Ministers’ Deputies

CM Documents

CM/AS(2014)3 4 April 2014



Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers

Report by the Chair of the Committee of Ministers to the Parliamentary Assembly
(February–April 2014)



Table of Content

Introduction
1. Situation in Ukraine
2. Human rights
a. European Convention on Human Rights
b. Execution of judgments
c. Other questions concerning human rights
3. Rule of law and judicial co-operation
4. Social cohesion
5. Education, culture, youth and sport
6. Specific co-operation
7. Organisational development and reform, programme and budget
8. Co-operation with other organisations

Introduction

1. Since the Assembly’s previous session, in January, the work of the Committee of Ministers has gone through a particularly intense phase due to the situation in Ukraine, which has led the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General to pay a visit to Kyiv on 10 March last. On this occasion, they had talks with the acting government, with whom they discussed assistance measures to Ukraine in the current crisis, and with civil society. Several important decisions have since been adopted by the Committee, which are presented below. An overview of other questions which have retained the attention of the Committee of Ministers is also presented hereafter.

1. Situation in Ukraine

2. The situation in Ukraine has been regularly on the agenda of the Ministers’ Deputies since January, including at two extraordinary meetings held by the Deputies at the end of February and the beginning of March. It should be noted that at the beginning of April, the Deputies had an exchange of views with the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Mr Andrii Deshchytsia.

3. On the substance, the Deputies reiterated on several occasions their governments’ commitment to the respect for international law, for the United Nations’ Charter and for the Statute of the Council of Europe, and in particular to the peaceful settlement of disputes and the full respect of the territorial integrity, unity and independence of Ukraine. They condemned the fact that the referendum conducted by the local authorities of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea in violation of Ukrainian legislation took place on 16 March 2014 and deplored the subsequent decision of the President of the Russian Federation to sign treaties on the admission of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol into the Russian Federation, as well as his appeal to the Parliament of the Russian Federation to adopt a law to complete this process. Subsequently, at the beginning of April, they stressed that the illegal referendum held in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol on 16 March 2014 and the subsequent illegal annexation by the Russian Federation cannot form the basis for any alteration of the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

4. Having firmly recalled the duty of all member States to comply with the commitments undertaken under the Statute of the Council of Europe and relevant instruments of the Organisation, they urged the Russian Federation to enter into direct dialogue with the Government of Ukraine and called on both sides to use all relevant international mechanisms to find a peaceful and negotiated solution to the current crisis, and to refrain from any steps which may increase tensions and lead to further violence.

5. As far as the activities of the Organisation are concerned, the Committee of Ministers provided its support to the Secretary General’s initiative aimed at setting up an International Advisory Panel whose task would be to ensure that the investigations conducted into the violent events which have taken place since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine comply with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Committee furthermore invited member States to urgently consider granting voluntary contributions for the financing of the immediate assistance measures for Ukraine presented by the Secretary General to the Committee at the beginning of April.

6. Regarding the question of national minorities, the Committee examined at the beginning of April a report1 on the situation of these minorities in Ukraine prepared at its request by the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, following a visit by a delegation of this Committee in Ukraine from 21 to 26 March 2014. Having noted the concerns raised in this report, including those regarding the safety of persons belonging to national minorities, it called on the parties concerned to effectively follow-up all its conclusions.

7. Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers invited the Advisory Committee to continue to monitor the situation of national minorities throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea, using all available means. In this context, it welcomed the launching of the third monitoring cycle regarding the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the fourth monitoring cycle regarding the implementation by Ukraine of the provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, under which an assessment regarding the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, including regional minority languages, will be provided throughout Ukraine, including in Crimea.

2. Human rights

a. European Convention on Human Rights

8. In the context of the follow-up to the Brighton Declaration, in February, the Committee of Ministers took note of a report by the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) on whether more effective measures are needed in respect of States that fail to implement Court judgments in a timely manner. It agreed to transmit the report to the European Court of Human Rights for information and possible comments on the proposals concerning or affecting the Court and instructed its Ad hoc Working Party on Reform of the Human Rights Convention system (GT-REF.ECHR) to examine the proposals made by the CDDH in the light of any comments received from the Court, and to report back in due course on its conclusions and possible proposals for action. The Committee also instructed the CDDH to pursue its examination of the question of the execution of judgments and the supervision thereof in the context of its work on the longer-term future of the Convention system and the Court.

9. Furthermore, the Committee of Ministers considered a report by the CDDH on the review of the functioning of the Advisory Panel of Experts on Candidates for Election as Judge to the European Court of Human Rights and of the final activity report of the Advisory Panel. The Committee agreed to transmit these documents to the Parliamentary Assembly and to the Court for information and possible comments. It instructed the GT-REF.ECHR to examine the proposals made in the above-mentioned documents in the light of any comments received and to report back in due course on its conclusions and possible proposals for action. The Committee also decided to prolong the mandate of the Panel and invited delegations to submit, by 31 March 2014, proposals for appointment to the Panel.

10. The Committee also endorsed the conclusions of the CDDH report on the question of whether or not to amend the Convention to enable the appointment of additional judges to the Court. In addition, it took note of a report by the Secretary General on the implementation of the Brighton Declaration.

11. The Committee of Ministers also decided to extend until 31 December 2014 the deadline given to member States to report to the Committee of Ministers (i) on their implementation of the measures which the Brighton Declaration requires of them, and (ii) on their response to the various proposals addressed to them in the CDDH report on interim measures under Rule 39 of the Rules of the Court. It instructed the CDDH to prepare a report for the Committee of Ministers, by 31 December 2015, containing an analysis of the responses given by member States and possible recommendations for follow-up.

12. In March, the Committee of Ministers adopted a number of decisions on the recognition of service as a judge of the European Court of Human Rights. It called upon States Parties to the European Convention on Human Rights to address appropriately the situation of judges of the Court once their term of office has expired by seeking to ensure, to the extent possible within the applicable national legislation, that former judges have the opportunity to maintain their career prospects at a level consistent with the office that they have exercised. They invited member States to provide any relevant information on the follow-up given to this decision and decided to resume examination of this matter before 31 December 2015, in the light notably of the information contained in a comparative survey provided by the Court and any other information that member States may have provided on the issue. On the basis of this examination, the Committee will consider whether any further initiatives should be taken.

b. Execution of judgments

13. The Ministers' Deputies held their 1193rd meeting (DH) in March 2014. The Deputies decided to close the examination of 59 decisions and judgments of the Court, including the cases of Ilaşcu and Others as well as Ivantoc and Others, both against the Russian Federation and the Republic of Moldova.

14. In the Mahmudov and Agazade group of cases against Azerbaijan, the Deputies welcomed a recent decision of the Plenum of the Supreme Court emphasising the exceptional nature of prison sentences in defamation cases as well as that court’s legislative proposal in that regard. They invited the Azerbaijani authorities, in co-operation with the Venice Commission, to ensure that the general legislative changes necessary are rapidly adopted, sufficiently precise and fully in line with the Convention requirements. They decided to resume consideration of these cases at their 1201st meeting (June 2014) (DH).

15. In Sejdić and Finci against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Deputies deplored that the political leaders had failed to reach a consensus on the necessary constitutional and legislative amendments and were gravely concerned about the risk that the framework within which the forthcoming elections would take place would not be in compliance with the Convention’s requirements. They strongly urged the respondent State to conform with its obligations under Article 46 of the Convention and decided to resume consideration of the case at one of their forthcoming meetings and, at the latest, at their 1214th meeting (December 2014) (DH).

16. In Alekseyev against the Russian Federation, the Deputies reiterated their request for precise information and statistics on the practice concerning the holding of gay rights marches in the cities and regions of Moscow, St Petersburg, Kostroma and Arkhangelsk for the period of 1 July 2013 to 31 May 2014. They decided to resume consideration of this case at their 1208th meeting (September 2014) (DH) in the light of additional information to be provided.

17. As to the Khashiyev and Akayeva group against the Russian Federation, the Deputies recalled the longstanding nature of the important systemic problems, stressed the importance of resolute action and, in particular, urged the Russian authorities to consider including in their strategy the measures set out under Article 46 by the Court in its recent judgment in the case of Aslakhanova and Others. They reiterated their concerns about the application of amnesty legislation and the statute of limitations. They decided to resume consideration of this group of cases at their 1208th meeting in the light of further information.

18. It was the Deputies’ first examination of El-Masri against the “former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, a case concerning the applicant’s secret “rendition” and, notably, his treatment in Skopje and his transfer to CIA agents who brought him to Afghanistan. They noted with concern that the authorities had so far provided no information on the measures taken or envisaged for the execution of this judgment and urged them to provide relevant information without further delay.

19. As to the Varnava case and the Xenides-Arestis group of cases against Turkey, the Deputies deeply regretted the continuing failure to pay the just satisfaction awards and they invited the Chair of the Committee of Ministers to send a letter to his Turkish counterpart to convey the Committee’s concerns. They decided to resume consideration of the cases at their 1201st meeting, in June 2014.

20. In the case of Tymoshenko against Ukraine, the Deputies noted with satisfaction that the applicant had been released on 22 February 2014. They invited the Ukrainian authorities to work in close co-operation with the Secretariat as regards the process of reform of the prosecution service and the judiciary.

21. Finally, and as regards the Hirst No. 2 group of cases against the United Kingdom, the Deputies noted that the domestic parliamentary committee (established to examine the legislative proposals on prisoner voting rights) had completed its work. They welcomed its recommendation that a Bill be introduced to parliament at the start of the next parliamentary session entitling prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less to vote. They urged the authorities to adopt this recommendation and reiterated the importance of rapidly concluding the legislative process.

c. Other questions concerning human rights

22. In January, the Committee of Ministers took note of the CDDH report on the implementation of Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and endorsed its conclusions. The Committee encouraged further member States to continue their efforts to implement the various provisions of the recommendation and to translate and disseminate it as widely as possible. It encouraged further the organisation, upon request from member States, of assistance and capacity-building activities to facilitate their implementation of the recommendation and in the light of the conclusions of the CDDH report, the Committee of Ministers agreed to revert to the issue of the implementation of the provisions of the recommendation in four years’ time.

23. The Committee of Ministers held an exchange of views on the United Nations (human rights questions), with the participation of experts from capitals in February, with the following items on the agenda: (a) general discussion on the developments and main results of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly; (b) overview of co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations in the human rights field in 2013; (c) major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2014; and (d) thematic discussion on UN activities on social and economic rights, having particular regard to the impact of the economic crisis and of austerity measures on their enjoyment. Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, Permanent Representative of Gabon to the United Nations Office at Geneva, was invited to introduce the item relating to the “Major themes for the Human Rights Council in 2014”, in his capacity as President of the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

24. Also in February, the Committee of Ministers adopted Resolution CM/Res(2014)2 amending Resolution Res(2002)8 on the Statute of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) in order to allow for States benefiting from observer status to the Council of Europe to be invited to be represented in ECRI without the right to vote. On the same occasion, the Committee of Ministers invited Mexico to be represented within ECRI and confirmed the decision taken at the 516th meeting (September 1994) to grant this right to the Holy See.

25. Furthermore, the Committee adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)2 on the promotion of human rights of older persons. This Recommendation adopts a flexible and illustrative approach to the subject and does not include an exhaustive definition of older persons, for example by setting a minimum age for a person to be considered as being of old age. It rather applies to persons whose older age constitutes, alone or in interaction with other factors, including perceptions and attitudes, a barrier to the full enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms and their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.

26. As part of its commitment to promote the ratification and implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, on 17 and 18 February 2014 Austria hosted the Council of Europe/OSCE Conference on “Not for sale – Joining Forces against Trafficking in Human Beings”. This was an opportunity for both organisations to review progress in their respective activities to combat human trafficking, to discuss the challenges regarding implementation of the Council of Europe convention and to explore the ways and means of improving partnerships between the various stakeholders concerned.

27. On 13-14 March, the international conference "Shaping the Digital Environment – Ensuring our Rights on the Internet" was held in Graz, Austria, within the framework of the Austrian Chairmanship. The conference addressed the challenges to human rights of Internet users. Participants also assessed the progress made on the Council of Europe Internet Governance Strategy 2012-2015. In the context of this Strategy, the Committee of Ministers took note of a mid-term report by the Secretary General and encouraged its continued implementation. It agreed to transmit the Secretary General’s report to the Parliamentary Assembly, to the Commissioner for Human Rights, to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and to relevant intergovernmental committees for information.

28. With regard to violence against women, the Austrian Chairmanship is seeking to promote the rapid entry into force of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing Violence against Women and Domestic Violence. In this context, on 19 March last the Committee of Ministers held a thematic debate onViolence against women” (co-operation in particular in the context of the Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence). Guest speakers in the debate were Mr José Mendes Bota, General Rapporteur on violence against women of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination of the Parliamentary Assembly, Ms Päivi Hirvelä, Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, and Ms Rosa Logar, Executive Director of the Domestic Abuse Intervention Centre in Vienna.

29. Finally, with regard to children’s rights, the Committee of Ministers adopted in March a reply to the Assembly’s Recommendation 2023 (2013) on “Children’s right to physical integrity”.

3. Rule of law and judicial co-operation

30. In January, the Committee held an exchange of views with the Chair of the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE). It took note of CCPE Opinion No. 8 (2013) on relations between prosecutors and the media.

31. In February, two important recommendations were adopted by the Committee of Ministers: Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)3 concerning dangerous offenders and Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)4 on electronic monitoring.

32. In March, the Committee of Ministers held an exchange of views with the Chair of the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE). It welcomed the CCJE’s Opinion No. 16 (2014) on “The relations between judges and lawyers”, which will be forwarded to the competent authorities in the member States and to the relevant bodies of the Council of Europe, and invited the member States and the relevant Council of Europe bodies to take account of it in their work. It also took note of a situation report on the judiciary and judges in the Council of Europe member States and underlined the importance of standards relating to the status of judges and the exercise of their functions to improve respect for the rule of law across Europe.

33. Also in March, the Committee of Ministers took note of the 2014-2015 Activity Programme of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ).

34. In April, the Committee of Ministers held an exchange of views with the Chair of the Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism (MONEYVAL) and took note of the annual report of the Chair and Executive Secretary of MONEYVAL.

4. Social cohesion

35. On 5 February, the Committee of Ministers adopted Resolutions on the implementation of the European Social Charter during the period 2007-2010 (provisions related to the thematic group “Employment, training and equal opportunities”). It also held an exchange of views with the President of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) in March. On 2 April, the Committee of Ministers adopted a number of decisions aimed at streamlining and improving the reporting and monitoring system of the European Social Charter.

5. Education, culture, youth and sport

36. During the reference period, the Committee of Ministers took a number of decisions in the field of education, culture, youth and sport.

37. In the field of intercultural dialogue, the Committee of Ministers began preparations for the 2014 Council of Europe Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue to be held in Baku (Azerbaijan) on 1 and 2 September 2014, under the future Azerbaijani Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. It agreed on the theme to be addressed on that occasion, which will be: “Intercultural dialogue: interaction between culture and religion”.

38. With regard to activities relating to sport, the Committee of Ministers transmitted to the Assembly the draft Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions and its Explanatory Report for the Assembly to give its opinion on the draft. In the meantime, consultations will continue, particularly with regard to the criminal law provisions appearing in the draft convention. In addition, it was agreed that other provisions will remain open to discussion at the request of certain member States.

39. Lastly, in the field of education, the Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)5 on the importance of competences in the language(s) of schooling for equity and quality in education and for educational success.

6. Specific co-operation

40. The Committee of Ministers adopted in March a reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 2025 (2013) on “The functioning of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. In this reply, the Committee informs the Assembly of the decisions which it has recently taken in the light of the state of implementation of the obligations and accession commitments undertaken by Bosnia and Herzegovina when acceding to the Council of Europe. As indicated also in the reply, an Action Plan of co-operation with the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina is under preparation and will soon be examined by the Committee of Ministers with a view to its approval.

41. At the beginning of April, the Committee of Ministers reviewed the state of co-operation and the progress made by Montenegro regarding the fulfilment of its statutory commitments. In view of the substantial progress achieved, in particular regarding the adoption of constitutional amendments aimed at strengthening the independence of the judiciary, the fight against discrimination, notably as regards the rights of LGBT persons, and the situation of persons belonging to national minorities and IDPs, the Committee decided to discontinue the procedure aimed at making a regular stocktaking of co-operation with Montenegro. At the same time, the Committee noted that a number of reforms still need to be completed, on which the Montenegrin authorities will communicate information when appropriate.

42. As regards Belarus, the Committee of Ministers was presented in February with a report on the Council of Europe’s activities in Belarus in 2012-2013. It called upon the Belarussian authorities to take advantage of these activities with a view to respecting the Council of Europe values and standards, in particular regarding the establishment of a moratorium as a first step towards the abolition of the death penalty. It further instructed the Secretariat to prepare proposals for the continuation of these activities in 2014-2015 in the priority areas for co-operation between the Council of Europe and Belarus, with a view to their examination by their Rapporteur Group on Democracy (GR-DEM).

7. Organisational development and reform, programme and budget

43. On 21 February 2014, the Committee of Ministers decided to submit the candidatures of Mr Thorbjørn Jagland (Norway) and Mrs Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger (Germany) to the Parliamentary Assembly with a view to the latter’s election of the next Secretary General of the Council of Europe for a term of office of five years from 1 October 2014.

44. On 2 April 2014, the Committee of Ministers adopted the terms of reference of the Oversight Committee, which replaces the former Audit Committee, bringing the committee’s arrangements even closer in line with best practice. To this end, the terms of reference notably ensure a broader set of skills and experience of the committee’s members and strengthen their independence. The members of the Oversight Committee will be appointed by the Committee of Ministers for a term of office of five years from 1 October 2014.

8. Co-operation with other organisations

45. Regarding relations with the European Union, the Committee of Ministers adopted in February a reply to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 2027 (2013) on “European Union and Council of Europe Human Rights Agendas: Synergies not Duplication!”. In this reply, the Committee notes the very good co-operation that has developed between the Council of Europe and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in various areas on the basis of their respective mandates, strengths and skills. As far as the recent proposals for an EU framework to strengthen compliance of EU member States with rule of law standards are concerned, the Committee of Ministers expresses its full support for the efforts deployed by the Secretary General, who has intensified his political consultations with the EU institutions, emphasising in particular the message that a possible future EU framework should take into account the instruments and expertise of the Council of Europe and co-operate closely with it.

46. As far as the relations with the OSCE are concerned, the Coordination Group between the two organisations met on 28 March in Strasbourg to review the co-operation concerning the protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination. It welcomed the progress made in these two areas while encouraging the further strengthening of co-operation.

Conclusion

47. The Austrian Chairmanship wishes to take the opportunity of this last report to thank the Parliamentary Assembly for the constructive dialogue and the excellent co-operation maintained throughout the period of the chairmanship. Beyond the Ministerial Session in Vienna on 6 May, at which a review will be made of the state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe, Austria will remain committed to upholding the Council of Europe values.

1 See document CM(2014)46.



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