Parliamentary Assembly session : 21-25 June 2004 

(To be checked against delivered speech)

Speech by Jan Petersen, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway and Chairman-in-office of the Committee of Ministers

Strasbourg, 22 June 2004

Mr President,

Distinguished Members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

It is for me both a pleasure and an honour to address this Plenary Session of the Parliamentary Assembly for my first report as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers.

The Council of Europe plays an important role in promoting democracy, human rights and good governance as well as in preventing conflicts and promoting reconciliation in our part of the world. During Norway’s Chairmanship we will work to strengthen the ability of the Council of Europe to carry out these important tasks in an evolving European setting. Europe is changing, and the Council will have to adapt to the new situation. Our organisation needs to be open to reform. We have embarked upon a process streamlining the Council’s activities. We now need to take this process further. Through focusing on core activities and on areas where the Council of Europe can add value, we will strengthen the role of the Council and contribute to maintaining its relevance.

A written report on the activities of the Committee of Ministers since your last Session, in April, has been made available to you. Therefore, I will limit my remarks to three main themes.

First, I will share with you some observations regarding the 114th Session of the Committee of Ministers and the follow-up given to it.

In my second part I will mention the priorities of the Norwegian Chairmanship.

And finally I will touch on some of the major topical political issues that the Committee has been dealing with in the last three months.

As you are aware, the 114th Session of the Committee of Ministers focused on four main issues: guaranteeing the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights, the question of the third Council of Europe summit, the Council of Europe’s contribution to international action against terrorism, and current political topics on the Council’s agenda. The 114th session was the first to be held according to the new system for ministerial sessions adopted in 2003, which provides in principle for a single annual Committee of Ministers session, while maintaining the six-monthly rotation of chairmanships by alphabetical order.

The Committee adopted Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, amending the control system of the Convention to make it more efficient. The protocol is aimed at making the European Court of Human Rights more effective. We urged all Member States to sign and ratify the Protocol as speedily as possible and we instructed our Deputies to assess the resources necessary for the rapid and efficient implementation of the Protocol, and to take measures accordingly. I welcome the fact that 18 member states have already signed the Protocol. We rely on your active support to achieve the goal of having the Protocol enter into force by May 2006 at the latest.

This reform of the Convention must be accompanied by effective measures by parliaments, governments and the courts at national level. The Committee of Ministers adopted a set of three recommendations to the member States, on national measures aimed at reducing the backlog of the Court. We instructed our Deputies to undertake a regular review of the implementation of these recommendations.

Furthermore, the Committee adopted a resolution on judgments revealing an underlying systemic problem in member countries, and instructed our Deputies to take specific and effective measures to improve and accelerate the execution of the Court’s judgements.

The Committee agreed that the Third Summit of the Council could reinforce the Organisation’s position as a key partner within the new European architecture.

Hence, we welcomed the report on the progress of work concerning the substantial agenda and possible results of the Third Summit. We thanked Poland for its invitation to hold the Summit in Warsaw, and we took note of the proposed dates, 16 and 17 May 2005. We instructed our Deputies to continue drawing up the agenda of the Summit, and to decide on the date of the Summit at one of their meetings before the summer recess.

The Committee expressed its revulsion at the recent terrorist attacks in member countries, notably Russia, Turkey and Spain, and the clear condemnation of terrorism in all its forms. We agreed to elaborate further on possible gaps in international law such as those identified by the Committee of Experts on Terrorism, CODEXTER.

We also emphasised the strong need to address the causes of terrorism. The Council of Europe has an important role in building confidence and mutual understanding within and beyond the continent. Our work in this area will be based on the Council of Europe guidelines on the respect of human rights in combating terrorism. The core values and human rights must be upheld and can never be sacrificed in the fight against terrorism.

During Norway’s chairmanship we will focus on three main objectives: firstly, reinforcing human rights and legal co-operation. Increased efficiency of the European Court of Human Rights is a main focus in this regard.

Secondly, strengthening the co-operation between European institutions in the fields of human rights, democracy and good governance.

And finally, further developing the role of the Council of Europe in preventing conflicts, through measures aimed at promoting good governance and strengthening intercultural contact and dialogue.

In the areas of human rights and legal co-operation, the most pressing issue is the follow-up to several parts of the reform of the European Court of Human Rights. Norway will invite member states to a seminar related to the reform process, aimed at reinforcing human rights. The seminar will focus on ways to reduce the Court’s case load, how member states can improve their implementation of the Convention and how domestic remedies can be strengthened to achieve these goals.

During our Chairmanship we also intend to organise a Council of Europe conference to present the Council’s "white paper" on measures to prevent violence in everyday life.

Focusing more clearly on the Council of Europe’s key objectives will provide an improved basis for reinforcing the relations between the Council of Europe and other European organisations, such as the OSCE, but also the European Union. These organisations should concentrate on what they do best, and on the areas where they have the best competence. They should complement each other, not compete.

I believe that there is scope for further improving the co-operation between the Council of Europe and the OSCE. A process of revising the Common Catalogue of Co-operation Modalities between the Council of Europe and the OSCE was proposed at the last high-level co-ordination meeting, in Chisinau last November. Norway will, in close co-operation with the Bulgarian Chair of the OSCE, work for progress in this regard.

We are also pleased with the outcome of the high-level meeting held between the Council of Europe and the European Union last March. The conclusions of that meeting offer a good basis for further progress.

I am aware that the Parliamentary Assembly fully shares the importance, which the Committee of Ministers attaches to the strengthening of the role of the Council of Europe in preventing conflicts.

The Council’s efforts to promote intercultural dialogue and good governance are valuable in this respect. We will support dialogue and contacts between religious communities. Norway believes that education has particularly important potential for promoting knowledge and understanding between cultures and different ethnic groups.

Another important aspect in the promotion of stability and peaceful conflict resolution is broad democratic participation and good governance at all levels, not least at the local level. In the end of September, the Norwegian Chairmanship will arrange a conference in Oslo, aimed at examining ways and means of reinforcing local democracy and political participation. We are encouraging participation from Southeast Europe and the Caucasus Region. Their inputs would be of particular value.

Let me say a few words on a number of major topical political issues, which the Committee of Ministers has been dealing with over the last three months.

The Committee continues to support the Council’s efforts to promote democratic stability and dialogue in the southern Caucasus. Implementation of the specific monitoring procedure for Armenia and Azerbaijan, and the continuation of the monitoring introduced for Georgia are important. We have welcomed the three successive pardons by President Aliyev and the resulting release of prisoners. The authorities of Azerbaijan have been encouraged to pursue the path of reconciliation and democratic reform.

Furthermore, it was highly appreciated that Armenia and Azerbaijan restarted their talks in parallel to the Session. The dialogue was resumed under the aegis of the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. This is a common commitment undertaken by both countries on accession to the Council of Europe, thus deserving the Committee of Minister’s active interest. I intend to visit the three South Caucasus countries in the latter half of our Chairmanship.

At the 114th session, the Committee of Ministers stressed the wish to continue close monitoring of developments in the two most recent member states, Serbia and Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, The authorities of both countries were encouraged to pursue and consolidate their democratic reforms. During the discussion, concern was expressed at the almost complete breakdown in co-operation by Serbia and Montenegro with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Co-operation with ICTY is one of the fundamental commitments Serbia and Montenegro had accepted on joining the Council of Europe.

The situation in Chechnya has also had the Committee’s continued attention. The new agreement concluded in December last year between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation is still at an early phase of implementation.

However, recent events have complicated efforts to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. At the 114th session, a Chairman statement condemned in the strongest terms the atrocious act that occurred in Grozny on 9 May 2004. Political aims must be pursued by political means, and the Council of Europe is ready to play its part. In particular, the Committee of Ministers supports political initiatives taken and remains fully prepared to assist in the promotion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation. The Chair gives its strong support to the valuable work of the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner in this regard.

The Chair warmly welcomes the new reform package that was adopted on 7 May by the Turkish Parliament. This effort to bring national law in line with European standards, in a number of fields such as the judiciary, civil-military relations, freedom of the press and gender equality are appreciated. The recent release from prison of Mrs Leyla Zana and three other Turkish former members of parliament is a most welcome development, in line with these changes.

The Committee of Ministers has maintained a constant dialogue with the Turkish authorities to secure the release of the four applicants. This verdict is an acceptance by the Turkish Judiciary of the full effect of the European Convention on Human Rights and of the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights in Turkish law.

Lastly, the Committee of Ministers has taken due note of the opinion adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on 27 April on the accession of Monaco to the Council of Europe. At the 114th session, we instructed our Deputies to take the necessary measures – in consultation with the Monegasque authorities and the Parliamentary Assembly – to ensure that the Principality can join the Council as soon as possible as the 46th member state.

I thank you for your attention.