President Metsola called for the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan and human rights in Iran, at the opening of the session.

Despite initial promises to protect women’s rights in Afghanistan, years of progress are being rolled back, said the President. The European Parliament is committed to the people of Afghanistan, and not to its rulers, she added. Until women regain their rightful place in society, the Parliament will continue to amplify their voice.

With death sentences imposed on arrested protesters in Iran, President Metsola urged Iranian authorities to “stop, here and now”. She welcomed the new EU sanctions and stated that in response to Iran’s sanctioning of MEPs, there will be no direct contact between the Parliament and official Iranian counterparts until further notice.

Turkish air strikes in northern Syria and Iraq after the bomb attack in Istanbul are claiming more lives and causing more bloodshed, said the President, calling on the Turkish authorities to exercise restraint and respect for international law and standards.

The explosions in Poland show that we must not let down our guard against Russia, said the President, adding that Parliament stands in solidarity with victims in Poland and Ukraine. The 90th anniversary of Holodomor, the great famine of 1932-33 in which millions of people in Ukraine were intentionally starved by the Soviet regime is poignant when 90 years later, Ukrainians have to fight again to preserve their lives, identity and freedom, she said.

Finally, President Metsola said that Parliament’s thoughts are with the families of two police officers in Belgium who were attacked last week, with one losing his life. This reminds us of the risks police forces face daily, she added.