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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation

Briefing by Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, Moscow, November 5, 2020

5 November 202018:48

Table of contents

  1. Update on the coronavirus
  2. Andrey Rudenko's meeting with the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus
  3. Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin's consultations with Secretary (West) of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup
  4. Update on Nagorno-Karabakh
  5. Developments in Syria and around it
  6. Results of Russia's October Presidency of the UN Security Council
  7. Preliminary count in the US elections
  8. Statements by US Assistant Secretary of State, Head of the Bureau for Political-Military Affairs René Clarke Cooper insisting that Cyprus deny port access to Russian Navy ships to expand military-technical cooperation with the US
  9. The release of Russian sailors from Water Phoenix
  10. The desecration of a Soviet-era burial site in Poland
  11. Cambodia Independence Day
  12. 45th anniversary of independence of Republic of Angola

Answers to media questions:

  1. Foreign militants fighting in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the struggle against international terrorism
  2. Upcoming conference on refugees in Syria
  3. The Astana Format to facilitate settlement of the Syria crisis
  4. Violations of immigrant rights by the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency




Update on the coronavirus


Unfortunately, the global epidemiological situation is rapidly going from bad to worse. Last spring, leading health experts expressed serious apprehensions about a second, more powerful wave of the COVID-19 virus. They warned that humanity was in for new trials based on the cross-border spread of this extremely dangerous pathogen. The results of the past two months show that the worst forecasts are coming true. Since early September, an explosive growth in coronavirus cases, over 20 million more, has been recorded in the world, and 4 million people became infected just last week. The latter is a record since the onslaught of the pandemic. About half a million COVID-19 cases are being recorded daily. According to Johns Hopkins University, in all, about 48 million people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus. The speed of contagion is bound to cause alarm.

According to the WHO, this long period of intensive growth in cases is being observed for the first time since the pandemic was announced last March. The pathogen epicenter has moved to Europe. Many European countries are setting anti-records, which is compelling their governments to again resort to the toughest restrictions in the hope of controlling the situation. Concerns are also being caused by the speed with which hospitals and especially intensive care units are filling with patients throughout the world. The load on national healthcare systems is growing dynamically and medical facilities are working near the limits of their capacities. As in the spring, the authorities have to find a balance between protecting people from the infection and preventing complete economic collapse. The coronavirus shock is fueling public attitudes, escalating social tensions and playing into the hands of criminals and extremists.

On October 30, the WHO Secretariat distributed a statement on the results of the 5th meeting of the IHR COVID-19 Emergency Committee. According to the document, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat on a global scale and demands a strong response through a concerted global effort. In this context, the WHO decided to extend its declaration of international significance to this growing emergency in public healthcare. The 73rd World Health Assembly will resume its meetings on November 9-14 as part of the response to the pandemic.

In connection with the extremely unfavourable sanitary-epidemiological background in the world, we again ask our citizens to suspend nonessential travel abroad, to postpone it until the coronavirus situation stabilises. During the first wave of the pandemic, many Russians had to face risks ‚Äď the impossibility of returning home for an indefinite time, post-return quarantine, and complete lockdowns in many countries, cities and other residential areas. Unfortunately, these risks remain with us, and are maybe even greater than last spring.

In this context, our recommendations remain relevant. We will continue to keep you informed on this issue.

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Andrey Rudenko's meeting with the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus


On November 6, Deputy Foreign Minister Andrey Rudenko will meet in Moscow with the co-chairs of the Geneva International Discussions on Security and Stability in the South Caucasus: EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Toivo Klaar, UN Representative Cihan Sultanoglu, and Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office for the South Caucasus Rudolf Mikhalka.

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Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin's consultations with Secretary (West) of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup


On November 9, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin will hold consultations in Moscow with Secretary (West) of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Vikas Swarup. The discussion will focus on UN agenda and aspects of the bilateral agenda.

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Update on Nagorno-Karabakh


The situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone remained tense during the week. There was shooting from both sides along the line of contact. Civilian facilities were among the targets.

We urge the parties to show extreme caution, avoid hitting civilians and prevent interference by external forces. Every practical effort must be taken to cease fire, defuse tension and resume talks with a view to reaching a peaceful settlement based on fundamental principles.

In this vein, President of Russia Vladimir Putin had an extensive exchange of opinions with the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia on November 1 and 2.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Deputy Foreign Ministers Alexander Grushko and Andrey Rudenko spoke about the developments in Nagorno-Karabakh during conversations with their foreign colleagues.

Another attempt of the international community to find the quickest way out of the dramatic situation in Nagorno-Karabakh was the October 30 meeting of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs with the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia in Geneva. Earlier they had consultations with President of the International Red Cross Committee Peter Maurer and UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Other members of the OSCE Minsk Group for Nagorno-Karabakh have also shown their support for the efforts of its co-chairs at the group's meeting in Vienna on November 3.

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Developments in Syria and around it


Geir Pedersen, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Syria, visited Damascus in late October, after a long lull.  We positively assess the results of this trip.

We hope that thanks to the talks Geir Pedersen held in Damascus it will become possible to convene another session of the Syrian Constitutional Committee's Drafting Commission in Geneva already this month.

We will continue to facilitate this process that hinges on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the results of the Syrian National Dialogue Congress in Sochi. At the same time, we believe that the Syrians themselves should make all decisions without pressure or interference from external forces.

Regarding the situation in Syria itself, it remains complicated. The country is experiencing a serious socioeconomic crisis. Tough illegitimate sanctions on the part of the United States and its allies are hampering the efforts of the Syrian authorities to conduct comprehensive work to eliminate economic ruin and to assist the population. It is common knowledge that ordinary Syrians are suffering most as a result of this external pressure.

I would like to recall that all those who have now considerably complicated their life were concerned with their destiny.

We are also becoming more and more concerned with more active operations being carried out by covert ISIS militants in central and eastern Syria, including the Kurdish-controlled region on the northern bank of the Euphrates River. We are receiving information about more frequent terrorist attacks on the positions of the Syrian forces and Kurdish units. In these conditions, local clans have announced the creation of the pro-government Fighters of the Tribes force for combating terrorists in Hama Governorate, Aleppo and eastern Idlib. New clashes between pro-Ankara armed groups and the Kurds have taken place near Ayn Issa in the northeastern sector of Al-Hasakah Governorate, in the zone of Turkey's Peace Spring Operation.

Preparations for an international conference on repatriating Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons, scheduled for November 11-12 in Damascus, are nearing completion. Russia is actively involved in this work. We are urging all concerned states, specialised UN agencies and international NGOs to positively respond to invitations, sent by the Syrian party, and to take part in this important humanitarian forum.

I would like to recall that UN Security Council Resolution 2254 formulating the international law framework to facilitate a comprehensive Syrian peace settlement devotes considerable attention to repatriating refugees and returning internally displaced persons back to their home regions.

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Results of Russia's October Presidency of the UN Security Council


I would also like to talk about the outcome and the key moments of Russia's Presidency of the UN Security Council, which ended on October 31. The Security Council had a busy agenda despite the coronavirus restrictions.

For the first time in more than six months, many of the events were held by personal attendance. Regrettably, UN Security Council members had to resume online meetings by the end of the month due to the deteriorating epidemiological situation in New York. But we hope that regular in-person meetings of this vital body in the UN system will resume in the near future.

Russia's presidency included two main events. The first of them was the October 20 debates on the situation in the Persian Gulf, attended by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The debates were held to create the basis for the further development of intra-regional relations based on the principle of mutual respect for each other's concerns and interests. It is notable that the overwhelming majority of the member states taking part in the debates spoke out in favour of Russia's initiative for creating a single all-embracing security system and architecture.

The other key event was the annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security held on October 29 on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325, which opened the way for UNSC debates on this issue. Apart from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the other speakers invited by Russia's presidency were UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women's Goodwill Ambassador and actor and playwright Danai Gurira, and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Adviser at the UN Interim Security Forces for Abyei (UNISFA) Natalya Yemelyanova (Russia).

However, it is disappointing that the draft resolution on women, peace and security prepared by Russia for this occasion did not receive enough votes despite our readiness for compromise. It is obvious that the main reason was the Western countries' desire to keep their monopoly on women's issues and on their promotion and discussion in the Security Council. A detailed analysis of this document is available in the statement of Russia's Permanent Mission to the UN and the Foreign Ministry's press release on this matter. Both documents are available on the ministry's website.

I would like to say a few words about the Security Council debate on the so-called Syrian chemical dossier. Of course, we cannot be content that our Western partners have again hindered an open and frank discussion on this issue at the October 5 meeting. In particular, seeking to avoid unpleasant questions about the OPCW Technical Secretariat's biased stand on chemical weapons ban on the Syrian track, they prevented the participation of its former director-general, Jose Bustani. I would like to remind everyone that he was demoted under pressure from the United States. Nevertheless, the key points prepared by Mr Bustani to expose the biased Western attitude, have been presented by Russia's Permanent Representative to the UN Vasily Nebenzya.

For our part, we will continue denouncing the use of "chemical blackmail" as an instrument of pressure on Damascus.

Another key event was held on October 26. It was an open debate on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question. The significance of that event has grown considerably in the context of the recent agreements on normalising relations between Israel and several Arab states. It was chaired by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin, who read out a statement by Sergey Lavrov. The debate reaffirmed the broad support for the internationally accepted parameters of a Middle Eastern settlement based on the two-state solution, as well as the leading role of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators.

Russia's October presidency also included a number of scheduled events such as meetings on several African issues, including on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Mali, the Great Lakes region, the Central African Republic (CAR), Abyei and the Somalia sanctions dossier. The Middle East agenda included debates on the developments in Western Sahara (the mandate of the concerned UN mission was extended), Yemen, Lebanon and the Golan Heights, as well as on the humanitarian and political aspects of a settlement in Syria. The Security Council also discussed the situation in Latin America, in particular in Haiti (the council extended the mandate of the UN special political mission there), and Colombia. In addition, the member states exchanged views on Kosovo.

The UN Security Council had to react to several adverse developments in real time. In particular, on October 9 it held closed in-person consultations on Cyprus, following which it made a Presidential Statement. The Council met twice to discuss the developments in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone and adopted a Presidential Statement on Mali and press statements on Sudan, Yemen, Mali, Colombia, Afghanistan and Libya.

The focal point of Russia's presidency was to reaffirm the Security Council's importance as an effective instrument for coordinating efforts to find answers to international peace and security threats. We worked actively to promote Russia's approaches and reaffirm its image as a responsible member of international relations. This concerns more than just an image but also practical steps in this spirit. Russia is open for dialogue and for coordinating solutions to the most complicated global problems.

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Preliminary count in the US elections


We are closely following the evaluation of the results of the general vote in the United States in which the head of state, 35 senators, all House of Representatives members and 11 state governors are elected.

As we understand, there is no clear winner at the moment and the two candidates are running on a par, with a very small margin. We have noted that both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have said they were confident in their victory. The incumbent President has also spoken publicly about some possible falsifications and his plans to file lawsuits in certain states where the preliminary vote count seemed doubtful to him. This circumstance considered, the process of determining the winner may be expected to take longer. And of course, two more important stages of the US election are still ahead ‚Äď the Electors will meet on December 14 to cast their votes, and the US Congress will approve the results in January 2021.

Let's just not get ahead of ourselves. I would like to note that, a situation where the two rival candidates for the presidency have approximately equal counts has offset the obvious shortcomings of the US electoral system. International observers have been repeatedly pointing this out, including the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and other recognised experts in this area. The problem is partly in the archaic nature of the applicable legislation and the lack of regulation on a number of fundamental matters in it.

Nevertheless, we hope that the legal mechanisms existing in the United States will make it possible to elect the next head of state in full compliance with the US Constitution, and what's most important, will help avoid an outbreak of popular unrest in that country. At the same time, I would like to underscore that electing their head of state is the exclusive right of US citizens who deserve to have their votes properly counted.

As for the outlook for Russian-US relations in the context of the US elections, as the Russian government has repeatedly stated, Moscow is ready for constructive dialogue with the next elected President of the United States, whichever of the candidates takes this post.

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Statements by US Assistant Secretary of State, Head of the Bureau for Political-Military Affairs René Clarke Cooper insisting that Cyprus deny port access to Russian Navy ships to expand military-technical cooperation with the US


We have noted statements by US Assistant Secretary of State, Head of the Bureau for Political-Military Affairs René Clarke Cooper, who said Cyprus needed to deny port access to Russian Navy ships to be able to develop a defence relationship with the United States. "I did specifically note that Cyprus has not yet taken the steps necessary to deny port access to Russian naval vessels. These and other steps are certainly necessary," he said, quoted by the media. "We certainly want the Republic of Cyprus to pursue in this direction." This is not the first time we see Washington require a country to curtail cooperation with Russia in various fields as a precondition for expanding ties with the US. This approach in fact violates any state's inalienable right to pursue an independent foreign policy.

This is not a principle we use. We never link expansion of bilateral ties with our partners with the nature of their relationships with third countries. We will never be making others face an artificial choice between us or the US. We firmly believe that it is a sovereign prerogative based on genuine equality. We reject coercive dialogue.

We are confident that the leaders of the Republic of Cyprus will remain committed to pursuing a multi-vector foreign policy line, and to further promoting its mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia, which has a long history.

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The release of Russian sailors from Water Phoenix


Two crew members, the Captain and Chief Officer of the refrigerated cargo ship Water Phoenix, owned by the Dutch Seatrade Groningen, were released on October 31. The ship was captured by pirates on September 8, 2020 off the Nigerian coast in the Gulf of Guinea.

The sailors have already been taken to Lagos, where they will undergo a medical examination. Representatives of the Russian diplomatic mission in Abuja and the ship owner's company are doing their best to ensure their speedy return home.

The well-coordinated and energetic actions of Russian and Nigerian diplomats, Nigerian law enforcement agencies and representatives of the ship owner's company made it possible to secure the sailors' release.

Moscow would like to thank all those who helped release the Russian citizens captured by pirates from captivity.

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The desecration of a Soviet-era burial site in Poland


We are once again witnessing an outrageous act of vandalism with regard to Soviet-era memorials in Poland. A monument on a common grave of Red Army soldiers in Starachowice, the Ňöwińôtokrzyskie Voivodeship, has been desecrated once again. The monument's commemorative plaque and part of its base were damaged. The monument has already been vandalised more than once. In January 2020, the vandals splashed it with paint, and outrageous acts of vandalism were also committed in 2014, 2016 and 2017.

All these incidents clearly show the real value of Warsaw's statements about the supposedly respectful attitude towards the burial sites of Soviet soldiers who perished in their country. Warsaw is making these statements time and again, including at international level. Obviously, the vandals have absolutely no fear of an official response because the authorities never find those guilty of such irreverent and heinous actions or do not believe they constitute a criminal offence.

These situations are directly linked with official Warsaw's efforts to rewrite the history of World War II and to deny the liberating role of the Red Army. 

We are outraged by the desecration of Soviet-era graves and the fact that such actions have become a lamentable tradition. They are the result of the official Polish authorities' policy aiming to distort historical memory.

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Cambodia Independence Day


On November 9, Cambodia will celebrate the 67th anniversary of  independence. This date heralded the end of the Cambodian people's lengthy and consistent struggle against the claims of France, which had established its protectorate over the Kingdom in 1863.

Cambodian patriots perceived France's return to Indochina following World War II as an obvious attempt to revive the colonial regime.

The successes of the national liberation movement forced Paris to launch talks on reinstating Cambodia's sovereignty. The talks culminated in the withdrawal of French forces from Phnom Penh on November 9, 1953.

This landmark event became an important step in the decolonisation of Indochina and led to the signing of the final declaration at the 1954 Geneva conference, whose parties stated their obligation to respect the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.

We would like to congratulate our Cambodian friends on their national holiday. We are confident that traditional relations of friendship and cooperation between our states will continue to develop successfully for the benefit of our countries' peoples and in the interests of peace and stability in Southeast Asia and the entire Asia Pacific Region.

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45th anniversary of independence of Republic of Angola


On November 11, the Republic of Angola will mark the 45th anniversary of independence.

It is a cause for commemorating the courage, fortitude and heroism of the Angolan people, who sacrificed their lives and put tremendous efforts into defending their right to have a free and peaceful life and to develop their state as they deem appropriate. Angola's independence largely became possible thanks to the Soviet Union's political, military and economic assistance to the Angolan patriots.

It is symbolic that on this day we will also mark the 45th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our states. This is proof that the ties of friendship and solidarity, which developed between our nations during Angola's selfless struggle for independence and grew stronger during the development of the young sovereign republic, have withstood the test of time.

Our bilateral political, trade, economic and other ties are developing consistently and at a high pace. We have reasons to speak about strategic partnership between Russia and Angola. Our priority for the near future is to implement our plans and to search for new joint projects in the best interests of our nations, first of all in such vital areas as mineral resources, communications, energy, construction, transport, education, healthcare and military technical cooperation. Landmark evens in the history of our relations were the Moscow visit by President of Angola Joao Lourenco in April 2019 and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin at the Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.

In conclusion, I would like to once again congratulate our friends on the Independence Day of Angola and on our common holiday, the 45th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, and to wish well-being and prosperity to the Angolan people.

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Answers to media questions:

Question: We are witnessing a rise in terrorist activity in Europe, in particular, in France and Austria. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a recent interview with Kommersant that the number of foreign militants from the Middle East in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone is approaching 2,000.

Russia is a global leader in the fight against international terrorism. What practical measures will Russia take to neutralise terrorists in Azerbaijan? How can it help European countries combat international terrorism?

Maria Zakharova: According to reports, foreign terrorist fighters, who are up to their elbows in blood, are being shipped from the Middle East to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone. Moreover, they are radically minded jihadists. This is a cause for serious concern, because these developments can lead to the formation of a new terrorist enclave, this time in the South Caucasus. Russia has stated this openly as soon as it received information to this effect.

As for helping European countries combat terrorism, we are ready to discuss the possibility of providing such assistance with the concerned agencies. I would like to remind everyone that for many years Russia has been urging its international partners to actively consolidate efforts in the fight against this common evil.

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Question: An international conference on refugees is scheduled to be held in Damascus on November 11-12. Middle Eastern media outlets are reporting that Russia is contributing to its organisation. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem noted during his recent consultations with UN Special Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen that the conference was fully in keeping with the political context of a settlement and did not contradict the Constitutional Committee. What does the Russian Foreign Ministry think about the regional players' view of the conference as an attempt by Damascus to move the process of political settlement to its national territory while the Constitutional Committee has not gained traction? What are Russian diplomats doing in their contacts with the opposition and regional players to encourage the belief in the Middle East that the efforts to return refugees to Syria is a compromise?

Maria Zakharova: As I noted in my opening remarks, we have a positive view on the outcome of Special Envoy Pedersen's visit to Damascus made in late October. We hope that the next meeting of the Constitutional Committee's Drafting Commission will be held in Geneva soon, including thanks to Mr Pedersen's recent contacts in the Syrian capital.

I have already mentioned the international conference on the return of refugees and IDPs, which the Syrian authorities are organising with our active support in Damascus on November 11-12. We by no means regard this initiative as an attempt to distract attention from the political settlement in Syria or to create an alternative to the existing dialogue venues and formats. The upcoming conference will be focused exclusively on assisting the settlement of a huge humanitarian problem, as can be seen from its name. For our part, we urge our partners to abandon political bias and to attend this event.

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Question: The Syrian government and the opposition worked within the Astana format to coordinate the exchange of prisoners, and after the 11th  round Russia's Special Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev expressed the hope that this process would gain momentum. Has it, considering that the reconciliation of Syria's south-western regions has shifted the focus to the amnesty or release of the Syrians who have not been presented with any charges? How actively are Russian diplomats involved in the process of political amnesty?

Maria Zakharova: We call for maintaining the Astana format of assistance to a settlement in Syria, which has proved its effectiveness. We appreciate the level of interaction reached between the three guarantor countries: Russia, Turkey and Iran. The new wave of the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the next, 15th round of the International Meeting on Syria in Astana. However, we are using this pause to coordinate with our partners the possible new forms of practical discussions on solutions to the existing problems, so that the Astana meeting becomes not only substantive but also effective and constructive. We need to give the process an additional impetus, including by stimulating the activities of the Working Group on the Release of Detainees/Abductees, Handover of Bodies and Identification of Missing Persons.

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Question: Several European media have accused the EU Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) of violating the rights of immigrants. According to media investigations, Frontex ships were involved in operations to pushback migrant boats outside the maritime borders of the EU. How can the Russian Foreign Ministry comment on these reports?

Maria Zakharova: The reasons for the massive immigration flows to the EU countries are well known. We have talked about them many times. One of them is the destabilisation in the Middle East and North Africa region, interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states by external forces trying to remove unwanted governments and reshape the region in their own way. Now it is the Western countries, including the EU states, that have to deal with the consequences of their own short-sighted policies.

The migration situation remains complicated, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic. We know that the EU is currently working on proposals from the European Commission to improve EU asylum legislation. We presume that one of the priorities of this work should be to improve the situation with refugees' rights in the EU, which is less than perfect now. Concerns are raised by reports about overcrowded refugee camps, the harsh living conditions there, as well as the immigrants' limited access to medical care.

In this context, the media reports featuring Frontex are certainly alarming. We have read them. If the information is correct, and Frontex members actually condone the pushbacks of boats with asylum seekers from the EU territorial waters, thereby endangering their lives instead of rescuing them, it is a serious violation by the EU member states of their international commitments. I am referring, in particular, to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1984 Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. We hope that the European Commission and Frontex command will conduct a credible open investigation of these incidents and take effective steps to ensure a proper level of protection for persons who legally apply to them for help.


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