Ministers’ Deputies

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CM/AS(2011)4       15 April 2011

Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

Address by Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 12 April 2011)

I welcome this new opportunity to address your Assembly, just a few weeks before the Ministerial Session marking the high point of our chairmanship, on 11 May.

Some months ago, I spoke to you about our determination, which I believe is shared by all member states, to restore our Organisation to its rightful place on the European scene, firmly convinced of the relevance of its values.

Recent developments have since shown that those values are more central than ever to peoples’ expectations. The important events of recent months on the southern shores of the Mediterranean and the Middle East have been an eloquent reminder. Among others, they provide an opportunity for us in the Council of Europe to forge a strong partnership founded on trust with those countries, in our common interest and benefit. We must not miss that opportunity. In fact, we have a duty to do what is within our power and remit to help those who are showing a desire for freedom and the will to live in a democratic society which respects human rights and the rule of law.

Given the Council of Europe's expertise in these areas, I paid a visit to Tunisia in February with Secretary General Jagland, with a view to offering our Organisation's assistance for establishing a democratic transition process, fully respecting the sovereignty of the country. I am delighted to see that our proposals were well received and have taken a tangible form.

In mid-March, a delegation from the Council of Europe's Venice Commission travelled to Tunisia, where it laid down the bases, with the competent authorities, for co-operation regarding future constitutional and electoral reforms. Encouraged by the member states, the Turkish Chairmanship is providing both political and financial support for that co-operation.

Beyond the question of Tunisia, the Committee of Ministers has engaged in a broader discussion on establishing a coherent strategy for a neighbourhood policy. The core mandate of the Council of Europe is and will remain geographically focused on Europe. But in today’s increasingly globalised world, we cannot simply be indifferent to the regions around us. Withdrawing into ourselves cannot be the solution. On the contrary, it is by paying closer attention to Europe's neighbourhood that the Organisation's mission can better be fulfilled.

In this context, the ramifications for our member States of a possible mass arrival of asylum seekers from the regions affected are of particular importance. What the Council of Europe could and should do in such a situation has already been on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers. On 3 March, the Ministers’ Deputies considered the question at the initiative of the Secretary General. Two important points were stressed: on the one hand, the priority that should be given to respect for the human rights of those who have fled or might flee the southern Mediterranean to seek asylum in Europe; and on the other hand, consideration for the legitimate interests of the member States. In this context, the principles of solidarity and burden-sharing between member States were emphasised, as well as the need for coordination with the other international stakeholders concerned.

I myself had the opportunity to stress the importance of coordinating the efforts made at the level of the European institutions during talks in Brussels on 4 March, with the First Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative of the European Union, Catherine Ashton, together with Secretary General Jagland.

On a separate note, the high-level dialogue meeting of the two organisations with Ms Ashton, which took place in a very constructive atmosphere, was also an opportunity to discuss a number of topics of common interest, in particular, co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, as well as the prospects regarding accession by the Union to the European Convention on Human Rights.

I am pleased to see your Assembly taking the same approach geared to support and assistance for the emerging democracies on the southern shores of the Mediterranean and also those in the Middle East and Central Asia. Through the "partner for democracy" status, you are offering those countries access to the activities of the Assembly in exchange for their commitment to progress towards the values advocated by the Council of Europe.

The issues I have just raised and other topics too, will be on the agenda of the Ministerial Session which we are organising in Istanbul on 10-11 May.

In particular, we are convinced that the Council of Europe has a leading role to play in fostering conditions for living together as harmoniously as possible in our European pluralist societies. Europe must make its cultural, linguistic, religious and social diversity a strength and a catalyst for sparking energy, rather than a source of division or even confrontation. As I stressed in my previous address to your Plenary in last January, intolerance and extremism are on the rise everywhere. On the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 21st March, I expressed my strong confidence in the Council of Europe’s determination to pursue its work, through all the means at its disposal, to ensure that no one is subjected to discrimination or exposed to hatred because of their race, colour, sex, language, religion, origin or other motives.

In this process, the ECRI, being the only monitoring body established in Europe to monitor combating racism and racial discrimination, which are unfortunately still prevalent in European societies, deserves our special tribute. Within its limited resources and secretariat, the ECRI strives to carry out its important mandate. We all should support its valuable activities.

In today’s world, peoples become increasingly the target of discrimination and intolerance leading to hatred and violence just because they are perceived as different. As I said in January, we, the Council of Europe members, cannot just stand idly by and we have not indeed. In this context, we expect the report of the Group of Eminent Persons on "Living together in 21st century Europe - pan-European project", which will be presented during the Ministerial Session in Istanbul, to deliver innovative proposals to guide the action which the Council of Europe might take in the future to promote the values of tolerance, respect and mutual understanding.

I know that the Assembly has a keen interest in this question and I congratulate you on the initiative in bringing together a number of eminent guests from the religious world today to debate the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. I understand that the debate this morning was lively and enriching. Promoting mutual knowledge and respect, built on common values of human rights, must mobilise all efforts within this Organisation and its member States.

The second major item on the agenda of the Ministerial Session will be the future of the European Court of Human Rights. As you know, we are organising a high-level Conference on this topic in Izmir, on 26 and 27 April.

Through that conference, our main goal is to further the reform process which was launched by the Interlaken Conference in February 2010. The present difficulties challenging the long-term effectiveness of the control mechanism set up by the European Convention on Human Rights are our common concern. The Izmir Conference will be the venue, inter alia, firstly, to take stock, in accordance with the Interlaken Action Plan, of the proposals that do not require amendments to the Convention and, secondly, having also regard to recent developments, to take requisite measures to continue the reform process. The conclusions of the Izmir Conference will be examined and given the appropriate follow-up at the Istanbul Ministerial Session in the form of concrete decisions.

We very much hope that the Izmir Conference will identify such measures which, in a comprehensive manner, will contribute to providing an effective and lasting response to the recurrent and even growing problem of the volume of cases pending before the Court so that the effectiveness of the Convention mechanism can be further strengthened.

Another project to which the Turkish Chairmanship is greatly attached is the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”. Thanks also to the opinion issued through the diligence of your Standing Committee, work on this important convention was finalised in time and we were able to adopt the convention last week. The convention will be opened for signature at the Ministerial Session in Istanbul.

I would like to take this opportunity to laud the Assembly's very active involvement in different campaigns mounted by the Council of Europe, whether combating violence against women or acting against trafficking in human beings or protecting children's rights. The Assembly has a key role to play, particularly in raising awareness of the importance of ratifying and implementing Council of Europe conventions in the relevant circles in member States.

The Istanbul Ministerial will also provide an opportunity for an initial assessment of follow-up to the Strasbourg Declaration on Roma. In this connection, the Chairmanship welcomes the operational measures taken by the Secretary General, in particular the recent launch of a project to train Roma mediators in Council of Europe countries. We await the interim report which he will present in Istanbul.

In view of the importance of the topics on the Istanbul Ministerial’s agenda, high-level participation will be all the more important as we expect the Ministerial to reaffirm the Council of Europe's unique political role as a pan-European forum for devising common responses to the numerous challenges facing our member States.

The Committee of Ministers pays particular attention to the development of the reform process of the Council of Europe, an issue to which the Assembly is also committed and holds its interest. I know that a discussion on this question was held at the last meeting of the Joint Committee, in January this year. Since then work has progressed and on 6 April, the Secretary General presented detailed proposals for priorities for the Programme and Budget for 2012-2013 to the Ministers’ Deputies. More in depth discussions on these proposals will continue in the coming weeks.

Turning now to current political questions, a number of issues continue to retain the attention of the Committee of Ministers. In particular I would like to mention the question of Belarus. Unfortunately, since I last addressed you, there has been no progress towards adopting the values upheld by the Council of Europe. This situation leads only to the widening of the gap between Belarus and the rest of the democratic European family.

Despite this difficult situation, we do not want to close the door on that country. We still hope that Belarus will join the family of European countries brought together around the values championed by the Council of Europe and that it will give tangible signs of willingness to this end.

I would also like to say a few words on the political situation in Albania. At the request of the Central Electoral Commission of Albania, the Committee of Ministers approved a scheme to assist with the preparation of local elections to be held in May. I very much hope that these elections will take place in a calm atmosphere. I once again appeal to the sense of responsibility of all Albania's political movements in order to settle their differences through dialogue.

Another situation we are closely following is that of Bosnia and Herzegovina. You yourself visited that country last month, Mr President, and I wish to pay tribute to your commitment and efforts aimed at the main political stakeholders there.

Unfortunately, no central government has been formed since the elections of October 2010. This political stalemate can only be harmful to the country's stability and prosperity. It is important that the political forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina mobilise their efforts in a constructive manner and assume their responsibility to fill this gap without further delay.

Finally, the follow-up to the August 2008 conflict in Georgia remains on the Committee of Ministers’ political agenda. Last week, the Secretary General presented his new six-month report. The report gives a detailed picture of the situation on the ground, reviewing the activities carried out by the Council of Europe. As I already indicated during my presentation last January, the Committee of Ministers’ Chairmanship hopes that these activities will continue to develop for the benefit of all individuals in need as victims of the conflict.

Before I conclude, I would also like to refer to the events which we have organised and supported since the end of January, within the framework of our Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers.

We have focused in particular on the strengthening of the Council of Europe's monitoring mechanisms. In this connection, we organised a seminar last February in Istanbul, together with Commissioner for Human Rights Thomas Hammarberg, on the human rights dimension of migration in Europe. This provided an opportunity to debate the main divergences between migration law and practice in Europe and human rights protection standards and also to discuss the best ways of helping States review their migratory policies and develop them.

We also organised a seminar last month in Antalya, on improving detention conditions, in conjunction with the Committee for the Prevention of Torture. The Council of Europe has valuable expertise in this field, and the seminar provided an opportunity to showcase the scope and content of the work carried out by our Organisation in the prisons sphere, with a special focus on the role of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture.

Finally, again in the framework of our chairmanship, acknowledging the important role NGOs play on many issues of concern to our societies, such as in dealing with the resurgence of intolerance and discrimination, we hosted a Forum of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe on the theme "New multicultural challenges: how can NGOs play their part?" in Istanbul this March. The Forum aimed to give a civil society dimension to the Council of Europe’s activities and projects in the field of intercultural dialogue, according to the NGOs’ practical experience. It highlighted the importance of the civil society dimension in projects and initiatives promoting living together in Europe. In that respect, the Forum was also complementary to the work of the “Group of Eminent Persons”.

Today is the last time that I address your Assembly in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. I would therefore like to express my deep gratitude for the constant support you have shown to our chairmanship. I hope that the fresh impetus we have sought to give the Organisation will be maintained in the future and I am sure that your Assembly will continue to mobilise its efforts in that direction, alongside the coming chairmanships, notably that of Ukraine, which will take up where we left off and to which I express my best wishes and our support.



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