Retour Launching event of the South Programme “Protecting human rights, rule of law and democracy through shared standards in the Southern Mediterranean”

Lisbon 13 March 2023
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As delivered by Bjørn Berge, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe


Minister for Foreign Affairs,

President of the North-South Centre Executive Committee,


Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,


For over a decade now, the South Programme has provided the Council of Europe, the European Union and South Mediterranean countries with the opportunity to work together –

On the basis of shared values and in pursuit of shared goals.

In meeting requirements of national authorities to undertake democratic reforms, the South Programme is there to help.

Through this demand-led model, the Council of Europe is pleased to share membership of its open conventions – over 100 of them -

So that our standards in human rights, democracy and the rule of law can also benefit non-member states –

Through this process and our cooperation activities we are able to create, bit by bit, a common legal space that embraces European and Southern Mediterranean countries alike.

This approach is the central theme to the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood policy introduced in 2011–

And it works to the benefit of all.

Over the course of more than 10 years, 5 countries in the Southern Mediterranean region have made a total of 19 ratifications of relevant Council of Europe conventions –

With some also including monitoring mechanisms that help national authorities to chart progress and address gaps.

All of these steps are making a real difference to people’s lives.

Take Tunisia’s accession three years ago to the Lanzarote Convention on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse.

The Lanzarote Convention is a tool to help national authorities to prevent this kind of abuse –

And to protect victims and prosecute the perpetrators.

Tragically, children in every society fall victim to these crimes.

So together, we must do more to tackle these crimes.

I know that there is also a strong and growing interest in the Southern Mediterranean when it comes to some of our other flagship treaties –

The Istanbul Convention which tackles violence against women and domestic violence –

The Budapest Convention, which is the only international treaty of its kind, designed to combat cybercrime and extend the arm of justice further into cyberspace –

And the Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings –

A form of modern slavery that should not exist in the twenty-first century –

Dear friends,

We have built strong institutional relations, tools and mechanisms, and we have the tools required to deliver real change.

These include Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals – or “HELP” – courses that are available in Arabic – and other languages.

With 100 certified HELP tutors in the region who have trained more than 2200 professionals –

And the work of our Venice Commission’s University for Democracy for the Southern Mediterranean – UniDem Med –

Whose network and seminars have benefitted more than 1100 senior civil servants in the field of administrative reform.

This is no doubt important work – and something to build on.

And that is exactly what the South Programme V aims to do.

Let me restate today, that the Council of Europe stands ready to help national authorities with the analysis, advice and support needed to review their laws and to harmonise them with international standards.

South Programme V will also help with technical assistance, such as specialised training for professionals, including for example the training provided by our European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice, CEPEJ.

Lastly, this latest phase of the South Programme will also help stimulate regional cooperation raising events and the establishment of focus groups led by experts in the region, to work on responses to, for example, data protection, to mention just one area.

The list is long, but there will be technical assistance to prepare assessment and expert papers, as well as various meetings, workshops and other events.

Achieving all of this requires the right Partnerships–

With ministers and ministries –

Ombudspersons and constitutional courts –

The judiciary, legal training institutions, and bar associations –

As well as the media, law enforcement, and schools of political studies.

These schools are particularly important for brining on the next generation of leaders.

All of these relationships exist and have the potential to grow.

And while we are on the subject of young people and civil society, I am particularly pleased that this new phase will benefit from closer links with the Council of Europe North-South Centre.

The Centre has long played a role in empowering civil society in the Council of Europe’s neighbouring regions –

Youth organisations, in particular.

In the context of the South Programme, this will help ensure that reforms have the input and ownership of young people.

This is an investment in a democratic future –

And one that I am sure will bring a generous return.

So, let me end by congratulating everyone involved in organising today’s event –

Thanking in particular the European Union for its support, including its financial contribution to this work -

And I hope that these days in beautiful Lisbon will not only be an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved –

But more importantly – what more can be done.


Thank you for your attention.