on the occasion of the
third part of the 2011 Ordinary Session
of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly
(Strasbourg, 20-24 June 2011)
(Extract of the verbatim records)
Ms LEUTHEUSSER-SCHNARRENBERGER (Federal Minister of Justice of Germany) said it was a particular privilege to address the Parliamentary Assembly as Minister for Justice and she thanked members for their invitation. As a former member of the Parliamentary Assembly between 2003 and 2009, she continued to feel close to the work of the Assembly.
The Council of Europe had an important role in the defence of human rights and was often involved in individual cases across the 47 member states. The Council of Europe often did more for victims of human rights abuses than could be achieved through bi-lateral negotiations. It was often able to flag up topical problems earlier than other international bodies. There was no another organisation outside of Strasbourg that was as efficient at dealing with emerging cases. The two reports being discussed today made that very point. However, the recommendations of the reports would be made that much stronger if they were taken up by national parliaments. This was because national parliaments implemented policies on the ground and held governments to account. Parliaments were also responsible for putting international commitments into national law. Here, the Parliamentary Assembly had a particular role: it had the opportunity to influence Europe’s governments and remind them of their duties.
The Parliamentary Assembly was more of a political body than the European Court of Human Rights. In a recent case before the ECHR, the judgment stated that political conclusions might justifiably be drawn from a situation even if they were not grounds for a court ruling. However, both the Parliamentary Assembly and ECHR could deal with issues credibly only if they had efficient structures. The planned accession of the EU to the ECHR would benefit both institutions. For Germany, that was of crucial importance. Accession to the existing system would result in very little change: it would not change the EU in substance and would not harm it. Reform of the co-defence mechanism and the system for election of European Court judges would create a basis for the appropriately balanced system of human rights to continue to operate. Reform of the ECHR, the so-called Interlaken process, due to be completed by 2012, would play its part in adjusting the structure of the Court to enable it to consider an ever-increasing number of cases. It would ensure the sustainable operation of the Court, which was the jewel in the crown of the Council of Europe.
The ECHR was often the last chance for many European citizens to obtain justice. It counteracted deficits in national judicial systems and remedied their human rights failings. It was clear that access to the ECHR should not be restricted by the pecuniary position of its plaintiffs. Even a filter on the system of appeals must be fair and transparent because greater access to proceedings could only strengthen the Court and the protection of human rights that it afforded.
The Assembly’s work on the rule of law for human rights was demonstrated very clearly. Monitoring the functions of the Council of Europe was, sine qua non, one of the Assembly’s strengths. The Assembly’s reports on whistleblowers, blacklists, and the abduction of presumed terrorists showed that the Assembly was there to ensure human rights for all. The difficulties of this work was reflected in the lives of rapporteurs, but the Assembly never gave up, it just rolled up its sleeves and got to work.
The Council of Europe had shown admirable foresight in anticipating political developments, for example, in the area of data protection. Convention 108, which had celebrated its 30th anniversary on 28 January, had been a precursor for many developments in Europe, including in Germany. The convention had set out clear standards regarding the auto-processing of personal data which were now written into the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Awareness and sensitivity on this issue was growing and individuals needed to have a greater say in how their personal data were used, particularly for promotional and advertising purposes.
The Internet was not a lawless area. Some things were prohibited; for example sexual images of children, and, of course, the Council of Europe had taken up this cause. These images should be removed from the Internet and Germany had already decided to do so. It had been decided to work towards the elimination of such images rather than to simply create barriers to accessing them.
The ways in which people asserted their rights was changing but the ongoing work of the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights to ensure these rights was of continued importance. She was certain that members would be among the first voices to call for justice for the victims of human rights abuses and that they would call their governments to account.