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Opening Session of the 4th Ukraine Reform Conference “Strong Ukraine in a Stronger European and Euro-Atlantic Family”

Vilnius, Lithuania 7 July 2021
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As delivered

 

Dear Presidents,

Ministers,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen,

 

It is a great pleasure to speak at this Ukraine Reform Conference.

Its simple title speaks to an important and shared ambition.

All of us here today want to build on the best of what Ukraine has achieved;

And to ensure change for the benefit of all Ukrainians.

For over 25 years now, their country has been a much-valued member state of the Council of Europe.

Our Organisation exists to protect and promote human rights, democracy and the rule of law:

To set common European standards, and to help national authorities take the steps needed to meet them.

In this, Ukraine’s participation has made an important contribution to life in Europe.

And it has taken important steps towards a better future for itself.

Embracing our standards, implementing reforms, working together on national Action Plans;

By these means, progress has been made.

Human rights are stronger;

Electoral reform has been fairer;

Government is more decentralised;

Roma and Travellers are better included;

Investigation and prosecution services are restructuring;

The rights of internally displaced persons have been enhanced;

And media ownership is more transparent and public broadcasting more secure.

There are of course other examples.

And when it comes to co-operation with Council of Europe bodies, good things are happening there too.

On occasions, when making reforms, Ukraine has been proactive in seeking the advice of our Venice Commission – something that, I know, you have done personally, President Zelensky.

And at the Parliamentary level, the Verkhovna Rada’s ratification of the Convention on Access to Official Documents is also a positive sign towards greater transparency and, in turn, accountability.

I know that efforts are also underway to ratify our Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

This is very welcome.

The Istanbul Convention is described as “gold standard” by the United Nations.

It aims to prevent violence;

To protect those who become victims;

And to ensure the prosecution of perpetrators.

Where it is in force, it works.

And I look forward to a time when women across Ukraine live in greater security because of it.

Of course, Ukraine would benefit from further reform in many areas.

This Conference recognises that fact.

More should be done to implement the European Convention on Human Rights and to execute the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, fully, swiftly, and always.

This is a requirement in law for every one of our 47 member states, even when the politics are difficult.

Minorities’ language and education rights should be better protected by implementing the Council of Europe’s recommendations and legal standards.

Efforts both to prevent and to fight corruption should be stepped up.

And the decentralising and judicial reforms that have begun should be completed.

For all of this, and more, institutions are essential.

Sometimes, these will be new.

Always, they must be efficient, effective and accountable.

The good news is that every one of these issues features highly in the current Action Plan agreed by Ukraine and the Council of Europe.

And I thank the European Union and the 26 additional donors who have contributed financially to its implementation.

Together, we can continue to make progress.

In getting this right, the dividend will be real.

A Ukraine in which people can live in greater freedom, security and dignity:

And a country where certainty, stability and the rule of law create the conditions for economic stability, sustainable growth, and individual prosperity.

This is a journey worth taking, and the Council of Europe will be with you every step of the way.

I know that security and defence sector reforms are on the agenda of this conference.

And I also know that undertaking any reform is also more challenging in the context of armed conflict.

The Council of Europe is not a security organisation.

But we are here to secure the fundamental rights of every citizen in all of our member states.

So, let me say this.

Ours was the first international organisation to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol.

Our Committee of Ministers has been clear that there must be a peaceful resolution to the crisis based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, underpinned by a strict adherence to international law.

And we agree on the need to fully implement the Minsk agreements and the Paris summit conclusions in order to end the military conflict in Donbas.

We are concerned about the human rights situation, right now, on the Crimean Peninsula.

And our Committee of Ministers took a decision in May inviting me to engage with all parties, to secure access to Crimea for Council of Europe bodies, and to issue regular reports on the human rights situation there.

The human rights bodies themselves – including our Human Rights Commissioner – are also asked to provide regular assessments on the basis of this access.

This is right and good, and I have already taken initial steps needed to implement the decision.

To be clear, this critical situation will not be overlooked.

But it must not distract from other good progress that we can make.

Reform provides a gateway to a better life for Ukraine’s citizens.

This conference, its agenda – and the attendance of those whose drive is needed:

These are positive signs about the prospects for change.

It will be a further pleasure to be with you on that journey.