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Parliamentary Assembly Session: 28 September to 3 October 2009

Communication from the Committee of Ministers presented by Samuel ┼ŻBOGAR, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Slovenia, Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers

(Strasbourg, 29 September 2009)

Mr. President,
Madam Acting Secretary General,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to address you again in my capacity as the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Together with the other members of the Bureau of the Committee of Ministers, I have had very intense contacts with your Presidential Committee since we last met at your June Session. I am very pleased that as a result an agreement has been reached on a proposed package of measures to enhance dialogue and co-operation between the two statutory organs of the Council of Europe.

The agreement covers a series of measures, including the review of the future election procedures and immediate action for improving dialogue and co-operation in general. It also proposes to task the Secretary General to report not later than October 2010 on an array of other suggested measures for enhancing co-operation. I have the great pleasure to inform you that the Committee of Ministers examined these proposals on 23 September and expressed its support for them.

The Chairman-in-office of the Committee of Ministers, it will soon be my Swiss colleague, and the President of the Assembly will continue to meet regularly to monitor progress in this regard.

You will also have the possibility to discuss this issue later this week in the Joint Committee.

As I am speaking you are electing the next Secretary General of our Organisation. I have no doubt that either of the two candidates would do an excellent job. Both are able to take up their duties on 1 October and it is therefore our intention to organise a meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on Thursday afternoon in order that the newly elected Secretary General can be sworn in before the celebration of the 60th anniversary that same evening.

Mr President, I take it that you have all received the written communication of the Slovenian Chair, providing you with details on the progress of the Committee’s work over recent months. I will highlight a few points that are of particular importance to us.

Last time we met, I emphasised that Slovenia attaches great importance to the developments in South-East Europe. Our chairmanship aims to include South-East Europe in all Council of Europe activities.

The Committee of Ministers recently reviewed the progress made by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fulfilment of its commitments and obligations to the Council of Europe. It is concerned about the deteriorating political climate in the country and condemned the repeated attempts to challenge the Dayton Agreement, which undermine the functioning of the state institutions. The Committee underlined the importance of bringing the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina in line with the European Convention of Human Rights.

Some progress was noted, such as the ratification of the (Revised) European Social Charter and the completion of the appointment procedure of the state Ombudsmen. Unfortunately, however, the Committee was again obliged to reiterate its serious concern regarding the increasingly entrenched segregation in the education system. It urged the authorities to take measures to safeguard the multi-ethnic character of the education system. The authorities were also urged to continue full co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, including facilitating the arrest and the handing over of all remaining indictees to the Tribunal.

I should stress that in parallel to this monitoring procedure, the Ministers’ Deputies approved a co-operation programming document setting out the future lines of the assistance to be provided to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This programme covers the period 2009-2011. The Slovenian Chairmanship fully supports Bosnia and Herzegovina in its integration into the European institutions and strongly hopes that, thanks to this support, it will rapidly make further progress in the honouring of its commitments.

Still in South-East Europe, a similar review of the progress made by Montenegro in the fulfilment of its commitments and obligations to the Council of Europe was made in September 2009. At the close of this review, the Ministers’ Deputies welcomed the considerable progress made. They called on the government and parliament of Montenegro to promptly ratify those Council of Europe conventions which were due to be ratified within one or two years after accession, as well as to continue the efforts undertaken, in particular regarding the reform of the justice system, the fight against corruption, as well as the adoption of a number of laws and of measures in favour of the people displaced by the wars in the former Yugoslavia and currently residing in Montenegro.

In a statement made on the early parliamentary elections held in Moldova on 29 July, I welcomed the preliminary assessment of the International election observation mission stating that the elections met many international standards and were run overall professionally and efficiently.

The remaining challenges, such as lack of trust among the country's political parties and voters, accuracy of voters lists, unbalanced media coverage, lack of clearly defined complaints and appeals procedures, must be overcome in the future.

The implementation of the emergency pre-electoral assistance plan decided by the Committee of Ministers in June has recently been reviewed. The conclusion was that further assistance should be provided for monitoring the updating of electoral rolls and the coverage of election campaigns by the media. Beyond these two specific questions, assistance should continue to be provided by our Organisation to consolidate democratic institutions in Moldova. Proposals to this effect will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers in due course.

The consequences of the conflict of August 2008 in Georgia remain a standing item on the agenda of the meetings of the Ministers’ Deputies. At the beginning of July, the Secretary General submitted a second quarterly report to the Deputies on the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict, as well as an updated report on the activities for the promotion of Council of Europe values and standards after the conflict.

The exchange of views which the Ministers’ Deputies had on 9 September with Mrs Corien Jonker, Chairperson of your Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, was a most useful opportunity to exchange views on the critical question of the protection of the fundamental rights of all the individuals who have been affected by the conflict. It confirmed once more the crucial importance of ensuring unhindered access to all those in need of protection and assistance and I would like to reiterate here the appeal to all the parties concerned to facilitate such access.

The exchange of views with Mrs Jonker was also a good example of a mutually beneficial enhanced dialogue between your Assembly and the Committee of Ministers.

We will continue to follow the situation in Georgia closely. I recall that the Committee of Ministers has agreed to review the action taken by the Council of Europe at the handover meeting of the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers on 18 November 2009.

Turning now to the Russian Federation: I have noted that you will have a current affairs debate this week on the situation of human rights defenders and the increasing violence in the North Caucasus region. You will also be examining a motion for the reconsideration of the credentials of the delegation of the Russian Federation. I will be following your debates on these issues with particular attention.

This summer, I strongly condemned the assassination of Natalia Estemirova, a prominent human rights activist of the NGO “Memorial”, and of two humanitarian workers, Sarema Sadulajeva, and her husband, Alik Djibralov. I called upon the Russian authorities to promptly investigate these murders and I hope that the assassins and their instigators will soon be identified and brought to justice. Human rights defenders play an essential role at national level in ensuring effective protection of individual rights and freedoms and member states have an obligation to protect them. I remain seriously concerned with the increasing number of acts of violence in the North Caucasus.

In July, the Ministers’ Deputies approved a series of new activities of the Council of Europe towards Belarus. These include different information projects through the newly established Information Point in Minsk, as well as activities for the strengthening of civil society in Belarus. The Council of Europe will also continue to monitor whether access to the Information Point is freely granted.

Unfortunately, a 30-year-old man was sentenced to death only a few days after the Parliamentary Assembly voted in favour of restoring the Special Guest status to the Parliament of Belarus on condition that Belarus declares a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty. This is very regrettable and I expressed deep concern and reiterated my strong and urgent call on the Belarusian authorities to take all necessary steps to put an end to the death penalty. I strongly hope that such steps will be taken rapidly. Together with the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers will continue to militate for the abolition of the death penalty.

I am still convinced that Belarus still needs our help and that is why I am in favour of the realisation of the informal consultations which might bring Belarus closer to the accession to some of the conventions of the Council of Europe. I am also in favour of holding a round table on the abolition of the death penalty in Minsk, which was already anticipated by the Ministers Deputies and further on included in the programme of future activities of the Council of Europe in Belarus.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you are aware, Slovenia gives very high priority to the situation of the European Court of Human Rights. Significant progress towards increasing the effectiveness of the Court was made at the May Ministerial Session. The Slovenian Chairmanship has endeavoured to promote further signatures and ratifications of Protocol No. 14 bis to the European Convention on Human Rights as well as further declarations to accept the provisional application of the procedural elements extracted from Protocol No. 14 in accordance with the Madrid Agreement.

I welcome the fact that Protocol No. 14bis will enter into force this week, on 1 October. It has now been ratified by seven member states. In addition, nine member states have accepted the provisional application of the procedural provisions of Protocol No. 14 in accordance with the Madrid Agreement.

I would like to take this occasion to stress once more that we count on your support to raise the issue of your countries’ plans in this respect in your national parliaments. I should also stress that Slovenia, like the vast majority of member states, would have preferred to see Protocol No. 14 enter into force and still has this goal.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I conclude, a few words with respect to co-operation between the Council of Europe and other organisations.

Regarding the OSCE, a high-level “2+2” meeting involving the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, the Chairman-in-office of the OSCE and the Secretary Generals of the two organisations will be held at the end of October to review issues of common interest at the political level.

Concerning relations with the European Union, the next Quadripartite meeting between the Council of Europe and the European Union will also be held in Luxembourg at the end of October. The “Stockholm Programme” concerning the future of EU action in the areas of freedom, security and justice and the new Eastern Partnership initiative of the Union are likely to be on the agenda of that meeting.

The European Day against the Death Penalty on 10 October will be an occasion for the Council of Europe and the European Union to demonstrate their determination to work hand in hand against this inhuman penalty.

On the cooperation with the UN, Slovenia, as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and the Spanish authorities have accepted to co-sponsor the launching event of the Joint Council of Europe/United Nations Study on Trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs that will take place on 13 October 2009 in the context of the 64th Session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am convinced that the renewed dialogue we have started between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly will continue also under future chairmanships of the Committee. I believe that it is of vital importance that the two statutory bodies of our Organisation stand united in the fight for its the values and principles. I know that you share this opinion. Your support is crucial.

The Slovenian Prime Minister addressed you at your last session and later this week President Danilo Turk will be with you for the celebration of the 60th anniversary. My country is seriously committed to the Council of Europe and will continue to be so.

Now, I am looking forward to your questions.