CM/AS(2013)2 22 January 2013
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Address by Mr Gilbert Saboya Sunyé, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 21 January 2013)
Last November I had the pleasure of speaking to the members of your Standing Committee in Andorra. Today I have the honour of speaking to your Plenary Assembly for the first time. It is a great honour for me, but above all it is a real source of great pride for my country, which, 18 years after joining the Organisation, has now taken over the Chairmanship for the first time.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to the memory of President de Puig. Lluís Maria de Puig was a devoted European and a kind-hearted person. He made a great contribution to your work and strove hard to ensure good relations between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. As an Andorran, I cannot forget the key role which he played in the process leading up to my country’s accession to the Council of Europe. His commitment to the European cause must continue to guide us.
The Andorran Chairmanship is well under way. I shall avoid giving any detailed presentation of our priorities, as I already did so before your Standing Committee last November in Andorra. However, let me just recall that the main theme of our Chairmanship is the promotion and protection of human rights and democracy through education. We have chosen Education in Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law as a priority line of action in our determination to promote education in the values which we all defend within the Council of Europe. We accordingly organised a major conference on the impact of the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education last November under the auspices of our Chairmanship. This Conference, which was attended by participants from 50 different countries, pinpointed practical means of reinforcing human rights education in all areas of education, familiarising the public with the Council of Europe’s work in this field and intensifying co-operation among all the parties involved at the national and international levels. We warmly welcome the success of this Conference.
The next major event in the educational field will be the high-level conference to be held in Andorra la Vella from 6 to 8 February on “Competences for a culture of democracy and intercultural dialogue: a political challenge and values”. The Parliamentary Assembly has naturally been invited to this event, and I hope that with the support of each one of us this conference will meet with the anticipated success. We should also bear in mind the 24th Conference of Ministers responsible for Education, which will take place in Helsinki in April 2013, on the theme of “Governance and Quality Education”, in which we are hoping to participate actively.
We consider it indispensable to work with young people in order to bring our ideals to fruition, and so we shall be organising in Andorra next April, with the Council of Europe, the encounters of Young Ambassadors for Peace. This event will be accompanied by a training course on mediation for Andorran young people.
Furthermore, guaranteeing the long-term efficiency of the European Convention on Human Rights and the proper functioning of the Court is another of our priorities. Like the three previous Chairmanships and the Armenian and Austrian Chairmanships which will be succeeding us, we have undertaken to ensure follow-up to the decisions taken by the Committee of Ministers in the wake of the Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton Conferences.
In that respect, the work on reforming the European Court of Human Rights is proceeding apace. I thus have the pleasure of informing you that the Committee of Ministers has just decided to transmit the draft text of Protocol No. 15 amending the European Convention on Human Rights for opinion to your Assembly and to the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers will consider your opinion with great interest. We are convinced that this new instrument, which is the result of our joint efforts, will further reinforce the efficacy of the human rights protection system in Europe. We are hoping that Protocol No. 15 will be adopted at the 123rd Session of the Committee of Ministers on 16 May next.
Concurrently, as you know, the Ministers’ Deputies have also instructed the Steering Committee on Human Rights (CDDH) to prepare a draft Optional Protocol No. 16 on extending the Court’s jurisdiction to providing advisory opinions. This work should be finalised within the next few weeks. Draft Optional Protocol No. 16 should then be transmitted to your Assembly for opinion during your second part-session next April.
Moreover, as decided at the Brighton Conference, the Committee of Ministers, which is responsible for supervising the execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, is continuing its discussions on how to improve its procedures for monitoring the effective enforcement of the Court’s judgments.
The Committee of Ministers is also devoting particularly close attention to the vital issue of EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. As I speak, the ad hoc negotiating group responsible for preparing the EU instruments of accession is holding its fourth meeting here in Strasbourg. The accession of European Union is a vital precondition for creating a coherent space for human rights protection in Europe. We are hoping that the negotiations will soon reach a successful conclusion so that EU accession can become a reality.
Once these various initiatives have been completed, they will greatly increase the efficacy of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, we should not forget that it is primarily for the States themselves to ensure the implementation of the Convention. In fact you will be considering this matter tomorrow during a debate on the viability of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers will of course ensure that appropriate action is taken on the results of your discussions.
Along these lines, the Chairmanship will soon be launching a campaign to promote reading of the European Convention on Human Rights, using a special webpage. We are inviting everyone to support this campaign. We would like to alert civil society to the importance of the Convention. We are considering using the social networks for this purpose in order to reach as many people as possible, particularly young people. We are hoping to mobilise civil society specifically by involving youth. As we heard in this very Chamber at both the Forum for the Future of Democracy and the Youth Assembly, youth is not only the future but is also, and above all, our present.
This ties in with one of the conclusions of the seminar organised by the European Committee of Social Rights and the René Cassin Human Rights Institute last December under the auspices of the Andorran Chairmanship, entitled “The European Social Charter: discretion of States”. Our Minister for Tourism and Environment participated in this seminar, from which it emerged that we must all work together to make our rights known in order to ensure their effectiveness.
The fundamental freedoms secured by the European Convention on Human Rights include freedom of the media, which you will also be debating during this Session, and freedom of religion. Last December the Ministers’ Deputies held a thematic debate on this question. During the debate they recalled that freedom of thought, conscience and religion is closely linked to freedom of expression and freedom of association. While freedom of expression authorises criticism, it must also be exercised in a responsible manner, avoiding stigmatising religious beliefs or disseminating stereotypes liable to encourage intolerance and violence. At the same time, we can never accept attempts to restrict, in the name of religion, the freedoms of opinion and expression secured by the Convention. We encourage the Secretary General in his action against hate speech, especially on the Internet.
A broad consensus has emerged in favour of continuing the Council of Europe’s action to encourage dialogue among the different religions and to promote the awareness and implementation of existing standards in Europe and beyond, as part of the Council of Europe’s policy vis-à-vis neighbouring regions. I know that this is a subject which is also close to your hearts, and your contribution to these efforts is obviously welcomed.
Let me now move on to a number of political matters which have featured prominently on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers since Andorra took over the Chairmanship. These issues have included the conflict in Georgia. In November the Ministers’ Deputies examined the sixth consolidated report which the Secretary General has prepared on this subject. Regular examination of the Secretary General’s reports allows the Committee to closely monitor the changes in the situation on the ground. The Committee of Ministers is prepared to reinforce its action to guarantee human rights protection in the areas affected by the conflict. In order to achieve this, however, freedom of access to the areas in question is vital. This sensitive question was one of the themes addressed by Mr Zalkaliani, the new Georgian First Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, during an exchange of views with the Ministers’ Deputies last November. I have no doubt that it will also be central to the discussions you will be holding on Wednesday on the humanitarian situation in the regions affected by the conflict.
Following the parliamentary elections last October, the new Georgian Government has now been established in conformity with democratic principles. In so doing, the country has taken a further step in consolidating its institutions. This is a matter for great satisfaction. It is also to be hoped that the transition process will proceed smoothly on the basis of genuine dialogue among all the political forces, with respect for the rights of all involved.
Elsewhere in the Caucasus, fresh elections are fast approaching. This applies to Armenia, which will be holding presidential elections next month. The Committee of Ministers will be closely monitoring the conclusions of the Assembly delegation observing the elections. The Deputies will shortly be taking stock of the progress made by the Armenian authorities in implementing the commitments they accepted when their country acceded to the Council of Europe. In this connection, a visit to the country by a select group of Ambassadors is currently being prepared, also with a view to assessing possible needs in terms of assistance from the Council of Europe. The same also applies to Azerbaijan, where a visit is also scheduled for the spring. The discussions you will be holding this week on the honouring of this country’s obligations and commitments, as well as the issue of political prisoners, will be very useful to the Deputies as they continue their work.
The Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have always paid particular attention to the situation in Kosovo1. We are convinced of the need to ensure that all persons living in Kosovo1 enjoy the same rights as all other Europeans. In order to achieve this goal, the Assembly recommended that the Council of Europe directly involve the competent institutions in Kosovo1 in implementing its activities, while respecting the neutrality demanded by Resolution 1244 of the UN Security Council. The Committee of Ministers echoed this call. Last December the Secretary General informed the Deputies that an agreement had been reached to allow the Council of Europe to directly interact with the Kosovo1 authorities, while of course ensuring respect for statutory neutrality. I welcome this positive development, to which you will certainly be coming back during your debate on the situation in Kosovo1 and the Council of Europe’s role there. The Committee of Ministers evidently awaits your conclusions with great interest.
This example shows that it is when we work in consultation and harmony with our partners, in this case the European Union, that we obtain our best results.
In that respect, I am glad that Mr Štefan Füle, European Commissioner responsible for Enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy, has been invited to address your Assembly next Thursday. Commissioner Füle maintains regular and highly productive contacts with our Organisation. This applies, for instance, to the issue of the enforcement by Bosnia-Herzegovina of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci. This issue is still a matter for great concern. Last December the Committee of Ministers discussed it once again. It adopted an interim resolution expressing its disappointment at the lack of agreement between the political leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina on amending the Constitution as recommended in the Joint Declaration by Commissioner Füle and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in September 2012. As the interim resolution points out, the implementation of the constitutional reform is in the best interests of consolidating democratic institutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. We must hope that the reform will be implemented in the near future.
The Council of Europe’s policy on neighbouring regions is a further field which requires a coherent approach on the part of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers, in co-operation with the European Union. Last November I took part, together with our Secretary General Mr Jagland, in an encounter with the Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Marcoullis. We held an in-depth exchange of views on the state of and prospects for co-operation between Europe and the southern Mediterranean. Thanks to the excellent co-operation in place with the European Union, I am glad to say that the Council of Europe is now in a position to open an Office in Tunisia, which will help reinforce its action on behalf of the country’s democratic transition.
The same applies to Morocco. Last December, the Deputies invited this country to accede to a number of Council of Europe Conventions, including the Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. These developments will enable us to provide more effective support to the southern Mediterranean countries that are endeavouring to implement democratic reforms. The Arab Spring began two years ago almost to the day, providing so much hope for these countries. Many reforms have been launched, but the advances in the direction of democracy and human rights, even in our own countries, are seldom linear. As our experience shows, democracy is built up step by step. On the other hand, what is vitally necessary is to progress and as far as possible to consolidate each piece of this progress. The political crises in the Mediterranean Basin, especially the war in Syria, can engender certain fears and uncertainties regarding the possible evolution of these countries. This means that it is even more urgent today than it was two years ago to muster all our energies in support of the democratic reforms that have been initiated in the countries covered by the Council of Europe policy towards the neighbouring regions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I cannot conclude my statement without welcoming the intensification of relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, to which I attach great importance. I am glad to see that what until recently looked like ad hoc initiatives are being transformed into well-established practices. This is the case of the increasingly frequent encounters and exchanges among representatives of the Assembly and the Committee of Ministers. Last month the Chairperson of the Rapporteur Group on Legal Co-operation (GR-J) attended a meeting of your Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in the context of the Secretary General’s initiative to take stock of all the Council of Europe Conventions. As for you, Mr President, I am grateful to you for agreeing to come and present the results of this part-session to the Ministers’ Deputies on 30 January next. These presentations, which you now give on a regular basis, are awaited with interest by the Deputies, who appreciate their frank and open tone.
Thank you for your attention.
1 Throughout this text, all reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.