Ministers' Deputies / Rapporteur Groups
Rapporteur Group for Democratic Stability
GR-EDS(2005)CB4 15 March 20051
Meeting of 11 March 2005
The Rapporteur Group for Democratic Stability (GR-EDS), chaired by Ambassador Jean-Claude Joseph, Permanent Representative of Switzerland, discussed the following items in the light of Notes on the Agenda GR-EDS(2005)10.
1. Serbia and Montenegro
1.1 At the start of the meeting the Chair informed the Group that the visit by a GR-EDS delegation to Serbia and Montenegro, scheduled for 14 to 18 March 2005, had had to be postponed due to an insufficient number of participants. He noted that the delegation from Serbia and Montenegro regretted that this was the case.
a. Compliance with obligations and commitments and implementation of the post-accession cooperation programme – Seventh report (December 2004 - February 2005) (SG/Inf(2005)5)
1.2 The Director of Strategic Planning presented the 7th quarterly report on compliance with the commitments of Serbia and Montenegro and the implementation of the post-accession cooperation programme for the period December 2004 – February 2005 (document SG/Inf(2005)5). He highlighted the positive developments, in particular the cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and the freedom of the media. He also drew attention to some points that gave cause for concern in the light of the commitments entered into, including the increasing fragility of the Union's institutions and the lack of significant progress in bringing the constitutions of Serbia and Montenegro into line with the Constitutional Charter, and as far as the legislation on national minorities in Montenegro was concerned. He pointed out that the deadline for signing and ratifying a number of conventions would expire on 3 April 2005.
1.3 The next report would complete the two-year monitoring cycle concerning the commitments entered into by the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. It would provide an opportunity to take stock of the recommendations and the action taken on them in conjunction with the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro, and to put forward proposals designed to bring about further progress.
1.4 The Representative of Serbia and Montenegro welcomed the comprehensive report and its accurate assessment of the situation. His words were echoed by a number of other delegations. He, too, highlighted the favourable developments in his country and provided information about the still-awaited signing and ratification of conventions and the establishment of a list of candidates for the election of a CPT member in respect of Serbia and Montenegro.
1.5 Various delegations welcomed the progress Serbia and Montenegro had made, particularly in cooperating with the ICTY. This cooperation should continue in order to ensure that all indictees, particularly Karadzic and Mladic, were arrested and handed over to the Tribunal. One delegation described the steps its authorities had taken (the establishment of a War Crimes Chamber) to honour this commitment. Several delegations stressed the need to continue to promote respect for minority rights, languages and cultures, particularly in the media field. In this connection, the importance of regional cooperation and the conclusion of a number of bilateral agreements were mentioned.
1.6 The Chair observed that the Group, having taken note of the conclusions of the 7th quarterly monitoring report on Serbia and Montenegro (document SG/Inf(2005)5), recommended that the Committee of Ministers:
(i) invite the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro and the Union's two member states to act on the recommendations contained therein, particularly those concerning constitutional and institutional reforms;
(ii) reiterate its request that the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro honour the obligations and commitments scheduled for the end of the second year of Council of Europe membership, in particular signature and ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government, the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation between Territorial Communities or Authorities and the Protocols to it and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, and signature of the revised European Social Charter;
(iii) welcomed the recent favourable developments in cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and encouraged the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro to continue their efforts to co-operate fully with the Tribunal;
(iv) invited the authorities of Serbia and Montenegro to inform it of the action taken on the recommendations in Part I of document SG/Inf(2005)5 in good time for the preparation of the Secretariat's next quarterly report.
2. Georgia – Compliance with commitments and obligations
2.1 The Director of Strategic Planning presented the new bi-annual report on Georgia's honouring of its obligations and commitments for the period July 2004 - February 2005, which concerned the priority areas identified by the Ministers' Deputies. Publication of this report had been deliberately delayed so that account could be taken of the conclusions of the report by the GR-EDS delegation on its visit to Georgia in November 2004 and those of the Parliamentary Assembly debate at the January 2005 session. Among the important points that needed to be monitored carefully, and in respect of which the Council of Europe was prepared to provide assistance, he mentioned the question of South Ossetia, the draft law on the repatriation of the Meskhetian population and constitutional amendments concerning the functioning of the judiciary, on which the Venice Commission had prepared an opinion.
2.2 The representative of the Venice Commission Secretariat presented this opinion, which the Venice Commission was in the process of adopting. She highlighted the improvements observed by the Commission (provision for direct appeal to the Constitutional Court) and its criticisms (the fact that the President had a monopoly in proposing judges for the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court, too great an immunity of judges), and its recommendation concerning the establishment of a judicial council, which could play a role in appointing judges.
2.3 The Representative of Georgia expressed her authorities' gratitude for the assistance provided by the various Council of Europe bodies and said they agreed with the report in its entirety. She took due note of the Venice Commission's recommendations concerning constitutional amendments.
2.4 The Chair, with the support of several delegations, stressed the importance of taking full account of the Venice Commission's recommendations in order to ensure the independence of the judiciary, which was a fundamental principle of democracy. Several delegations considered that substantial progress had yet to be made in the three priority action areas identified, but that tribute should be paid to the efforts the Georgian authorities had made in a difficult political and socio-economic climate. One delegation informed the Group that its authorities intended to make a substantial voluntary contribution to the Council of Europe to help implement measures connected with the Meskhetian issue.
2.5 Another delegation mentioned the technical assistance it was giving Georgia in the area of police training through a crisis response pool and said that its authorities wished to explore means of cooperating with the Council of Europe to avoid any duplication of effort (see document DD(2005)183). The Chair, noting that cooperation already existed with several international organisations, strongly urged that it be extended to the Council of Europe.
2.6 In conclusion, the Chair observed that the Group, having taken note of the report (SG/Inf(2005)6), welcomed the progress Georgia had made in honouring its commitments and recommended that the Committee of Ministers invite the Georgian authorities to act on the specific recommendations in the report and on the Venice Commission's recommendations concerning constitutional amendments relating to the functioning of the judiciary.
3. Persons unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence in the Balkans - Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1685(2004) – Draft reply
3.1 The Chair invited the Group to examine the draft reply to Recommendation 1685 (2004), which the Secretariat had prepared in the light of the comments made at the GR-EDS meeting on 25 February.
3.2 Several delegations, having stressed the important humanitarian dimension of the issue, suggested amendments to the draft reply, and some provided figures in support of their arguments. The statement by the delegation from Serbia and Montenegro in this connection is appended to this synopsis.
3.3 At the close of the discussion, the Chair observed that the Group had instructed the Secretariat to prepare, in time for the next meeting, a draft reply revised in the light of the latest proposed amendments and the views expressed at the meeting.
4. Other business
4.1 The Representative of Latvia drew the Group's attention to the case of Mikhail Marynich, a political prisoner in Belarus, and to the inhumane conditions in which he was detained, in view of his state of health. He suggested that the Group request information through the Belarusian representative in Strasbourg and that it send a message to the Belarusian authorities stressing that they were responsible for the life and health of Mikhail Marynich. Two delegations endorsed this proposal.
4.2 The Chair therefore suggested first recommending that the Committee of Ministers appeal to the Belarusian authorities to treat Mikhail Marynich in a humane and dignified fashion, in accordance with European prison standards, and that the GR-EDS then discuss the matter again in the presence of the Representative of Belarus.
4.3 The Director General of Political Affairs referred to the letter which Søren Jessen-Petersen, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General in Kosovo, had sent to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on 25 February 2005, asking the Council of Europe to provide the benefit of its legislative expertise in connection with the implementation of the work programme on the reform of local government in Kosovo, and to make available, and finance, a project leader (DGAP/PR/Inf(2005)6 and 7). In the light of the Council of Europe's previous contribution and competence in this field, the Secretary General suggested acceding to this request and using the funds available in the field mission reserve for this purpose, to the tune of 108,000 €.
4.4 The Chair noted that the Group agreed to this proposal and addressed a recommendation to this effect to the Committee of Ministers.
5. Date of the next meeting
5.1 The next meeting of the GR-EDS will take place on Thursday 24 March 2005 at 10am.
The Representative of Serbia and Montenegro made the following statement :
“Since I am taking the floor for the first time before this respectful body I would like to express my pleasure to work with you.
Concerning the text of the draft reply to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1685 (2004) on persons unaccounted for as a result of armed conflict or internal violence in the Balkans, I have been instructed to convey to you the following:
- As a severely affected country, Serbia and Montenegro considers the issue relating to the missing persons as one of the most important humanitarian issues that has great impact to the problem of post-conflict reconciliation. That's why it spares no efforts in cooperating with all other countries in the region of the same concern in searching for an effective solution of this very complex and highly emotional issue. Much has been done so far in very good cooperation with the ICRC, as well as among the countries concerned. However, much still remains to be done. Let me mention only a few remarking figures to corroborate what I have just mentioned.
There is no precise evidence of the unaccounted persons in the area of the former Yugoslavia. Since 1991, the ICRC has received 32,345 searching requests from the families of the missing, with 22,733 of them still unaccounted for. The total number for Croatia is 5,287, with 2,550 still missing; for Bosnia and Herzegovina 21,242, with 16,534 still missing, and for Kosovo and Metohija, 5,816, with 3,616 still unaccounted for.
Due to the terrorist acts such as those of March 2004 and the conflict in Kosovo and Metohija, out of 5,816 persons unaccounted for, the destiny of some 2,400 Albanians and over 1,300 Serbs and other non-Albanians is still unknown.
In 2004 alone, 321 missing cases were resolved, including 95 of them dating from the armed conflict of 1991-1995 in the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina as well as the cases of 35 missing Serbs and other non-Albanians and 181 Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija (1998-1999). It is important to note that in Kosovo and Metohija the exhumation and identification process has been continuously conducted up to this day through the cooperation of UNMIK and the Coordination Centre for Kosovo and Metohija. However, direct cooperation with the Albanian side has never been effectively established. With regret, I have to mention that the meeting of the WG on Missing Persons in Kosovo and Metohija, due to take place on this March 10, in Belgrade, was cancelled by the delegation of local authorities in Pristina because of Mr Ramus Haradinaj's resignation and surrender to the Hague Tribunal last Wednesday. We do hope that the dialogue will resume very soon to the benefit of the families of the missing in the first place.
As for the Serbia and Montenegro part, serious efforts have been invested so far and will follow in order to uncover the destiny of the unknown persons buried in mass graves on its territory. From 3 mass graves in Serbia, out of 836 discovered bodies, 378 were identified and handed over to UNMIK. With the aim to speed up the effective resolution of this problem, the Commission of the Council of Ministers of Serbia and Montenegro established the “antemortem” electronic database that has already included data on some 800 persons unaccounted for in Kosovo and Metohija.
Since 2001, on the territory of Serbia and Montenegro the exhumation of 1,136 bodies was completed, with some 300 missing from the period of 1991-1995. Cooperation with the Republic of Croatia is developing on the ground of a bilateral legal agreement and the respective protocol. We stand ready to invest even more efforts to further improve this cooperation.
Though there has been no agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina so far, the cooperation has been established with both entities. There are encouraging signs of good intentions on of all sides to intensify the cooperation in this field.
We commend the IRCR for its crucial role in solving the problems of the missing in our region. It has also been the main steering force of the development of regional cooperation in this field ever since the outbreak of the war in the region. It should be noted that under its auspices, the 17th meeting of the WG on the Persons Unaccounted for in Bosnia and Herzegovina was held in Sarajevo, last November, with the participation of representatives from Serbia and Montenegro and Croatia. Such events deserve support and my Government is very open to all forms of cooperation, particularly on a regional scale. It sees it as an important contribution to the speedy resolution of this complex problem that is of an enormous importance for the families of the missing, but carrying great political importance as well since it is closely related to the solution of other humanitarian and political issues. Serbia and Montenegro sees the need to actively participate in this cooperation in the light of its own national interest of great value.
Returning to the elements of the draft reply that we have on our agenda today, let me point out the following:
- We welcome and support the improvements made to the text according to the discussion at the last meeting of GR-EDS. However, some of the questions that Ambassador Prica has already raised with a view to its corresponding to the content of the recommendation of the PA 1685 (2004), still remain:
1. The draft reply makes no reference to the PACE recommendation that the Committee of Ministers organises “a meeting of experts to prepare a strategy regarding the problem of missing persons in the Balkans, and in particular in Kosovo, and a plan for its implementation, including technical recommendations”. We would appreciate the readiness of the Secretariat to share with us their stand on the reasons why the respective reference has not been included. Concerning this, we would like to underline our interest in having such a meeting organised and do believe that it would meet the interests of all the countries concerned as well. Further to this, we firmly believe that such a meeting could provide useful guidelines and the necessary impetus to an even more effective resolution of the problem in the region as a whole, and in Kosovo and Metohija, in particular.
2. It is our firm belief that the resolution of the problem of the missing is not only sensitive, but a rather highly demanding task to accomplish. We welcome any support and assistance provided to that end to all those in the region that have been involved in fulfilling this task, including, but not only, the UNMIK Office on Missing Persons and Forensics. With reference to that, any support and assistance to the relevant Government bodies in my country (The Commission of the Council of Ministers for Missing Persons) would be highly appreciated and should be addressed in this draft reply in an appropriate manner.
In order to help the Secretariat, we have prepared an amendment to point 9, (c), that I would like to share with you:
9. (c) Launch an appeal in order to support the institutions involved in solving the problems of the missing persons in the Balkans, including UNMIK's Office on Missing Persons and Forensics.”
At the outset I would like to stress that we are convinced that the outcome of this meeting, as well as the forthcoming meeting of the Committee of Minister's Deputies, would provide such a text of the draft reply which would fully support the intention of the PACE to make a positive contribution to the effective resolution of the issue of the missing and the removal of this heavy burden from the future of all of us living in that region.”
Note 1 This document has been classified restricted at the date of issue. Unless the Committee of Ministers decides otherwise, it will be declassified according to the rules set up in Resolution Res and (2001)6 on access to Council of Europe documents.