Parliamentary Assembly session : 04 to 08 October 2004 

To be checked against delivered speech

Communication by Jan Petersen, Chairman of the Committee of Ministers

Mr President, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

Following my report to the Assembly on 22 June and the discussions I had with the Standing Committee in Oslo, it is an honour and a pleasure for me to give you an update on the activities of the Committee of Ministers over the last few months.

As usual, more detailed information covering all major aspects of the activities of the Committee of Ministers has been made available to you this morning in my written report.

Mr President,

International terrorism and the threat it poses to democratic societies has been in the focus of the Committee of Ministers’ attention in recent weeks. The appalling events in Beslan, North Ossetia, and the third commemoration of the September 11 attacks in New York serve as stark reminders of the vital need for a collective response to the evil of terrorism. Only last week, the Al Qaida network made new threats against specific countries, including several Council of Europe members.

The threat of terrorism is a global challenge, which can only be met through a sustained and comprehensive global approach. In this new security environment, no country or region can build stability for itself without a broad web of co-operation. Any strengthening of legal action must therefore take due account of the considerable network of multilateral conventions that exists.

The matter is high on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers, which on 9 September adopted a declaration on the terrorist attack in Beslan. The Committee strongly condemned the barbaric act, and expressed its determination to advance Council of Europe activities in the fight against terrorism. I recall that the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a similar statement at their meeting in Oslo on 7 September.

The Committee of Ministers has conducted in-depth debates on how to strengthen the Council of Europe’s contribution to international action on terrorism. The Committee of Experts on Terrorism and other relevant committees have been instructed to increase the momentum of their work. The Steering Committee for Human Rights has started the process to finalise the guidelines on the protection of victims of terrorist acts as soon as possible. Countries that have not yet become parties to the amending Protocol to the European Convention against Terrorism have been urged to take the necessary national steps to ensure its entry into force as soon as possible.

The Committee of Ministers is currently examining a number of concrete proposals from members on how the Council of Europe can contribute to make the fight against terrorism more effective. This work will remain a high priority item on the Committee’s agenda. I would just like to mention two important ambitions here today: making sure that human rights are respected in the fight against terrorism, and seeking to fill existing gaps in international law or action on the fight against terrorism.

Mr President,

Developments in the Western Balkans give reason for both optimism and concern. In September I visited Sarajevo, Belgrade and Pristina in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. I was struck by the pro-active and optimistic tone of my Bosnian interlocutors and their strong commitment to the reform process. It is clear that the Euro-Atlantic integration process is giving direction and momentum to the reform process and the implementation of European standards. However, it is also the case that greater efforts need to be made to cooperate fully with ICTY. The sooner this is acted upon, the better.

More also remains to be done in the economic sector. I urge political leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina to devote themselves with even greater energy to reforming the regulatory framework for business development and economic growth. The continued assistance of the Council of Europe will be a valuable asset as Bosnia and Herzegovina continues its path to integration in Euro-Atlantic structures.

My discussions in Belgrade underscored the need for continued engagement by the international community in support of the introduction of European standards. Recent positive policy statements are encouraging, leading us to expect concrete results in the time ahead. I emphasised the need for full co-operation with the ICTY and also the importance of Kosovo-Serb participation in the forthcoming Kosovo Assembly elections.

In Pristina, discussions centred on issues relating to the implementation of European standards, the forthcoming elections and the process for determining Kosovo’s future status. It was clear that the parties are still far apart on the latter issue and that a major effort will be required to bridge their differences. Greater realism and willingness to engage constructively must also be urged upon the respective parties. The huge international presence on the ground could easily have created the mistaken impression that Kosovo has been higher on the international agenda than has actually been the case.

Nonetheless, in the time ahead, I believe that the international community must focus more strongly on developments in Kosovo. The Eide report on UNMIK and the situation in Kosovo gives a concise description of the current situation, and provides a useful basis for further deliberations within the International Community.

The Council of Europe has an important role to play in helping Kosovo institutions to develop legislation that is compatible with European standards. An example is the valuable contribution made by the Venice Commission on the issue of decentralisation. The Council of Europe is also making an important contribution to the election process through its election monitoring team. In my discussions, I urged all parties to contribute to free and fair elections and the broadest possible participation of all communities. I am confident that the Council of Europe can contribute in a useful and positive way to the developments in Kosovo. I am also convinced that this can best be done in close co-ordination with the SRSG and UNMIK.

Mr President,

Another priority area for the Committee of Ministers has been Southern Caucasus. The region is plagued by unresolved conflicts, which are impeding democratic development. The Committee of Ministers is closely following developments there in the framework of its Ago Rapporteur Group, which will visit the region after the Assembly’s part-session in October. I will myself begin a visit the to region later this week, in my capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers.

I remain concerned about the political situation in Azerbaijan, which has deteriorated in the past year, with respect to civil rights and the rule of law. We expect Azerbaijan to fulfil its international commitments and comply with the demands of the Council of Europe. These include the release of all political prisoners – among them those convicted after the demonstrations in October last year. In this connection, I welcome the Decree of Pardon issued by the President of Azerbaijan last month. Several prisoners – including some whose cases have been closely followed by the Council of Europe – have been released. This pardon does not close the issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan, but I trust that the Azerbaijani authorities will continue their efforts, and give urgent attention to the remaining cases, which should be treated in the same spirit of reconciliation.

I would also welcome a stronger demonstration on the part of the Armenian authorities of their commitment to implementing the legislative reforms recommended by the Council of Europe.

In accordance with their common commitment on acceding to the Council of Europe, Armenia and Azerbaijan resumed their talks under the aegis of the Co-Chairmen of the Minsk Group, with a view to finding a peaceful solution to the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. I welcome the efforts being made by both countries, and would strongly encourage them to continue their constructive dialogue.

In Georgia, important progress has been made. However, the persistence of unresolved conflicts is hindering democratic development and adding to the difficulties of complying with commitments undertaken within the framework of the Council of Europe. I am concerned about developments in South Ossetia. The situation calls for a broader international engagement in the conflict, including through the OSCE. It is important to underline the principle of the territorial integrity of Georgia.

The Committee of Ministers has also followed the situation in Moldova closely. It regularly reviews the various aspects of the close co-operation between the Council of Europe and Moldova. This co-operation is expressed by the international observation and assessment of the census. This mission starts today, and has been entrusted to the Council of Europe.

The closing of Moldovan-language schools in Transnistria was deeply disturbing, and will affect negotiations between Tiraspol and Chisinau. Moreover, children should not be used in a political conflict.

The closing of the European Humanities University in Minsk and the treatment of demonstrators give cause for deep concern. On 5 August, I expressed my concern at the withdrawal of the licence as a clear breach of the principle of academic freedom, and in conflict with accepted practice in European higher education.

In its reply to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendations on disappeared persons and on persecution of the press, the Committee of Ministers confirms that the Belarus authorities will be requested to launch an independent inquiry into the disappearances of individuals.

The Committee also endorses the emphasis which the Assembly places on the freedom of the press and the independence of the media, and encourages the measures recommended by the Assembly. At the same time, the Committee of Ministers continues to stress the importance of maintaining contacts and co-operation with the civil society.

Mr President,

A priority of the Norwegian Chairmanship is the promotion of human rights and legal co-operation. The most pressing issue under this objective is the follow-up of the reform package, adopted by the Committee of Ministers in May, to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights. The reform package includes, inter alia, Protocol no. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, and a series of recommendations designed to improve the implementation of the Convention at the national level.

So far only 22 countries have signed Protocol No. 14. In order for it to enter into force, all Council of Europe member states must accede to it. We all have a job to do here, both parliamentarians and governments. We will provide an opportunity for those member states that have not yet signed or ratified the Protocol, to do so at a special treaty event on the occasion of the transfer of the Chairmanship from Norway to Poland, envisaged for 10 November.

On 18 October we are inviting representatives from the member states, the European Court of Human Rights and the academic community to a seminar in Oslo, to discuss the implementation of the reform. We will look at the challenges indicated by the backlog figures. We will aim at summing up trends and identifying priorities for the Court and the Committee of Ministers in the implementation of the reform measures. We will also look at possible measures to be taken by member states.

Another matter of importance is to strengthen the co-operation between European organisations. Norway organised a seminar in Oslo on 6-7 September on "The Council of Europe - Politics and Practice", aimed at reflecting on the role of our organisation in a changing European landscape. As was highlighted during the seminar, there is no lack of important tasks to take on. There is certainly enough work for the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the EU. The aim for these organisations should be to complement each other rather than to compete. Only through constructive dialogue will we be able to solve the problems we are still facing.

As you are aware, Norway has taken a concrete initiative to strengthen the relationship between the Council of Europe and the OSCE. We have established an informal Council of Europe-OSCE working group. This group will look at modalities for enhancing co-operation and co-ordination in areas of interest to both organisations. We are co-operating closely with the Bulgarian Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE. I will discuss this issue with my Bulgarian colleague at our high-level meeting next week.

Our third priority is to intensify the activities through which the Council of Europe contributes to conflict prevention. I refer to the initiatives taken to discuss intercultural and interreligious dialogue, as well as to the proposals outlined by the Prime Minister of Norway in his statement to the Parliamentary Assembly in June. The importance of using the potential of education to promote understanding and dialogue was stressed. We held a conference on democratic participation and good governance in Oslo just a few days ago. The Chair’s recommendations underlined that effective participation by citizens at local and regional level is vital for the functioning of democratic societies. The Council of Europe has an essential role to play in this area.

Mr President,

Let me conclude with a few words on the Third Summit of the Council of Europe. A decision on this matter was reached on 8 July, when the Ministers' Deputies decided that the Third Summit will be held in Warsaw 16 and 17 May 2005. The Government of Poland will host the event.

The Summit will provide an opportunity to guide the Council of Europe on the way ahead. Our task will be to ensure that the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law continue to be upheld for all citizens of Europe, even in new and changing circumstances. The Summit must enhance our ability to reach these goals. To achieve this, the Summit must attract the interest of Heads of State and Government of all member states.

The challenge for all of us will be to identify and agree upon an agenda for the Summit that will result in a clear political message. In my view, this can only be achieved by focusing on a limited number of items that are closely connected to our core values. We should bear this in mind as we proceed to discuss the specific themes for the Summit.

Let me also take this opportunity to state my pleasure with the decision by the Committee of Ministers on the accession of Monaco to the Council of Europe. I look forward to formally welcome the Principality of Monaco in our family of member states later this morning.

Mr President, distinguished members of the Parliamentary Assembly,

The end of our Chairmanship is approaching, and this is the last time I will have the privilege to address the Assembly as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers. However, Norway's commitment to the Council of Europe will remain unchanged in the months and years ahead. I am confident that the future Chairs of the Committee of Ministers – beginning with Poland – will continue the work to strengthen the role of the Council of Europe, and we promise them our full co-operation.