Address by the Chairperson of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE Mr I. Kasoulides at the plenary session of PACE

Last November I had the pleasure of addressing the members of your Standing Committee in Nicosia. Today, for the first time, I have the honour of addressing your plenary Assembly. I am honoured and my country is particularly proud to hold on the Chairmanship for the fifth time, 55 years after joining the Organisation.

The Cypriot Chairmanship is already well underway and as I had the opportunity to make a detailed presentation of our priorities before your Standing Committee, I will not repeat them here today. I will, however, refer to them in connection with my presentation of the developments that have taken place in the Committee of Ministers since your last session.

The main theme we have chosen for our Chairmanship is the strengthening of democratic security in Europe. Recent events, which have been marked by a series of bloody terrorist attacks, give particular resonance to our choice. These attacks caused the death of dozens of people and resulted in a very large number of wounded in Europe and other parts of the world. In my statements of 20 December 2016 and 5 January 2017, I expressed our condolences to the families of victims and our sympathy to those wounded in such attacks. I also expressed our solidarity to the authorities of the member states affected.

These repeated attacks require us to act with even greater determination against terrorism, including within the framework of the Council of Europe. Over the years, the Organisation has developed several tools for strengthening international cooperation in the fight against terrorism. The most recent was the Protocol on foreign terrorist fighters, which was opened for signature in October 2015 in Riga. This Protocol is important because it defines a number of acts, including travelling abroad for the purpose of terrorism and the funding of such travel, as criminal offences. It also provides for the establishment of a network of contacts to enable member states to share information concerning people travelling abroad for the purposes of terrorism. This network came into operation on 1 December and I welcome this. However, the Protocol as such has still not come into force as only three states have ratified it. We must take the process further and do our utmost to ensure that it comes into force as soon as possible.

The Committee of Ministers has always stressed the need to act in full compliance with the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in dealing with terrorism. These principles, which unite the 47 member states of the Council of Europe, must continue to guide us, when we are faced with terrorists, who seek to destroy the values, to which we attach most importance and to breed hatred and intolerance. In their ideological blindness, they also attack the culture and history of our humanity. The destruction perpetrated by Daesh in Palmyra, Mosul and Raqqa, but also by other groups in Mali, Libya and Afghanistan, have been the tragic illustration of this. The aim of destruction is twofold: To raise funds for their terrorist action; indeed the illicit trafficking of artefacts is a major source of terrorist financing. At the same time, the perpetrators seek through those attacks to uproot the cultural and ethnological connection of the local population from their land; that is, they pursue a cultural cleansing. Such actions, however, are not directed only against the people of the country, where they are perpetrated, but against our shared history and the cultural identity of humanity as a whole.

This increased in scale and frequency destruction of cultural heritage renders the need for our collective and unified response even more compelling. The Council of Europe has and intends to play an active role, in cooperation with other international partners towards that end. In this respect, I welcome the fact that a new convention on offences relating to cultural property is currently being prepared. This convention will be the first international treaty on criminal measures and sanctions against unlawful activities in the field of the cultural heritage.

The Cypriot Chairmanship attaches great importance to the protection of cultural heritage and will do its utmost to ensure that this new convention is finalised as quickly as possible. With this in mind, upon the Chairmanship’s initiative and in cooperation with the Secretary General, we held a colloquy on 13 January with the aim of stepping up cooperation in the protection of cultural heritage. The participants showed particular interest in illicit excavations and in the sale and purchase of cultural assets, lucrative activities often as I said, linked to transnational organised crime and the funding of terrorism. I welcome the outcome of this colloquy, which was attended by Ms Irina Bokova, Director General of Unesco, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Mrs Anna Veneziano, Deputy Secretary General of UNIDROIT and Mr Mammoun Abdulkarim, Director General of Antiquities and Museums of Syria.

The Cypriot Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers also considers it very important to establish the conditions, which will enable everyone, without discrimination, to have full access to fundamental rights and freedoms. We are particularly concerned about helping to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities and increasing the possibilities for them to take an active part in the life of the community. I am therefore very pleased that, on 30 November 2016, the Committee of Ministers adopted a new Council of Europe Disability Strategy to cover the period 2017 to 2023. In March, we will be holding a high-level conference to launch the Strategy. I trust that the representatives of your Assembly will be able to attend this event for, in order to be fully effective, it must have the widest possible support.

In view of the increase of high-profile cases relating to Human Rights in the biomedical field, the Committee on Bioethics organised on 5 December 2016, under the auspices of the Chairmanship, a high level Seminar on International Case law in Bioethics. The seminar aimed at strengthening understanding of human rights in biomedicine. The thorough analysis of the existing case law as carried out so successfully at the seminar will allow forward thinking on the future of this ever-changing field.

Let me now move on to a number of political matters, which have featured prominently on the agenda of the Committee of Ministers since Cyprus took over the Chairmanship. Among these is the situation in Turkey in the aftermath of the coup d’etat of 15 July, which we have condemned. Through his weekly communications with the Ministers’ Deputies, the Secretary General keeps delegations informed of the developments regarding cooperation between the Council of Europe and the Turkish authorities. We must help them overcome the difficulties the country is currently facing, while ensuring compliance with our common standards with regard to human rights, democracy and the rule of law. I am thinking in particular of respect for such fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of expression and of the media as well freedom of association. In these troubled times, the European Convention on Human Rights must remain the compass. The Committee of Ministers will continue to closely follow the situation on the ground. I know that this is also the case for your Assembly.

In Azerbaijan, the situation of Mr Ilgar Mammadov has also continued to engage the Committee’s attention over the past few months. It has, on several occasions, called for the immediate and unconditional release of Mr Mammadov. I reiterate this appeal and I recall that the unconditional execution the judgements of the ECHR is an obligation of fundamental nature for all member states. In this respect I express my satisfaction for the recent meeting between senior officials of the Secretariat with the authorities of Azerbaijan in Baku and I encourage the continuation of this dialogue. I wish also to reiterate the willingness of the Council of Europe to assist Azerbaijan in meeting its obligations as a member of the Organisation. It was with this aim in mind that the Committee of Ministers recently decided to extent the current Action Plan for Azerbaijan until the end of 2017.

With regard to the conflict in Georgia, the Committee is continuing to closely monitor the situation on the ground, in particular by means of the valuable information provided by the Secretary General in his twice-yearly reports. Last November, the Committee held a discussion on the basis of the Secretary General’s latest report.

I hope that 2017 will be a year of progress in the settlement of the conflict in Georgia, as well as in the other geographical areas of the Council of Europe, where there are conflicts and tensions. Of course I am thinking first and foremost of Ukraine, but also of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and of the situation in the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova.

Going beyond the geographical area covered by the Council of Europe, I would like to refer briefly to the situation in Belarus. Like your Assembly, the Committee of Ministers has on several occasions called on Belarus to put an end to the death penalty and to establish a moratorium as the first step towards its abolition. This is a vital step if this country truly aspires to become a member of our Organisation.

Notwithstanding these repeated calls on Belarus to abolish the death penalty, four people have unfortunately been executed over the past year and a further death sentence was handed down in late December. This most regrettable development can but further delay the prospect of the country possibly becoming a member of the Council of Europe. I earnestly hope that the Belarusian authorities will take advantage of the new Action Plan for this country, which the Committee of Ministers approved in October 2016, to make significant progress in 2017 in this as in other fields.

Finally, I would like to mention the Council of Europe’s neighbourhood policy. This cooperation is more necessary than ever at a time when the numerous challenges facing our continent require an international response reaching beyond our borders. Because of its geographical position and its historical links with the countries on the south shore of the Mediterranean, my country has long realised the importance of such cooperation and has actively promoted it. We intend to take advantage of our chairmanship to enhance the Organisation’s neighbourhood policy in the interests of security for all. To that end we have decided to invite the north south centre and member states of the neighbourhood policy to participate to events organised by the Chairmanship, including to the Ministerial Conference of Ministers of Education to be organised in Nicosia in March.

The Council of Europe needs to step up its cooperation with the other international organisations in all the fields I have just mentioned, so as to combine efforts and consequently ensure that the action taken is more effective. From this point of view, 2017 is an important year for relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union as it marks the 10th anniversary of the enhanced cooperation established between the two organisations on the basis of the memorandum of understanding signed in 2007. Cyprus will take advantage of this anniversary to organise various events during its Chairmanship.

Our relations with the European Union are numerous and fruitful, both from political and technical standpoint. The European Union is undeniably the Council of Europe’s closest partner, including with regard to the funding of cooperation activities run by the Council of Europe both in Europe and in neighbouring regions. In this context, I welcome the fact that Mr Johannes Hahn, European Commissioner for Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, has been invited to address your Assembly tomorrow. The Ministers’ Deputies for their part held an exchange of views with Mr Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, at their last meeting in 2016. Nor do I underestimate the importance of closer cooperation with the other international organisations, like with the OSCE, where I will be presenting the priorities of our Chairmanship at the end of the week. Equal importance we attach to our cooperation with the United Nations.

Ladies and Gentlemen, before closing my address I would like to say how much I welcome the excellent relations between the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly and how important I consider them to be. Mr President, your regular visits to the Ministers’ Deputies to present the outcome of the Assembly sessions is greatly appreciated. These presentations strengthen our ties and help to ensure better synergy between the Committee and the Parliamentary Assembly with all due respect for their individual competences.

I thank you very much for your attention.

Source: Press and Information Office