Communication from the Committee of Ministers presented by
Edmond Panariti, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania
Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers
(Strasbourg, 2 October 2012)
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to address your Assembly as Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. I would like to report to you briefly on what the Committee has been doing since my predecessor, Edmond Haxhinasto, spoke to you last June.
I will not go over all the information contained in the written activity report, copies of which you will have already received. I would, however, like to take this opportunity to address certain developments that have occurred over the past three months in connection with these activities and with the priorities set by our Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
As you are aware, promoting sustainable democratic societies is our first priority. We were very pleased, therefore, to host the 2012 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which was held in Durres on 3 and 4 September.
I cannot but welcome the success of this event, the relevance of which, was further enhanced by the active participation of a large number of young people. In the current context of rising intolerance and in some cases even calls for violence revolving around issues of religion, the usefulness of these gatherings seems to me fairly self-evident. In Durres, the participants concluded that, in today’s globalised, interconnected world, improving mutual understanding has become absolutely vital. When used to further education and knowledge, the internet is a fantastic means of communication. It is also, however, an easy way for unscrupulous individuals to spread hatred and violence. Like the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I condemned, in a statement made on 19 September, the acts of terrorism and calls for violence that followed the showing of the film “Innocence of Muslims”. At the same time, I also condemned any incitement to hatred, in particular on religious grounds, and called for respect for everyone’s beliefs.
The conclusions of the 2012 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue will be presented at the high-level conference entitled “Diversity in Europe, a strength for the future” that we are holding in Tirana on 8 and 9 November. This conference, in which we are placing a great deal of hope, will mark the end of our six-month Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, a Chairmanship that is summed up in our motto “unity in diversity”.
I hope that many of you from the Parliamentary Assembly will be able to attend this Conference. Religious and inter-ethnic tensions, exacerbated by the severe economic problems facing most of our member states, pose a threat to the peace and stability that are core to the European project. While, in a climate of fear, the temptation to turn in on oneself is great, the fact is that the best chance for Europeans to meet the challenges of the 21st century is to stay united and support one another. The Tirana conference, during which we will hand over the Chairmanship to the Principality of Andorra, will seek to reinforce and spread as widely as possible this message of peace and openness to each other’s cultures and beliefs. In my view, this should be one of the main focal points of the Council’s activities in the years ahead and we should look at ways of working together in this area.
In the same vein, allow me to tell you about two other initiatives of the Albanian Chairmanship. The first is the conference on remembrance of the Holocaust and prevention of crimes against humanity which was held at the beginning of September. This conference provided an opportunity to pay tribute to the people who saved the honour of humanity during the Second World War. It also allowed us to step up our activities in the field of human rights education, a subject that, I am happy to say, will be high on the agenda of the new Andorran Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. The second event I would like to mention is the regional peace camp for young people. Youngsters from South-East Europe, a part of the world that has seen bloody inter-ethnic conflict, gathered in Albania last month to engage in dialogue and introduce activities to overcome conflict situations, based on human rights education and intercultural learning. This is another area where the Council should continue or even step up its efforts.
As you know, guaranteeing the long-term effectiveness of the European Convention on Human Rights is another of our priorities. In September, the Committee of Ministers replied, one point at a time, to the recommendations you had made to it on this subject. In its reply, the Committee emphasised the importance of the role to be played by both national parliaments and the Parliamentary Assembly in the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights. I welcome in this respect the move by your Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to look at the implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights by States Parties to the Convention.
As observed by Sir Nicolas Bratza, President of the European Court of Human Rights, speaking at the European Conference of Presidents of Parliaments two weeks ago, it is clear that, if there are no effective domestic remedies, applicants will continue to have recourse to Strasbourg for what they cannot find at home.
The implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national level is more than ever, therefore, essential for the long-term viability of the supervisory mechanism established under the Convention. This issue, indeed, will be at the centre of debate at the conference which is to be held in Tirana in a few days, and which will bring together government officials and representatives of the highest courts in Europe. It will also, I am sure, be addressed in the exchange of views that Ministers’ Deputies are to have with the President of the Court on 24 October.
In the legal sphere, one recent event of note was the 31st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice which looked at the justice systems’ responses to urban violence. Alongside this event, an additional protocol to the European Convention on Extradition, adopted by the Committee of Ministers last June, was opened for signature. No fewer than twelve member states, including Albania, signed it on this occasion. On a more general level, at the instigation of the Secretary General, the Committee of Ministers has set about not only promoting the Council of Europe’s conventions but also managing them in a more effective manner. We hope that the work done in this area will swiftly lead to decisions so as to ensure the widest possible application of these conventions. In this spirit, the Albanian Chairmanship, which attaches great importance to children’s rights, has urged the Committee of Ministers to encourage any states which have not yet done so, to consider signing and ratifying several conventions designed to better protect children and women, in particular against violence and sexual exploitation. I am pleased to note that in these few months about one fourth of the Council of Europe member states have signed and ratified those conventions.
The latest session of the Ministers’ Deputies, last week, was entirely devoted to supervision of the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, a task that falls to our Committee under the terms of the Convention itself. At the session, the Ministers’ Deputies once again examined the follow-up to the Court’s judgement in the case of Sejdic and Finci against Bosnia and Herzegovina. They noted with regret that, despite their commitment, the Bosnian authorities and political leaders had, once again, failed to reach a consensus and to present draft constitutional amendments to the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Execution of the Sejdic and Finci judgement is vital if the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
This autumn has seen or will see important elections in several member states. These elections must be conducted in a way that respects the relevant Council of Europe standards. Over the years, the Council, in particular through the Venice Commission, has made considerable efforts to establish and promote the principles of a European electoral heritage. This heritage belongs to us all and Albania is pleased to have hosted, last July, the events marking the 10th anniversary of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters. The joint debate that you are to hold tomorrow on “For more democratic elections” is one that we will be following closely.
On the same subject, the conduct of the parliamentary elections that took place on 23 September in Belarus once again proved very disappointing, as noted by the OSCE observers. The situation in Belarus remains, generally speaking, very worrying. In a reply adopted in September to an Assembly Recommendation, the Committee of Ministers noted that its strategic objective remained the integration of Belarus into the Council of Europe, while at the same time reiterating that any such integration would be done only on the basis of the Organisation’s values and principles.
In Belarus as in other countries, it stands to reason that the Council of Europe can take useful action on the international stage only if it remains in close contact with the other European institutions that share our values.
To this end, it is important to listen to our partners, in order to exchange information about our respective activities and projects and, as far as possible, act in synergy.
Last July, the Rapporteur Group on External Relations of the Ministers' Deputies accordingly held an important exchange of views with representatives of the European Parliament to discuss various aspects of co-operation with the European Union, in particular as regards the policy towards neighbouring regions. Cooperation with other international organization and regional initiatives is essential to our common endevours. I have just returned from the General Assembly meeting of the UN in New York, where I had the opportunity to talk about the priorities and sensitive issues within the Council of Europe. On behalf of the Albanian presidency, I confirmed our commitment to substantially contribute to the further strengthening the credibility, role and work of the organization in Europe and beyond. More recently, the Committee of Ministers itself held an exchange of views with Knut Vollebaeck, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities, during which we assessed together not only the rewards but also the challenges of co-operation. In a few days I will address in Tirana the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE. As Chairman of the Committee of Ministers I will point out that the continuation of the enduring partnership between CoE and the OSCE is instrumental to the fullfilment of a Euro-Atlantic Security Community, based on the universally recognized values of democracy and rule of law.
The Albanian Chairmanship is also very keen to improve intra-institutional co-operation. In this regard, I would particularly like to thank your President, Jean-Claude Mignon, for coming to report to the Deputies in early July on the outcome of your previous session. I am pleased that it has been decided to present a similar report on the outcome of this session when the Ministers’ Deputies meet on 10 October.
Quite apart from institutionalised contacts, exchanges of this type between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers are useful for discussing, in close co-operation, the focus of our respective activities. Thank you, Mr President, for your commitment and your readiness to help in this area. In particular, I would like to focus on two issues where cooperation could have tangible success and impact. Firstly the joint assistance that Strasbourg could offer to our Arab neighbours and partners to address their immediate and long-term challenges posed by transition to democracy. A common visit with President Mignon to Morocco and Tunisia foreseen by the end of this month, will serve as a positive message of our joint endeavors. Secondly, we remain committed to deepen regional integration in the Western Balkans and further advance its EU perspective. As suggested in the pragmatic Recommendation 1739 (2010) of this Parliamentary Assembly the organization should promote direct and significant contacts between the CoE staff and Kosovo authorities at all levels. I warmly congratulate the efforts of the Secretary General, Mr. Jagland, for his constructive exchanges with the Serbian authorities aiming to enable the continuation of important EU – CoE joint programmes in Kosovo. We are looking forward to the implementation of these programmes.
Allow me to express my conviction that only by strengthening direct contacts with Kosovo through implementing the standards of democracy, human rights and rule of law, the Council of Europe would offer its own priceless contribution to a truly multi-ethnic society, where all citizens, regardless of their ethnic background, benefit from equal rights and opportunities.
As I come to the end of my speech, I would like to say once again how proud I am to be chairing the Committee of Ministers, if only for a short period. This pride is shared by my fellow Albanians, who see in the Council of Europe an organisation that is crucial for democratic stability in Europe. The presence of our President, Bujar Nishani, in the hemicycle next Thursday will be a further testimony to Albania’s deep commitment to the Council of Europe. On 9 November our Chairmanship will draw to a close and I would like, here and now, to express my delegation’s full support for the Principality of Andorra which is to succeed us.
Thank you for your attention.