26th Conference of European Ministers of Justice, 7-8 April 2005, Helsinki (Finland)
(To be checked against delivered speech)
Madam President of the Republic of Finland,
Delivering justice is not just about the relationship between the state and the individual. If justice is fairly administered, whether in the civil or the criminal sphere, then it should benefit society as a whole.
Civil law should uphold people’s rights – and their dignity – as they go about their daily lives.
Criminal law should not only be concerned with the punishment of offenders, but it should also focus on their rehabilitation. It is of paramount importance that neither the perpetrators nor the victims of crime become excluded from society.
This is what we at the Council of Europe mean when we talk about “the social aspects of justice”.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
One issue of growing concern which falls within the realm of civil law is debt.
To a large extent, the strength of modern societies stems from having solid and healthy economies. These provide a stable foundation on which to build democracy and promote respect for human rights.
However, modern consumer societies increasingly require individuals to have easy access to credit, in order to ensure appropriate living standards, to increase consumption and to promote growth.
Lenders are well aware of this, and know that there is money to be made. In certain circumstances, access to credit can become too easy, and as a result many citizens risk becoming over-indebted.
This can – and often does – have serious consequences for individuals’ lives, and the lives of their families, for long periods of time. On a wider level, it can lead to social tension and exclusion.
We are aware that some states have made considerable progress in this area, through measures such as improving financial education, encouraging responsible lending, and establishing debt management and counselling schemes.
We must carefully study these existing good practices and legal measures which are already at our disposal, and we also must look for alternative and innovative legal and practical solutions.
The role and responsibilities of official and non-official bodies at the national level - and, when appropriate, at the international level – need to be clearly defined.
These bodies have a key role to play in encouraging transparency, in improving debt management, and in helping individuals.
When it comes to debt, our message is simple: don’t forsake individual lives for the sake of the economy.
The Council of Europe has done a great deal of work with its member states promoting the social dimension of the criminal justice system.
International co-operation in this area traditionally ignores those on the receiving end of crime while focusing on the offenders.
Our approach is different. We believe that the criminal justice system has to pay more attention to the harm suffered by the victims of crimes – including terrorism - and to balancing the needs of victims, offenders and society at large.
I believe that this is an approach which befits an organisation which is committed to furthering unity whilst defending the individual.
The Council of Europe has also worked with its member states in a range of more traditional areas, such as prison conditions, and involving NGOs, educators and other groups of civil society in crime prevention.
The European Prison Rules of 1987 have been widely applied in our member states, but need to be updated in line with today’s realities.
This revision process is already under way, taking into account the findings of the Committee for the Prevention of Torture, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the practical experiences of the Council of Europe member states.
I count on your support to make sure that the revised Rules – of which there are over a hundred – will be finalised and adopted as soon as possible.
Once this has been done, we will be able to examine in detail the question of a European Prison Charter, as proposed by the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly together with the European Parliament.
This will be an important mechanism to achieve consistency in penitentiary standards, and will also allow us to reinforce co-operation between prison and probation services in the member states – all of which will be an important contribution to the social dimension of the criminal justice system.
The application of justice also involves respecting the rights and liberties of individuals whilst guaranteeing their security. On a global level, terrorism represents the clearest challenge in this respect.
Terrorism is one of today’s most blatant threats to human rights. The atrocities perpetrated by terrorists in Russia, Spain and Turkey last year and which continue to be committed indiscriminately across the planet are attacks against the most basic of all human rights, namely the right to life.
At the Council of Europe we have undertaken serious efforts over the last three-and-a-half years to sharpen our tools against terrorism and to fill the gaps in the existing international legal framework.
The last two conferences of the European Justice Ministers - in Moscow in 2001 and in Sofia in 2003 - were almost exclusively devoted to finding ways to react to this threat.
The adopted Resolutions provided the Council of Europe with the impetus needed to embark on a tremendous work aimed at reinforcing the legal and operational arsenal against terrorism, and increasing the security of citizens, in a spirit of solidarity and on the basis of the common values to which we are all firmly committed: the rule of law, human rights and pluralist democracy.
The results of part of this work - a set of new international standards - will be ready for adoption shortly.
Those standards are: treaties on the prevention of terrorism and on money laundering and the financing of terrorism; recommendations on special investigative techniques, the protection of witnesses, and identity and travel documents; a new set of guidelines for the protection of victims of terrorist acts, and a declaration on freedom of expression and information in the media in the context of the fight against terrorism.
Quite simply, these standards are aimed at preventing terrorist offences from taking place. This includes preventing the recruitment and training of terrorists, preventing public incitement to commit terrorist offences, cutting off the financial resources of terrorist organisations, and refining the means to investigate terrorist activities.
The negotiation of these instruments - particularly the new draft conventions - has been far from easy, precisely because of their potential bearing on certain fundamental rights, in particular the freedom of expression and the freedom of association.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I call on this Conference to provide a clear message of support so that the Committee of Ministers, for its part, and the member States for their part, will ensure the rapid entry into force and concrete implementation of these new instruments.
At the Council of Europe we will continue to work in close co-operation with other partners, under the aegis of the UN Security Council’s Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC), and to provide our assistance, at the regional level, to the ratification and implementation of the universal conventions against terrorism. In this respect, we welcome the recent finalisation within the United Nations at expert level of the draft International convention on the suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism. This is indeed a significant development and we very much hope that it will also have a positive effect on the ongoing negotiations of the Comprehensive Convention against terrorism. We will also give our support to the monitoring of member states’ compliance with the obligations set out in UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
However, our efforts cannot stop with the adoption of the new instruments. This standard-setting exercise needs to be complemented by capacity building activities and by monitoring compliance with these standards. For instance, the role of the already existing MONEYVAL Committee will be critical in monitoring measures against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. Other specific measures will begin to operate once the recent conventions on terrorism are in force.
We are currently developing other important tools, such as country profiles on counter-terrorism capacities. The Council of Europe is also prepared to launch technical co-operation programmes to support countries in building up their national legislation and institutional capacities and allow them to translate international norms into concrete action against terrorism.
Terrorism is an attack on human rights. However, we must be careful that by countering terrorism we do not undermine the very human rights we try to defend, which was reaffirmed in the Guidelines on Human Rights and the Fight against Terrorism, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in 2002. The successful drafting of the new instruments showed us once again that it is perfectly possible to achieve both effectiveness in the fight against terrorism and the protection of human rights.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We can be satisfied with what we have achieved together since the last Conference in Sofia. Yet this is not a time for self-congratulation, and much work remains to be done.
This conference should aim to evaluate the state of our work, to determine the course of our future collaboration, and to reaffirm the commitment of all Council of Europe member States to fighting terrorism whilst respecting fundamental rights and values.
I firmly believe that the Council of Europe is the most appropriate forum in which to discuss the social aspects of justice.
Many of the challenges which are to be discussed over the next two days – such as personal debt, the victim-focused application of justice, and terrorism – are either new or rapidly changing phenomena. One thing they have in common is their cross-border impact and their ability to affect every country in Europe.
Our organisation has the tools, the expertise, the experience and the flexibility needed to tackle these problems effectively.
I know that I can count on your support, and I wish you every success in your work.