022, we have adopted urgent measures on a humanitarian level to which further initiatives on a multi-lateral level are added. In this context, Italy is ensuring its support to the initiatives of multi-lateral bodies active in Ukraine and in the region to provide assistance to the most vulnerable people.
In addition to the 1 million euros donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross immediately after the start of Russian military operations, contributions of 25 million euros have been approved in response to appeals made by the United Nations system and the International Red Cross Movement. This is a package that will help alleviate the suffering of the millions of Ukrainians in difficulty both within the country and in neighbouring countries.
Financial contributions are joined by donations of goods, a valuable aid that requires complex logistical operations.
Through the Italian Red Cross, on 7 March 2022, we sent 5 tons of health kits, and from the base of humanitarian aid of the United Nations in Brindisi, a load of about 20 tons of humanitarian materials of various kinds, which will reach a collection center in Poland.
In this spirit, Italy will continue to make contributions and support every effort to achieve effective humanitarian measures that tangibly alleviate the dramatic suffering of the population and an immediate cessation of hostilities.
In this regard, it warms the heart to see how civil society organisations and a multitude of ordinary citizens in our countries are welcoming the refugees in an effort to provide every possible relief.
As reaffirmed at the Council of the European Union held in Versailles last week, we commend the Ukrainian people for their courage in defending their country and our shared values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.
As Italy, as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, we will not leave them alone.
Thank you, President.