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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 28 September to 2 October 2009

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Address by Danilo TÜRK, President of Slovenia

Strasbourg, 1st October 2009

Mr. President, Ladies and Gentlemen:

Secretary General, Members of the Parliamentary Assembly, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you today, before your esteemed Assembly. It is also an honor to address you on the day on which the official commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe is to take place.

I would first take this opportunity to congratulate Thorbjørn Jagland on his election this week as Secretary General of the Council of Europe. We now have a Secretary General who measures up to our hopes. And he, in turn, has a great challenge ahead of him. He can count on my support, and, I am convinced, the support of all member states.

The arrival of a Secretary General to any organisation brings a certain momentum and with it a heightened optimism for the future. This momentum must be taken advantage of. We all have a shared responsibility in facing the challenges ahead of us.

I personally take this responsibility with a great sense of engagement but also confidence. My own interest in the activities of the Council of Europe is indeed a genuine one. It has been nurtured throughout my work as a human rights activist, as an international law professor and in my diplomatic and political life. In all my functions I have striven to strengthen the core values defended by this Organisation, be it at the national level or through my work at the United Nations.

I agree with those who consider that an anniversary should provide an occasion to look forward and contemplate how best to shape the future. However, we cannot look to the future without understanding our past.

From its inception after the grueling years of the Second World War to these first years of the 21st century and through the challenges and difficulties that modern society brings, the Council of Europe has been a witness to both dramatic events and gradual changes, and has shown the strength and flexibility to adapt accordingly. It has played an essential role in bringing unity and security to our Continent. And, most importantly, it has served as a bulwark of the core values of Europe: human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Twenty years ago, the fall of the Berlin wall and the Iron Curtain in 1989, was an important milestone for the Council of Europe. It provided the Organisation with a very particular role, as the organisation most apt to welcome yet another wave of new democracies and construct a new and greater Europe. It rose to the challenge. And huge advances were made. Today, we are 47 European states bound together to defend those crucial values which are ours – democracy, human rights and the rule of law. This is indeed a feat and worthy of celebration.

However, the family is not yet complete, and I look forward to the day when Belarus will be in a position to join our numbers.

And we must too recognise that the ultimate vision of the founding fathers of the Organisation, of a Europe united around common values, is still not fully realised.

We only have to look at our recent past, where we have witnessed serious and sometimes devastating clashes and conflicts within the borders of the Council of Europe. We all have horrible memories and images in our mind, especially those of us who were the witnesses and the victims of wars in South-East Europe. We are also aware that some areas of our greater Europe are yet to find a solution to unresolved conflicts and find peace and unity within their territories or with their neighbours. My own country, Slovenia, has known such difficult times. It has been a close witness of fighting and faction in the region. However, it has also seen how such disputes can and must be overcome. I would therefore insist that the pursuit of a united Europe, where dividing lines have really been erased, should remain the priority of the Council of Europe.

Today’s world is an uncertain one. The Organisation has adapted to past challenges but it must remain vigilant and flexible. Be prepared to address new phenomena, changing circumstances. It should not take its acquis for granted.

It must be active and confident in its capacity to adapt and defend those values and standards which are fundamental to the security of our common European home.

The Third Summit of Heads of State and Government paved the political path for the Council of Europe reaffirming its core objective of preserving and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This is where the expertise of the Council of Europe lies. Pushing forward this objective is therefore primordial, for the sake of our 800 million citizens - the interests of whom are at the heart of the mission of the Organisation.

Looking to the future, we can build on the valuable tools of the Council of Europe that have developed over the last six decades. The Organisation brings together our 47 governments. It houses your own Assembly and your extensive collective experience as our citizens’ elected representatives. The Congress provides a unique forum for local and regional authorities, the role of whom is essential at the grass roots level. The Organisation has carved a unique place for the INGOs within its walls. And the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights, now 10 years after its creation, is a well-reputed and most appreciated institution.

The Council of Europe is indeed a multi-facetted Organisation, but it is the richness of is structures that precisely add to its effectiveness and uniqueness.

Finally, the European Court of Human Rights is - as we all know- the jewel in the Council of Europe’s crown. However that jewel needs to keep its shine and must therefore receive our constant and focused attention. We all agree the Court is one of a kind. It is crucial in ensuring that our citizens are guaranteed their fundamental rights. However, the Court is still desperately struggling with its case-load. The measures recently decided by the member states in Madrid, including the adoption of Protocol No 14bis which has entered into force today, are of course to be welcomed but are not sufficient. Ensuring the long-term effectiveness of this mechanism remains a priority.

The greatest support that member states can give to the Court is to work tirelessly to improve human rights protection at the national level. Each member state must strive to fully respect its commitments. And this not only includes implementing the judgments of the Court but also giving the required attention to a great number of Conventions, conclusions and recommendations of the other monitoring mechanisms of the Council of Europe - be it ECRI (the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance), the CPT (European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment), the European Committee of Social Rights, the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) or the Advisory Committee to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities - which all contribute to the strengthening of human rights provisions and guarantees on home ground.

Education and awareness raising, promoting tolerance and non-discrimination ethnic pluralism and integration of immigrants are all indispensable in order to cultivate a human rights culture in all our member states. We need informed citizens, individuals who are aware of our values and principles and willing to promote them in order to firmly root them in the ground. Promoting an active citizenship in an era of globalisation is certainly one of the major challenges ahead of us and the Council of Europe has a distinctive role to play in this respect. The future of Europe lies not in consumerism - it relies on its citizens, responsible and active.

Rhetoric must become reality. And this responsibility should be assumed by us all – heads of state, governments, parliamentarians, local and regional authorities and indeed NGOs.

Fundamental as it is, the nature of the work of the Council of Europe does not always lend itself to attracting the attention of the press or other publicity agents. It is therefore important that we, who are fully cognisant of its value, also make efforts to promote it.

Ladies and gentlemen, my aim today was not to enter into complex discussions on specific issues relating to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the defence of which is close to all our hearts. I simply wanted to pay tribute to the Council of Europe, an Organisation which has thrived for over 60 years, labouring, sometimes thanklessly, to bring democratic peace, security and unity to our Continent.

But we must not rest on the laurels of past achievements. The future may not always be easy, but it is our collective responsibility to ensure that the Council of Europe, our home of democracy, continues in its necessary work and as ultimate watchdog for human rights on our continent.

Thank you for your attention.