FINAL – Communication by Mr Ioannis Kasoulides, MFA of Cyprus and Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE to the PACE, in Strasbourg

The 127th Ministerial Session to be held in Nicosia on 19 May will mark the end of the Cyprus Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. It will provide an opportunity for an initial review of the results of our chairmanship and gauge our success in attaining the objectives we set ourselves.

Rather than getting ahead of myself regarding that discussion, what I wish to consider here with you today are a number of issues currently of concern to the Committee of Ministers, which are all challenges that we must tackle together.

The first is still, sadly, the threat of terrorism which continues to claim many victims on European soil and elsewhere. In recent weeks we have seen terrible attacks in London, Saint Petersburg and Stockholm. On behalf of the Committee of Ministers, I firmly condemned those attacks and sent condolences to the families of the victims. I want to convey the same message of sympathy to the French people after the attack in Paris last week.

We must relentlessly pursue the combat into which we have been drawn by the terrorist groups behind these cowardly and criminal attacks. We must carry on the fight by making the best possible use of the instruments at our member States’ disposal, including those provided by the Council of Europe. In this connection, I am pleased to see that the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, which makes being recruited or training for terrorism or financing it a criminal offence, will enter into force on 1 July following the recent sixth ratification required. I ask you to use your influence as regards your respective national parliaments so that this protocol, already signed by 28 member States and the European Union, quickly garners more signatures and ratifications. On behalf of Cyprus, I had the privilege of signing the Protocol just this morning.

The fate of victims of terrorism, who are all too often forgotten, is also a grave source of concern. In this respect too, we are about to take a major step forward at the level of the Council of Europe, as the revised Guidelines on the Protection of Victims of Terrorist Acts should be submitted to the Committee of Ministers for adoption on 19 May in Nicosia. This text is not only official recognition of the suffering endured by the victims of terrorist acts and their families but also a means of improving assistance for them by responding more aptly to their specific needs.

In addition to attacks against people, terrorists are also targeting our common history and heritage. Last January I told you that a Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property was being prepared. I am delighted that work has progressed so quickly and would like to take this opportunity to thank you for agreeing to give an opinion on the draft Convention at this week’s session. The Committee of Ministers awaits this opinion with interest, and with a view, I hope, to adopting the Convention and opening it for signature at the Ministerial Session in Nicosia. The adoption of that Convention will be an important step in our efforts to combat the financing of terrorism at a time when terrorist groups are increasingly resorting to trafficking in cultural property to fund their criminal activities.

We must not overlook the fact that the fight against terrorism also calls for long-term measures aimed at preventing its causes, including by promoting education to prevent violent extremism and radicalisation. Last month, as part of the Cyprus Chairmanship’s programme, a Ministerial conference on “Securing democracy through education” brought together representatives from 39 member States in Nicosia and, in particular, enabled the Ministers present to discuss implementation of the reference framework devised in the Council of Europe for competences for democratic culture. This reference framework is currently being tested in no fewer than 16 countries. I welcome the keen interest taken by the member States in this initiative, as well as by the successive chairmanships of the Committee of Ministers in a project that was launched by the Andorran Chairmanship in 2013 and then included in the Action Plan against terrorism adopted under the Belgian Chairmanship in 2015.

The migration crisis is another major challenge for Europe today. Those most directly affected by the crisis are obviously the migrants and refugees themselves. They are entitled to the protection afforded by the European Convention on Human Rights in the same way as anyone else within the jurisdiction of member States. As a guardian of democratic values and a pillar of human rights protection in Europe, the Council of Europe has a duty to remain vigilant over the protection of migrants’ and refugees’ rights. I am pleased to see that this issue is particularly close to the Assembly’s heart as demonstrated by the holding of two debates directly linked to this issue this week, on funding of emergency refugee situations and on gender-based violence, of which women refugees are potentially victims. The Committee of Ministers too continues to closely monitor the situation of migrants and refugees. The Ministers’ Deputies hold regular exchanges of views with Ambassador Tomas Bocek, the Secretary General’s Special Representative on migration and refugees, who, last month presented to them a thematic report on migrant and refugee children, forming the basis of the draft action plan now being examined by the Deputies. That draft action plan is intended to give child refugees and migrants and more specifically unaccompanied minors access to procedures tailored for them, to benefit from better protection as well as to improve their integration in host societies. I hope that the action plan can be adopted by the 47 Ministers for Foreign Affairs in Cyprus next month.

Unfortunately, there are some outspoken individuals in Europe who do not hesitate to exploit the challenges posed to our democratic societies by terrorism and the migration crisis. Viewpoints that are none too compatible with or even hostile to our values and exploit the growing fragility and creeping fears in our societies are increasingly heard. We must all take a stand against the rise of racism and intolerance which threaten the cohesion of our societies. We are all concerned and duty-bound to mobilise our efforts – parliamentarians, members of governments, local politicians, representatives of civil society and members of the public alike. On 21 March, on International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I made a statement in my capacity of Chair of the Committee of Ministers reiterating our collective duty to stand against racism and all forms of discrimination.

Promoting inclusive societies where all members enjoy equal rights without racial distinction or discrimination of any kind is one of the priorities of our chairmanship, and we are particularly pleased, therefore, that the Council of Europe’s new strategy for the 80 million people with disabilities living in Europe was officially launched in Nicosia in March.

An inclusive society means that all its members should benefit from a minimum level of material well-being as guaranteed by the European Social Charter. It is to promote this treaty that we organised a conference last month with the main theme of national and international courts furthering social rights in Europe. Your debate this week on fighting income inequality as a means of fostering social cohesion and economic development will be very much in line with and build on the discussions we held in Nicosia.

Besides the topics I have just mentioned, there are a number of political questions that continue to be of concern to the Committee.

I would firstly like to mention the aftermath of the conflict that took place in Georgia in August 2008. This question remains a topic of concern for the Committee of Ministers, which had a new report submitted to it by the Secretary General last week. The Ministers’ Deputies will shortly have the task of deciding on follow-up to that report.

The situation in Ukraine continues to be another focal point, three years after the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. Although tensions remain high on the international and European scene, it is important to move forward through dialogue, while maintaining a firm stance on compliance with the principles of international law, so that the rights of individuals are fully respected, in line with the European Convention on Human Rights. My thoughts go out first and foremost to the very large number of refugees and displaced persons and also those living in parts of eastern Ukraine where clashes again took place only recently. Finally, I think of the members of all the minority groups: ethnic, religious, linguistic and others. I commend the efforts made by the Secretary General and also the Commissioner for Human Rights to keep the fate of those people in the spotlight and ensure that their rights are safeguarded.

Finally, the situation in Turkey is a further consideration. The exchange of views held between the Ministers’ Deputies and the Turkish Minister of Justice in March was an opportunity to take stock of the situation following the measures taken by the Turkish authorities after last year’s coup attempt, and the importance of acting in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights was once again reiterated in this context. The referendum of 16 April generated a lot of reaction both inside and outside Turkey. The Ministers’ Deputies held a discussion on this issue at their meeting last week. The Secretary General has invited the Turkish authorities to cautiously proceed following the referendum. I can only subscribe to this call. I would also like to reiterate the importance of ensuring respect for the Council of Europe’s principles and standards, in particular regarding respect for human rights, including the prohibition of the death penalty, and the independence of the judiciary. The Council of Europe stands ready to continue to assist Turkey in this respect.

Outside the geographical area of the Council of Europe, the situation in Belarus calls for some comments. Firstly, another death sentence was unfortunately handed down last month, which I deplore. It is crucial that the Belarusian authorities demonstrate their desire to draw closer to the Council of Europe by taking firm steps towards the introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty. The arrests made in connection with the protests held last month are another cause for concern with respect to our Organisation’s values, particularly the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

I would not wish to end my statement without mentioning the Council of Europe’s policy regarding neighbouring regions, whose representatives I am pleased to see in attendance today. As you know, our Chairmanship sets great store by this, and that is why we have invited representatives from southern Mediterranean countries to participate in several of the

events we have organised. The last of these was the workshop we ran at the beginning of April with the Venice Commission in Nicosia on the theme of “Interaction between Constitutional Courts and similar jurisdictions and ordinary courts”, to which we had the pleasure of welcoming judges from courts and constitutional courts as well as ordinary courts in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian National Authority and Tunisia.

Those, Ladies and Gentlemen, were the topics I wished to bring up today. Several of them will be on the agenda of the Ministerial Session in Nicosia next month. I look forward to receiving you there, Mr President. But it is clear that, beyond the Ministerial Session, these questions will remain on the agenda of the Council of Europe over the coming months. Accordingly, it is important that the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly, as well as the Secretary General, continue to concert their efforts to face up to the numerous challenges confronting Europe today.

You may rest assured that my country will continue to contribute to those efforts when its chairmanship is over. In this connection I express my full support and best wishes for the future Czech Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers. I also express my deep gratitude to your Assembly and to you, Mr President, and also to the Secretary General, for the excellent cooperation maintained since the beginning of our chairmanship.

Thank you for your attention. I am willing to take questions.

Source: Press and Information Office