Speech at OSCE Security Days Conference on Refocusing Migration and Security: Bridging National and Regional Responses

Rome, Italy 4 March 2016
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Let me begin by thanking the OSCE for organising this Conference. In my brief remarks here today, I would like to propose three basic premises.

First, there can be no security without human rights. In public discourse, these two terms are often juxtaposed as opposites. We need to move away from such perceptions and acknowledge, in action, that human rights must be at the core of our notions of security.

Second, there are no viable solutions to the ongoing migration and refugee crisis without concrete international cooperation. This is not a meaningless phrase. What it actually entails is that all of us here are jointly responsible. We cannot blame failure only on others; we must ourselves take our fair share of it. If we, international institutions, do not speed up our collaboration and exchange, then we cannot remain credible when we call for individual Member States to work together. Historic failure is ours too if we do not move ahead collectively.

Third, security has crucial social, political, economic and cultural components that are of heightened relevance in today's world. We cannot neglect the legal and normative foundations of security, nor its democratic dimensions. Nor can we afford to neglect cultural norms, perceptions and attitudes. I believe that all our institutions must move together in coming closer to the people of Europe. Telling people that they are wrong in being xenophobic, anti-immigrant or anti-Europe is simply not going to do the trick. We need to understand what is driving such perceptions, and we need to concretely engage with the spirit of our times, if we are to have success in upholding European principles. This also means, crucially, fostering a human-rights-based culture within security services and other fundamental institutions of democratic societies.

I greatly appreciate the input of this Conference so far in addressing these phenomena, and I propose these three basic premises as food for thought in our ensuing discussions.

Let me now turn to the role of the OSCE and the role of the Council of Europe in particular.

As the largest regional security organisation, OSCE is particularly well placed to address the issue of security in the current migration and refugee crisis. Thanks to its long-standing practical expertise in the field, it can provide a comprehensive approach in addressing sources of instability. As an important platform for co-operation, it can also promote dialogue, build trust and provide support to its Member States in addressing long-term challenges. In short, its added value is based, inter alia, on its geographical scope of action, its field missions and its strong ties with the Mediterranean and Asian regions. Recent developments along the “Balkan route” are a case in point, as OSCE field operations in the Balkan region are particularly relevant in the migration crisis.

My open question to OSCE, and all international partners, is the extent to which human rights are, indeed, central to migration management, on the ground and in reality, and how we can, in practical ways, help Member States to enforce this.

This leads me to the organisation which I represent, namely the Council of Europe. Of course, the Council of Europe does not really deal with migration management as such. This is not our field of expertise. What the Council of Europe does offer is an impressive corpus of standards on the human rights protection of migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees. These standards should lie at the heart of migration management, whatever the border system in place.

The European Convention on Human Rights, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the varied work of Council of Europe monitoring bodies – such as the CPT, ECRI, GRETA and others – makes up our added value. Ours is the role to promote and protect the human rights of all within European jurisdictions. To that effect, we must help Member States find feasible, practical ways of doing so. It is on this issue of practicality and concrete enforcement where, clearly, all of us must work together and where I am eager to incorporate your ideas into our agenda.  

Needless to say, we are witnessing extraordinary times in Europe: new restrictive policies have been adopted, borders reconstructed, barbed wired fences built, and an abundance of unilateral decisions made. Xenophobia is rapidly on the rise. Some say that in such times we cannot uphold human rights standards, we must give discounts. But it is crucial to remember that even in times of crises, the European Convention on Human Rights remains an unequivocal binding obligation. In fact, some would argue that it is above all in times of crisis that the Convention should be upheld, for it is then that our humanity is truly tested.   

Recent measures adopted by a number of Member States in the name of security raise serious concerns about European commitments to human rights. If national security is not compliant with human security, then twenty-first century Europe will rapidly lose its own humanistic foundations. It is the role of the Council of Europe, and all of us together, to strengthen the foundations of public security through the rule of law, democracy and human rights. We have lost the battle if we start giving discounts on any of these principles.

In the next hour and a half, I look forward to moving forward together to see how we can, practically speaking, strengthen our cooperation, solidarity and long-term collective action in our commitment to these principles. We at the Council of Europe welcome any such initiatives.  

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