CM/Inf(2009)21 7 May 2009
Report of the Spanish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
(27 November 2008 - 12 May 2009)
The Spanish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers has been set in a period marked by the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the Council of Europe and the 50th anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights. Various events related to both anniversaries have taken place in the member states and, in the last few months, special logos on Council of Europe documents and buildings have served to remind us of them. The 119th meeting of the Committee of Ministers is being held in Madrid to mark this special occasion. To highlight the importance of the event for the Spanish Chairmanship, the opening ceremony of the Ministerial Session will be chaired by HRH The Prince of Asturias.
Spain took over the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from Sweden on 27 November 2008. The same day, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers presented the priorities to the Ministers’ Deputies and, the next day, to the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly in Madrid. These priorities were inspired by the decisions adopted in Warsaw in 2005 at the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe. Over the past six months the Spanish Chairmanship has devoted its energies to re-affirming this Organisation’s role in building a democratic Europe based on human rights and the rule of law, in the belief that the achievements over its 60 years of existence are a call to defend those values in the face of the new challenges.
From a political standpoint, the crisis that erupted in Georgia last August has continued to loom large in the discussions of the Committee of Ministers. On the institutional front, the election process for the new Secretary General has taken on great importance.
The celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10 December 2008 provided the opportunity for a statement by the Chair of the Committee of Ministers stressing the importance that it attaches to the promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms. This has been one of the pillars underpinning its work.
The Spanish Chairmanship has intensified its efforts to improve the situation of the European Court of Human Rights. In the face of the difficulties in securing the entry into force of Protocol No 14, and while constantly exploring different ways of overcoming those difficulties, it has provided impetus for the work of the bodies responsible within the Council of Europe (the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) and the Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI)), each of which has produced a report analysing possible alternatives for increasing the Court’s efficiency. The decision to be adopted at the Ministerial Session in Madrid on the effectiveness of the control system of the European Convention on Human Rights is based on those reports. It involves the adoption of measures which, without requiring a reform of the Convention, will help the Court to adapt its case-processing capacity to the growing demand for action on the part of citizens and states. During the Ministerial Session, HM the King of Spain will grant an audience to Jean-Paul Costa, the President of the European Court of Human Rights, a further indication of the Spanish Chairmanship’s high commitment to the Strasbourg mechanism.
For the purpose of securing the abolition of capital punishment in all circumstances, the Spanish Chairmanship has worked to encourage the transformation of moratoriums into concrete legislative changes; it has suggested to other international organisations that they take up the fight to secure the abolition of capital punishment, or at least a moratorium on its application, by making it a requirement for accession; and it has promoted the initiative by the Spanish Prime Minister to set up an international commission for the abolition of the death penalty. The statement of 24 March following the abolition of capital punishment in New Mexico and the visit to Belarus on 30 March, were two significant occasions on which the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs publicly declared his commitment to this proposal. The Ministers’ Deputies have decided to continue holding exchanges of views on the death penalty until it disappears from the statute book in all the member states. During this period it held such an exchange of views at its 1055th meeting on 22 April 2009, at which it reiterated its urgent call for the necessary measures to be taken without delay to transform the existing moratorium on executions into de jure abolition in all European states.
The Spanish Chairmanship has devoted particular attention to the rights of the child and to the 2009-2011 Strategy "Building a Europe for and with Children" adopted in November 2008. On 18 February, the Ministers’ Deputies approved the terms of reference for a Group of Specialists on child-friendly justice (CJ-S-CH), which has been given the task of presenting guidelines on child-friendly justice by the end of the year. The conference on “Children in the Justice System” held in Toledo on 12 and 13 March focused on the protection of children in civil and criminal proceedings, the role of the private sector in preventing sexual exploitation of children and the development of an appropriate legal framework to combat violence against children. The conclusions of the conference took the form of recommendations to the member states for improving the protection of children. The 2007 Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse was also discussed. An expert meeting on “Health in a Europe for and with children” held in Madrid on 16 and 17 April discussed the terms of reference of the committee of experts which will be responsible for preparing the Conference of European Ministers in Lisbon in 2011.
A commitment to the goal of equality between women and men underlay several initiatives by the Spanish Chairmanship. It organised a seminar in León on 12 and 13 February on women and disability. On 13 March, it co-organised a side-event to the 53rd Session of the United Nations Commission of the Status of Women, on the theme: “Equal participation of women and men in political and public decision-making: a fundamental criterion of democracy”. This event was attended by the Spanish Minister for Equality and the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe. On 2 and 3 April the North-South Centre held a conference with the support of the Spanish Chairmanship on the situation of women in the Euro-Mediterranean region. Also in April, on 6 and 7, the experts entrusted by the Committee of Ministers with the task of working on one or more possible instruments for the prevention of violence against women began their discussions. A conference on “gender budgeting” was held in Athens on 5 and 6 May.
A declaration “Making gender equality a reality” has been submitted for approval at the Ministerial Session in Madrid.
The Committee of Ministers has continued to pay special attention to the fight against trafficking in human beings, a field closely related to the defence of women’s rights. The first activity organised by the Spanish Chairmanship was precisely a Seminar on trafficking in human beings held at the School of Diplomacy in Madrid on 2 and 3 December. The aim of this seminar was to facilitate ratification of the Convention against trafficking and, for this purpose, increase the technical knowledge needed for its application. Spain ratified it on 2 April, taking the number of states party to 21. The parties to the convention held their first meeting from 2 to 5 December 2008 and elected the first members of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA). This group will be responsible for supervising and monitoring the application of the convention, which will be examined each year by the Committee of Ministers.
The Spanish Chairmanship has also paid great attention to bioethics, giving its support to the preparation of the Specialised Ministerial Conference on “Biomedical Research Ethics in Developing Countries”, through a launch meeting held in Madrid on 27 April. The Conference itself will take place in the second half of 2010.
In February, the Ministers’ Deputies decided to submit to the governments of member states for consideration Recommendation No 12 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance on the fight against racism and racial discrimination in sport. A Declaration on the role of community media in promoting social cohesion and intercultural dialogue was also approved.
The Chair of the Committee of Ministers made a joint statement with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General on the occasion of the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Crimes against Humanity, which stressed the importance of keeping the memory of the Shoah alive in order to promote vigilance in the defence of fundamental rights. The statement also recognised the importance of co-operation in this field with the Task Force for International Co-operation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research (ITF). The Spanish Chairmanship supported the mounting of the exhibition “Visas for Freedom” by the organisation Casa Sefarad in February. The exhibition tells the story of the Spanish diplomats who saved the lives of many European Jews during the Holocaust.
The fight against terrorism, a particularly severe violation of human rights, which has been a focus of the Council of Europe’s work, constituted a priority for the Spanish Chairmanship. It organised a meeting of the Committee of Experts on Terrorism at El Escorial on 15 and 16 April, which was followed by a joint meeting with the CICTE (Inter-American Committee against Terrorism) on cyber-terrorism. The first meeting of states parties to the Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, ratified by Spain on 27 February, will be held as a side-event to the Ministerial Session in Madrid on 12 May.
During the Spanish Chairmanship, a first meeting was also held on 18-20 February 2009 of the Committee tasked to draft a recommendation on measures to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure respect for human rights of lesbian, gay and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them, and which should be firmly based on human rights standards while proposing practical measures.
On 22 April, the first meeting was also held of states party to the Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds of Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism, signed by Spain on 20 February.
Rule of law and legal co-operation
During the period of the Spanish Chairmanship, various advisory bodies have accomplished important work for improving the efficiency and co-ordination of judicial bodies and prosecution services in European states. The European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice produced “Guidelines on Judicial Statistics” (GOJUST) and the “SATURN Guidelines for Judicial Time Management”. For its part, the Consultative Council of European Judges issued an opinion on the quality of judicial decisions, while the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors, whose Chair appeared before the Ministers’ Deputies, was entrusted with promoting the application of Recommendation (2000)19 on the role of public prosecution in the criminal justice system and collecting information on the functioning of prosecution services in Europe.
In line with the Chairmanship’s objective, set out in its priorities, of promoting the work of the Venice Commission in other geographical areas, especially Latin America, the Deputies agreed to the requests by Peru and Brazil to join the Enlarged Agreement establishing the European Commission for Democracy through Law, taking the number of states party to 56.
A significant number of Latin American participants attended the Seminar on Controlling Electoral Processes on 23-25 April 2009, organised by the Centre for Constitutional Studies in co-operation with the Venice Commission, which focused chiefly on control of campaign funding, the role of international judicial authorities and a comparative study of bodies responsible for monitoring elections.
In the field of international law, the Ad Hoc Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI) submitted to the Deputies on 10 December its report on the consequences of the so-called “disconnection” clause, which will be taken into account in the drafting of all future Council of Europe instruments.
The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) presented its annual report for 2008 to the Deputies, which held a debate with its Chairman on GRECO’s contribution to the promotion of the rule of law and good governance.
Lastly, the Deputies also decided to open the European Convention on Access to Official Documents for signature on 18 June, during the 29th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice which is to be held in Tromsø, Norway.
Democracy and good governance
In the light of the results of the 4th session of the Forum for the Future of Democracy held in Madrid in 2008, the Deputies approved in February 2009 Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)1 on e-democracy, which provides guidelines on how to use technology to reinforce democratic institutions and processes. They supported the holding of the 5th session in Kyiv in 2009, which will focus on electoral systems, and decided that the theme of the 2010 session of the Forum would be “The Council of Europe Consensus on the Principles of Democracy”, the preparations for which were outlined by the Representative of Armenia at the end of April.
In the field of local and regional democracy, efforts have focused on ensuring continuity of the criteria established at the ministerial conference in Valencia, in October 2007, in co-operation with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. The Director General of Local Co-operation in the Spanish Ministry of Public Administration made a statement to the Congress about Spain’s experience of local government, especially in the context of the economic crisis. In March, the Deputies adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)2 on the evaluation, auditing and monitoring of participation and participation policies at local and regional level, based on Recommendation Rec(2001)19 on participation of citizens in local public life. They also took note of the state of preparation of a protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on democratic participation, which should be approved during the 16th Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government in Utrecht on 16-17 November 2009.
The Spanish Chairmanship supports the participation of civil society in all spheres of political life and therefore welcomed the adoption by the Conference of INGOs of the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process.
The Spanish Chairmanship has given its resolute support to the Council of Europe’s work in the field of social cohesion, in the belief that the achievements in this field create a climate conducive to respect for human rights in all sections of society, especially in a context of economic crisis. The Conference of Ministers responsible for Social Cohesion held in Moscow on 26-27 February reiterated the member states’ commitment to the promotion of equal opportunities, including among the most vulnerable groups. The Chairmanship was represented by Mercedes Cabrera, then Minister for Education, Social Policy and Sport.
Persons with disabilities were the focus of special attention, as was made clear in the statement by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers on the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities. The Chairmanship has endeavoured to follow up the Council of Europe’s Action Plan 2006-2015 to promote the rights and full participation of people with disabilities. In this connection, the previously mentioned León conference dealt specifically with access to employment for women with disabilities.
With regard to the Roma population, on 24 and 25 March the city of Seville hosted a conference on key factors for the development of this community, organised by the Ministry of Education, Social Policy and Sport, which was followed by a Council of Europe expert meeting on this subject. At the initiative of the Chairmanship, on 5 May, the Deputies held an exchange of views on the Council of Europe’s work to improve the situation of Roma and Travellers in member states. The first meeting of the Committee of Experts for the Promotion of Social Mobility (CS-SM) was held in Strasbourg at the same time (5-6 May).
In December 2008, the Spanish Chairmanship, in co-operation with the Spanish Ministry of Education, Social Policy and Sport, organised a photo exhibition entitled “Family Portraits” which explored the diverse family models of present-day Spain.
Education, culture, youth and sports
The Spanish Chairmanship has been promoting the Council of Europe’s work in these areas in a variety of ways.
Sport is a priority area for Spain. After the support expressed in Athens during the 11th European Conference of Ministers responsible for Sport on 11 and 12 December 2008, which addressed the themes of ethics and autonomy in sport, Jaime Lissavetzky, State Secretary for Sports, was elected as the European member of the Executive Committee of WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency). On 18 February 2009, he took part in an exchange of views with the Ministers' Deputies and the Deputy Secretary General, who represents the Council of Europe on the WADA Foundation Board. Just recently, on 6 May, CAHAMA officially approved the reform of the International Standard for the Protection of Privacy and Personal Information (ISPPPI)of WADA, as a result of the demarches made by Mr. Lissavetzky, who organized an informal meeting in Madrid on 24 April with the Council of Europe, WADA, and the European Commission. The new standards once approved by the Executive Committee of WADA will be a landmark in the history of Protection of Privacy and Personal Information, being the first norm to be implemented at world level.
By the same token, on 27 and 28 February in Barcelona, the first meeting took place of the Consultative Committee of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS), to which Spain acceded in November 2008 and which many sports federations and voluntary organisations have joined in recent months.
Where intercultural dialogue is concerned, the Spanish translation of the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue will facilitate its dissemination in Spanish America. The Ministers' Deputies has agreed to retain the 2008 theme for the Council of Europe 2009 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, namely "Teaching religious and convictional facts: a tool for acquiring knowledge about religions and beliefs in education; a contribution to education for democratic citizenship, human rights and intercultural dialogue”. This Exchange will take place in Strasbourg on 29 and 30 June, under the joint chairmanship of the Chairs of the Rapporteur Groups on Culture and Human Rights.
The Spanish Chairmanship welcomes the fact that the Council of Europe was able to participate in the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilisations in Istanbul on 6 and 7 April, as provided for in the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Alliance. This Forum provided an excellent opportunity to present the White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue and the anti-discrimination campaign. A further example of co-operation in the framework of the Memorandum was provided by the Seminar held in Seville from 22 to 24 April on the role of the media in combating discrimination.
The Spanish Chairmanship has also addressed the issue of protecting cultural and linguistic diversity. On 20 and 21 April, a Conference was organised in Bilbao “The European Charter for Minority Languages: achievements and challenges”, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. During this event, the Committee of Experts on Regional and Minority Languages held a meeting at which they presented translations of the Charter and a range of documentary materials in Spanish and Basque. Similarly, on 29 and 30 April, a seminar took place in Madrid on the socio-cultural aspects of language learning.
In the field of cultural diversity, being aware of the importance of action to protect the European heritage, Spain invited the Advisory Committee of the Cultural Routes to meet in Madrid on 16 and 17 April and the authors of the Council of Europe’s Compendium cultural policy information system held their annual meeting on 7 and 8 April, also in the Spanish capital.
The Spanish Chairmanship was pleased to note the progress made by the North-South Centre, based in Lisbon, welcoming Serbia as a new member on 1 March and Italy returning as a member on 15 March. The Ministers' Deputies gave a positive opinion on the admission of Morocco, which the Spanish Chairmanship sees as particularly useful in view of the prospects for future enlargement which it provides.
The Council of Europe has long prioritised youth policies alongside all its other activities. The Spanish Chairmanship is aware of the urgent need to actively promote the Council of Europe’s values among the younger generations. In accordance with this approach, Spain hosted a meeting of the statutory bodies responsible for youth policies from 23 to 25 March in Mollina (Malaga).
Co-operation with member states
During the Spanish Chairmanship, the Ministers' Deputies continued to follow with particular attention the evolution of the situation in South-East Europe and the Caucasus.
In February, the Commissioner for Human Rights presented the Deputies with the report on his fourth follow-up mission which he had conducted the same month to areas affected by the conflict between Georgia and the Russian Federation. In March, the Chairmanship welcomed the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1866 extending the mandate of the Observation Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG). At the initiative of the Chairmanship, and as requested by the Ministers' Deputies, the Secretary General was asked to report regularly on the action taken by the various Council of Europe bodies and the human rights situation in the region to address the consequences of the conflict. The Ministers' Deputies expressed their satisfaction with the quality of the reports submitted since.
The Committee of Ministers have been carefully monitoring developments in Armenia and Azerbaijan. A delegation of the Monitoring Group (GT-SUIVI.AGO) will be visiting both countries by next summer.
The Ministers' Deputies have welcomed the progress made by Serbia in honouring the commitments entered into on its accession to the Council of Europe, on the basis of a Secretariat report covering the period February 2008-January 2009. This progress has included Serbia’s ratification of a number of Council of Europe conventions on co-operation in the field of combating crime and terrorism.
The annual report on Moldova’s progress in bringing its legislation into line with Council of Europe standards was favourably received by the Ministers' Deputies in March. In June 2008, the Committee of Ministers had adopted a special plan to cover the 5 April elections in Moldova. On the other hand, the events in Chisinau in the few days after the elections were a matter of concern for the Chairmanship, which issued a statement regretting the violence surrounding the many arrests and the ill-treatment of detainees. The statement comprised an appeal for dialogue among all Moldovan political forces.
The authorisation given by the Belarusian Government for the opening of a Council of Europe Info Point provided an opportunity for the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers to visit Minsk on 30 March last, with a view to promoting reforms which would allow the only remaining European state non-member of the Council of Europe to remove the obstacles to its admission to the Organisation. He held meetings with the highest national authorities and an open dialogue with representatives of civil society.
In February, the Ministers' Deputies took note of the report on the 2009 co-operation programme between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation on the Chechen Republic, and gave the Secretariat instructions for its execution. The programme focuses on the dissemination of information on human rights protection mechanisms among judicial and prison staff and the development of local self-government.
Reform of operational structures and methods
The Ministers' Deputies have been continuing the process of reforming the Council of Europe’s structures and methods, particularly via its Ad hoc Working Party on Institutional Reforms (GT-REF.INST), which has held informal exchanges of views with the Chairs of the various committees on the basis of a questionnaire.. The Deputies welcomed the general framework proposed for the resource management and mobilisation strategy for the Organisation, and invited the Secretary General to proceed with its implementation. A report on this reform process will be submitted to the 119th Ministerial Session.
Co-operation with other international organisations
The Spanish Chairmanship has prioritised co-ordination and co-operation with other international organisations working at the European level.
A report on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the European Union will be submitted to the Ministerial Session in Madrid, also taking account of the report on joint programmes examined in March by the Rapporteur Group on Democracy. Progress has been made in implementing the criteria set out in the Memorandum of Understanding and in the co-operation process with the European Agency of Human Rights. Also in March, the Deputies held a debate with Mr Karel Kovanda, Deputy Director General for External Relations of the European Commission, concerning the prospects for co-operation between the two institutions in the context of the Eastern Partnership initiative. The Quadripartite Meeting to be held in Madrid the day before the Ministerial Session will review the various aspects of this co-operation process.
The Council of Europe/OSCE Co-ordinating Group met in Vienna on 13 March last. It analysed co-operation between the two institutions in the fields of action against terrorism, protection of minorities, combating trafficking in human beings and promoting tolerance and non-discrimination. Furthermore, it stressed the need to co-ordinate action to address the consequences the current economic crisis could have on these fields of co-operation. It decided that subsequent meetings would concentrate alternately on two of the four priority areas of co-operation at the time, in order to allow for a more substantial and detailed examination of co-operation activities and plans in each area. The next meeting, to be held in Strasbourg on 11 September, would examine co-operation in the fight against terrorism and trafficking in human beings.
The Spanish Government’s commitment to the proposals and principles of the United Nations has led to a plan for concerted action, specifically in the fields of human rights and intercultural dialogue. In the latter area, co-operation with the Alliance of Civilisations takes pride of place. During the Baku Conference of Ministers of Culture, the Alliance of civilisations acceded to the Faro Platform. The Declaration of the Chairmanship on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was issued from this angle of co-operation with the United Nations. The annual debate on human rights in February also took place against this background, with the participation of a range of national experts. The Ministers' Deputies welcomed the progress made in implementing the decisions adopted in March 2007 regarding co-operation with the UN in the human rights field. In February 2009, the Deputies approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Development Programme geared to co-operating in activities to promote democracy and governance at the local and regional levels in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.
On 6 May 2009, the Committee of Ministers also held an exchange of views with Mr José Miguel Insulza, Secretary General of the Organisation of American States. As previously mentioned, during the Spanish Chairmanship a joint meeting was held between the CODEXTER and CITCE on cyber-terrorism,
Over these last few months, the Spanish Chairmanship has been working in close co-operation with the Parliamentary Assembly and its President, Lluis Maria del Puig. On 29 April, the Spanish Prime Minister, José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, addressed the Assembly, and the Spanish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Miguel Angel Moratinos, spoke on two separate occasions. Spain maintained a high institutional profile throughout its Chairmanship, as was also highlighted in the interview between the Deputy Prime Minister, Teresa Fernandez de la Vega, and the Secretary General on 13 January 2009.
Over these months, Spain has done its utmost to promote the fundamental values of the Council of Europe without losing sight of the requirements of the European social and political context. In addition to the aforementioned activities, the Ministers' Deputies held a large number of important debates which gave fresh impetus to the Council of Europe’s day-to-day work and the activities of the various subordinate committees on which this work is based. The Madrid Declaration will reaffirm the commitment of the member states of the Council of Europe to promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, never losing sight of the future and the transformations which it will require.