CM/Inf(2012)15 21 May 2012
Stocktaking of the United Kingdom Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
(7 November 2011 – 23 May 2012)
1. The overarching theme of the United Kingdom Chairmanship was the promotion and protection of human rights. The United Kingdom aimed to develop practical measures in the following areas:
a. reforming the European Court of Human Rights and strengthening implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights;
b. supporting Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland’s programme of reform of the Council of Europe as an organisation;
c. strengthening the rule of law;
d. internet governance, including freedom of expression on the internet;
e. combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity;
f. streamlining the Council of Europe’s activities in support of local and regional democracy.
2. The United Kingdom was privileged to be able to agree with Ukraine and Albania that the priorities concerning Court Reform, organisational reform and local and regional government would be taken forward over the course of all three countries’ Chairmanships.
United Kingdom Chairmanship Priorities
Reform of the European Court of Human Rights
3. The United Kingdom Chairmanship’s work to reform the European Court of Human Rights brought to a conclusion the process begun under the Swiss Chairmanship at the Interlaken conference and taken forward by the Turkish Chairmanship at the Izmir conference. The excellent work of our predecessors culminated in the Brighton Declaration, agreed on 20 April. The United Kingdom’s Attorney General also chaired a useful discussion on national implementation at the Brighton conference. In addition, the United Kingdom Chairmanship hosted a conference in November 2011 at Wilton Park on “A 2020 Vision for the European Court of Human Rights”.
4. The Declaration, a step towards strengthening the Convention system, followed two months of challenging negotiation. In the Declaration, member states re-affirmed their commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. And they expressed their shared commitment to the right of individual petition, as well as to the primary responsibility of the States Parties for the implementation of the Convention.
5. The Declaration contains a range of measures to secure the future of the Court and the Convention. It is important that these measures are implemented quickly and effectively. Those involved in the process must continue to work together in a spirit of co-operation to ensure that the necessary amendments to the Convention are adopted by the end of 2013; and that the further consideration of important subjects called for in the Declaration is also carried out effectively.
Reform of the Organisation
6. We believe we leave the chair of the Council of Europe with the Organisation in a better place than it was even six months ago. Reform has been a central pillar of our Chairmanship, from reforms to the European Court of Human Rights, to the continued increase in political relevance of the Ministers’ Deputies.
7. We have supported the Secretary General in his efforts to take forward internal reform in the Council of Europe. The organisation adopted its first biennial programme and budget in the first month of our Chairmanship. At the same time, the Deputies agreed reforms to a slimmer and more focussed secretariat and intergovernmental committee structure. The Deputies and the Secretary General continued the work on reviewing staff allowances with a decision to revise the expatriation allowance. The Ministers’ Deputies agreed a competency framework for the post of Deputy Secretary General (DSG), and the submission to the Assembly of a shortlist of candidates for the next DSG.
8. Further important reforms have been started under our Chairmanship, which we hope will be completed under Albanian Chairmanship. The United Kingdom funded a consultancy review of the Council of Europe’s contractual policy, the results of which will be considered in the near future. Discussions are also advanced on the difficult, yet necessary, reforms to the Council of Europe’s staff pension schemes.
Rule of law
9. On 2 March, the United Kingdom held a conference on the Rule of Law at Lancaster House in London, in partnership with the Venice Commission and the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law. The Parliamentary Assembly and Congress also took part in the conference. As a result, the Venice Commission is developing further its checklist for governments on how to ensure compliance with the rule of law. It is also developing practical guidelines which will add value to the work of policy makers and legislators tasked with drafting and passing laws across Europe and beyond.
Combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity
10. Another priority for the United Kingdom was supporting the Council of Europe’s work in tackling discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have helped to improve standards across Europe.
11. In 2010, the Committee of Ministers adopted its Recommendation CM/Rec (2010)5 with the most far-reaching international standards on this topic. In 2011, the Council of Europe secretariat established a Unit with a remit to support the implementation of these recommendations across Europe and to promote LGB&T rights. This Unit is funded by voluntary contributions from a number of partner countries, including the United Kingdom, which has committed £100,000.
12. On 27 March, the United Kingdom’s Equality Minister hosted a conference in Strasbourg. This provided an opportunity to discuss and share good practice on a number of practical issues such as tackling discrimination in education, the workplace and sport, and tackling prejudice-based violence and hate crime against LGB&T people, as well as possible steps to advance transgender equality.
Local and regional democracy
13. As another priority, we have aimed to further improve the impact of the Council of Europe’s activities in support of local and regional democracy, through better coordination and cooperation between the actors involved, including the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and governments. Good local government is a vital element of a vibrant democracy and as such merits strong and effective support as part of the Council of Europe’s democracy agenda. The United Kingdom hosted High Level Meetings at Lancaster House on 13 February and in Strasbourg on 14 May to develop a shared vision and the steps to be taken. This work will continue under the next Chairmanship, for whom this is a shared priority.
Freedom of expression on the internet
14. Freedom of expression on the internet has been another priority for the United Kingdom. In March, the Committee of Ministers adopted the Council of Europe Strategy on Internet Governance. This will be carried out over a four year period through a multi-stakeholder in co-operation with governments, the private sector and civil society. The United Kingdom is one of the five members of the Bureau which will take forward work outlined in the strategy.
15. In November 2011, at the London Conference on Cyberspace, the Foreign Secretary committed to support the Council of Europe Convention on Cybercrime during the United Kingdom’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe.
16. The United Kingdom committed £100,000 to the Council of Europe’s Global Project on Cybercrime. The project is now in its third phase, having already supported over 250 activities worldwide to promote broad implementation of the Budapest Convention and related standards and tools.
17. Two more countries, Switzerland and Malta, have ratified the Budapest Convention during our Chairmanship and it is likely that the number of countries ratifying the Convention will increase steadily for the foreseeable future. The United Kingdom will continue to promote international cooperation against cyber crime after our Chairmanship as part of the United Kingdom National Cyber Security Strategy.
Country specific activities
18. During the United Kingdom Chairmanship, the Secretary General has held regular and frank dialogues with the Committee of Ministers' Deputies on topical issues. These debates have enabled timely discussion by Deputies of pressing and sensitive matters.
19. The Committee of Ministers issued a statement on 14 May condemning the continued violations of international human rights law committed since the beginning of hostilities in Syria, expressing full support to the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, and calling upon all parties in Syria to cease immediately all forms of violence. The Committee of Ministers also commended neighbouring countries for the help provided to Syrian refugees.
20. The Ministers’ Deputies held an exchange of views on 14 March with the UN’s Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Syria.
21. Following the reply adopted by the Deputies in January 2011 to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1923 (2010) on “the situation in Kosovo”, discussions have taken place, and will continue, on implementing new Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms in Kosovo(1) with the direct involvement of the relevant and competent authorities in Kosovo(1).
22. The human rights situation in Belarus remained a matter of deep concern within the Committee of Ministers. In March, whilst condemning the bombing of the Minsk metro in April 2011 that caused the deaths and injuries of so many as an act of terrorism, the Committee was unanimous in adopting a statement deploring the execution of the two young men alleged to have carried out the attack. This followed a statement of the Committee in December 2011 which called for the sentences to be commuted. The Committee made clear that, in proceeding with these executions, the Belarusian authorities had ignored one of the basic values of the Council of Europe: the respect for human life. The establishment of closer relations with Belarus will only be possible if the Belarusian authorities demonstrate a clear will to respect the fundamental values of the Council of Europe.
23. In January 2012, partly in recognition of the need for pragmatic cooperation in areas that bring benefit to the Belarusian people, the Committee of Ministers invited Belarus to accede to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings.
24. In March, the Committee of Ministers approved a new cooperation programme between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation for the Chechen Republic. This programme include training and awareness-raising activities on issues concerning the protection and promotion of human rights, countering threats to the rule of law and ensuring justice. A second component will focus on the promotion of democratic governance at the local level.
25. The Ministers’ Deputies have agreed on a number of occasions to discuss the situation in Ukraine during their regular dialogue with the Secretary General.
26. In April 2012, the Secretary General produced his fifth consolidated report on the conflict in Georgia. The Ministers’ Deputies took note of the report on 9 May 2012.
Republic of Moldova
27. The Ministers’ Deputies adopted in February 2012 a new programme for confidence-building measures across the river Nistru, following a visit to the Council of Europe by Mr Eugen Carpov, Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Moldova.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
28. The failure to implement the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Sejdic and Finci was twice discussed by the Committee of Ministers in March. The Chairman of the Committee made a statement on 25 April, regretting that the Joint Interim Commission, which has been set up to present proposals for the constitutional and legislative amendments required by this judgment, had failed to make tangible progress in its work. The statement strongly urged the authorities of Bosnia and Herzegovina to take the necessary measures to execute this judgment without any further delay. The Ministers’ Deputies have agreed to come back to this matter at their forthcoming human rights meeting.
29. The Ministers’ Deputies approved an action plan outlining the assistance the Council will provide to Armenia for the period 2012-2014. The action plan will help support Armenia in fulfilling its statutory obligations and its specific commitments within the Organisation. The priority areas of the plan include, amongst other areas, work to support free and fair elections.
Human rights issues
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights
30. The United Kingdom Chairmanship welcomed the election of Mr Nils Muižnieks as Commissioner for Human Rights.
31. The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers issued a statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (21 March), affirming the Council of Europe’s opposition to intolerance and discrimination and the need to challenge those who threaten Council of Europe values.
32. Of other human rights issues which have come to the Committee of Ministers, the more general question of freedom of expression and information and of the protection of journalists has been on the agenda. The relevant Steering Committee has been invited to examine possible initiatives to be taken within the framework of the Council of Europe to strengthen the protection of journalists and other media professionals, taking into account the work conducted by other international organisations, as well as to foster ethical journalism, and to report back in due course.
Human Rights Trust Fund
33. The United Kingdom is contributing over £250,000 to the Human Rights Trust Fund.
34. The Committee of Ministers issued statements calling for death sentences in the US State of Georgia, as well as in Belarus, to be commuted and deploring executions in Japan and Belarus.
Council of Europe policy towards its neighbouring regions
35. Since the Committee of Ministers’ May 2011 session, the Ministers’ Deputies have approved priorities for co-operation with Morocco, Jordan and Tunisia. Similar priorities are being developed for Kazakhstan. The priorities have been decided in close consultation with the authorities of the countries concerned. They focus on areas where the Council of Europe can add real value and expertise. In November 2011, the Deputies also accepted Kazakhstan’s request to join the Venice Commission.
Relations with other international organisations
36. Co-operation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE was the subject of an exchange of views between the rapporteur group on external relations and representatives of the previous and current Chairmanships of the OSCE in January. Cooperation on the protection of the rights of national minorities and the promotion of tolerance was reviewed by the CoE/OSCE Coordination Group in March.
37. Following the annual exchange of views between the rapporteur group and the Chairperson and Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, the Committee noted that cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Agency covered many areas of mutual interest, while also noting some areas where cooperation could be developed.
38. Responding to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Recommendation on ‘The impact of the Lisbon Treaty on the Council of Europe’ the Committee welcomed the improved cooperation between PACE and the European Parliament.
Relations with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
39. The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly share the same objective: to promote the Council of Europe values regarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. It is essential that they work in synergy to achieve this objective, but with due respect for their individual mandates. There has been a marked improvement in relations between the Committee of Ministers and PACE over the last few years. Examples of this during the United Kingdom Chairmanship include the exchange of views between Ms Anne Brasseur, Parliamentary Assembly Rapporteur on Tunisia, and the Deputies’ rapporteur group on External Relations on 8 November 2011; the exchange of views between Mr Jean-Claude Mignon (rapporteur on the follow-up to the reform of the Council of Europe), Mr Egidijus Vareikis (Chair of the Assembly’s Rules Committee), Mr Serhiy Holovaty (rapporteur on the follow-up by the Committee of Ministers to the work of the Parliamentary Assembly) and the Deputies’ Ad hoc Working Party on Institutional Reforms on 12 January 2012; and the exchange of views between Mr Gvozden Srecko Flego, Chair of the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media and the Deputies’ Rapporteur Group on Education, Culture, Sport, Youth and Environment on 4 May 2012.
CALENDAR OF EVENTS
· 7 November, Strasbourg: Handover of chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from Ukraine to United Kingdom
· 17-19 November, Wilton Park: Conference “A 2020 Vision for the European Court of Human Rights”
· 21 November, Strasbourg: Octopus Conference on Cybercrime
· 24-25 November, Vienna: Council of Europe conference “Our Internet – Our rights, Our freedoms”
· 25 November, Edinburgh: Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
· 5 December, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Roundtable on Internet Governance
· 27 January, Brussels: EU/CoE Data Protection Day
· 13 February, London: High Level Meeting on Local and Regional Democracy “Achieving Greater Value for Money and Impact through Improved Coordination and Collaboration”
· 2 March, London: Conference “The Rule of Law as a Practical Concept”
· 8 March, Strasbourg: International Women’s Day event “Body Confidence”
· 27 March, Strasbourg: Conference “Combating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity across Europe: Sharing knowledge and moving forward”
· 18-20 April, Brighton: High Level Conference on the Future of the European Court of Human Rights
· 24 April, Strasbourg: ICRC event on International Tracing Service
· 25 April, Strasbourg: Internet/Media event and reception with Index on Censorship
· 14 May, Strasbourg: Second High Level Meeting on Local and Regional Democracy
· 23 May, Strasbourg: Ministerial meeting and handover of chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers from United Kingdom to Albania
1 All reference to Kosovo, whether the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo