CM/AS(2010)3 22 April 2010
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Report by the Swiss Chair of the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly
(February – April 2010)
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Execution of judgments
Rule of law and judicial co-operation
Democracy / Good governance
Education, culture, youth and sport
Enhanced dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly
Co-operation with the United Nations, OSCE and the European Union
1. The three months which have elapsed since the Swiss Chairmanship last reported to the Parliamentary Assembly on the activities of the Committee of Ministers have been a very busy period in terms of both implementation of the Chairmanship's priorities and preparations for the 120th ministerial session, which is to be held in Strasbourg on 11 May 2010. The present report provides a summary of the decisions taken and the activities carried out.
2. The Swiss Chairmanship is actively preparing for the 120th ministerial session and the decisions to be taken on that occasion, in co-operation with "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia". The session will begin with a formal sitting in the morning, during which decisions will be taken on the Organisation's work in the following fields: follow-up of the Interlaken Conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights; Council of Europe action following the conflict in Georgia; the Council of Europe reform process; and relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union. The formal sitting will be followed by an informal working lunch, restricted to the Ministers, during which there will be a discussion on the theme of the "strategic role and responsibility of the Council of Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina".
3. Following the High-Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights held in Interlaken on 18 and 19 February 2010 under the Swiss Chairmanship, which was geared to relaunching the Council of Europe member states’ commitment to guaranteeing the rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers took note with satisfaction of the Interlaken Declaration as unanimously adopted. The Committee of Ministers has decided to direct the Interlaken process as a whole, and has accordingly established an open ad hoc working group under its authority. This group has already held two meetings (13 and 23 April 2010).
4. The working group was first invited to complete the examination of the existing proposals from the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) for measures which do not require amendments to the Convention, as well as those set out in the Interlaken Declaration, with an eye to submitting, in due time, possible draft decisions to the 120th Session of the Committee of Ministers (11 May 2010). The Committee of Ministers has taken note of a document from the Secretary General on the procedure for implementing the Interlaken Declaration as a whole, and has invited the working group to take account of this document in its work. It has also invited the group to plan its work in such a way as to ensure that the deadlines set out in the Interlaken Declaration can be observed. The Parliamentary Assembly and the Court, the Commissioner for Human Rights and other Council of Europe bodies will be invited to attend the working group’s meetings, as appropriate. The group will also closely liaise with the CDDH and the Liaison Committee with the European Court of Human Rights (CL-CEDH).
5. The Swiss Chairmanship welcomes the forthcoming entry into force of Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, on 1 June 2010, which will greatly contribute to its priority of ensuring the future of the European Court of Human Rights. This protocol will also enable the European Union to accede to the Convention following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, thus enlarging the scope of this vital instrument.
6. In connection with the accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Committee of Ministers has taken note of the exchange of views in the CDDH on the organisation of future work, while reiterating the importance of initiating this work as quickly as possible. It has decided to resume examination of this matter in the light of the proposals to be put forward by the Bureau of the CDDH.
7. In March, the Committee of Ministers adopted a major recommendation on effective remedies for excessive length of proceedings. This initiative followed on from the declarations by the Heads of State and Government of the member states of the Council of Europe at their Third Summit in Warsaw in May 2005, when they voiced their determination to ensure that effective domestic remedies exist for anyone with an arguable complaint of a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
8. The Committee of Ministers has also adopted a Recommendation on the human rights of members of the armed forces, and has decided to review the implementation of the recommendation in two years’ time.
9. A third Recommendation recently adopted by the Committee of Ministers concerns measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This Recommendation, which is based on the standards set out in international instruments, particularly the European Convention on Human Rights, is a major step forward in the process of implementing all the fundamental rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. It is the first legal text in the world dealing explicitly with one of the most tenacious and intractable forms of discrimination. The Committee of Ministers has decided to review the implementation of this recommendation three years after its adoption.
10. In April, the Committee of Ministers considered the situation in Council of Europe member states vis-à-vis the abolition of the death penalty. It welcomed the decision by the Russian Constitutional Court to prolong the moratorium on the death penalty indefinitely, and reiterated the firm and urgent appeal to the Russian Federation, the only member state which has not yet abolished the death penalty, to take all the necessary steps as quickly as possible to transform the existing moratorium on the death penalty into a de jure abolition of capital punishment and ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers welcomed the recent Spanish ratification of Protocol No. 13, and urged the states which had not yet signed or ratified this Protocol to do so as soon as possible.
11. Under the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, a Conference entitled “Safeguarding media freedom in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine” was organised in Tbilisi on 15 and 16 April 2010. Public authority representatives, parliamentarians, media professionals and NGO representatives met to discuss the security and protection of journalists, the challenges to freedom of expression and changes in the media field arising from new technology. The main goal of this event was to discuss how to promote freedom of expression and information in the aforementioned countries, in keeping with the standards and recommendations of the Council of Europe.
Execution of judgments
12. In the area of the Execution of Judgments, the Ministers’ Deputies met on 2-4 March (1078th meeting). Among the decisions taken, the Committee adopted Interim Resolutions in which it took note of measures taken by Portugal in respect of the problem of the excessive length of proceedings and by the Russian Federation with regard to detention conditions on remand. It also adopted an Interim Resolution in the case of Xenides-Arestis against Turkey in which it urged the Turkish authorities to pay to the applicant without delay the sum due in respect of just satisfaction.
13. In the case of Hirst No. 2 against the United Kingdom, which concerns the denial of electoral rights to convicted prisoners, the Committee among other things reiterated their serious concern that a failure to implement the Court’s judgment before the forthcoming general election in the United Kingdom and the increasing number of persons affected by the restriction could result in similar violations affecting a significant category of persons, giving rise to a substantial risk of repetitive applications to the European Court and strongly urged the authorities rapidly to adopt measures, even of an interim nature, to ensure the execution of the Court’s judgment before the election.
14. The Deputies also adopted the text of their Annual Report for 2009 on the execution of the Court’s judgments. This report will be available to members of the Parliamentary Assembly at the present part-Session.
Rule of law and judicial co-operation
15. In one area of its priorities, the continuing promotion of the rule of law throughout Europe, since the beginning of its Chairmanship, Switzerland has consistently underlined the need to reinforce the capacity of Council of Europe member states to implement the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the Court. To this end, particular emphasis has been laid on the functioning of the justice system in each of the member states. The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), whose statutory objectives include facilitating the improved application of the Council of Europe's international legal instruments concerning the efficiency and equity of justice, plays an essential role here. It has developed guidelines for a better implementation of Recommendation Rec(2003)17 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on enforcement. The Committee of Ministers took note of these guidelines and invited member states to ensure their broad dissemination to policy-makers and courts. The Committee of Ministers also took note of the CEPEJ's programme of activities for 2010 and of its medium-term programme. A meeting of the CEPEJ, hosted by the Swiss Chairmanship, was held in Geneva from 12 to 14 April 2010.
16. In March, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Protocol amending the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (CETS No. 127). This convention is a joint instrument of the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The Committee of Ministers therefore agreed, subject to a corresponding decision by the Council of the OECD, to open the amending protocol for signature on the occasion of the OECD Ministerial Council meeting “From policy driven recovery to sustained growth” (Paris, 27-28 May 2010). The Committee of Ministers thanks the Parliamentary Assembly for the significant role it played in the elaboration of this treaty.
17. The Committee of Ministers welcomed the adoption of the work programme of the Consultative Committee of the Convention for the Protection of Individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data (ETS No. 108) (T-PD) and encouraged the T-PD to start preparing a draft additional protocol to the Convention. It also encouraged the T-PD to increase co-operation with the European Union in the field of promotion of international standards for personal data protection and to seek its support for encouraging non-member states to accede to this convention. Further, the Committee of Ministers joined the position of the T-PD that Data Protection Day should be 28 January and encouraged member states to organise awareness-raising activities at regional and national level.
18. The Deputies agreed to Mexico's request to join the Enlarged Agreement establishing the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and invited this country to appoint a member to sit on the Commission. The Swiss Chairmanship notes with satisfaction that since 2002, when the Venice Commission became an enlarged agreement, allowing non-European countries to be full members, nine other states have acceded: Kyrgyzstan (2004), Chile (2005), the Republic of Korea (2006), Morocco and Algeria (2007), Israel and Tunisia (2008), Peru and Brazil (2009). The most recent accessions have increased the number of member states to 57.
Democracy / Good governance
19. In February the Ministers' Deputies examined the results of the 16th Session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, which had taken place in Utrecht (Netherlands) on 16 and 17 November 2009. They agreed to consider at one of their forthcoming meetings the question of the possible establishment of a partnership between the Committee of Ministers and the Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government. They also instructed the European Committee on Local and Regional Democracy (CDLR) to assist Spain's Minister of Territorial Policy, Mr Chaves, with ensuring the continuity of the Ministers' work until the next session of the conference. Lastly, they forwarded the Utrecht Declaration to the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.
20. The current process of evaluation of the Forum for the Future of Democracy is being regularly monitored by the Deputies' Rapporteur Group on Democracy (GR-DEM).
21. In the framework of the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, an International Conference on Democracy and Decentralisation will be held on 3 and 4 May 2010 at the University of St. Gallen (Switzerland). This conference will provide a platform for participants to deepen and share experiences on different aspects of democracy, decentralisation and participation. An essay competition for students has been launched in the context of the Conference.
22. Where health is concerned, the Committee of Ministers recently adopted a Recommendation to member states on good governance in health systems, which advocates a mode of governance based on the fundamental values of human rights and human dignity, and on the principles of fairness, responsibility and transparency. The Recommendations is also geared to preventing corruption and improving the management of conflicts of interest.
23. Also in the health field, a conference was held in Basle on 15 and 16 April under the Swiss Chairmanship on the subject of counterfeit medical products. This international conference was designed to step up action against counterfeit medical projects and similar offences in Europe and worldwide by providing the requisite support for implementing the future Convention on this subject (MEDICRIME), and to encourage international co-operation. The Council of Europe’s Convention on Convention on counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health is currently being examined by the Committee of Ministers with a view to its adoption on 11 May 2010 and opening for signature on 25 November 2010 during the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice in Istanbul (Turkey).
24. In February 2010, in connection with promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, the Committee of Ministers adopted a recommendation on deinstitutionalisation and community living of children with disabilities. The Recommendation points out that placing children in institutionalised forms of care raises serious concerns as to its compatibility with the exercise of children’s rights. It recommends that no child should be institutionalised, except in exceptional circumstances.
25. Lastly, at the end of March the Committee of Ministers adopted a reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1850 (2008) on Europe's “boat-people”: mixed migration flows by sea into southern Europe.
Education, culture, youth and sport
26. Since late January 2010, a number of developments have occurred in this area of Council of Europe activity about which the Chairmanship would like to inform the Assembly. One is the accession of Kazakhstan to the European Cultural Convention (ETS No. 18) on 5 March 2010, after the favourable decision in principle taken by the Ministers' Deputies had become final on 19 February 2010. This accession made it possible for Kazakhstan to join the European Higher Education Area as the 47th signatory to the "Bologna Process".
27. On 24 February 2010, the Ministers' Deputies considered the follow-up to be given to Recommendation 1893 (2009) of the Parliamentary Assembly on "the future of the European Centre for Global Interdependence and Solidarity (North-South Centre)"1. In this context, they invited the Secretary General to give his opinion on the possible revision of the Statutory Resolution on the North-South Centre, on the basis of the proposals contained in Recommendation 1893 (2009) and in the light of the overall process of reform of the Council of Europe. They also forwarded the recommendation to the various stakeholders of the North-South Centre for opinion. The Committee of Ministers will subsequently resume consideration of this subject in the light of the comments submitted to it, and will issue a reply to the recommendation.
28. In the sphere of the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, the Committee of Ministers is continuing its preparations for the holding of the forthcoming Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which is to take place on 13 and 14 September 2010 in Ohrid, at the invitation of the incoming Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, on the theme of "The role of the media in fostering intercultural dialogue, tolerance and mutual understanding: freedom of expression of the media and respect towards cultural and religious diversity".
29. Switzerland, which lies at a crossroads of cultural and linguistic traditions, takes a keen interest in the drafting of cultural policies in Europe and in the democratic management of cultural diversity. It was in this spirit that, on 9 and 10 April 2010, it hosted, in Zurich, the annual meeting of authors, editors and advisers who contribute to the Council of Europe's Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, a public forum for discussion of issues relating to cultural diversity and human and cultural rights.
30. Furthermore, Switzerland attaches great importance to the work of the Council of Europe in the field of education for democratic citizenship and human rights, which makes progress possible towards the achievement of the Organisation's fundamental objectives. It therefore, in the context of its Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, gave its full support to the Conference on "Learning and Living Democracy for All", held in Strasbourg on 15 and 16 April 2010. Amongst those who attended this event were representatives of the States Parties to the European Cultural Convention, policy-makers and professionals from the field of education and representatives of civil society, who took stock of the results of the 2006-2009 phase of the programme and planned further developments of co-operation in the field of education for democratic citizenship and human rights. In this respect, the Chairmanship informs the Assembly that the Committee of Ministers will shortly be examining, with a view to its adoption at the 120th ministerial session, a recommendation to member States on the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education.
31. During the reference period, the Committee of Ministers continued to give particular attention to the situation in south-eastern Europe and the South Caucasus.
32. Where south-eastern Europe is concerned, the Deputies adopted a reply in March to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1894 (2010) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In this reply, they inter alia drew attention to the importance of bringing the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina into line as quickly as possible with the European Convention on Human Rights, drawing on the expertise of the Venice Commission. This matter is being followed by the Committee of Ministers in the context of its supervision of execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić and Finci case. It will be re-examined by the Committee of Ministers on the occasion of its next human rights (DH) meeting in June 2010. In view of the general situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it has been decided to make this the main theme of the ministerial session to be held on 11 May 2010.
33. Furthermore, the Deputies' Rapporteur Group on Democracy (GR-DEM) in April reviewed the situation of co-operation between the Council of Europe and Moldova. On this subject, it is recalled that the Deputies in January approved a "democracy package" intended to assist Moldova with the reform and consolidation of its democratic institutions, as well as a number of confidence-building measures for the Transnistrian region. A draft implementation plan for these confidence-building measures has been presented to the GR-DEM.
34. Where the South Caucasus is concerned, the Ministers' Deputies in February examined a report2 on a visit made by a delegation of their Monitoring Group (GT-SUIVI.Ago) to Armenia and Azerbaijan in November 2009. While welcoming the progress made by both countries towards the fulfilment of their respective commitments and obligations to the Council of Europe, they encouraged them to make further progress, paying particular attention to the structural reforms which remain to be completed and to carrying these out in such important areas as election legislation and practice, the independence of the judiciary, the fight against corruption, media freedom, democratic oversight of the police and local self-government. They reaffirmed the Council of Europe's willingness to continue to give assistance to this end. Lastly, they instructed their Monitoring Group to continue to follow the progress made by Armenia and Azerbaijan, through a close and inclusive dialogue with the authorities of the two countries, while undertaking an in-depth evaluation of its action which will be submitted to them for consideration before the next visit of the Group.
35. Furthermore, the Deputies in March approved a programme of pre-electoral assistance with a view to the parliamentary elections to be held in Azerbaijan in November 2010.
36. As far as Georgia is concerned, in the light of a Secretariat report3 on the progress achieved by this country in fulfilling its commitments and obligations as a Council of Europe member State, the Deputies welcomed the progress made in the implementation of reforms intended to promote the protection of human rights, the rule of law and the functioning of democratic institutions. At the same time, they pointed out that it was important for the local elections scheduled for May 2010 to take place in conformity with the relevant European and international standards, and called on the Georgian authorities to continue their efforts, particularly in respect of the functioning of democratic institutions and the promotion of political dialogue between government and opposition. They also invited the Georgian authorities to make full use of the Council of Europe's assistance in carrying out further reform in areas such as the electoral and constitutional sphere, the judiciary, prisons and policy on national minorities, including accession to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Finally, they welcomed the steps taken by the Georgian authorities towards fully honouring their commitment on the return of the deported Meskhetian population, while inviting them to make further use of the Council of Europe’s assistance in this matter.
37. On the subject of follow-up action to the August 2008 conflict, the Deputies in February adopted a reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1869 (2009) on the "humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia: follow-up given to Resolution 1648 (2009)". Furthermore, restating the previous decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers, the Deputies in March invited the Secretary General to prepare a consolidated report on the human rights situation following the conflict in Georgia and on Council of Europe action in this regard.
38. In respect of the Russian Federation, the Deputies took note in March of the activities planned under the co-operation programme between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation for the Chechen Republic in 2010. This programme, devised in co-operation with the Office of the Ombudsman for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, takes account of the questions raised in the relevant reports by Council of Europe bodies, including the Parliamentary Assembly and the Commissioner for Human Rights. The programme will be centred in 2010 on the dissemination to senior law enforcement officials, judges, lawyers and prison staff in the Chechen Republic and to members of civil society of knowledge about the Council of Europe's standards relating to the protection of human rights and access to justice, as well as about the development of local self-government and good local governance.
39. Finally, on the subject of Belarus, the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers strongly condemns the two executions carried out in that country in March. As the Chair of the Committee of Ministers emphasised in her joint statement with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General, use of the death penalty must stop immediately. Development of co-operation with the Council of Europe depends on a clear signal in this respect being sent by the authorities of Belarus.
40. The Secretary General presented his proposals for Priorities for 2011 on 21 April. At their 1083rd meeting, the Ministers’ Deputies welcomed the presentation of the Secretary General’s proposals for priorities for 2011 as well as the progress of the implementation of the reform process. They approved the general thrust of his proposals to rationalise the Council of Europe’s external presence and endorsed the new structure for the presentation of the programme and budget of the Organisation for 2011. They will continue discussions at their forthcoming meeting.
Enhanced dialogue between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly
41. Following its approval by the Assembly at the March Standing Committee, the Deputies adopted the joint interpretative statement on the rules and procedures for the future elections of the Secretary General at their 1080th meeting (24 and 26 March 2010). The Bureau of the Committee of Ministers met with the Presidential Committee on 18 March in Paris with a view to the Secretary General’s report on an array of suggested measures to enhance dialogue and co-operation between the two statutory organs, to be prepared not later than October 2010. The Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers has also invited the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Deputies to meet on 26 April to continue discussions on ongoing cooperation between the two organs.
Co-operation with the United Nations, OSCE and the European Union
42. On 20 April, in the field of co-operation with the European Union, the Ministers' Deputies held an exchange of views with Mr Diego López Garrido, Spanish State Secretary responsible for European Affairs, as representative of the Spanish Presidency of the European Union. Furthermore, the Ministers' Deputies’ Rapporteur Group on External Relations (GR-EXT) held another exchange of views on 22 April with Ambassador Torbjørn Frøysnes, Special Representative of the Secretary General and Director of the Council of Europe Liaison Office with the European Union. A report on the state of co-operation between the two organisations will be presented at the Ministerial Session on 11 May next.
43. In connection with the United Nations, the annual exchange of views on human rights issues dealt with by this body was held in February 2010, with the participation of experts from the capitals. The discussions held during this exchange concerned the developments and main results of the 64th session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations in the human rights field, in 2009, and the major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2010. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers is shortly to begin preparing a new draft biannual resolution on co-operation between the United Nation and the Council of Europe with a view to submitting a text for adoption by the UN General Assembly in autumn.
44. As regards co-operation between the Council of Europe and OSCE, a high-level “2+2” meeting took place between the chairs and secretariats of both organisations in Geneva on 5 March 2010. The discussions centred on present and future co-operation between the Council of Europe and OSCE, their respective priorities and co-operation on the ground. Regarding action against trafficking in human beings, which is of particular interest to the Parliamentary Assembly, the participants expressed their backing for the current efforts to find new modes of co-operation. They advocated intensified information exchange, with respect for the specific duties of the Council of Europe bodies working in this field (the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the Committee of Parties to the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings) and of the OSCE Special Representative and Co-ordinator of Action against human trafficking. Among the other subjects addressed were the recent visits by the Presidents of both organisations to Georgia. The importance was stressed of stepping up the international presence on the ground following the August 2008 conflict and ensuring untrammelled access to the areas affected by the conflict in order to reinforce security and stability and of promoting humanitarian assistance and human rights.
45. Furthermore, the co-ordination group set up to monitor the progress of co-operation with OSCE held a fresh meeting in Strasbourg on 1 March 2010, centring on protecting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. On the former point, the group welcomed the regular and pragmatic co-operation conducted, ranging from information exchange to consultations, through the organisation of common events. It also welcomed the co-operation between the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities and the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. In the field of promoting tolerance and non-discrimination, the group welcomed the excellent co-operation between the Council of Europe and OSCE in practical terms, particularly between ECRI and the ODIHR.
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46. Switzerland will present to the May ministerial session a full report on the achievements of its Chairmanship and the implementation of its priorities during this six-month period now nearing its end. The weeks ahead will be marked by intensive preparations for the 120th session of the Committee of Ministers, at which the Ministers will have an opportunity to find out about the important work done by the Organisation in the course of the year since their previous session in May 2009. It is Switzerland's hope that a large number of Ministers will attend and that productive discussions will take place. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly will be invited to take part in the ministerial session, the conclusions of which will be presented to the Assembly during its third part-session, in June, in the communication by the forthcoming Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.
47. Although the end of its Chairmanship is drawing near, Switzerland will remain committed to the Council of Europe and to the general process of European construction over the months and years ahead. We are confident that the countries which will succeed us in the Chair of the Committee of Ministers will carry out their task energetically and efficiently, and they can be assured of our wholehearted support.
1 Member States of the North-South Centre: Cyprus, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.
2 See document CM(2009)180, which has been forwarded by the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly.
3 See document SG/Inf(2010)1.