In a statement on the eve of International Human Rights Day (10 December), René van der Linden, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has called for stronger democratic controls over secret services:
"I profoundly believe that human rights lie close to the hearts of Europe's citizens. They know that modern society functions well only when human rights are stoutly defended.
At the Warsaw Summit, Europe's governments reaffirmed that the Council of Europe is the main instrument for carrying out that task. Today the Organisation has become a reference point for human rights on the entire continent, with the exception of Belarus. Now it is time to build on this, in ways that directly affect the lives of European citizens.
The Council of Europe's inquiries into secret detentions are among the best-known examples of its work. Dick Marty's report revealed how European governments have colluded with the CIA in unlawfully abducting European citizens, and it is now clear that the CIA is not the only secret service tempted to use unlawful methods. I therefore strongly support the Council of Europe Secretary General's recent call for stronger democratic controls over secret services, a priority for the Assembly.
But the role of a human rights watchdog encompasses so much more. The Council of Europe campaigns against child abuse, domestic violence and racism. It combats torture and protects minorities. It develops legal standards and works to promote democratic rights, aided by the vital input of NGOs and civil society.
In April 2007, in order to provide a new impulse for the Council's mission in all these fields, the Parliamentary Assembly will host the first in a series of major annual debates on 'the state of human rights and democracy in Europe'. With input from all the Council's institutions - as well as global personalities involved in protecting human rights - the aim is to create an annual 'snapshot' of the state of affairs in our 46 member states, and reflect on future action.
My hope is that this key initiative will help to keep the vital work of protecting human rights at the top of the international agenda, and in the eye of national parliaments, in the years to come."