25th Conference of European Ministers of Justice

9-10 October 2003, Sofia (Bulgaria)

Speech of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe,

Mr Walter Schwimmer

Sofia, 9 October 2003

Prime Minister, Ministers, Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We all remember vividly the context in which your previous Conference took place two years ago, in Moscow, in the aftermath of the tragic loss of thousands of lives in the US. The Resolution you adopted on that occasion constituted a clear expression of political leadership and confidence in the values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. You pointed then in the right direction: to act jointly, firmly and efficiently to protect our civilisation against terrorism.

For the past two years, the Moscow Resolution has provided invaluable guidance to the Council of Europe’s action against terrorism. You will see in my report how quickly and thoroughly we have endeavoured to implement the measures you called for on that occasion. I will not give you now a detailed account of all the measures taken and the initiatives launched by our Organisation against terrorism as I would prefer to turn to the future concerning our action in this area.

Let me simply mention the adoption of the Guidelines on Human Rights and the fight against terrorism, and the significant developments in the legal area since your last conference, brought about by the Multidisciplinary Group on International Action against Terrorism (GMT). In just one year, we were able to update the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, through an amending Protocol, which was opened for signature on 15 May 2003. In addition, priorities for future action of the Council of Europe have been identified and their implementation, already started, will remain under regular review so that no time or efforts are wasted.

Let me now come to the gist of my intervention today: what is ahead of us.

You will all agree with me that the measures taken are not enough.

The threat of terrorism is still hanging over our heads and we cannot be satisfied with the progress achieved, no matter how significant. New avenues need to be explored; additional steps would no doubt improve our ability to prevent terrorist violence.

I believe it is my duty, as Secretary General, to draw your attention to an additional important step - the most important one - that the Council of Europe should take from its unique perspective: more than 50 years’ experience in fighting crime while promoting respect for human rights.

I refer to what should be a new top priority for the immediate future: the elaboration of a Comprehensive Convention on Terrorism of the Council of Europe.

As I will explain, it is my firm belief that the negotiation of such a treaty would enhance UN efforts and would present clear legal and political added value.

The UN has been negotiating a comprehensive convention on terrorism. However, as we all know, these negotiations are facing obstacles unlikely to disappear in the near future.

Against this background our Parliamentary Assembly stressed that it would be appropriate to consider the possibility of drawing up a comprehensive Council of Europe anti-terrorist convention, taking into account the work carried out by the UN. The Committee of Ministers noted with interest this proposal and agreed to discuss this issue further on the basis of the conclusions of your Conference.

Moreover, our fellow international organisations have been duly informed about this initiative and they have supported it.

The high-level meeting in Geneva in February, bringing together the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe, as well as representatives from the EU, expressly welcomed this initiative.

Further interest was expressed, in particular by the Presidency of the EU, when I addressed the Permanent Council of the OSCE in Vienna last July.

We have, of course, been in contact with our colleagues in the UN, who view the drafting of such an instrument in the Council of Europe favourably, as a positive contribution to their objectives, paving the way for a comprehensive universal anti-terrorist convention.

In order to reach such a result certain conditions need to be met: negotiations should be conducted in a short time. They should start from the acquis of the UN negotiations and avoid those issues that have halted them. They should also contribute to the work of the UN.

I am fully confident that our Organisation will be in a position to satisfy these conditions. My optimism is not only based on some sort of blind faith resulting from my experience at the head of this Organisation, but rather on an objective assessment of the Council of Europe’s homogeneous membership, its Statute and our proven ability in drafting delicate and complex treaties.

Moreover, such negotiations present significant added value, both from a legal and a political point of view.

Politically, because they would prove to our citizens that we remain committed to pursuing our joint action against terrorism and further send a clear signal to the international community about the usefulness of multilateral normative efforts versus unilateralism.

From the legal perspective, because they would foster a European approach, ensuring a balance between enhanced law-enforcement and human rights protection. Furthermore, a Council of Europe comprehensive convention would provide a common legal platform to prevent, investigate and prosecute terrorist offenders more efficiently.

This Conference should give a strong political support to this and the other counter-terrorism priorities of our Organisation which are indeed part of my top priorities.

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Ladies and Gentlemen,

The presence of more than 30 Ministers here today confirms that the Council of Europe remains the right continental forum to address the key challenges of our societies.

In this context, I welcome the presence of Commissioner Vitorino, who has always supported the action of the Council of Europe. I would like to stress that future relations between the EU and the Council of Europe are of primary importance to our member States and will be at the heart of our 3rd Summit of Heads of State and Government.

It is clear that the EU enlargement represents a major change in the European geopolitical landscape.

The EU and the Council of Europe have different missions and scopes but share the same goals: the building of a peaceful, stable and prosperous Europe based on common values.

The existing framework of co-operation between both institutions should be revised to allow a closer co-ordination than in the past. An imaginative approach is therefore necessary, and this is why I have proposed to the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers an associate partnership with the EU.

You will agree with me that coherence and legal certainty are indispensable in the field of justice and home affairs. Many areas of your concern will become areas of shared competences between the EU and its member states. Let me just mention a few: corruption, trafficking in human beings, judicial co-operation in criminal matters, harmonisation of criminal law and procedure, the fight against crime and indeed terrorism.

In these fields it will be essential to pursue and intensify cooperation at the level of the greater Europe, without dividing lines.

EU member and non-member States should continue to take advantage of the possibilities that the Council of Europe offers: multilateral solutions for the whole continent. They are much more efficient than a series of bilateral agreements.

This is why I invite you to work together towards a new institutional partnership based upon a shared commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

* * *

Prime Minister, Ministers, Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The subject that brings us together today shows clearly that only through joint action can we successfully address the major threats to our societies.

Terrorism has not yet been defeated.

We should not allow ourselves to decay in our efforts. Otherwise, our values and our principles will be crushed.

Our message remains that the fight against terrorism must be carried out without concessions but always respecting the values the Council of Europe stands for.

I count on you to enable the Council of Europe to continue providing a meaningful contribution to the world’s struggle against terrorism and I call for your support for the work underway.

Prime Minister,

Let me finish by adding my wholehearted thanks to you personally and to the Bulgarian authorities for your warm hospitality and support for our efforts.

Thank you for your attention.