Statement at the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers Meeting

Council of Europe values and stability in Europe: current challenges.

Mr Chairman, Mr Secretary General, Colleagues,

We have every reason to celebrate the success of our efforts over the past 65 years.

Strengthening democracy. Reinforcing the rule of law. And protecting the human rights of everyone throughout our continent.

This remains our core duty.

The Secretary General's efforts in this field and his report on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe deserve our appreciation and should be welcomed.

We are meeting here in Vienna a century after the fateful summer of 1914. We all should reflect on the lessons of that summer - and of all the years that have passed since then.

And we are meeting in the midst of the most profound crisis we have faced in Europe for decades. A crisis that also has profound implications for us and for our work.

As member states, we have all committed to certain values and principles.

Let me just read you some.

"To settle international as well as internal disputes by peaceful means, rejecting resolutely any forms of threats of force against its neighbours."

Clear language. And:

"To settle outstanding international border disputes according to the principles of international law, abiding by the existing international treaties."

No ambiguities there either.

When Russia occupied and annexed Crimea, it violated these clear commitments. It violated one of the very basic principles of the security and stability of our continent.

The borders of our states are the result of a complex, sometimes tragic history. But if you start changing them by force, you risk opening up that same history all over again. Here, or there, or everywhere.

And then we will be heading for a very different, even a dangerous Europe.

Russia's actions not only violate the commitments it entered into when joining the Council of Europe, but also raise serious issues concerning human rights and protection of minorities.

The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was clear in its report a month ago.

In its assessment of the situation in Ukraine, it focused on the situation of the Crimean Tatars.

Thousands of them have now fled from Crimea to other parts of Ukraine.

And now we see that the Russian authorities are even denying Tatar community leader Mustafa Dzhemilev the right to return to his home in Crimea.

This is shameful.

Ukraine is a member of the Council of Europe, and we must be firm in our support of its territorial integrity, its effort to clean up the massive corruption of the past, its democratic path and - more immediately - the coming presidential elections. All of us should unite around these principles.

We must never recognise or accept that the borders of Europe can be changed by force and in violation of international law.

And we must be firm in upholding the human rights of every individual throughout our Europe.

I am a firm believer that the task of our generation is to safeguard a Europe whole and free, where democratic principles and human rights are fully respected.

This can never be achieved if we go back to the policies of past centuries - policies of sending armies towards and across each other, of aggression against neighbours, and of changing borders.

We therefore have no choice - today, here, as this Committee of Ministers - but to stand up to defend the values upon which the Council of Europe was founded 65 years ago.


Erik Zsiga
work 08-405 10 00