CM/AS(2014)6 27 June 2014
Communication on the activities of the Committee of Ministers
Address by Mr Elmar Mammadyarov, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the Parliamentary Assembly (Strasbourg, 23 June 2014)
It is a great pleasure to address this Assembly after my first encounter with some of you in Baku last month on the occasion of the meeting of the Standing Committee, where we had a frank and open exchange of views on a number of issues ranging from Azerbaijan-Council of Europe co-operation to international and regional developments. I am looking forward to another interesting debate with you on matters of mutual interest and concern today. I would like to inform you about the key priorities of the Azerbaijani chairmanship and what has been done since we assumed this honourable task last month – including the important element of the 65th anniversary – as well as about developments that have taken place in the Committee of Ministers since your last session.
The key priorities of our chairmanship have been chosen in the field of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. They were identified taking into account some of the most pressing issues on the agenda of the Council of Europe, as well as the contribution that Azerbaijan might make in the light of its specific experience and strengths.
Combating corruption will constitute one of our priority tasks. As a country that has made considerable strides at the national level, we intend to contribute to the efforts of the Organisation in this area, notably by organising at the end of this month a high-level conference in Baku in co-operation with the Group of States against Corruption – GRECO – and the International Anti-Corruption Academy. The conference will provide a unique opportunity to exchange views on national experiences and best practices on the implementation of anti-corruption laws and preventive measures.
The manipulation of sports competitions, including football matches, constitutes an emerging challenge and a striking aspect of the corruption phenomenon. In this respect, I am very pleased that, last month, the Assembly gave its green light and provided comments on the current draft Convention on the manipulation of Sport Competition, through Opinion 287 (2014) adopted at the Baku meeting of the Standing Committee acting on behalf of the Assembly. The ball is now with the Committee of Ministers, which is examining the texts in the light of the opinion mentioned above.
The Azerbaijani chairmanship will do its utmost to secure the adoption of the convention as soon as possible. For Azerbaijan, which will host the first European Games in 2015, the adoption of the convention during its chairmanship would constitute a source of great satisfaction, privilege and honour. Furthermore, my government will support the priority line by allocating financial support to the Council of Europe’s enlarged partial agreement on sport.
As a country with a centuries-long tradition of peaceful co-existence between different ethnic and religious communities, Azerbaijan has made the promotion of intercultural and interreligious dialogue one of its foreign policy priorities. In recent years, Azerbaijan has been involved in numerous international initiatives and events, such as the World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue and the Baku International Humanitarian Forum. The recent establishment of the Baku International Multiculturalism Centre is intended to streamline further my government’s contribution to the international endeavours in the field. Moreover, we are planning to host the high-level seventh United Nations Alliance of Civilizations global forum in 2016.
During its chairmanship, Azerbaijan will work towards the consolidation of culturally diverse societies based on mutual respect and understanding. We are looking forward to hosting the 2014 Council of Europe annual exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which will take place on 1 and 2 September in Baku. The meeting will provide an opportunity for debate involving leading religious and non-religious figures. It will focus on tolerance of religion and non-religious convictions in culturally diverse societies; their contribution to combating all forms of discrimination, intolerance and violence; and the contribution of religious cultural heritage to intercultural dialogue. I hope that representatives of Assembly will be able to attend and play an active role in such an important event.
Under that priority line of action, the Azerbaijani chairmanship will host several other events relating to culture, including a platform exchange on culture and digitisation at the beginning of July – the 2014 Cultural Routes Advisory Forum – and an event on heritage days, both due to be held in Baku in October. We will also hold the youth forum of the No Hate Speech Movement in Gabala in October.
Azerbaijan strongly believes that social cohesion is a fundamental precondition for the development and sustainability of stable, prosperous and diverse societies. Our chairmanship will therefore seek to complement the Council of Europe’s undertakings to ensure everyone’s access to social rights without discrimination. In particular, vulnerable groups should fully enjoy the rights provided for in various Council of Europe instruments. As it has experienced large-scale displacement due to foreign occupation, Azerbaijan will undoubtedly pay close attention to the protection of the human rights of internally displaced persons – a vulnerable segment of the population – in the relevant chairmanship activities.
Young people’s enhanced access to social rights also deserves greater attention. My government has decided to provide financial support to the Enter 2 project, which is aimed at the development of youth policy responses to exclusion, discrimination and violence affecting young people.
Women’s rights cannot be neglected under any circumstances. In that context, the role that can be played by the national human rights institutions in ensuring women rights was debated extensively in the European conference of ombudspersons held just a few days ago in Baku.
Having made it a chairmanship priority to deal with social cohesion, we will organise a conference in Baku next September to review the Council of Europe social cohesion strategy and action plan. Moreover, as the logical continuation of Azerbaijan’s efforts to deepen further its interaction with the Council of Europe in that field, we have expressed our intention to host the next Council of Europe conference of ministers responsible for social cohesion in Baku.
We will also focus our attention on youth and education by placing particular emphasis on the need to nurture a generation of educated and responsible youth. At the national level, the policy pursued by the Azerbaijani Government is strongly youth-oriented, with special focus on their education. The GDP share of public spending for education increases constantly, and that is certainly being translated into the quality of the education and its closer integration into the European education system. At the same time, the number of Azerbaijani state-funded students studying in leading foreign – mainly European – universities will reach 5 000 by 2015. That is pretty good for a country with a population of 9.5 million.
The first event that we hosted in Baku under the Azerbaijani chairmanship dealt with education: the meeting of co-ordinators for the Council of Europe charter of education for democratic citizenship and human rights, which was held in May. The meeting was dedicated to the importance of making changes in the lives of children in vulnerable situations through citizenship and human rights education.
The promotion of well-educated youth was debated extensively in another chairmanship event, an international conference on local democracy and youth, which was organised jointly with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe and took place in Baku last week. Special emphasis in discussions was placed on youth education, the active participation of young people in decision making and the implementation of their decisions at all levels of governance. The gathering allowed for the meaningful exchange of member states’ best practices relating to the issue.
Next October, we will host two important events: the fourth regional ministerial meeting on the implementation of the European Higher Education Area and the United Nations Global Forum on Youth Policies.
In concluding my remarks on our chairmanship activities, I must say how satisfied we are to see that many of our priorities will be shared by the upcoming Belgian and Bosnian-Herzegovinian chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers. All three countries committed themselves to strive together to foster co-operation and synergy between their respective activities in a number of fields related to the three key pillars of the Organisation, and with other international organisations such as the European Union and the OSCE.
I would now like to refer to the 124th session of the Committee of Ministers, which was held in Vienna on 6 May. I express my gratitude to the outgoing Austrian chairmanship for its hospitality and pay tribute for the perfect organisation of such an important meeting. I should add that the minutes of the session can be accessed by anyone as, for the sake of transparency, the Committee of Ministers has decided to declassify them.
In Vienna, ministers took a number of decisions in areas to which the Azerbaijani chairmanship attaches particular importance, such as the Council of Europe’s policy on neighbouring states and regions. Ministers expressed their determination to continue to develop policy on the basis of Council of Europe values. As a country located at the crossroads of two continents that enjoys strong historical relations with Euro-Asian states, Azerbaijan intends to support the Organisation’s efforts in that field. To that end, we will organise a high-level ministerial conference on the neighbourhood policy of the Council of Europe in Baku next September. The conference will provide a valuable forum for exploring the avenues for the long-term engagement of the Council of Europe with the countries covered by the neighbourhood policy, fully taking into account the ongoing debate in the Committee of Ministers on how to strengthen political dialogue with such countries.
At the Vienna ministerial session, the ministers also examined a report on cooperation with the European Union and expressed their satisfaction regarding the development of such co-operation. The Azerbaijani chairmanship will seek to strengthen that co-operation, as well as co-operation with other international organisations such as the OSCE and the United Nations.
Two items were particularly high on the agenda at the Committee of Ministers session and will remain priorities for the months ahead. The first was the situation in Ukraine, and the second was the Secretary General’s report on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, which was the first such report ever examined at ministerial level. Based on the findings of the Council of Europe monitoring bodies, the Secretary General's report has identified a number of important challenges faced by member states. The report also includes useful proposals for action that will now be considered by the Ministers' Deputies. In two weeks’ time, they will hold a thematic debate that should lead to the adoption of decisions that will provide appropriate follow-up.
On the situation in Ukraine, all participants in Vienna called for de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the crisis through dialogue and direct negotiations. Many colleagues reiterated firm commitment to respect for the territorial integrity, unity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. The ministers also welcomed the assistance provided to Ukraine by the Council of Europe, particularly regarding preparation for the elections, constitutional and judicial reforms and the work of the international advisory panel that was set up to oversee the investigations into the violent incidents that have taken place in Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis. One can only be satisfied that last month's presidential elections were held with a high level of participation and in a peaceful atmosphere, in line with international commitments. In that regard, the Assembly’s contribution, including the sending of a delegation to observe the elections, was most appreciated. The Committee of Ministers will continue to provide all the assistance requested by the Ukrainian authorities, with a view to consolidating the country’s democratic progress. It will also continue to monitor developments in the region.
Beyond Ukraine, the Ministers’ Deputies have discussed other developments in member states since the last session. In April, they examined a new report from the Secretary General on the conflict in Georgia. In light of that report, they expressed their concern at continued human rights violations against those residing within the zones affected by the conflict, and reiterated their unequivocal support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia within its internationally recognised borders.
Also in April, the Committee of Ministers reaffirmed its absolute opposition to the death penalty and reiterated the objective of creating a death penalty-free zone in Europe. In a declaration adopted on 28 May, the Committee of Ministers deeply regretted the most recent execution in Belarus and appealed to the authorities to commute the sentencing of the two remaining persons sentenced to death in 2013.
Finally, in early June, the Committee of Ministers agreed by a vote to Kosovo*'s request for membership of the Venice Commission. As you know, member states remain divided on the subject of Kosovo*’s status in international law. In that respect, the Committee of Ministers recalled that membership in the Venice Commission is without prejudice to the positions of individual Council of Europe member states on the status of Kosovo*. The Council of Europe will continue to implement its activities in a status-neutral way, in compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244.
Those are the developments of which I wanted to inform you. I should add that I attach high importance to the Committee of Ministers maintaining a frank and constructive dialogue with the Assembly. I will now respond with pleasure and dignity to the questions that distinguished members of the Assembly may wish to ask.
* All reference to Kosovo, whether to 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.