CM/AS(2013)8 2 October 2013
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Address by Mr Edward Nalbandian, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 30 September 2013)
I am pleased to address this Assembly once again in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. You have already received the written activity report of the Armenian chairmanship on the progress achieved over recent months. However, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight a few important developments.
On 3 September 1953, 60 years ago, the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms entered into force. I stressed in my previous communication that the treaty was undoubtedly the cornerstone for the protection of human rights in Europe. Over 60 years, persons within the jurisdiction of the member States of the Council of Europe have benefited from this unique legal instrument. Since 1953 the European Court of Human Rights has delivered approximately 16 500 judgments, and over 500 000 applications have been dealt with under the European Convention on Human Rights. Several landmark judgments of the Court have helped to strengthen the rule of law and democracy significantly across the European continent.
The promotion of human rights is an ongoing process and it is our common responsibility to ensure that the European Convention remains the effective instrument of European public order that it has become over the years. I am convinced that the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should and will continue to do its utmost to ensure that the rights enshrined in the Convention are respected and protected across Europe.
The consolidation of the Council of Europe system of human rights protection is becoming a topic of great importance, and that is a reason why the Armenian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe highly values the recent adoption of Protocols Nos. 15 and 16 to the Convention. On 10 July, the Committee of Ministers took note of the Parliamentary Assembly's opinion on draft Protocol No. 16 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as well as of the opinion of the European Court of Human Rights. It adopted the protocol and agreed to open it for signature in Strasbourg on 2 October 2013. In that regard I underline the importance of Protocol No. 16, as it would establish a platform for judicial dialogue between the Court and the national superior courts and contribute to the resolution of complex problems at national level, such as prevention of repetitive applications, thus reducing the backlog of the Court.
On 10 October, we will celebrate the European day against the death penalty. That event is a good occasion for the Council of Europe, which is the only area free of the death penalty, to highlight the worldwide campaign on abolition of that inhuman punishment, working hand in hand with international partners. We are particularly encouraged by positive developments at the international level, including the latest resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty adopted at the United Nations. On 18 September, the Committee of Ministers adopted a declaration deploring recent executions, and reiterates its unequivocal opposition to capital punishment in all places and in all circumstances. We all remain determined to continue our efforts towards global abolition of that inhuman practice.
The Armenian chairmanship further reflected on the European standards on the rule of law against the background of the most recent developments regarding the implementation of the principles of the rule of law by Council of Europe member States. On 3 July a conference on “The European legal standards of the rule of law and the scope of discretion of powers in the member States of the Council of Europe” was held in Yerevan. The conference also discussed the judicial review of the laws and other legal acts by independent judicial bodies, and co-operation of human rights defenders with state and local self-government bodies in ensuring the effective implementation of the principle of the rule of law.
Local democracy remained high on the agenda of the Armenian chairmanship. We believe that the outcome of the conference on “Participatory democracy at local level”, co-organised by the Armenian authorities and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and held in Yerevan on 19 June, can be a good basis for further reflection on the fundamental issue of citizen participation in the decision-making process as one of the prerequisites of a well-functioning democratic society.
Distinguished parliamentarians, as you are aware the overarching theme of our six months in the Chair is combating racism and racial discrimination, xenophobia and intolerance, and promoting European values through intercultural dialogue. We are convinced that our Organisation, as the guardian of human rights and democratic values, must play a leading role in that direction. I am pleased to see this Assembly taking the same approach and, as you know well, the Assembly’s report on a strategy to prevent racism and intolerance in Europe is now under preparation in the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination. However, despite the many initiatives undertaken, we are still witnessing alarming new developments, which prompt us to do even more in this regard.
In September, the Committee of Ministers held a thematic debate on the role of the Council of Europe in addressing the rise of extremism in evolving societies, with the aim of identifying further actions to be undertaken both to prevent and to fight extremism. There was a general agreement that an inclusive approach with the involvement of all actors is needed for further actions to combat these worrying trends. First of all, governments and political leaders should demonstrate consistency and leadership to engage in debate on these issues and to publicly condemn manifestations of hate in public discourse. From this perspective, freedom of expression cannot be brought up as a justification for the dissemination of hate speech. Education for democratic citizenship, the conduct of awareness-raising activities and the role of local authorities, NGOs, the media and other institutions in promoting tolerance and mutual understanding are some of the important factors.
The High-Level Conference on Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance in Europe to be held in Yerevan on 21-22 October is a timely response to these challenges. The purpose of the conference is to reflect upon racism and xenophobia in political discourse, as well as topics related to combating hate speech and racial stereotypes in social networks and media. High-level state representatives, international and independent experts, and representatives of international organisations will come together with the aim of discussing the challenges and the possible ways forward. We hope that the final outcome document of the conference will help us to steer the right course for our future actions.
The Armenian chairmanship is supporting the “No Hate Speech” movement launched by the Secretary General and will also contribute to the activities in this framework financially. Armenian youth is now part of a pan-European campaign against hate speech online, and a number of activities have been undertaken at national level.
Diversity is both the strength and richness of Europe and we are convinced that the promotion of European and universal values through intercultural dialogue, including on the religious dimension, must remain a priority for our societies. In this context, we were pleased to host on 2-3 September the 2013 exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. The 2013 Yerevan exchange was the sixth one and addressed such important issues as freedom of religion as a fundamental human right, the protection of religious minorities, the fight against intolerance and hate speech, and youth education. Participants in the exchange stressed the importance of a dynamic civil society in order to develop further the concept of dialogue, particularly through innovative initiatives. The younger generation’s commitment to the principles of equality and non-discrimination in relation to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, in accordance with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was also highlighted.
The activities undertaken in this field by different partners of the Council of Europe, particularly the European Union and the International Organisation of la Francophonie, are encouraging. We hope that future chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers will continue to provide their support and contribution to these exchanges. At the same time I think it is the right time, after the sixth exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, to assess and analyse the results, to evaluate the impact and to identify areas for improvement, both in terms of the substance and the format of the exchange.
The implementation of the Council of Europe policy towards neighbouring regions continued to be on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers. On 3 July, within the package of decisions related to the Council of Europe external presence, the Committee of Ministers decided to establish Council of Europe offices in Rabat and Tunis. This operational presence is instrumental in strengthening co-ordination and co-operation with the partners and donors, along with raising the Council of Europe’s profile in the countries of the Mediterranean area. Negotiations are under way with a view to formalising this presence.
We have been satisfied with the results achieved so far in the Council of Europe’s field of expertise since the co-operation priorities with the countries concerned were approved. At the same time, a great deal of work still lies ahead in ensuring the full implementation of co-operation programmes and expanding activities to other regions, including central Asia. To this end, the Ministers’ Deputies called on the member States to consider the possibility of supplementing the financing of these priorities through voluntary contributions. At the same time, discussions will be resumed soon in the relevant rapporteur group on the possible creation of a formal status for interested countries in the neighbouring regions, under several conditions, in order to work out an institutional framework for co-operation. With a view to ensuring a coherent approach to this issue, we also will have in mind Assembly Resolution 1972, whereby the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers examines the possibility of creating a special status for the countries of the neighbouring regions.
Maintaining stability and sustainability in our neighbouring regions in a broader context is in the interests of the Council of Europe, and here I cannot but refer to the situation in Syria. I have taken note that you, distinguished parliamentarians, have today decided to hold a debate on Syria, which demonstrates your serious concern over the humanitarian crisis there and your determination to have your strong voice heard in the condemnation of the widespread systematic and gross human rights violations. In my national capacity, I have recently welcomed the proposals based on the agreement reached in Geneva between the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the United States Secretary of State John Kerry, and in New York two days ago addressing the General Assembly of the UN I also welcomed Resolution 2118 of the Security Council, adopted unanimously, which could lead to the elimination of chemical weapons and the exclusion of their use in Syria and which could also open the way to finding a political solution to the Syrian crisis through peaceful means, putting an end to the sufferings of the Syrian people, including dozens of thousands of Armenians.
Distinguished parliamentarians, the Committee of Ministers attaches great importance to the World Forum for Democracy and considers it to be a useful framework for strengthening the relevance and the efficiency of the Council of Europe’s efforts in the field of democracy. The 2013 World Forum for Democracy will take place on 27-29 November in Strasbourg. For the second time, political personalities and representatives of civil society, the media and academia from around the world will come together to discuss the issue of “Re-wiring Democracy: connecting institutions and citizens in the digital age”.
Bearing in mind the critical comments made after the first edition of the forum, including those voiced by distinguished members of Assembly, this year’s discussions will be organised in a new format - in labs - and the results of the discussions in these labs will then be presented by rapporteurs to all participants.
We believe that the most active participation of all Council of Europe bodies will only serve to contribute to the furthering of our common objective of strengthening democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The Committee of Ministers is looking forward to the contribution of the ad hoc committee representing the Assembly to the activities of the forum.
Against the background of the successfully implemented reforms of last year, we continue to fully support ongoing reform efforts to make the work of the Council of Europe more streamlined and more effective. The further improvement of the intergovernmental committee structure of the Council of Europe is a welcome initiative by the Secretary-General. The intergovernmental structure for 2014-15 will be priority-driven, aimed at ensuring political relevance and high-level attendance by member States and promoting intergovernmental dialogue at the pan-European level.
As you are well aware, the principle of zero nominal growth has been applied to the programme and budget for 2014-15, in view of the difficult budgetary situation in member States. Discussions on the programme and budget for the coming two years are well under way and we hope to be in a position to have the budget adopted in November. Another important development is the review of the contractual policy for staff of the Council of Europe, which is expected to be completed at the end of the year.
I will speak briefly about the political questions that continue to command the attention of the Committee of Ministers. I would first like to mention that the committee discussed and took note of the report on the implementation of the Council of Europe’s programmes in Kosovo1, which allow people to benefit from Council of Europe standards in relation to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. While encouraging the Secretariat to continue implementing these activities, the Committee called on member States to consider supplementing the financing of these activities through voluntary contributions. As I told the Assembly in my previous address, I remain convinced that, irrespective of the status of the territories in which individuals live, all people in Europe should be able to enjoy good governance, democracy, the rule of law and the same legal and human rights.
Belarus has remained on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers throughout this period, and the Organisation’s long-term strategic goal is for it to become a full member State, within the overall framework of the policy of “cautious engagement” with Belarus. In particular, I would like to inform distinguished parliamentarians that the Committee of Ministers acceded to Belarus’s request for observer status with the Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law, on the understanding that the matter will be followed in the light of developments in Belarus relating to Council of Europe values. Ministers’ Deputies also looked at the activities of the Council of Europe’s information point in Belarus, which is currently the main tool for co-operation. The Deputies instructed the Secretariat to open a procedure for extending the registration of the information point with the Belarusian authorities to allow the Council of Europe’s activities and presence in Minsk to continue.
With regard to the supervision of execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, the Ministers’ Deputies held their 1 179th meeting in September 2013. During this meeting they decided to close the examination of 51 decisions and judgments of the Court. More detailed information about the results of the meeting is available online.
Let me turn to the preparations that are under way for several other conferences that will be held in the remaining two months of our chairmanship. Between 1 and 4 October, the conference of parties to the 2005 Warsaw Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism will be held in Dilijan, Armenia. Two events within the framework of the conference have been organised: the first will be devoted to raising awareness of the convention, and the second will be a special training course for the experts who will be assessing State parties’ compliance with the convention.
On 8 and 9 October, we will host the eighth plenary meeting of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors in Yerevan. On 11 and 12 October the Armenian chairmanship, together with the Congress, is organising another event that directly concerns the work of local authorities, the conference of mayors of the capital cities of Council of Europe member States, entitled “Making the metropolis citizen-friendly: a challenge for public authorities.” It will reflect upon the growing role of capital cities and their institutional capacity to address challenges to the quality of life. The administrative organisation of metropolises and the problems local authorities encounter are especially relevant in times of economic crisis, thus becoming relevant not only within the framework of local authorities, but from a wider perspective. We hope that the Parliamentary Assembly will contribute to the conference’s discussions.
As I mentioned earlier, on 21 and 22 October the high-level conference on combating racism, xenophobia and intolerance in Europe will be held in Yerevan. In that context I am pleased to note that the Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, high-level representatives of member States of the Council of Europe and international organisations active in this field will be contributing to that important event.
Symbolically, our last event, which will take place on 13 and 14 November, the day we hand over the chairmanship to Austria, which can be assured of my country’s full support, will be devoted to youth. This youth policy symposium, which will gather around 60 key players from various countries, will be a good opportunity to discuss the role of activities for and with young people in education, in democratic citizenship and participation.
Before concluding, I would like to thank the Assembly, you, President Mignon, and the Secretariat for the constant support you have shown during our chairmanship. I am convinced that close co-operation between all the statutory organs of the Organisation, particularly the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, is imperative if we are to achieve our common goal – reinforcing our shared values across the continent and beyond. Armenia, as an active member of this Organisation, will continue to contribute to the objectives, values and principles of the Council of Europe. I thank you and will be glad to answer your questions.
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.