On behalf of the German Government, I would like to sincerely thank the Government of the Republic of Cyprus for its great commitment as Chair of the Committee of Ministers over the past six months.
Germany welcomes Secretary General Jagland’s current annual report. It gives us a renewed opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror. However, the image we see there is not the one we as members of the Council of Europe should actually be seeing.
Yet again we have to admit that human rights, the rule of law and democratic rules are under increasing pressure in parts of Europe.
This cannot and must not continue!
All members of the Council of Europe have entered into concrete commitments to protect human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Moreover, they have undertaken – without any ifs or buts – to implement the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. These obligations must be adhered to. There can be no exceptions!
Exerting pressure on a critical civil society or opposition, restricting freedom of expression or freedom of public assembly or encroaching on the independence of the judiciary: none of these are compatible with the goals of the Council of Europe. Rather, they are clear violations against the letter and spirit of Council of Europe commitments and obligations and, what’s more, they are completely unacceptable.
The issue of inclusive societies also remains a priority. There can be no compromises when it comes to the human rights of refugees and migrants. When dealing with refugee movements and migration, we need greater European solidarity and we have to step up our efforts to combat discrimination, xenophobia and hate speech.
The most recent reports on barbarous crimes against Homosexuals in Chechnya are especially distressing. Those in positions of responsibility who look the other way share the blame and are betraying the values for which the Council of Europe stands. We urge the council to use the instruments at its disposal to investigate the matter.
The human rights situation in Crimea, annexed by Russia in contravention of international law, as well as in the areas in eastern Ukraine controlled by the separatists, also continues to give cause for great concern. It’s high time the Commissioner for Human Rights and the other Council of Europe monitoring instruments were granted unrestricted access to these regions. The same goes for other parts of Europe to which the Council of Europe hasn’t had access so far, be it in the regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia belonging to Georgia, Transniestria or Nagorno-Karabakh and the surrounding seven regions of Azerbaijan. We urge Secretary General Jagland to resolutely continue his efforts.
Incidentally, we also have to ensure that the rule of law and human rights are respected in the fight against terrorism, a fight which poses a terrible challenge for us all.
Germany staunchly supports the Council of Europe’s dialogue with Turkey. We welcome the fact that Turkey has repeatedly expressed its commitment to this cooperation. We want Turkey to remain a friend and partner who upholds the standards and values of the Council of Europe. This includes first and foremost a ban on the death penalty. We therefore expect that – in everyone’s interest – this dialogue very quickly produces the urgently needed results.
Allow me to conclude on a positive note: the German Government is very pleased that the Council of Europe initiative to establish a European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture in Berlin is now taking concrete form, and that the institute will be able to commence work soon after the opening ceremony on 8 June.
We hope that it will be supported by all member states in a concerted effort to dispel prejudices and to visibly improve the inclusion of Roma, the largest minority in Europe, in future.
I would like to take the opportunity today to wish the incoming Czech Chair every success with its responsible tasks.
In difficult times we need more Council of Europe, not less. Let us all strongly commit ourselves in words and deeds to its values and standards in order to master the challenges facing us.