What future for human rights and democracy in Europe?
The role of the Council of Europe
Quel avenir pour les droits de l’homme and la démocratie en Europe ?
Le rôle du Conseil de l’Europe
Paris, 11 September 2009
Assemblée Nationale, Salle Lamartine
Paris, 11 septembre 2009
Assemblée Nationale, Salle Lamartine
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS
1. The conference forms part of the programme of activities celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the Council of Europe.
2. 60 years ago, in 1949, Europe was emerging from a world conflict that had its origins on this continent after totalitarian regimes systematically violating citizens' human rights and fundamental freedoms had risen, unchecked, for three decades.
3. There was an urgent need to restore democracy and the rule of law in many of Europe's countries and rebuild the economic and social structures in all of them.
4. The Council of Europe was the fruit of the pledge of "never again", a vow to prevent history repeating itself at all costs and to provide effective safeguards for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The Council of Europe was born from the clear will to defend and carry strong ethical values which the founding fathers considered as essential for the European and global development.
5. The founding fathers were driven in their enterprise by memories of the horrors experienced, the scale of the destruction confronting them and their determination to build a future firmly anchored in respect for all men and women living on the "old continent" regardless of their ethnic, cultural and religious affiliations, a future capable of providing them with a fulfilling and prosperous life, to strengthen the bonds between individuals and to capitalise on their diversity.
6. Through the years of reconstruction, economic boom and the first oil crisis and its consequences, with a sustained succession of scientific and technological advances unprecedented in the history of humankind, the Council of Europe devised sound, recognised principles in the areas of human rights, whether civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights, democracy and the rule of law.
7. However, for 40 years the values embodied by the Council of Europe were a reality only for the western part of the continent, since post-war Europe was deeply divided into two camps, politically and economically. Internal conflicts in the eastern part of the continent had caused numerous civilian casualties and, under the ensuing regimes, times were dire for human rights in Europe.
8. Also noteworthy were the return of Greece to the Organisation in 1974 and the accession of Portugal and Spain in 1976 and 1977 respectively, after the end of totalitarian regimes which had also resulted from civil wars and enabled an ideology profoundly hostile to human rights and the rule of law to establish itself and gain the upper hand in the cradle of democracy and also in the Iberian peninsula.
9. In 1989, the fall of the Berlin wall, followed by the collapse of the totalitarian regimes in central and eastern Europe and the break-up of the Soviet Union, made it possible to extend the application of the democratic principles on which Council of Europe was founded to the entire continent and set about rebuilding democracy in the countries of central and eastern Europe, as had been the case four decades earlier in the founding States and the others that had joined them.
10. The path was thus open for the enlargement of the Council of Europe to its current 47 Member States which covers nearly all the territory of the continent and goes even further by strictly geographical standards. The geographical cover that constitutes an undeniable comparative advantage for the implementation of the norms it elaborates.
11. Nevertheless, the sudden end of the communist regimes in Europe had the further consequence of reawakening old territorial conflicts, masked for nearly half a century by frontiers designed to serve the supremacy of a bloc in a bipolar world. We saw the emergence of territorial conflicts linked to claims of national minorities long suppressed by the established ideology which, in its stated quest for economic and social equality, tolerated no ambitions of independence and diversity.
12. Old demons were unleashed, at a time when Europe was convinced of having honoured its pledge of "never again": Srebrenica, Grozny, Sarajevo or Kosovo1, Nagorno Karabakh and, more recently, South Ossetia have all hit the headlines with stories of horror, destruction, violence and arbitrary acts. The photos from the former Yugoslavia shown in the media bear an uncanny resemblance to those of nazi concentration camps and the bombed-out buildings in Grozny are a chilling reminder of many European cities in 1945.
13. Inevitably, there was soul-searching: where did we go wrong? what was it that we failed to understand or achieve? what should we have done or done differently? and - for the more pessimistic - does Europe still have a meaning?
14. These questions were made more poignant by events which, in the very heart of longstanding democracies, reached the summit of horror: Madrid, Istanbul, London, Beslan. It was not the first time that religion had served as a catalyst for pursuing political aims by violent acts: Northern Ireland in particular had been the scene of killings of innocent victims throughout the 20th century, but now this blind violence had its origins outside the European continent and was therefore perceived as foreign and poorly or not understood. Its immediate effect was to spark or reveal animosity between different ethnic and religious minorities present in European countries. Our societies have been greatly destabilised as a result.
15. The make-up of our societies has been radically changed within a fairly short lapse of time by substantial flows of migrants, following the fall of the Berlin wall for east-west flows and increasing globalisation for south-north flows, throwing down a major challenge for our societies in not only economic, social and political but also cultural terms.
16. It is of paramount importance that Europe – and more specifically the Council of Europe – takes up that challenge because our future and our values are at stake, and even more importantly, the future of young people today and the chances we wish to offer to future generations.
17. As the first decade of the 21st century draws to a close, Europe should remain highly vigilant over respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law, which are under threat from extremist and totalitarian temptations, stirred by a feeling of insecurity prompted by the great changes experienced by the continent – and the entire planet – in recent decades, pushing individuals and States towards ostracism and xenophobia, withdrawal, the refusal of diversity and rejection of others.
18. An emphatic reminder is required that doctrines advocating hatred, crime, violence and the rejection of others are incompatible with the European project of a peaceful and democratic society, respectful of the fundamental rights and freedoms of everyone.
19. Firstly, there should be emphasis on the importance of sharing the universal common values of human rights, the democratic ideal and the rule of law, values that cannot be waived in the name of distinctive features or specific characteristics resulting from affiliation to a cultural, ethnic group, religious community etc.
20. The sharing of these common values, mutually consented to by all individuals, and not imposed by the State or some other authority, must form the basis of our societies, as a foundation for implementing true democratic citizenship.
21. We should further point out that the feeling of belonging to several cultural traditions at the same time is perfectly compatible with European citizenship and is even an integral of the concept where it hinges on mutual recognition between different cultures and an attachment to shared values.
22. This multiple cultural affiliation can be possible only if our societies and the individuals making them up demonstrate their openness to other cultures and a desire for exchange between them, fostering the rebuilding of social ties, as long as this is underpinned by decent living conditions.
23. In this function of providing the cement and foundations for our societies, the indivisible and complementary nature of human rights comes into its own in building a society that is balanced and inclusive and holds hope for the future, where individuals feel fulfilled, respected and recognised for their contribution. And the same applies to States.
24. These times of economic crisis are especially dangerous for human rights, which some would like to regard as a luxury that Europe can no longer afford, a costly extravagance for affluent societies, which they claim is a burden on competitiveness to the detriment of our economies and supposedly hampers flourishing production. However, such a strictly financial interpretation of the consequences of the economic crisis not only potentially tramples on human rights but also shows forgetfulness of our not-so-distant past and short-sightedness of the dangers it holds for our future.
25. Did the rise to power of extreme right-wing regimes in 1930s Europe not go hand-in-hand with the slump in economic and social conditions in our countries following the great depression? Was the ascendancy, in our societies, of an ideology exalting affiliation to a single ethnic group, to traditions and to a culture of exclusion, closed to diversity, rejecting others because they are different, to the extent of calling for their physical elimination, not fuelled by the despair generated by poverty, distress at a total lack of future prospects and a resulting loss of self-respect, pushing entire peoples to seek refuge in reassuring promises of security offered by the known rather than the unknown and uniformity as opposed to diversity?
26. It is important to prevent history repeating itself. That is why respect for human rights is all the more necessary in times of economic crisis, to head off temptations to drift in other directions, which may have extremely grave consequences for the democratic functioning of our societies by undermining their ability to offer every individual decent living conditions and thereby enable them to feel part of those societies.
27. It must be underlined that the defence of human rights and the interests of the State policy, « Realpolitik », must not be considered as being in opposition but that they reinforce each other mutually. This is not impossible or incoherent but an evidence that the past has already demonstrated on several occasions.
28. Moreover, it is only a reasoned relationship of States and peoples with their common history and their capability to transcend past conflicts that enable us all to live together and envisage reconciliation between yesterday's enemies, and it remains the surest means of preventing new conflicts.
29. It is for the States to create the conditions needed to uphold these common values, and to prevent and condemn acts, regardless of their origins or perpetrators, which run contrary to European designs of tolerance, inclusion, respect for others and openness.
30. To do so, the States should not only adopt a legal framework transposing common values - notably those defined in international and European treaties - to texts at national level but also ensure the independent and impartial functioning of their judicial systems, so that this framework may be applied in the spirit of those very values, guaranteeing effective enjoyment of those fundamental rights for all individuals, through full compliance with the principle of the rule of law.
31. Backing for these common values and standards and concern that they be respected must be central to work on devising national policies in all areas of state action, fostering enrichment of the common base underpinning the emergence of a European democratic citizenship, its development and its adaptation to the big technological, scientific and environmental challenges, and thus enabling Europe and Europeans to blossom both on our continent and on the international scene.
32. In managing the challenge posed by "different" identities to our societies today, our initial precept must be that human rights are universal, to be enjoyed without discrimination by all members of society; in no circumstances may fundamental rights be cast aside for the sake of managing cultural diversity. Quite on the contrary, they must form the basis for it.
33. For these reasons, the Council of Europe has a duty to pursue and assert its role of guardian of these values, not only by developing them in line with its founding design to draw together States and people in respect for diversity, seen as a factor of enrichment, but also by ensuring the effective respect for those values by, and supporting their promotion in, the member States.
34. In particular, the Council of Europe's different mechanisms for monitoring and assessing how member States apply and comply with standards must be capitalised on and the results of their activities must be fully taken into account by the competent national authorities when drawing up and applying their policies.
35. The technical co-operation programmes implemented by the Council of Europe and other international and European institutions with a view to improving national systems for the protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law must be founded on both the standards devised by the Council of Europe and the activities of its control mechanisms.
36. The Council of Europe must fully play its role in the elaboration of the historical speech on European construction as the centre carrying the values of democracy, freedom and human rights. As such, the Council of Europe constitutes a fundamental element of the development of this historical European dimension.
37. Member States are invited to ensure that their action is fully coherent with the values they say they support, notably taking all possible measures so that these values are fully respected in Europe and elsewhere.
38. Member States must ensure that the Council of Europe has the political means it needs to effectively uphold these principles and to be able to take concrete action if they are infringed. They should also ensure that the Council of Europe has the material, and notably financial, means required to fully carry out its role.
39. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe could prepare a report on fundamental values, their relevance and their implementation in current European society; a report which could serve as a basis for a wide debate on this topic.