(To be checked against delivered speech)
It is an honour and a pleasure for me to give an overview of the six months of Norwegian chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers on the last day of our term.
This is clearly a time to take stock of what we have achieved. But it is equally important to look ahead, and to point out how we can continue to strengthen the Council of Europe. Developing democracy and good governance is in many ways a perpetual and ongoing process. Thus, the success of activities initiated by one chair is only ensured if they are followed-up by future chairs.
We have sought to focus on three main objectives, which all enhance the core values of the Council of Europe. The first is to further promote human rights and legal co-operation, and here reform of the European Court of Human Rights has been a central element. The second is to strengthen the co-operation between the Council of Europe and other European organisations. And the third is to enhance the role of the Council of Europe in preventing conflicts by fostering good governance and strengthening intercultural dialogue and contact.
The last event during the Norwegian chairmanship took place outside this room this morning. It was related to the key prioritie of the implementation of the reform package adopted by the ministers in May to guarantee the long-term effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights.
We have taken every opportunity to urge states to sign and ratify Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights as soon as possible. The protocol will, when it enters into force, improve the court’s ability to deal with the rapidly growing number of cases.
A high level seminar on reform of the European human rights system was held in Oslo on 18 October. The seminar was opened by the Crown Prince of Norway, and I would like to recall a couple of the main conclusions. Firstly, as was stressed by the court’s president, the balance between the national and international levels of human rights protection must be restored. At present the court is bearing a disproportionate part of the burden. The time has come for the member states to fully assume their responsibilities under the convention. Secondly, in order to reach that goal, intensified co-operation is needed between the various institutions of the Council of Europe, member states and civil society. I trust that these points, together with the other conclusions of the seminar, will be duly taken into account by the Committee of Ministers, the court and the member states.
The court is at the heart of the Council of Europe, and the end of our chairmanship will not entail an end to our dedication to the reform process, which we will continue to follow closely and support as constructively as we can.
Another main priority has been to strengthen the synergy in European co-operation. The chair of the Committee of Ministers launched an initiative for closer co-operation with the OSCE in his address to the Parliamentary Assembly on 22 June. We are pleased that the initiative has received a positive response from the Chairman in Office of the OSCE and from the member states of both organisations.
Norway has co-operated closely with the Bulgarian chair of the OSCE on taking the initiative one step further towards a constructive and practical realisation. The initiative was discussed when foreign ministers Petersen and Passy met in Sofia on 13 October. They agreed that there is scope for enhanced interaction in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of work. The ministers also expressed their common desire to put this issue on the agendas of the OSCE Ministerial Council in Sofia and of the May 2005 Council of Europe Summit in Warsaw.
Norway, you may racall, circulated a “food for thought” paper in July, presenting ideas aimed at enhancing co-operation between the OSCE and the Council of Europe. The paper was generally well received, and a task force was set up by the two organisations to further discuss the initiative. The discussions resulted in a consolidated document, which proposes that a co-ordination mechanism should be established. Once set up, this mechanism would follow the co-operation between the two organisations with a view to ensuring good coordination and avoid wasteful duplication.
The third priority is to enhance the role of the Council of Europe in preventing conflict through measures to promote good governance and strengthen intercultural contact and dialogue.
In June we hosted a Council of Europe conference in Oslo on the religious dimension in intercultural education. The Council of Europe has an important role to play in promoting systematic information on how education can contribute to conflict prevention and mutual respect between different cultures. The conference was opened by our Prime Minister, adding weight to this priority of the Norwegian chairmanship.
Promoting understanding through dialogue and contacts was also a main theme in the intervention by the Prime Minister at the Parliamentary Assembly’s session in June.
Another important dimension in conflict prevention is promoting good governance, particularly at local level. Norway is committed to supporting the intergovernmental co-operation aimed at promoting local and regional democracy. We hosted a conference on democratic participation and good governance in September. One of the goals of the conference was to explore how democratic participation at local and regional level can be improved. The conference was opened by our Minister for Local and Regional Development, and was well attended by all member countries.
Political stability and peace are closely linked to democracy and the rule of law. Thus, the activities of the Council of Europe in the Western Balkans and the Caucasus have been a priority area.
The Chairman’s discussions in Belgrade underscored that the international community must continue to support the introduction of European standards and Euro-Atlantic integration for Serbia and Montenegro. In particular the co-operation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is an important factor that will affect the speed of this integration process in Serbia and Montenegro as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina. I would like to reiterate that the international community, including the Council of Europe, must focus more consistently on developments in Kosovo in the time ahead.
The Southern Caucasus has been another priority area. The future development of the region depends to a great extent on the solution of the ”frozen” conflicts in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. The solutions must be sought through peaceful means, and the main responsibility rests with the parties themselves. However, the international community stands ready to assist and facilitate this process.
In his capacity as Chairman of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Petersen visited the region in mid-October. The Chairman´s clear impression after his visit in Armenia and Azerbaijan was that both countries still have a way to go before they have fully complied with their Council of Europe obligations as regards democratisation, freedom of the media, free and fair elections, and political dialogue with the domestic opposition.
The Council of Europe expects Azerbaijan to fulfil its international commitments and comply with the demands of the Council, one of them being the release of all political prisoners. I urge the Azerbaijani authorities to continue their efforts and give urgent attention to the remaining cases, which should be dealt with in a 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. I welcome the efforts being made by both Armenia and Azerbaijan to find a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. I strongly encourage them to continue their constructive dialogue.
The Chairman was impressed with the commitment to change in Georgia. Despite the progress that has been made, however, the persistence of unresolved conflicts is hampering democratic development. I am very concerned about developments in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. The situation in South Ossetia calls for continuing international engagement. The territorial integrity of Georgia must be respected.
The tragedy in Beslan is still on our minds. The chairman made a statement at the time, expressing the horror he felt over the barbaric terrorist attacks in the early days of September. It proved beyond any doubt that international co-operation in the fight against terrorism must be further strengthened. The Committee of Ministers quickly engaged in an urgent discussion on how to give a new impetus to the fight against terrorism. This discussion is very important, because the Council of Europe provides the expertise and structures needed to take concerted action and to harmonise legislative framework in defined areas at a pan-European level.
The seminar organised in September by the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe seems to have given a positive impetus to the dialogue on human rights issues within Chechnya. The committee stands ready to continue its assistance in promoting democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation.
The conflict in Transnistria has yet to be resolved. In July the Chairman expressed his deep concern over the decisions by the Transnistrians to close schools that teach in the Latin script in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova. These actions were clearly in conflict with European standards for human rights and minority rights and threatened to complicate the ongoing negotiations between Tiraspol and Chisinau. I call on all the parties involved to seek constructive solutions through the established negotiation format.
The recent parliamentary elections in Belarus provoked a reaction from the chair. As the electoral process failed to meet European standards, Belarus missed yet another opportunity to move closer to the European family. I would like to stress the importance of maintaining contacts and co-operation with civil society in the country. The Belarusian people deserve a better future, and I believe that the Council of Europe has an important part to play in this regard.
Particularly in the runup to the first round of the presidential elections in Ukraine there were allegations of irregularities. I express my sincere hope that the second and decisive round will be carried out in full accordance with international standards for free and fair elections.
Even during these last days of our chairmanship, we have been actively involved in a number of important events. We have just concluded a ministerial conference in Oslo, at which a white paper on measures to prevent violence in everyday life was presented. The seminar was chaired by the Norwegian Minister of Justice.
The chair has enjoyed close working relations with the Parliamentary Assembly. Foreign Minister Petersen reported to the assembly at the June and October sessions and participated in the meeting of the Standing Committee in Oslo. He had interesting and fruitful discussions with assembly members on all occasions.
Likewise, we have enjoyed close relations to the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities, and the Chair was represented by the Minister for Local and Regional Development at the Congress in May this year.
I would like to thank the secretariat for the great effort it has put into assisting in the preparations for meetings and visits in connection with the chair’s programme.
To conclude, Norway’s commitment to the Council of Europe will continue in the months and years ahead. I am confident that Poland will be a dynamic and effective leader of the Committee of Ministers. I can assure you that Poland will have Norway’s full support.