Speech by Minister of State Michael Roth at the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Elsinore
-- Translation of advance text --
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to our Danish friends for their hospitality.
Many thanks also for your dedication in chairing the Committee of Ministers over the last six months. You have embraced the major challenges facing the Council of Europe. We need to continue to work together to confront them.
In this endeavour, it is important to remember that the Council of Europe and its institutions deserve respect and support. We are all glad to welcome our new Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović. I look forward to working with you!
There can be no grey areas where human rights are concerned. In all member states of the Council of Europe, free access to monitor the human rights situation has to be something we can take for granted. That also goes for conflict regions such as Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Donbass and Crimea. Obstacles and conditions that hinder or prevent monitoring missions in the countries concerned constitute flagrant breaches of our common fundamental principles.
As member states we have to accept the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights without restriction. It is inacceptable for individual states to evade or completely ignore this clear obligation on the pretext of reservations or legal technicalities.
If, for example, someone is in prison and the Court of Human Rights decides that this is a clear violation of the Convention, what other option is there than to release them without delay?
Yet it goes without saying that the Council of Europe cannot resolve the major international crises single-handedly. It is above all the task of the United Nations and the OSCE to find comprehensive solutions for armed conflicts and territorial disputes between states.
Our duty is to protect and strengthen human rights, democracy and the rule of law. To this end the Council of Europe has unique institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Venice Commission. And to this end it sets standards valid throughout Europe – through the European Convention on Human Rights and many other agreements. A good example of this is the Istanbul Convention, which contains important regulations to prevent violence against women and domestic violence. Let us continue to work together on this.
Under its Statute, the Council of Europe can do almost anything. But it can’t do everything better than everyone else! Our hands are also tied by the difficult budget situation. For this reason, our priority should now be to concentrate on our core tasks.
These chiefly include the work of the Court, which our citizens often count on as a last resort. It needs to be able to perform its tasks quickly and to have the wherewithal to do so. We have made some initial progress in this area in recent years. The Court has dealt with the large backlog of pending cases.
And last but not least, in the Council of Europe, as elsewhere, all members have the same rights and obligations. Every member state has to pay its contributions and comply with all the other obligations set down in the Statute. Yet every member should also be able to freely exercise its rights. That should be the guiding principle behind our dealings with one another.
My Government is therefore willing to do everything it can to assist Secretary General Jagland in finding a way out of the crisis. Looking ahead to Helsinki 2019, we need a clear mandate to stabilise the Council of Europe and put it back on a firm footing.
This also requires us to expand our dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly. We welcome the report of the independent Investigation Body. Its work has been instrumental in shedding light on the corruption allegations. This investigation and the consequences resulting from it are vital for the integrity of the Parliamentary Assembly. They are also important for the reputation of the Council of Europe as a whole.
I wish us all and particularly our Croatian friends every success for the coming six months!