Parliamentary Assembly session : 23 – 27 September 2002 

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Keynote speech by Göran Magnusson, Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights

At the Joint meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly and the European Parliament

24 September 2002

The development of Europe as an area of freedom, security and justice

Draw attention to the complementary nature of the two institutions, one of which covers a wider geographical area while the other is a supranational institution. Both, however, represent Europe.

Although human rights have always been the Council of Europe’s raison d’être, the European Union decided to give human rights a higher profile by adopting the Charter of Fundamental Rights at the Nice Summit in December 2000.

The most important thing, whatever decision is taken, is to maintain consistency and the same unparalleled level of human rights protection. Wealth is not measured solely in terms of GDP but also in terms of human rights protection and in this respect Europe is definitely wealthy. This wealth must be preserved.

Among the many questions which concern both of our assemblies, I would like to mention three, which are particularly important both now and for the future: the co-existence of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the fight against terrorism and the International Criminal Court (ICC).

I shall begin with the ICC because of its particular topicality. Tomorrow our Parliamentary Assembly will be holding a debate under urgent procedure on "risks for the integrity of the Statute of the ICC". The EP and other EU bodies also have this on their agenda.

The United States’ intention to seek immunity from the Court’s jurisdiction for its nationals was already clear at the time of the adoption of the report on the setting up of the Court, prior to the adoption of the Rome Statute. The Assembly therefore asked Council of Europe member states to “refuse to enter into agreements with States which are not parties to the Statute”, by which it specifically meant the United States, which had made no secret of its intentions.

Unfortunately a breach was already opened among member states when Romania signed such an agreement.

However, little attention has to date been drawn to the fact that France has made use of the clause in Article 124, which makes it possible for a country to seek immunity for a seven-year period for war crimes committed on its territory or by its own nationals.
We can but deplore such breaches in European solidarity and urge other countries, and particularly EU member countries, not to follow these examples, as it is essential to preserve the cohesion of the European legal area formed by the European Union. The Union should perhaps also take the signing of such agreements into account in membership procedures, even if the Union’s legal experts believe that such agreements have no legal force.

As regards the fight against terrorism, both the EP and the Parliamentary Assembly had already launched the debate on the nature of terrorism, its origins and financial resources and ways of combating the phenomenon long before 11 September 2001.
The events of 11 September 2001 obliged us to reaffirm our belief that terrorism can never be accepted as a means of obtaining satisfaction for any kind of claim whatsoever but at the same time we also forcefully reaffirmed our belief that when combating terrorism we must also fully respect human rights and the rule of law. These are the two outstanding features of the democratic concept which led us to give our backing to the establishment of the International Criminal Court. A report on the persons detained in Guantanamo will also shortly be presented to the Assembly.

To combat terrorism the EU has tools such as Europol or the European arrest warrant, which we wished to see extended to other European countries, while the Council of Europe has legal instruments. This is another field in which our work must be complementary.

Finally, with regard to the co-existence of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, we welcome the way in which the two institutions have co-operated in ensuring the greatest possible consistency without lowering the level of human rights protection. More and more people are in favour not only of incorporating the Charter in the Treaty but also of the EU’s accession to the ECHR. Not only politicians but also European judges and academics believe this is the best solution.

Only the political decision remains to be taken but it must be unanimous. We therefore have to do our utmost to convince those who are still in doubt.