CM/Inf(2012)31 rev 7 November 2012
Stocktaking of the Albanian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe
(23 May – 9 November 2012)
On 23 May 2012, the Republic of Albania took over the Chairmanship of the Council of Europe for the first time since its accession in July 1995. This was an event of major importance for the country.
Albania has carried out this Chairmanship with pride and a sense of strong commitment to the Council of Europe, and to the Organisation’s comprehensive goals and future. This Chairmanship, following that of Ukraine and the United Kingdom, as part of an innovative Troika, is viewed as an opportunity to provide its own tangible contribution to the cause of human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law which this organisation, the oldest of the European democratic institutions, so uniquely embodies and promotes across the continent and beyond.
Guided by the overarching interest of the Organisation as a whole, the main objective of the Albanian Chairmanship was to defend and promote the fundamental values of the Council of Europe, strengthen its political role, visibility and influence. It was in this spirit that it set out its main priorities:
1. Promoting sustainable democratic societies;
2. Strengthening local and regional democracy;
3. Strengthening the rule of law in Europe;
4. Bringing forward the political reform of the organisation;
5. Guaranteeing the long term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights;
6. Guaranteeing the promotion of human rights;
7. Stimulating intra- and inter-institutional dialogue.
The guiding motto of the Albanian Chairmanship was “United in diversity”, since it is firmly convinced that diversity is Europe’s destiny, that it is a genuine asset for European democratic societies, and also because respect for diversity and multiculturalism is a traditional value of the Albanian people.
The Albanian Chairmanship was marked by numerous events, organised in Strasbourg, in Albania and around Europe, with the main goal of promoting the core values of the Council of Europe and fulfilling the abovementioned priorities. The gift which Albania was proud to present to the Council of Europe – a woman’s traditional dress from the highlands of Northern Albania – the “Xhubleta” – is a reminder of the great variety of customs and traditions which are so much a feature of our continent and which are its strength.
Promoting sustainable democratic societies
The Albanian Chairmanship made promoting sustainable democratic societies the first of its priorities. Under this key priority, one of its most important actions was promoting intercultural and interfaith dialogue as values which are deeply rooted in the spirit and traditions of the Albanian people.
As a country which takes pride in its century-long tradition of co-existence and interfaith harmony, Albania hosted on 3 and 4 September, in Durrës, the 2012 Council of Europe Exchange on the Religious Dimension of Intercultural Dialogue, attended by more than a hundred participants (representatives of religious communities and non-religious convictions, youth organisations, media professionals and representatives of governments). The 2012 Exchange discussed the role of young people in the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue for the building of tomorrow’s Europe. For the first time since the Exchanges began, young people played an active part, and made a very valuable contribution to the discussions. Particularly in the current context, in which there is a marked rise in intolerance and on occasion incitement to violence in connection with the question of religion, the value of these Exchanges is obvious.
Also, the Albanian Chairmanship strongly condemned the acts of terrorism and calls for violence which followed the showing of the film “Innocence of Muslims”, while at the same time condemning all incitement to hatred, particularly religious hatred, and called for respect for each individual’s beliefs.
Educating the new generations in democratic citizenship and the values of the Council of Europe was at the very heart of the programme of the Albanian Chairmanship, devoting many of its activities to young people. In this spirit, as part of the Council of Europe’s programme on “Passing on the remembrance of the Holocaust and prevention of crimes against humanity: a cross-cutting approach”, Albania organised a conference in Tirana on 6 and 7 September focusing on remembrance of the Holocaust and an educational workshop. Taking the form of a “Tribute by European young people to those who saved the honour of humanity”, these events were an opportunity to highlight, at European level, the exemplary actions of Albanians who, at the time of the Holocaust, saved thousands of Jews, offering them refuge and protection, despite the danger to their own lives and those of their families. These events served to raise awareness, among participants, particularly the younger ones, of the true citizenship response shown by those persons who saved the lives of Jews and to grasp what the witnesses present – awarded certificates of recognition delivered by the Albanian Prime Minister – had experienced.
The Albanian Chairmanship made educating young people in the values of democratic citizenship to promote intercultural dialogue, mutual understanding and tolerance one of the two themes of the high-level conference on “Diversity in Europe – a strength for the future”, which it organised in Tirana on 9 November and which marked the end of its 6-month chairmanship. Albania welcomes the fact that this topic will be central to the priorities of the future Andorran Chairmanship.
Convinced of the key role that young people can play as messengers of reconciliation and peace between communities, still today scarred by the inter-ethnic conflicts of the past, from 9 to 17 September, Albania played host in Llogara to young people from Albania and neighbouring countries, for the first ever Regional Peace Camp in South-East Europe, so that they could engage in dialogue and activities to help them overcome conflict situations, based on human rights education and intercultural learning.
As a country working for reconciliation, peace and stability in the Balkan region, Albania continues to work to promote the fundamental values of the Council of Europe in all these countries and to strengthen dialogue, good neighbourly relations and co-operation, in order to secure peace and lasting stability as a means of achieving their common objective, which is European integration.
It was in this spirit, and convinced of the importance of the Council of Europe’s assistance in consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and in protecting and promoting human rights in all countries of this region, that Albania encouraged closer ties between the Council of Europe and Kosovo.1
In this respect, the valuable work conducted by the Council of Europe in Kosovo1 and the positive interaction established with the EU should be continued, in the interest of all individuals living in Kosovo1, and beyond, for the sake of the stability of the whole region, in line with Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1739 (2010).
The Albanian chairmanship welcomes the first informal meeting between Mr Hashim Thaçi of Kosovo1 and Secretary General Jagland, as referred by the Secretary General at the 1152nd Ministers’ Deputies meeting in October. In particular, the constructive and pragmatic call by Mr Jagland in support of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina is commendable, as well as the reaffirmation of the strong belief that no European should be excluded from the benefits provided by the European Convention on Human Rights.
As the promotion of dynamic democratic governance is an important component of democracy and one of the essential preconditions for ensuring effective protection of human rights and guaranteeing the rule of law, Albania gave its full support to the first Strasbourg World Forum for Democracy, as evidenced by the participation at this event by the Albanian Prime Minister and Speaker of the Albanian Parliament.
Strengthening local and regional democracy
Albania made this key dimension of the democracy pillar one of its main priorities and gave it particular prominence under its Chairmanship, in accordance with the undertaking it had given as a member of the Troika with the Ukrainian and UK Chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers. The strengthening of democracy at local and regional level, with the aim of ensuring good governance for everyone in Europe, remains a common objective for all Council of Europe member states. As stressed in the Chaves Report and further defined at the Kyiv Conference, establishing close thematic co-operation between the intergovernmental sector, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Parliamentary Assembly was at the centre of the various activities organised in this field by the Albanian Chairmanship.
In the framework of the Albanian Chairmanship, the Bureau of the Congress was invited to hold its meeting on 14 June 2012 in the Albanian capital, Tirana. President Whitmore praised the interest shown by the Albanian authorities in further improving governance and welcomed Albania's commitment to strengthening local and regional democracy.
An important event was the High-level Conference on the role of decentralisation in the consolidation of democracy in Albania and European integration, organised in Tirana on 30 and 31 October.
During its chairmanship, Albania focused on political pluralism, through the creation of a platform of dialogue and inter-municipal co-operation; good governance at local level and improving local services; the promotion of human rights at local level; raising awareness among local and regional authorities; and strengthening citizens’ democratic participation, topics dealt with in various events.
Strengthening the rule of law in Europe
Strengthening the rule of law in Europe was a further priority of the Albanian Chairmanship. Appreciating the major role and assistance of the Venice Commission in defending the European constitutional and electoral heritage, it had the honour of celebrating in Tirana the 10th anniversary of the Code of Good Practice in Electoral Matters and to organise, together with this Commission, an event which focused on this issue.
The Council of Europe’s activities concerning the rule of law, especially those seeking to prevent the threats posed by dangerous phenomena such as corruption and the growth of criminal activity, are of particular importance to the Albanian government, which felt that the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers was an ideal opportunity to take stock of its excellent co-operation with the Council of Europe. A conference on this topic was organised in Tirana on 8 November, attended by the Albanian Prime Minister and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe.
In the legal sphere, an important event was the 31st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice, on 19-21 September 2012, Vienna, Austria, which looked at the justice systems’ responses to urban violence. Alongside this event, an Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Extradition, adopted by the Committee of Ministers last June, was opened for signature. No fewer than twelve member States, including Albania, signed it on this occasion. On a more general level, at the instigation of the Secretary General, the Committee of Ministers has set about not only promoting the Council of Europe’s conventions but also managing them in a more effective manner. We hope that the work done in this area will swiftly lead to decisions so as to ensure the widest possible application of these conventions.
Pressing ahead with the political reform of the Organisation
The Albanian Chairmanship, pursuing the efforts of previous chairmanships, continued to support the political reform of the Council of Europe undertaken by the Secretary General. This reform seeks to strengthen the Organisation’s crucial role and increase its influence, both in the European architecture and on the international scene, and remains a major goal for the future of the Council of Europe.
Promoting dialogue and co-operation with the countries of the Mediterranean
As strengthening dialogue and co-operation with the countries of North Africa and the Mediterranean is part of the political reform of the Council of Europe, the Albanian Chairmanship made this too one of its priorities. It chose “Dialogue with our Mediterranean neighbours: sharing best practice to bring about open and stable democratic societies” as the theme of the first session of the conference on “Diversity in Europe – a strength for the future”, which was held on 9 November and marked the end of the Chairmanship. By means of this event, Albania – a country which has a long tradition of respect for different cultures and religions – wished to pass on the message of openness to everyone’s different cultures and beliefs. In addition, as a country which has lived through the transition from a dictatorship to a system of pluralist democracy, during which the assistance and expertise of the Council of Europe have been invaluable, Albania felt that an exchange of views on this experience could also be worthwhile for the new Mediterranean democracies. The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of these countries have been invited to attend the conference. The Albanian Chairmanship believes that in this way it has contributed to promoting closer ties and strengthening dialogue and co-operation between the Council of Europe and these countries. It is convinced that it is essential for the Organisation to pursue its efforts and action in this field.
With regard to Syria, where the situation has deteriorated dramatically over the last six months, the Chairmanship has on several occasions expressed its indignation at the atrocities that have been carried out there. In particular, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Edmond Panariti, firmly condemned the shelling of Turkey by Syrian forces and urged the Syrian authorities to put an immediate end to the violence.
The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers attended on 6 July 2012 the Third Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of Syria, which was held in Paris. In his intervention, he stressed the need for joint action in protecting human rights.
The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Panariti, also issued a declaration on the first free elections held in Libya on 9 July 2012.
Guaranteeing the long term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights
In accordance with its commitment to continue, in the course of its Chairmanship, the efforts of the previous chairmanships, in particular those of Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom, to guarantee the long term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights at national and European level, and more specifically under the Chairmanship Troika with Ukraine and the United Kingdom, the Albanian Chairmanship pursued the intergovernmental activities based on the Declarations and Action Plans of the Interlaken, Izmir and Brighton Conferences to this end. Following on from the Brighton Conference, it organised a workshop in Tirana on 5 October focusing on certain aspects of the application of the European Convention on Human Rights at national level.
Bearing in mind that the effective protection of fundamental rights depends on a better understanding of the European human rights system, Albania is convinced that it is essential to raise the awareness of the European Convention in the member states. To this end, it also organised a symposium on promoting the case law of the European Court of Human Rights in current national curricula.
The visit last June by the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Sir Nicolas Bratza, was a further clear indication of the importance which Albania attaches to the Court.
Under the auspices of Albanian Chairmanship, the Directorate General of Human Rights and Rule of Law successfully organised in Strasbourg, in June 2012, a Conference on the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals-HELP Programme. This was the first time that national training institutions for judges and prosecutors, as well as Bar Associations of the member States of the Council of Europe attended such a large conference on how to apply the Convention of Human Rights at national level.
The supervision of the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights was followed with particular interest during the Albanian Chairmanship. During its term of office, the Ministers’ Deputies examined the follow-up to the Court’s judgment in the case of Sejdic and Finci against Bosnia and Herzegovina. They noted with regret that, despite their commitment, the authorities and political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina had, once again, failed to reach a consensus and to present draft constitutional amendments to the Parliamentary Assembly of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The execution of the Sejdic and Finci judgement is vital if the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina is to be brought into line with the European Convention on Human Rights.
Also, on 24 October 2012, the Ministers’ Deputies held an exchange of views with Sir Nicolas Bratza, President of the European Court of Human Rights.
Guaranteeing the promotion of human rights
Another focus of the Albanian Chairmanship has been that of further enhancing Council of Europe Conventions aiming at guaranteeing and promoting human rights.
Particular attention was devoted to the promotion of three major Council of Europe Conventions: on “Action against Trafficking in Human Beings” (CETS No. 197); “the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse” (CETS No. 201) and “Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence” (CETS No. 210). To this end, the Albanian Chairmanship organised two “tour de table” on the signature of these instruments within the Committee of Minister, and bilateral contacts in member states, inviting those that had not yet done so, to consider signing and ratifying these treaties as soon as possible. The Chairmanship expressed its satisfaction concerning the signatures and ratifications by a number of countries that had taken place during its term of office.
In accordance with the undertaking it made on taking up the Chairmanship, the Albanian Parliament will ratify the Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence before the end of the Chairmanship.
In accordance with its undertaking to ensure continuity with the priorities of the UK Chairmanship and its commitment to combating all forms of discrimination, including discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, a thematic debate was held on this topic in the Committee of Ministers under the Albanian Chairmanship.
A human rights issue of particular interest to the Albanian Chairmanship concerns the rights of the child. During its term of office, Albania organised in Tirana, on 14 and 15 June 2012, a regional seminar on the theme “Democracy must work for children”. Albania welcomed the launching of the Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Children 2012-2015 and it also took an active part in the First Round Table organised in Strasbourg in June 2012.
An important event during the Albanian Chairmanship was the visit in Tirana of Mr Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, in September 2012, where he participated in a conference dedicated to the remembrance of the Holocaust. During this visit, the Commissioner met in particular with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Interior. These meetings served to establish a direct dialogue between the new Commissioner and the Albanian authorities, and to continue the good co-operation already existing with the Commissioner’s office.
Abolition of the death penalty
At the initiative of the Chairmanship, on 10 October, the Committee of Ministers adopted a Declaration on the death penalty re-affirming their unequivocal opposition to this punishment in all places and in all circumstances and welcoming the fact that no executions had been carried out on the territory of Council of Europe member states for the last fifteen years. The Deputies called on all countries which still applied the death penalty, including those holding observer status with the Council of Europe, to immediately apply a moratorium on executions as a first step towards abolition.
On 17 October, on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Albanian Chairmanship lent its support to a conference entitled “Building Europe through Human Rights – Acting together against extreme poverty” organised by the Conference of INGOs. Following the Conference, the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and the Presidents of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities and the Conference of INGOs adopted a declaration. The Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies attended the opening session of the conference and the ceremony held on that day on the forecourt of the Palais de l’Europe.
Under the auspices of the Albanian Chairmanship, a colloquy was organised by the UNHCR office at the Council of Europe on the “Right to work for refugees”, attended by the Chair of the Ministers’ Deputies.
All these undertakings by the Albanian Chairmanship illustrate Albania’s commitment to promoting the most fundamental human rights and values for the most vulnerable groups in our societies in order to ensure greater cohesion.
Strengthening co-operation between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly
In carrying out its work, the Albanian Chairmanship further developed the excellent co-operation established with the Parliamentary Assembly under previous Chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers, making this too one of its priorities. The Albanian Chairmanship fully welcomed the opportunity it had to work with the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) to advance the values of the Council of Europe. A number of major events took place in Albania, such as the meetings of the PACE’s Standing Committee and the Equality Committee. Of particular interest was the meeting held in Tirana on 13 and 14 September on “the role of parliaments and parliamentarians in signing, ratifying and implementing international treaties”.
The joint visit to Tunisia from 29 to 31 October by Mr Panariti, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers and Mr Mignon, President of the PACE, is a further indication of the excellent interaction and collaboration between these two organs under the Albanian Chairmanship.
During Albania’s term of office, the Ministers’ Deputies held two exchanges of views with the PACE President Jean-Claude Mignon, who informed the Deputies in July and October about the outcome of the PACE sessions held respectively in June and October 2012.
Furthermore, the participation of the most senior figures in the country, the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister, at the Parliamentary Assembly’s summer and autumn part-sessions illustrate Albania’s commitment to this major organ of the Council of Europe and its gratitude for the contribution it has provided it in helping bring about a stable and consolidated democratic society.
The Albanian Chairmanship welcomed the election of Mrs Gabriella Battaini Dragoni as Deputy Secretary General, during the Third Part-Session of the 2012 Ordinary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (June 2012).
Strengthening co-operation and partnership with its international partners, the EU, the OSCE and the UN
The Albanian Chairmanship deployed considerable efforts to strengthen co-operation and partnership between the Council of Europe and its international partners, in particular the EU, the OSCE and the UN. The Council of Europe and the European Union share the same values – protecting and promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. As evidenced by the summary report adopted by the Deputies last June, closer co-operation and co-ordination of activities between the two organisations continued successfully.
Also appreciating the very major role played by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in promoting stability and security in Europe, and in promoting tolerance, non-discrimination and protection of the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, Albania took the opportunity offered by its Chairmanship to make a more tangible contribution to the strengthening of co-operation with that organisation, in order to ensure complementarity between the activities of the two organisations. The presentation of the Chairmanship’s priorities by the Albanian Foreign Minister, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, to the OSCE Permanent Council and Parliamentary Assembly was very much appreciated by our OSCE partners. The Albanian and OSCE Chairmanships welcomed the fact that this established practice would also be continued by the Andorran Chairmanship.
During the Albanian Chairmanship, the Committee of Ministers held an exchange of views with Mr Knut Vollebaeck, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities which led to an evaluation of co-operation.
The Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Panariti, addressed the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE in Tirana, on 5-7 October 2012. In his intervention, Minister Panariti pointed out that the continuation of the enduring partnership between the Council of Europe and the OSCE is instrumental to the fulfillment of a Euro-Atlantic security community, based on the universally recognised values of democracy and the rule of law.
On 19 October the meeting of the Co-ordination Group between the Council of Europe and the OSCE was held in Vienna, affording the opportunity to examine co-operation in the fight against terrorism and action against trafficking in human beings.
Concerning co-operation with the United Nations, the Albanian Chairmanship, via its New York mission, exerted considerable efforts in view of securing unanimous approval by the General Assembly of the text of a draft UNGA Resolution on this subject, approved in early July by the Committee of Ministers and transmitted to the UN Secretary General.
The Albanian Minister of Foreign Affairs, in his capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, has continuously highlighted the importance and visibility of Council of Europe values and priorities in all regional and bilateral meetings he has had in these 6 months (May–November 2012).
As it hands over the Chairmanship, Albania reiterates its commitment to the Council of Europe and to the values it embodies, and its undertaking and firm resolve to continue to take action to guarantee respect for and promotion of these values both nationally and at European level, together with all the other member states.
1 All reference to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo