50th meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Legal Advisers on Public International Law (CAHDI)

Strasbourg , 

As delivered

Chairs and Vice-Chairs,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before you begin your Conference, I wanted to welcome you all.

This is a very special meeting: the CAHDI's 50th.

We are lucky to have almost all the Committee's former Chairs and Vice-Chairs with us.

And it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to come and thank you for the work you do.

As Winston Churchill put it, where law ends, tyranny begins.

Indeed, the Council of Europe was created in the wake of the Second World War to help build peace on new foundations: democracy, liberty, law.

And increasingly we see that the strongest, most stable states are those with a firm commitment to these norms.

And yet today the rule of law – of international law – is being challenged from many directions.

From petty nationalists who declare every international act an assault on state sovereignty.

From states which deliberately and repeatedly flout their international obligations.

From populists and, more and more, mainstream politicians who trash co-operation – particularly at the European level – to score political points.

So we must be louder and more active than ever in defending our Convention system which upholds the rights and freedoms of 820 million European citizens and which helps maintain peace and stability across the continent.

As the Legal Advisers to the Foreign Ministries of our 47 member states, as well as our observer states and other international actors you are a key player in this mission.

Not least through your vital work on reservations and declarations to international treaties.

For over 15 years the CAHDI has helped states deal with their concerns or problems with treaties easing the path of international law and protecting the integrity of our conventions.

This behind-the-scenes work often receives little thanks but where would we be without it?

You are innovators, too.

I know, for example, that you have been leading the way in finding solutions to some of the legal problems that can come up with regard to the immunity of cultural property lent between states.

I'm also aware of the important work you're doing on how the law can better protect individuals who have been harmed by the conduct of an international organisation but who struggle to bring a case against that organisation in a domestic court.

And I have learnt with great interest that since 2004 the CAHDI has periodically examined the question of: and I quote, "the national implementation measures of UN sanctions and respect for human rights".

It is not always obvious how states can meet obligations which arise from Security Council Resolutions while continuing to uphold other international treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights.

I commend you for your efforts to help governments do both.

And I believe the case law of the European Court of Human Rights can play an even bigger role in the development of UN mechanisms to ensure that UN sanctions are reconciled with the rule of law and respect for human rights.

As many of you know, the Council of Europe is reinforcing the legal framework against terrorism and violent extremism through an additional protocol to our Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism which will empower states to prosecute foreign terrorist fighters while safeguarding basic human rights.

The protocol defines more precisely the offences set out in the UN Security Council Resolution 2178 on "threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts" and commits parties to establish the required criminal offences under their domestic law.

It will be opened for signature on 22 October in Riga.

And I urge you to use your influence to encourage all your governments to sign and ratify without delay and, of course, to ratify the mother Convention, if they haven't already.

With that, let me wish you an excellent Conference and a great stay.

Thank you again.