Ministers’ Deputies
Information document

CM/Inf(2010)18 10 May 2010
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Stocktaking of the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
(18 November 2009 – 11 May 2010)

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Summary

The Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers had set itself three priorities: ensuring the future of the European Court of Human Rights, strengthening the democratic institutions and increasing the transparency and efficiency of the Council of Europe.
The aim of contributing to the future of the Court was achieved by the adoption of a political declaration and an action plan at the High-Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights in Interlaken (18 and 19 February 2010). The unanimous adoption of the “Interlaken Declaration” by all member states made it possible to agree on the various stages of a short-, medium- and long-term reform process with clearly defined deadlines. The Committee of Ministers set up a Working Group to co-ordinate the work and take the necessary decisions for the implementation of the action plan. The fact that Russia deposited its instruments for the ratification of Additional Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights during the Interlaken Conference will now allow for the Protocol to come into force on 1 June 2010.
The second aim was to reinforce democratic institutions in the whole of Europe. For this purpose, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina on 22 April 2010. She recalled the urgency and importance of reforms in order to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Sejdić and Finci case. She encouraged the authorities to continue their efforts to fully comply with the commitments entered into upon accession to the Council of Europe, and she inquired about the present situation and stressed the support which the Council of Europe is ready to give. Her visit to Georgia on 16 and 17 January 2010 was aimed at reinforcing democracy and stability in Europe too. The Chair of the Committee of Ministers inquired about the prevailing situation in the country. She vigorously supported the actions by the Commissioner for Human Rights in Georgia, in particular with regard to access to the people affected by the conflict.
The Conference on Democracy and Decentralisation held in St Gallen on 3 and 4 May 2010 contributed to reflection about this topic, in particular on the potential of participatory democracy at local and regional levels. This conference was organised by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the University of St Gallen and the Venice Commission in co-operation with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
With regard to the third objective, the Swiss Chairmanship firmly supported the new Secretary General’s efforts to review the way in which the Organisation operates, reconsider its role and its strategic positioning and carry out the necessary reforms. These reforms concern issues such as the impact and role of the Council of Europe, its external communication policy, its presence in the field, and procedures with regard to its budget and staff. The Swiss Chairmanship has also continued the Slovenian Chairmanship’s commitment to improving relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly.
The Swiss Chairmanship also continued its predecessors’ efforts to foster rapprochement between Belarus and the Council of Europe. After two new executions, the question of the abolition of the death penalty remains crucial and the Swiss Chairmanship concluded that efforts in this direction will have to continue during several chairmanships to obtain tangible results.
A large number of events were organised by the Swiss Chairmanship in the Council of Europe’s various fields of activity. This report refers to these events, a list of which can be found in the Appendix.

Switzerland took over from Slovenia in the Chair of the Committee of Ministers on 18 November 2009. It set three priorities, following up the commitments made at the Warsaw Summit and the subsequent efforts of the previous chairmanships, which have guided its work during the six months it has chaired the Committee of Ministers. Concrete objectives and means of attaining them were proposed for each of these three priorities. Those priorities were:

I. Guaranteeing human rights protection and the rule of law

II. Strengthening democratic institutions

III. Increasing the Council of Europe’s transparency and efficiency

Human rights, Rule of law and legal cooperation

Firstly, Switzerland gave itself the aim of guaranteeing the future of the European Court of Human Rights. To do so, Switzerland organised a high-level Conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights in Interlaken, on 18 and 19 February 2010. The aim of the Conference was to bring together the Council of Europe member states, represented by their Ministers responsible for matters relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, in order to attain the following objectives:

    I. A solemn re-affirmation by the states parties to the European Convention on Human Rights of their commitment to guarantee the rights defined in the Convention and to make its protection machinery as effective as possible;
    II. Support by the states parties for the efforts made by the European Court of Human Rights to improve its efficiency in the short term on the basis of established law, ie without altering the text of the Convention;
    III. Reinforcement and implementation of the longer-term structural reform process.

The Interlaken Conference was attended by 37 Ministers and deputy Ministers and resulted in the unanimous adoption of a political declaration, backed by an action plan specifying deadlines. The Committee of Ministers, which has just endorsed the declaration and its action plan, has agreed to direct the Interlaken process as a whole and has accordingly established an open ad hoc working group under its authority, which has already held three meetings. The Ministers' Deputies have taken decisions on the implementation of the action plan for the coming years, in close collaboration with the European Court of Human Rights and the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH).

It should also be noted that the final ratification of Additional Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights was deposited in the margin of the Interlaken Conference, allowing the entry into force of Additional Protocol No. 14 on 1 June 2010 and making it possible for the European Union to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, thereby broadening the scope of this key instrument.

Switzerland organised a meeting of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice - CEPEJ (Network of Pilot courts) from 12 to 14 April 2010 in Geneva, with a view to helping to build up the capacity of the Council of Europe member States to implement the European Convention on Human Rights and the case-law of the Court. Switzerland also helped to strengthen the activities of the CEPEJ by seconding an expert to the secretariat for one year.

Within the framework of the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, a Conference entitled “Safeguarding media freedom in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine” was organised in Tbilisi on 15 and 16 April 2010. Public authority representatives, parliamentarians, media professionals and NGO representatives met to discuss the security and protection of journalists, the challenges to freedom of expression and changes in the media field arising from new technology. The main goal of this event was to discuss how to promote freedom of expression and information in the aforementioned countries, in keeping with the standards and recommendations of the Council of Europe.

To strengthen the activities of the Commissioner for Human Rights in the area of freedom of expression, Switzerland has made a media freedom specialist available for a duration of one year.

To reinforce the Council of Europe's capabilities in the area of combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism, Switzerland has seconded a financial expert to the MONEYVAL secretariat.

A seminar on minorities in international law entitled "From minority protection towards
managing diversity" took place on 29 to 30 April 2010 in Zurich, in co-operation with the Convivenza Foundation and Zurich University.

In the area of health, an International conference on “Preparing the practical implementation of the Council of Europe convention on counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health (MEDICRIME Convention)" was held on 15 and 16 April 2010 in Basel under the auspices of the Swiss Chairmanship. The aim of the Conference was to step up the fight against counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes in Europe and elsewhere in the world, by establishing the political support needed to implement the future Council of Europe Convention, and to foster international co-operation.

Protection of biological diversity is an important requirement for protecting the surroundings in which Europe’s populations live. The Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats or “Bern Convention” has protected the European natural heritage since 1979. To mark the Convention’s 30th anniversary, the Swiss Chairmanship organised the annual meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention in Bern from 23 to 26 November 2009.

Democracy / Good Governance

An international conference on democracy and decentralisation was held on 3 and 4 May 2010 at St Gallen University (Switzerland) within the framework of the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. The conference provided a platform for participants to deepen and share experiences on different aspects of democracy, decentralisation and subsidiarity. An essay competition for students was launched in the context of the Conference, and two students - one from Finland and the other from Moldova - gained distinctions.

In February the Ministers' Deputies examined the outcome of the 16th session of the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government, held in Utrecht (Netherlands) on 16 and 17 November 2009, and agreed to examine, at a forthcoming meeting, the question of possibly establishing a partnership between the Committee of Ministers and the Ministers responsible for local and regional government. A decision was submitted to the 120th Session of the Committee of Ministers in this respect.

Several events on the theme of local democracy were organised in recent months by the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, which has focused closely on this subject. Firstly, a meeting of the Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe was held in Lugano on 15 January 2010. This was followed by the "Learning Democracy and Human Rights" symposium in Strasbourg on 15 and 16 April 2010. A recommendation to the member States on the Council of Europe Charter on education for democratic citizenship and human rights was adopted by the Committee of Ministers at the 120th ministerial session.

In addition, Switzerland recently made a voluntary contribution of € 300 000 to the Council of Europe for the implementation of a project on reinforcing local and regional government structures in Albania.

Switzerland, which lies at a crossroads of cultural and linguistic traditions, takes a keen interest in the framing of cultural policies in Europe and in the democratic management of cultural diversity. It was in this spirit that, on 9 and 10 April 2010, it hosted, in Zurich, the annual meeting of authors, editors and advisers who contribute to the Council of Europe's Compendium of Cultural Policies and Trends in Europe, a public forum for discussion of issues relating to cultural diversity and human and cultural rights.

Situation in the south-east European countries, the Caucasus and Belarus

The Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers closely followed the two visits made by the Commissioner for Human Rights to Georgia in December 2009. In particular it commends the work carried out by the Commissioner to ensure application of the six principles he set out shortly after the conflict for ensuring the protection of human rights and the provision of emergency humanitarian aid for those affected by the conflict. It pays very special tribute to his efforts to secure the release of the teenagers held in Tskhinvali by the de facto authorities of South Ossetia in Georgia.

The Chair of the Committee of Ministers visited Georgia on 16 and 17 January 2010 to take stock of the situation and look into the further assistance that the Organisation might provide. The Swiss Chairmanship extended the secondment of a human rights expert to the Commissioner for Human Rights. This expert is based in Tbilisi.

Concerning follow-up to the August 2008 conflict, the Deputies adopted a reply in February to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1869 (2009) on “the humanitarian consequences of the war between Georgia and Russia: follow-up given to Resolution 1648 (2009)”.

The Secretary General presented his consolidated report on the human rights situation following the conflict in Georgia and Council of Europe action in this area to the Committee of Ministers on 5 May 2010. The delegations requested additional time for consultation and will state their views on the report at a forthcoming meeting.

Where South-East Europe is concerned, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers visited Bosnia and Herzegovina on 22 April 2010 in order to meet the high authorities and the leaders of the main political forces and to gain a first-hand view of the situation in that country, following the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdić and Finci versus Bosnia and Herzegovina and before the parliamentary elections scheduled in October 2010.

The Deputies adopted a reply in March to Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1894 (2010) on “the functioning of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina”. In this reply, they inter alia drew attention to the importance of bringing the constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina into line as quickly as possible with the European Convention on Human Rights, drawing on the expertise of the Venice Commission.

This matter is being followed by the Committee of Ministers in the context of its supervision of the execution of the European Court of Human Rights judgment in the Sejdić and Finci case. It will be re-examined by the Committee of Ministers at the next human rights (DH) meeting in June 2010. In view of the general situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, it has been decided, in agreement with the Secretary General, to make this the main theme of the ministerial session to be held on 11 May 2010.

In addition, the Committee of Ministers approved a plan of action on 20 January 2010, aimed at providing assistance for the preparation of the general elections to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina in October 2010. In this context, it underlined once again the importance of aligning the Constitution and the electoral legislation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with the European Convention on Human Rights as soon as possible.

On the subject of Belarus, the Swiss Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers sought to draw that country closer to the Council of Europe. On 5 February the Chair of the Committee of Ministers met the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, Mr Martynov. On 25 February, on the occasion of the swearing-in ceremony for the new Ukrainian President in Kyiv, the Chair of the Committee of Ministers held talks with President Lukashenko. She explained to him that the Chairmanship was resolutely pursuing its efforts to draw Belarus into a closer relationship with the Council of Europe and reiterated the conditions to be fulfilled for such a rapprochement.

Unfortunately, the dialogue embarked upon in this way suffered a serious setback with the execution of two persons sentenced to the death penalty in Belarus, around 18 March. As the Chair of the Committee of Ministers has emphasised in a declaration made jointly with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Secretary General, it is vital that an immediate halt to the application of the death penalty be decreed. The development of co-operation with the Council of Europe depends on a clear signal being sent in this respect by the authorities of Belarus.

The Council of Europe is pursuing its efforts to support Belarusian civil society, including through the Council of Europe Information Point in Minsk. The Swiss Chairmanship has contributed to a campaign for the abolition of the death penalty and has seconded an expert on eastern Europe and Belarus in particular to the secretariat in Strasbourg.

Support for the Council of Europe reform process

The Swiss Chairmanship has given full backing to the efforts of the new Secretary General to review the functioning of the Organisation, to reconsider its role and strategic positioning and to carry out reforms. This process will focus on issues such as the impact and role of the Council of Europe, its communication with the outside world and its presence in the field, as well as its procedures concerning budget, staff, programmes and activities. To support the Secretary General in his efforts, the Swiss Chairmanship has facilitated the creation of a post of special representative for reform, taken up by Ambassador Gérard Stoudmann.

Relations with other international organisations

The Swiss Chairmanship strengthened co-operation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations by seconding a diplomat to serve as the Secretary General's Special Representative to the United Nations institutions in Geneva.

Regarding co-operation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE, a high-level "2+2" meeting on political aspects was held between the chairmanships and secretaries general of the two organisations in Geneva on 5 March 2010. Discussion centred on current and future co-operation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE, their respective priorities and cooperation in the field.

Relations with the Parliamentary Assembly

The Swiss Chairmanship followed up the efforts undertaken by the Slovenian Chairmanship to improve relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly. It welcomed, in this context, the adoption, in March 2010, of the Joint interpretative statement on the rules and procedures for the future elections of the Secretary General, following its approval by the Parliamentary Assembly at the Standing Committee meeting in March 2010. The Bureau of the Committee of Ministers met with the Assembly's Presidential Committee on 18 March 2010 in Paris with a view to the report on a proposed package of measures to enhance dialogue and co-operation between the two statutory organs, which the Secretary General had been tasked to prepare for October 2010 at the latest. The Chair of the Committee of Ministers invited the Presidential Committee and the Bureau of the Deputies to a meeting on 26 April to continue discussion on ongoing co-operation between the two organs.

Appendix

Calendar of main events
5th Swiss Chairmanship of the Council of Europe
(18 November 2009 – 11 May 2010)

18 November 2009, Strasbourg
Transfer of the chairmanship from Slovenia to Switzerland

19/20 November 2009, Bern
Meeting of the Bureau and the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly

23-26 November 2009, Bern
Meeting of the Standing Committee of the Bern Convention (Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats), 30th anniversary

27 November 2009, Neuchâtel
Intercultural Cities / International meeting in Neuchâtel:
"Cultural Diversity in Switzerland: which governance?", address by the Chairperson-in-office

15 January 2010, Lugano
Meeting of the Bureau of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

18/19 February 2010, Interlaken
High-level conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights

9/10 April 2010, Zurich
Meeting of European cultural experts within the framework of the Council of Europe's Compendium project.

12-14 April 2010, Geneva
Meeting of the network of pilot courts of the CEPEJ of the Council of Europe

15/16 April 2010, Strasbourg
Conference on “Learning Democracy and Human Rights - Evaluation 2006-2009 and the way ahead" within the framework of the Council of Europe's "Learning and Living Democracy for all" programme

15/16 April 2010, Tbilisi
Conference on promoting media freedom in the South Caucasus, Moldova and Ukraine

15/16 April 2010, Basel
International conference: “Preparing the practical implementation of the Council of Europe convention on counterfeiting of medical products and similar crimes involving threats to public health (MEDICRIME Convention)"

28 April 2010, Bern
Information day organised by the Federal Office of Social Insurance: "Promoting youth policy in Europe: The contribution of the Council of Europe to policy and practice in Switzerland"

29/30 April 2010, Zurich
Seminar on Minority Rights in International Law, address by the Chairperson-in-office

3/4 May 2010, St Gallen
Conference on democracy and decentralisation, co-organised by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, St Gallen University and the Venice Commission, with the cooperation of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe

11 May 2010, Strasbourg
120th Ministerial Session, transfer of the chairmanship


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