Council of Europe Secretary General calls on Syria to comply with peace plan

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland issued on 9 April 2012 the following statement: "The attack by Syrian forces on a refugee camp inside the Turkish border is a blatant violation of international law.

It is deeply worrying that the Syrian regime is escalating the conflict at a time when the international community is intensifying efforts to broker a peaceful, political solution.

President al-Assad must work with UN Secretary General's Special Envoy Kofi Annan on immediate, full and unconditional compliance with the peace plan.

Read also: Joint statement on the situation in Syria by PACE President and Chair of its Political Affairs Committee

North-South Centre: the Role of Women in the Arab Spring

"Women as agents of change in the South Mediterranean Region": the international conference organised in Rome by the North South-Centre of the Council of Europe and the Italian Parliament has brought together representatives of international organisations, civil society and experts from the Southern shore of the Mediterranean.

"The issue of participation is linked to the fundamental principle of equality between men and women", said today Deputy Secretary General Maud de Boer-Buquicchio while addressing the opening session.."We all have seen the images of women in streets asking for change - continued the Deputy Secretary General - Seeing is not enough. We have to demonstrate in the next two days that we have also heard and understood their messages, and that we stand alongside them".

The Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Franco Frattini, the President of the North-South Centre, Deborah Bergamini, PACE President  Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, Jorge Sampaio, Italian Minister for Equal Opportunity Mara Carfagna and President of the Italian parliamentarian delegation at PACE, Luigi Vitali are among the speakers at Palazzo Montecitorio.

The event takes place at the Italian Parliament's Sala del Mappamondo, analysing during two days the role of women as agents of political and economical change in the Arab Spring. A focus on the media as instruments for the promotion of women's' action is also envisaged, with the participation of journalists, bloggers, film directors and industry representatives. The Libyan activist Huda El Abdelaziz Muhamed has finally highlighted today the new context of democratic changes after the dictatorship.

Council of Europe heightens its presence in Tunisia

"The Council of Europe has always played a crucial role for democracies in transition", said Gabriella Battaini Dragoni during her official visit to Tunisia. The Deputy Secretary General has signed the first Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with a non member state of the Organisation, in order to establish a Council of Europe office in Tunis, dealing with operational projects in the fields of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

"The history of Europe is strongly influenced by the interactions of cultures and civilisations of the two Mediterranean rims: as Europeans, we have the responsibility to support this process", underlined Gabriella Battaini Dragoni.

High level meetings were organised with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rafik Abdessalem; with the President of the Constituent National Assembly, Mustapha Ben Jaafar; with the Minister of Human Rights and transitional Justice, Samir Dilou; and with Secretary of State in charge of European Affairs, Touhami Abdouli.

The Deputy Secretary General will also inaugurate the first class of the School of Political Studies in Tunisia. (more...)

“The Arab Season: from change to challenges” at North-South Centre Lisbon Forum

The Arab Spring and its legacy two years after: the Council of Europe North-South Centre, devotes the 19th edition of the Lisbon Forum, starting on Monday, 3 December, to the developments in the Arab countries of Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The debate will focus on the promotion of the Rule of Law through constitutional and justice system reforms, on the role of social media in the field of freedom of expression, on local democracy challenges, and on women's rights.

Deborah Bergamini, Chair of the Executive Committee of the North-South Centre, Jorge Sampaio, President of the Lisbon Forum, High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations, Princess Rym Ali of Jordan, and Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission are the main speakers at the event.

The programme, organised in partnership with the Alliance of Civilizations, the Aga Khan Development Network and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, is financially supported by the European Union in the framework of the project "Strengthening democratic reform in the southern Neighbourhood".

Since 1994, the Lisbon Forum is a platform for dialogue and sharing of experiences, expertise and best practices between Europe and the rest of the world, including the Middle East, Africa and the countries of the southern rim of the Mediterranean Sea.

Tunisia: Council of Europe calls for constitutional reform

Strasbourg, 30.10.2012 – At the close of their official visit to Tunisia, Edmond Panariti, Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Albania, and Jean-Claude Mignon, President of the Council's Parliamentary Assembly – accompanied by Venice Commission President Gianni Buquicchio – called on Tunisian authorities to push ahead with on-going constitutional reform "so as firmly to establish the foundations of a democratic and pluralistic society in which the rights and freedoms of all individuals are respected." They also called for setting up, through the Constitution, "independent authorities to deal with the essential issues of judicial and media independence".

Mr Panariti and Mr Mignon welcomed the fact that civil society will be broadly consulted in the near future over the draft Constitution. "We hope that this will enable everyone to make their voices heard, especially human rights defenders". The Council of Europe, they stressed, will continue to provide expertise through its various tools not only to help finalise the draft Constitution, but also in the important processes which will follow its adoption. "In that vein, we hope that the agreement to establish a Council of Europe office in Tunisia will be concluded in the near future", they added. (more...)

PACE condemns ‘crimes against humanity’ in Syria

Strasbourg, 04.10.2012 – The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has today condemned "the continuing, systematic and gross human rights violations, amounting to crimes against humanity, committed in Syria," and called on Europe to show greater solidarity with Syrians who are victims of the conflict and the neighbouring states sheltering them.

In a resolution based on a report by Giacomo Santini (Italy, EPP/CD), the Assembly said the humanitarian situation was "becoming more and more critical" for the estimated 1.2 million Syrians who have had to leave their homes, of which nearly 300,000 are refugees in neighbouring countries. Shortages of food, hygiene products and a lack of accommodation were creating a "drastic" situation in refugee camps, it said. (more...)

Exchange of views between the Congress and the Parliament of Morocco

Photo: Moroccan Parliament in Rabat (Morocco)At the invitation of the Moroccan Parliament, a Congress delegation carried out a visit, on 11 July 2012, in Rabat (Morocco) and held an exchange of views with members of both Chambers of the Moroccan Parliament. These discussions centered on the project of advanced regionalisation in Morocco and on the draft law which will reorganise Moroccan territories and which constitutes a major issue on the national agenda. In this context, the delegation also met with Karim Chellah, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mohammed Cheikh Biadiallah, Speaker of the House of Councillors.

They discussed several subjects of common interest, in particular, the project for the regionalisation of the country as well as the elections which will be held after the law is adopted. Because of its importance, this law should be adopted by the spring of 2013 at the latest. Participants welcomed co-operation with the Congress of the Council of Europe and, in particular, expressed a keen interest in having European experience in the sphere of local and regional democracy, at the same time emphasising their wish to carry through a project which takes account of Morocco's specific situation. With a view to the adoption next spring of the law on advanced regionalisation, the Congress will continue its dialogue with the Moroccan authorities. (more...)

“Tunisia is not Kandahar,” says Mustapha Ben Jaafar, president of Tunisia’s Constituent Assembly

Strasbourg, 28 June 2012 - In his passionate, nearly 40-minute speech, he told the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly that the Tunisian transformation to democracy is on the right path because "when some extremists become aware that we are sticking to a timeline [drafting a constitution, holding elections], it is then that they react.

"The media in Tunisia focus on isolated events, which the Western media follow, and then we have the impression that Tunisia is Kandahar, which is not reality," he said. He praised the PACE report Political transition in Tunisia (Doc. 12949) by Ms Anne Brasseur (Luxembourg, ALDE) because it was based on analysis made in the country.

To critics who claim that violent acts of the Salafists have been dealt with too much leniency, Mr. Ben Jaafar replied that many members of Tunisia's Constituent Assembly had been victims of oppression under the old regime, which dealt harshly with extremism. The current provisional government, he explained, seeks "dialogue and consensus among all factions – and history shows that this is the best path."He then said that women in Tunisian society will enjoy freedom and equality, that the country is committed to preserving women's rights.

Nevertheless, he struck a cautionary note: "We are in a post revolutionary phase", and he underscored economic stress that the country is facing, including falling tourism and unemployment. He also said that illegal immigration, which "keeps us and you awake at night" must be dealt with in a positive manner, between countries north and south of the Mediterranean. In the end, he proclaimed, "the Tunisian Revolution has shown that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy."

Assembly welcomes the transition in Egypt, but points to "real obstacles for democracy"

Strasbourg, 28.06.2012 – Whilst welcoming the election of the first civilian President in Egypt as a "historical step in the country's transition to democracy", the PACE today expressed its deep concern about recent developments which constitute "real obstacles to a slowly emerging democracy" in Egypt.

These obstacles include the dissolution of parliament, the constitutional changes enacted by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (granting legislative power to the army and stripping the President of powers in the field of the budget and foreign and defence policy) and the questionable independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Court.

The text adopted, based on the proposals of Jean-Charles Gardetto (Monaco, EPP/CD), also points out that the fundamental challenges lying ahead include the eventual design of the balance of powers, how the army will share power with the President, and the role of women and of religious minorities. (more...)

Assembly delegation makes a post-election visit to Tunisia

A PACE delegation led by Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC) travelled to Tunis on 16 and 17 January 2012. The President of the Venice Commission – the Council of Europe's group of independent legal experts – also joined the delegation.

The purpose of this visit was to assess the scope for strengthening PACE's institutional relations with the new Constituent National Assembly and with other Tunisian institutions and partners, following the elections of 23 October 2011. (more...)

Assembly to observe parliamentary elections in Morocco

A 15-member delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) visited Morocco from 22 to 26 November 2011 to observe the parliamentary elections on 25 November.

The delegation met, inter alia, representatives of the parliamentary groups, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of the Interior in charge of election administration, the President of the National Human Rights Council and representatives of civil society, the media and political parties not represented in parliament.

On 25 November, the delegation was deployed throughout the country to observe the voting in polling stations. (more...)

Observers congratulate citizens of Tunisia for keeping their appointment with history

Following the election of the consitutent National Assembly of Tunisia, the observer delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe made the following statement:

""The observer delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) congratulates the citizens of Tunisia for having achieved this rendez-vous with history. For the first time, they have freely elected their constituent National Assembly, laying the foundations of their democracy. They have thus transformed the revolutionary dynamic into a legal and legitimate institution, thereby setting an example for the entire region.

The PACE delegation thanks the Tunisian transitional authorities for having guaranteed the free expression of citizens' will and congratulates them on their commitment. The election day was calm and peaceful. The people of Tunisia expressed their will freely and in a dignified manner. (more...)

Parliamentary Assembly rapporteurs to visit Egypt

Jean-Charles Gardetto (Monaco, EPP/CD), rapporteur for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on co-operation with the emerging democracies in the Arab world, and Konstantinos Vrettos (Greece, SOC), rapporteur on the situation in the Middle East, visited Egypt from 23 to 26 September 2011.

The visit was an opportunity for the rapporteurs to gather information about the political situation in Egypt in the run-up to the parliamentary elections with a view to intensifying and broadening co-operation between Egypt and the Council of Europe, including via the Partner for Democracy status created recently by the PACE for parliaments in neighbouring regions. The Moroccan Parliament has already been granted Partner for Democracy status and the Assembly is expected to take a decision on the award of this status to the Palestinian National Council on 4 October in Strasbourg. (more...)

Tunisia’s democratic revolution: training the electoral gatekeepers

On 23 October 2011, Tunisia held its groundbreaking election of a new Constituent Assembly, the first pluralistic election in its history. The elected Assembly will have to adopt perhaps the most democratic constitution in the Arab world – and the Council of Europe will provide exclusive legal assistance in this process.

Tunisian judges and lawyers will arbitrate possible electoral disputes over such issues as the validity of candidates, violations of media neutrality and contested election results. This will influence the country's new path to democracy, as they will have the last word on how free and fair these elections are.

Specialists from the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters, were in Tunisia to provide international observers final pre-election advice. At the request of the Tunisian Bar, the Venice Commission organises, from 19 to 23 September 2011, a Training Seminar on electoral disputes. This seminar delt with disputes that may arise on: the validity of candidatures, the respect of the rules on the electoral campaign and the results of the election.

On 20-25 October 2011, Venice Commission experts returned to Tunisia to provide legal advice to the 40 members of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) while they observed the elections of the Constituent Assembly of Tunisia on 23 October 2011.

Parliamentary Assembly observer delegation makes pre-electoral visit to Tunisia

A five-member, cross-party delegation of observers from the Assembly, headed by Andreas Gross (Switzerland, SOC), visited Tunisia on 15 and 16 September 2011 ahead of the elections for a Constituent National Assembly. The delegation is met the President, Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister, as well as leaders of the main political parties and members of the Supreme Commission for the Completion of the Revolution's Objectives. It also met election officials, NGOs and media representatives, as well as members of the EU electoral assistance team in Tunis. A full 20-member PACE delegation observed the election itself on 23 October

Strengthening democracy in Tunisia: fair and balanced media coverage during elections

A three-day long ‘training of trainers' session on fair media coverage during elections was organised from 6 to 9 September 2011 in Strasbourg, as part of the Council of Europe's assistance to Tunisia. The training programme, organised by the Venice Commission and the Information Society and Media Division, was part of the assistance activities established by the organisation following Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland's February visit to Tunisia.

Within the programme, the participants also met French and German journalists, as well as Secretary General and other representatives of the Council of Europe and the local authorities. This training is funded by the Dutch government.

Parliamentary Assembly rapporteur on a fact-finding visit to Morocco

Luca Volontè (Italy, EPP/CD), rapporteur of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on the "Evaluation of the Partnership for Democracy in respect of the Parliament of Morocco" made a fact-finding visit to Rabat on 17 and 18 April.

On 21 June 2011, the Parliament of Morocco was the first to benefit from Partner for Democracy status with PACE, established in 2010 to strengthen institutional co-operation with the parliaments of non-member states in neighbouring regions wishing to benefit from the experience of the Council of Europe in the field of democratic reform, and to take part in the political debate on common challenges that transcend European boundaries.

During his visit, Mr Volontè will take stock of the progress made in fulfilling the political undertakings made by the Parliament of Morocco, set out in PACE Resolution 1818 (2011). In particular, he will discuss with his interlocutors the advance of the political reforms set in motion by Morocco and co-operation with the Council of Europe.

The rapporteur is expected to meet the President of the Chamber of Councillors, the President of the Chamber of Representatives, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Co-operation (or his representative), the Minister of the Interior (or his representative), the Minister of Justice and Freedoms, and the Minister for Solidarity, Women's and Family Affairs and Social Development.

Talks are also scheduled with various parliamentary committees, the members of the Moroccan delegation to PACE, as well as the President of the National Human Rights Council and the President of the High Authority for Audiovisual Communication (HACA).

Supporting judicial reforms in the countries of Southern neighborhood – Cooperation with Tunisia

In the framework of the Joint Programme of the Council of Europe and the European Union - "Strengthening democratic reform in the countries of Southern neighborhood ", the co-operation between Tunisia and the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ) enters in its first operational step.

A group of CEPEJ experts went to Tunis on 19-21 November 2012 to meet with officials from the Ministry of Justice and representatives of judicial professions. A report on the functioning of the Tunisian judicial system, and a list of co-operation activities to be implemented under the Programme with a view to improving the quality and efficiency of judicial services, will be issued in January 2013.