Strasbourg, 06.05.2014 - The Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Council of Europe’s 47 member states met in Vienna on 6 May, at the Hofburg palace. At the end of the session, Sebastian Kurz, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Austria and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers presented the Conclusions of the Chairman. //
Items on the agenda included:
· Council of Europe values and stability in Europe: current challenges
a) State of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe – Report by the Secretary General
b) The current crisis in Europe
· Securing the long-term effectiveness of the system of the European Convention on Human Rights
· Co-operation with the European Union
· The policy of the Council of Europe towards neighbouring regions
1. The presence of a large number of Ministers and other heads of delegation of political standing is evidence of the importance attached by member States to the Council of Europe’s activity during this period of serious difficulties for our continent due to the crisis in Ukraine.
2. The Secretary General’s report on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, which was widely welcomed, shows the challenges facing all our Member States today. During the debate, particular reference was made to the rise in racism, intolerance, discrimination, extremism, corruption, threats to the cohesion of our societies and risks to individual freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and media (including internet). As emphasised by many speakers, these challenges demand vigorous and concerted action if we wish to safeguard human rights and the proper functioning of our democracies. In this respect, many delegations pointed to the need to secure European core values and stressed the expertise acquired by the Council of Europe in the field of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and its major contribution to the building of a stable and democratic Europe. In this context, several delegations welcomed the recent ratification of the Istanbul convention on violence against women and domestic violence which will allow for its forthcoming entering into force.
3. The celebration of the Council of Europe’s 65th anniversary this year should be an opportunity not only to look to the past in order to gauge the progress made. It should also make us look to the future to consider together how we can make best use of the Council of Europe’s instruments in this current period of uncertainty in Europe. In this perspective, a large number of delegations expressed their support for the continuation and development of the Organisation’s activity, in synergy with other international organisations.
4. There was broad agreement on asking the Secretary General as a matter of priority to submit proposals on how to move forward in implementing his recommendations. A progress report on the activities carried out, as well as comprehensive operational proposals, should be presented at our next Session. The Secretary General’s proposal to hold a Summit on democratic security was positively received. Our Deputies should also submit proposals to this end at the next Session.
5. As far as the Secretary General’s other proposals are concerned, some delegations took the view that consideration should be given to ways of ensuring a rapid reaction by the monitoring bodies in emergencies. At the same time, the need to ensure the impartiality of the monitoring bodies and the full respect of their independence, as well as the importance of coordinating and not multiplying monitoring procedures were highlighted.
6. Some delegations also pointed out that persons living in unresolved conflict zones should benefit from the same level of human rights protection as other Europeans and encouraged the Secretary General to take forward the corresponding proposal made in his report. Certain delegations indicated however that any action should be taken in full respect for the territorial integrity of States and with the agreement of the governments concerned.
7. The crisis in Ukraine was at the centre of the discussions. The Chairman referred to the action and decisions already taken on the situation in Ukraine, as set out in document CM/Inf(2014)14. A large number of delegations reiterated their firm attachment to respect for the territorial integrity, unity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine. They condemned the annexation of Crimea as contravening international law and the Statute of the Council of Europe using the pretext of protecting the Russian speaking population. Several delegations called on the authorities of the Russian Federation to honour the commitments made on accession to the Council of Europe and to rescind the decision authorising Russian armed forces to intervene abroad to protect Russian nationals and interests.
8. A large number of delegations expressed their deep concern about the situation in Eastern and Southern Ukraine, deplored the recent tragic events in Odessa and called for a thorough and impartial investigation.
9. All delegations called for de-escalation and peaceful resolution of the dispute and there was agreement that dialogue is necessary and still possible in order to arrive at a negotiated solution taking into account the rights and needs of all Ukrainian citizens, including persons belonging to national minorities. Many stressed the important role of the OSCE to facilitate this dialogue. All parties should show the greatest restraint, avoiding any statements or acts which might incite violence, and many delegations called on the persons occupying public buildings to vacate them and lay down their arms. The importance of full application without delay of the Geneva agreement of 17 April 2014 and the possible holding of a second meeting was also emphasised as a crucial element. Several delegations commended the actions undertaken in this respect so far by the Ukrainian government and called on the Russian Federation to assume its responsibilities as well. The Ukrainian delegation committed to strengthen the powers of regions and to guarantee the protection and consolidation of special status for the Russian language, to pass an amnesty law for those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes, and to the continued collection of illegal weapons.
10. A large number of delegations also highlighted the essential importance of free and fair presidential elections to be held on 25 May 2014. Many stressed that these elections will be an important step in consolidating democratic progress of the country. They welcomed the assistance of the Council of Europe in the preparation of the elections. The Ukrainian government committed itself to conduct free, fair and democratic elections in accordance with the OSCE and international standards and in that regard invited authoritative international institutions to monitor elections.
11. Many delegations welcomed the Council of Europe’s rapid reaction and its package of measures to help the Ukrainian authorities to implement reforms with a view to strengthening the protection of human rights, the functioning of democratic institutions and the rule of law. The Council of Europe should continue to provide its expertise in the preparation of the presidential elections on 25 May. The assistance by the Council of Europe, in particular its Venice Commission, regarding constitutional and judiciary reform and other legislative processes was also welcomed, as was the work of the International Advisory Panel set up to oversee the investigations into the violent incidents which had taken place in Ukraine.
12. In addition to the assistance which the Council of Europe and other international organisations can give, it was noted that the long-term democratic stabilisation of Ukraine would depend first and foremost on the launching of a wide-ranging national dialogue encompassing all of Ukraine’s regions and political movements. This requires rejecting any expressions of extremism, racism and intolerance by all sides.
13. The Committee of Ministers will continue to monitor closely the situation in Ukraine, particularly in the light of the worrying events taking place in the east of the country, so that we are ready to react and to provide support where needed.
14. A large number of delegations pointed in this context to the imperative of protecting the rights of minorities, i.e. the Russian-speaking population and other minorities in Ukraine, in particular the Crimean Tatars and the Roma. Positive reference was made in this context to the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the recent report of a delegation of its Advisory Committee.
15. Some participants referred to the necessity to continue to strengthen human rights, democratic institutions and the rule of law in other parts of Europe, i.a. in Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and the Western Balkans, and valued the assistance provided by the Council of Europe. In this context, a number of delegations reiterated their support to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of member States. Particular reference was made to the Transnistrian region of the Republic of Moldova.
16. Concerning more specifically the situation in Georgia, a number of delegations condemned the current setting-up of obstacles between the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the rest of the country, which seriously infringe the rights of the local populations, and called for those obstacles to be removed. The Council of Europe should continue to monitor closely the human rights situation in the areas affected by the conflict. Several delegations underlined the usefulness of the Secretary General‘s six-monthly consolidated reports on this subject. The Council of Europe was also encouraged to develop its activities with a view to addressing the human rights consequences of the conflict.
17. Finally, a large number of delegations pointed to the unique role that the Council of Europe could and should play as a forum for dialogue and co-operation in Europe on the basis of common standards and accompanied by independent expertise and monitoring mechanisms. Several delegations pointed in this context to the unique nature of the European Convention on Human Rights, a key element of democratic security in Europe.