EMBARGO UNTIL DELIVERY D27(2010)
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY 04.10.2010
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Three months have elapsed since I last had the pleasure of addressing your Assembly. Three months of intense activity during which our Chairmanship has sought to promote the Council of Europe’s activities in a number of important areas and to implement the priorities it has set itself. You have all received a copy of my written report outlining the Committee of Ministers’ work during the reference period. I am delighted to have this opportunity today to speak in person about a number of developments and achievements which, in my view, are especially important.
In the human rights field, implementation of the Interlaken Declaration is proceeding. One very important issue currently exercising the Committee of Ministers concerns the suitability of candidates for the post of judge at the European Court of Human Rights. This is a matter of crucial importance for the Court’s credibility and authority. The Committee of Ministers has been considering it for several months now. The conclusions of the debate which your Assembly is to hold on the subject this week will be duly taken on board and we sincerely hope that the Committee of Ministers will have come to some decisions on this matter by the time our Chairmanship ends. The reform of the Committee of Ministers’ working methods under Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights is likewise progressing.
Just a few weeks ago the Committee endorsed the principle of a new “twin track” system for supervising the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights. The aim is to improve the effectiveness of the system of supervising the execution of judgments in the face of the growing number of cases which the Committee of Ministers has to supervise. The new system is expected to be operational by 1 January 2011, as there are still some practical issues to be ironed out.
Speaking about the post Interlaken process, I believe that our Chairmanship made a valuable contribution to the strengthening of the principle of subsidiarity through the conference dedicated to this theme, held in Skopje on 1 and 2 October. The conclusions from the Skopje Conference “Strengthening subsidiarity: integrating the Court’s case law into national law and practice” will be presented at the next High Level Conference on the Future of the Court, to be held in Izmir in 2011 during the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. I am particularly glad that the event in Skopje provides a bridge between Interlaken and Izmir Conferences, enabling substantial discussion on the ways and means of how to improve the implementation and enforcement by national authorities of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Convention. We can all agree that by doing more at national level we can best preserve the effectiveness of the Court.
The Skopje Conference has also emphasised that this Assembly and the National Parliaments have a significant role in strengthening the subsidiary character of the Convention’s protection mechanism.
I will use the opportunity to thank the Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on the valuable contribution to the Skopje Conference and especially through the participation of its Chairman, Mr. Pourgourides.
I have not forgotten, of course, the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, which will be a major step forward in terms of strengthening the system of human rights protection for the benefit of all European citizens.
I was very pleased therefore when, on 7 July last, work began between the European Commission and experts from the Council of Europe’s Steering Committee for Human Rights to draw up an accession agreement. On that occasion, Ms Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission, held an exchange of views with the Committee of Ministers and I myself continued on the discussion on the prospects for accession with Ms Reding when I met with her in Brussels on 19 July.
Since then, the Steering Committee for Human Rights has begun preparing a legal instrument in accordance with the terms of reference given to it by the Committee of Ministers. Like the Parliamentary Assembly, we hope that this work will be concluded as soon as possible.
I was interested to note, in this context, the meeting that took place on 2 September in Brussels between your Assembly’s Presidential Committee and the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents concerning the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.
As you know, our Chairmanship has also given particular attention to respect for the rights and the integration of marginalised groups, with, for example, a regional conference being held in June in Skopje on access to personal identity papers for the Roma.
The Council of Europe has an important role to play in improving the conditions of the Roma and their social integration and I wish to applaud the dedication of the Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, and the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance in this area. I have not forgotten the declaration that you yourself, Mr President, made on 20 August, expressing your concern about the plight of the Roma in Europe.
Our Chairmanship fully supports the Secretary General’s decision to call a high-level meeting to put in place a European strategy that would lead to lasting, tangible measures to ensure the social integration of the Roma. Through you, Mr President, the Assembly will be invited to take part in this event on 20 October. I have no doubt that the Parliamentary Assembly will also get involved in the operational follow-up to this meeting. For all forces will need to be mobilised if this initiative, which is a challenge for Europe as a whole, and the Council of Europe in particular, is to succeed. The debate under urgent procedure which the Assembly is due to hold this week on the Roma will provide a very useful contribution to our discussions on how best to tackle this difficult and complex issue.
Among the various other important issues still on the Committee of Ministers’ agenda is the situation in Georgia. Two years have elapsed since the conflict there and yet conditions in the worst affected regions remain difficult. Together with the Secretary General, I visited Tbilisi on 2 July this year to hold talks with the President of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, my counterpart Grigol Vashadze, the Deputy Prime Minister, Temur Yakobashvili, and the Speaker of the Georgian Parliament, Dimitri Bakradze. Dialogue and co-operation between the Council of Europe and Georgia were at the centre of the discussions, in particular the possibilities of enhanced Council of Europe action for the protection and promotion of human rights in the areas affected by the August 2008 conflict. Hidden behind these possibly rather abstract-sounding words are personal tragedies that must not be forgotten. Having myself visited a refugee camp during this visit, I was able to appreciate the magnitude of the trauma suffered by the victims. We must do our utmost to mitigate the tragic consequences of the conflict and to promote the dialogue necessary for reconciliation.
I am very pleased, therefore, that as a result of our visit, the Committee of Ministers asked the Secretary General to undertake activities along the lines of those suggested in his consolidated report. I sincerely hope that these activities will get under way soon and I would call on all the parties involved to show good will and facilitate their implementation.
I would also like to point out that in November, the Committee of Ministers will receive a further report from the Secretary General on human rights issues in the country.
The Committee of Ministers is also following closely the political situation in Moldova. In this context, I am disappointed, of course, that owing to insufficient turnout, the constitutional referendum on 5 September failed to resolve the political deadlock in the country. It is encouraging to note, however, that the electoral process has genuinely improved and that the voting took place in a calm and democratic manner.
I would strongly urge the Moldovan authorities to continue making full use of the Council of Europe’s assistance, so that the early parliamentary elections to be held on 28 November are likewise conducted in a free and fair manner. I welcome the fact that your Assembly will again observe these elections. I will be travelling to Chisinau in person in the next few days (11 and 12 October) to talk with the Moldovan authorities and representatives of the various political forces, in view of these elections.
I would also like to draw your attention today to the new milestones that have been reached recently with regard to Kosovo1. I am extremely pleased that on 9 September last, the UN General Assembly adopted a joint Serbian-EU resolution on Kosovo1, calling on Belgrade and Pristina to engage in “dialogue”.
It is important that this dialogue should move forward, so as to create a climate of trust between the two sides. The challenge is considerable but I am confident that it can be met.
The Council of Europe can make a positive contribution to this process by providing support on the ground, through its standards and instruments, for the respect of human rights, in particular the rights of minorities, but also for cultural and religious diversity and local self-government.
The news is less good as regards Belarus, where several death sentences have been issued or upheld recently, to my profound regret. I am pleased, however, that on 23 September a Council of Europe round table was held in Minsk on the abolition of the death penalty. I hope that despite the court decisions mentioned, moves will soon be made to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.
I would also like to mention the presidential elections due to take place on 19 December 2010 in Belarus. These will also be an opportunity for the Belarus authorities to move closer to the Council of Europe’s democratic values. I wish to express my firm hope that in the campaign leading up to these elections, individual freedoms – in particular freedom of association and assembly and also media freedom – will be fully guaranteed, so as to ensure an electoral competition that is completely free and fair. I welcome the invitation extended by Belarus to the OSCE/ODIHR and the CIS to observe the elections, although I note that an invitation was not extended to this Assembly.
To round off this part of my statement, I would like to touch briefly on the reform under way at the Council of Europe. In all the countries and geographical areas that I have just mentioned, the Council can claim to play an effective role only if it has the necessary resources on the ground to successfully provide the assistance that is expected of it. I therefore welcome the Committee of Ministers’ recent adoption of the terms of reference of the Council of Europe offices in the member and non-member states. The task now is to set up these offices.
Ladies and gentlemen.
We have already organised, in September, and we will continue to organise, in the coming weeks, various events on topics that we consider important for the future of Europe.
Promoting the participation of young people in public life figures prominently among our priorities. The city of Ohrid, for example, provided the setting for a South-East Europe youth gathering, held on 10 and 11 September. The gathering aimed at identifying ways of promoting effective youth participation in democratic and decision-making processes in the region, based on Council of Europe principles. The Ohrid process launched at the gathering will, we hope, help to stimulate youth participation at local, national and regional levels. The participants at this gathering adopted the “Ohrid Process Declaration on Youth and Decision –Making: Towards Greater Inclusion and Ownership” reaffirming once again the political determination of the SEE countries to contribute to furthering the democratic development of the region through greater youth inclusion. This Declaration also opened the path towards further consideration of the idea of gradual foundation of Youth Council for SEE.
As you know, my country has a long tradition of harmonious co-existence of various cultures and religions, so our Chairmanship attaches great importance to promoting respect for diversity and the development of intercultural dialogue.
Accordingly, on 13 and 14 September 2010, Ohrid played host to another gathering - the Council of Europe 2010 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. I was delighted, Mr President, to have the opportunity to welcome you personally to this event. This year, the Exchange focused on “the role of the media in fostering multicultural dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding”, freedom of expression in the media and respect for cultural and religious diversity. The discussions centred on the difficult balance between freedom of expression and responsibilities, but also on the importance of Council of Europe values and standards with regard to the media, religions and non-religious convictions, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the Court.
The interreligious and intercultural dialogue is in the focus of the Alliance of Civilizations. At its recent meeting of the “Group of Friends” in New York, I stressed the areas where the CoE and AoC could create greater synergies.
Promoting the social values of cultural heritage in Europe was addressed at the conference of ministers of culture of the Council of Europe in Skopje on 24 and 25 September. The aim of this conference was to encourage the conservation and sustainable development of cultural heritage and its diversity through promotion and evaluation measures introduced under the “Skopje Agenda” and by drawing on Council of Europe conventions in the heritage sphere.
The Conference was an occasion to promote the publications of the “White paper on Intercultural dialogue” of the Council of Europe in Macedonian language and for the first time in Romani language.
Allow me to conclude by expressing my sincere thanks for the excellent manner in which you yourself, Mr President, and your Assembly as a whole have co-operated with our Chairmanship these past few months. I sincerely believe that we have contributed to the topical issues dealt within our organisation. The integrative approach of our Chairmanship’s priorities and the events organised in my country take care of the ever changing reality in Europe, of the complexity of our societies and the new developments that call for an integrative approach in upgrading the protection of human rights including social and minority rights. Through the various activities during the six months of our Chairmanship I hope that we will contribute to the strengthening of the “soft security” of Europe which is among the objectives of the reform process of the Council of Europe. Rest assured that my country will keep up its commitment to the Council of Europe and that it will support the countries that succeed it in the Chair of the Committee of Ministers.
I thank you for your attention and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Note All reference to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.
Note 1 All reference to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.