Non-Governmental Organisations

The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe

Intervention by the President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, Jean-Marie Heydt, during the “Round table on the Council of Europe and Belarus”, Minsk, 4-5 February 2010

This meeting offers a fine opportunity for open-mindedness and for looking ahead to possible activities. It is a welcome chance to discuss in a critical way the values of the Council of Europe in a country with such a wealth of culture, history and knowledge!

Philosophers have taught us to question developments in our societies all the time, because it is our certainties that are the greatest danger to the human race. We know how destructive like-mindedness has always been. But we also know that, as our societies have developed, it has been possible, solely in the interests of their members, to make carefully considered decisions based on our experience, particularly about what we did not want, or no longer wanted. I shall not list all the problematic aspects, since these are merely the outcome of theoretical, and therefore political, decisions made by states. Without ignoring the progress already made, but ever mindful of that which remains to be made, I should like to outline some ways of encouraging co-operation leading to a better future.

Democracy represents not only values, but also a form of structural organisation. The values, of course, are far more important, but even where the structures or institutions of democracy have been distorted and brought into disrepute (by corrupt politicians and officials or by people exploiting the system), the values themselves remain intact and immutable and are still there to contribute to a new beginning. Democracy is intricately linked with the rules of law and human rights standards, with freedom of assembly and association, with freedom of expression and with responsible citizenship and public participation.

Obviously, democracy is an instrument for selecting local and regional authorities and governments, but that is only one part of the democratic process. There are other elements, relating to freedom of expression of the media, freedom of thought, social justice, civilian supervision of armed forces, transparency of procedures, the shouldering of responsibility by each and every person. Democracy, like the rule of law, implies separation of powers, an impartial police force, devolution, free and fair elections, free access to the national courts, ethical standards of behaviour and effective application of international conventions.

I have already referred to two paths: the first is that followed by the Council of Europe and its institutional bodies, which for several years now have been providing assistance and developing co-operation designed to improve the situation in Belarus. The Committee of Ministers has continued to offer support, whilst looking forward to action by the authorities on such issues as placing a moratorium on the death penalty; the Parliamentary Assembly continues to follow the situation in Belarus with interest, and is vigilant on violations of fundamental rights; the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is developing its relations and activities in order to promote better exercise of devolved powers; the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe regularly receives a delegation of NGOs from Belarus, regardless of the administrative complications; other partners also involved include the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Venice Commission, the European Union, the OSCE, etc. All are playing their part in making suggestions, providing support and creating conditions for improved well-being in Belarus.

The second path is one which I feel would involve Belarus moving closer to its European partners and neighbours, such as the Council of Europe, making real progress visible. It is the convergence of the two paths which will give rise to a better common future. I am aware that efforts have already been made, and that there are some signs of progress and hopeful feelings. But it is through action that success will be achieved and hope fulfilled. Of course democracy is imperfect and requires constant effort, but it is the fairest system that exists. To date, we have found no better system, just worse ones bringing destruction in their wake. It is a system which can offer so much in terms of improving the lot of people everywhere, and it is just a matter of human beings taking the necessary decisions!

These are, as you can see, no more than paths, but they have the advantage of leading towards discussions and argument about the future. It is our wish, and my wish as President of the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe, to make a constant contribution to the building of a better future for our populations and for civil society. As you know, civil society brings hope. Its strength is that it can take action at the point at which governments' power has reached its limits, and where the only options remaining risk bringing non-peacable solutions to the fore. We can take a different kind of action, and we invite you to help.

Thank you for your attention.