Speech by Mr Thorbjørn Jagland,
Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Nazarbayev University, Astana
11 October 2011
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Dear students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be here with you today, on the occasion of the first visit of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe to Kazakhstan. Unfortunately, this time, I am only staying a day, so
I will not have the opportunity to experience and admire much of the cultural and natural richness of your country, which you are so deservedly proud of.
But if this visit is short in time, it will be, I am convinced, very important in its implications, for the relations between Kazakhstan and the Council of Europe, and for relations of your country with Europe as a whole.
My ambition before coming here was to agree on an ambitious plan for working together in the years to come. I believe that we have that agreement, and I am looking forward to our future
We can certainly expect to be busy. Kazakhstan is one of the first countries to use the opportunities provided by the new Council of Europe policy towards our neighbourhood, which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in Istanbul in May. This decision is a sign of the readiness of the member states of the Council of Europe to bring the relations with countries in Central Asia and the Southern Mediterranean to a much higher level.
What are the objectives of this new policy?
Firstly, to facilitate democratic political transition through the assistance in the constitutional process, electoral legislation, organisation and the observation of elections.
Secondly, to help to promote good governance throughout the countries in our neighbourhood, on the basis of the relevant Council of Europe standards, mechanisms and instruments. In this area, particular importance is attached to the independence and functioning of the judiciary, the fight against corruption and money laundering.
Our third objective is to reinforce and enlarge the Council of Europe regional action in combating trans-border and global threats such as trafficking in human beings, cybercrime, organised crime and terrorism.
An important dimension of this third objective is the possibility of future accession to relevant Council of Europe conventions which are open to non member states, such as Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism; Convention on Cybercrime; Convention against Torture, Conventions on Corruption, on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse and others.
It was against this background that Kazakhstan had expressed its interest to deepen its links with the Council of Europe, including through the participation in a number of Council of Europe legal instruments and partial agreements, related to the promotion of good governance, based on the principles and standards of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Today, we have reached an agreement to intensify
co-operation in order to build up the necessary capacities and to facilitate the accession of Kazakhstan to these, and possibly other conventions, partial agreements and other instruments and mechanisms of the Council of Europe.
We have agreed on a list of specific areas for future co-operation, related to the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of these principles and standards, especially in the perspective of our future relations. We have to bear in mind that no aspect of the Council of Europe’s work is value neutral. Meaningful co-operation and participation in the Council of Europe activities, mechanisms and instruments require compliance, or willingness to comply with, the relevant Council of Europe principles and standards.
But why are they so important?
Let me put this question in a broader perspective.
They are at the heart of the process which has provided our continent with security, political stability and economic prosperity over the past sixty-five years.
Of course you can challenge me on this statement.
What political stability, you can ask against the background of the political turmoil, debates and confrontations we witness in countries across Europe.
What economic prosperity, you can ask, against the background of economic woes many of European countries are confronted with, some of them dramatically so.
Well, democracy, human rights and the rule of law will not prevent political commotions. In a sense, changes and exchanges, even heated ones, are a normal and an essential part of the democratic process. Its when there are no changes or debates or political discussions that you should get really worried.
Our democratic, human rights and rule of law standards also cannot prevent an economic turndown. But what they do is limit and alleviate the social and political consequences of the economic crisis. And this is no small thing. We do not have to look far back to remember what can happen when extremist populist and nationalist exploit social and economic deprivation for their political purposes. World wars can happen.
And democracy and human rights are also necessary for sustainable economic development. The Indian Nobel prize winner for economy Amartya Sen claimed that no substantial famine has ever occurred in any country with a relatively free press. It is not difficult to prove this argument.
While the freedom of expression may be irritating to some, its absence is always harmful to all in the society. Without critical voices, there are no safeguards and no defence against blunder and abuse in the exercise of power, with inevitable negative political, economic, and social consequences.
This is why Europe had created the Council of Europe and transformed the universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law into legally-binding commitments, supervised and enforced by an international court.
I want to draw your attention to the importance of the word “universal”.
I have to admit that in Europe we are often very Euro-centric. We talk about European values, about European standards and so on. But the fact is, that these are universal values, based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What Europe has done is simply create the most advanced, effective and legally-binding mechanism to promote and expand these universal rights – through the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights has become a backbone of a vast system of conventions, a genuine European legal space. Through the possibility of accession to some of our key conventions, this legal space is opening up to non member states and especially to our neighbours. Through this process, we are expanding the area of stability, security and freedom, based on the universal standards and principles.
And freedom “is nothing but a chance to be better” said the writer Albert Camus.
I think being better is a noble objective; for the Council of Europe and for Kazakhstan.