First of all, I should like to thank your Committee for having organised the Seminar on the protection of human rights while fighting terrorism, which I addressed three days ago. This event was very timely because it is very important to ensure that the Guidelines on human rights and the fight against terrorism and the Guidelines on the protection of victims of terrorist acts are fully respected in our member States. The Seminar and its follow-up are good examples of the key role of this Steering Committee in helping us to protect our values.
This role has become even more important following the decisions of the Warsaw Summit of Council of Europe Heads of State and Government.
The Summit particularly stressed the importance of making sure that our democracy becomes truly participatory, and in this context I appreciate very much the presence of representatives of civil society in this Steering Committee – observers from non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International, the International Commission of Jurists and the International Federation of Human Rights, and observers representing the National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. As far as I am concerned, you are key partners for the human rights work of the Council of Europe.
The Warsaw Summit also reaffirmed the role of the Council of Europe as the “primary forum for the protection and promotion of human rights in Europe”. Today, I should like to share with you my views about some key themes, some of which are explicitly addressed in the Summit’s Action Plan, where I think your Committee can play a vital role in the coming years.
First of all, there is your contribution to helping with the reform of the European Court of Human Rights.
Since the European Ministerial Conference on Human Rights, held in Rome in November 2000 to mark the 50th anniversary of the European Human Rights Convention, this Steering Committee has committed itself to the enormously challenging task of implementing the decisions of the Committee of Ministers aimed at strengthening the human rights protection mechanism established by the Convention. Your Committee prepared a set of proposals to prevent human rights violations at the national level and improve domestic remedies, making the subsequent filtering and processing of applications more effective and improving and accelerating the execution of judgments of the Court.
The outcome of this work was the adoption by the Committee of Ministers, in May 2004, of Protocol No. 14 to the Human Rights Convention. One of the main tasks of this Steering Committee at this moment is to follow up the implementation of these instruments. This work requires the active co-operation of member states to make sure that Protocol No. 14 – already more than a year old! – is ratified without delay. We also rely on you to see to it that all recommendations for action at national level are swiftly and fully implemented and, if you will, to keep us informed about the measures taken.
I should like to use this occasion to pay tribute to the high quality of the work produced by your Steering Committee. Examples of this are the work I have just mentioned on the implementation of the national aspects of the reform, or your current discussion on “Environment and Human Rights” in the light of the case-law of the Court and of ideas launched by the Parliamentary Assembly. This latter activity has a clear transversal dimension, and other sectors of our Organisation are awaiting your proposals with great interest.
But the CDDH is not only expected to apply – in a reactive manner - the terms of reference received from the Committee of Ministers. You must also be pro-active in making your own proposals for European action on human rights issues of general interest. In this sense, your Committee also plays a very important role. I know that, in the context of the discussions on future activities, your Committee will exchange views on the importance of considering human rights aspects of current societal issues – such as the exercise of freedom of religion in a democratic society, improving human rights protection for the elderly, questions related to children and violence, as well as ensuring accountability for serious human rights violations. Such work is essential for the Council of Europe to remain at the cutting edge of developing human rights policies in response to new challenges.
Your Committee also considers the possibility of some basic social rights being covered by the supervision system set up by the European Convention on Human Rights. It is a very sensitive but also a very important issue, and I strongly encourage you to pursue this reflection.
In the near future, I hope that a priority area of your work will be to help with preparations of the European Union’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights, that is to say, to define with our EU partners the modalities for the accession.
Let me also express my appreciation for your work in the field of access to official information. Following recent terms of reference given to you by the Ministers’ Deputies, you are now going to embark on the preparation of a legal instrument incorporating basic standards on the right of the public to have access to information in the hands of the public authorities. This is an excellent illustration of the Council of Europe’s work to strengthen democracy on our continent. It also shows how strongly democracy and human rights are intertwined and interdependent.
There is no doubt, therefore, that the CDDH will have a key role in the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the years ahead, and I count on all delegations to play an active and dynamic part in our efforts to advance the promotion and protection of human rights in Europe.