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31st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice

Organised groups and their new ways of communicating –
Juveniles as perpetrators and victims
19 – 21 September 2012, Vienna, Austria

The conference on this highly topical issue was in two main parts: a full day (19.09) devoted to the finalisation of the draft resolution on Responses of justice to urban violence by a joint meeting of the chairpersons of Council of Europe committees and mechanisms and a subsequent meeting of senior officials of the ministries of justice. The second part of the conference began with addresses by Beatrix KARL, Federal Minister of Justice of Austria, Ermal DOBI, Deputy Minister of Justice of Albania, on behalf of the Albanian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers, Christopher CHOPE, Chairperson of the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, Keith WHITMORE, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Nils MUIŽNIEKS, Commissioner for Human Rights, Yury FEDOTOV, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Director-General of the UN Office in Vienna and Gabriella BATTAINI-DRAGONI, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
This opening session was followed by two substantive discussions: “Juveniles as perpetrators and victims” and “Juveniles as perpetrators and victims”. There were also several “side events” – a treaty ceremony for Council of Europe member states to sign or ratify Council of Europe Conventions, the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) presentation of its report “Evaluation of European Judicial Systems 2012” and the traditional informal “fireside chat” between ministers, this time on the topic of corruption.
Full details of the conference programme and related materials can be accessed at: http://www.coe.int/t/dghl/standardsetting/minjust/mju31/default_en.asp
I attended the first part of the conference on the finalisation of the draft resolution (final version attached). In the joint meeting of CoE committee chairs, the Austrian Ministry of Justice and other CoE officials, the CoE committees and mechanisms represented were:
- Lorenzo SALAZAR, Chair of the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), (Italy);
- Eberhard DESCH, Chair of the European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), (Germany);
- Derek WALTON, Chair of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH), (United Kingdom);
- Eva SOUHRADA-KIRCHMAYER, Data Protection Commissioner, (Austria);
- Andris MELLAKAULS, Chair of the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI), (Latvia);
- Latif HÜSEYNOV, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT), (Azerbaijan);
- Karin LUKAS, Member of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR), (Austria);
- John STACEY, President of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), (United Kingdom).
- Werner SCHÜTZ, European Committee on Legal Co-operation (CDCJ), (Austria);
The full list of participants is in the attached agenda.
Several of the chairs, myself included, were initially at a disadvantage because this was the first time we had seen the draft resolution, the English version of which, it has to be said, was not always well formulated. In both the morning and afternoon meetings, the participants followed the usual practice of reading through and amending and accepting the document paragraph by paragraph. It should be noted that numerous proposals had been submitted, notably by the Thematic Co-ordinator for Children. UNICEF had also submitted several proposals but as they had come so late in the day, they were not considered.
Because the resolution is concerned with the treatment of minors by the justice system in cases of urban violence where the minors involved could be victims or perpetrators, there were some questions of terminology that could cause difficulties in different jurisdictions. For example, there do not seem to be universal legal definitions of child, juvenile and minor. All were agreed that custodial sentences for minors involved in urban violence should only be a measure of last resort and that mediation and restorative justice should be sought were possible.
An issue that caused some dissent in the afternoon’s meeting of senior justice ministry officials was the perceived need by some delegations that the best interests of the child be balanced with the interests of society. (See para. 10 of the resolution.) After several interventions, the meeting agreed that we should not be backtracking on CoE policy and should always support the best interests of the child.
Of particular interest to the CDMSI would be paragraphs 16 and 21 that refer to the use of modern day communications technologies for both organising urban violence and preventing it. Paragraph 16 is very close to the thinking in the CDMSI draft resolution on tracking and surveillance.
I am not sure what the next steps are but it would be useful if the CDMSI could take the initiative and offer its good offices to the CDPC as foreseen in paragraph 21. I would also suggest the Secretariat enquire about the possibility of making the new Austrian Ministry of Justice report “Urban violence – Juveniles – New media” available to the CDMC plenary.
Although I only attended the conference for one day, it was a valuable experience because it was not only a different environment i.e. ministries of justice as opposed to ministries responsible for media and communications policy, it was also a good opportunity to get to know the chairs of other CoE committees.
The relevance of the conference was highlighted only a day later when news stories appeared about a riot in a small Dutch town because a girl had mistakenly caused what should have been a private birthday invitation on Facebook to go viral: “She posted the invitation on Facebook and sent it to friends, who then sent it to other friends and soon it spread like wildfire across the internet," Groningen police spokeswoman Melanie Zwama told AFP news agency. Hundreds of riot police were deployed to control the crowds, keeping them away from the street where the girl lives. When trouble began, officers found themselves being pelted with bottles and stones, as well as flower pots even bicycles, the Dutch news agency ANP reports.” (BBC 22.09.2012)

Andris Mellakauls
Chair of the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI)