Dangerous Times - but We Have to Protect Our Rights; AGENDA More, Not Fewer, Human Rights Are Needed If Societies Are to Be Protected from Terror Threats, According to Former Birmingham MP and Now Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis. This Is His Speech Yesterday to the One World Forum at Warwick University

The Birmingham Post (England), January 19, 2008 | Go to article overview

Dangerous Times - but We Have to Protect Our Rights; AGENDA More, Not Fewer, Human Rights Are Needed If Societies Are to Be Protected from Terror Threats, According to Former Birmingham MP and Now Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis. This Is His Speech Yesterday to the One World Forum at Warwick University


First of all, a few words about the Council of Europe. What it is or rather what it is not. The fact is that there is a lot of confusion about who we are and what we do, which is perhaps not surprising for an organisation which has the words "Council" and "Europe" in its name.

First of all, the Council of Europe is not a stripped-down version of the European Union. We are a totally different intergovernmental organisation, mandated to protect, promote and extend democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and that is why we incorporate the European Court of Human Rights which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights.

The European Union, on the other hand, is a supranational body with important legislative and executive powers. As such it has a responsibility to protect - but it may also infringe human rights.

In the Council of Europe we are therefore very much in favour of the European Union acceding to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is something which is endorsed in the recently approved Reform Treaty of the European Union itself. Their accession will end a paradoxical situation in which the only two executive powers in Europe which are not subject to the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights are the European Commission - and the government of Belarus.

In his report on the future of relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union, Jean-Claude Juncker, the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, went even further and suggested that the EU should join the Council of Europe as such.

I do not know whether this will happen, but the proposal does illustrate the real character of relations between the Council of Europe and the European Union.

Second, the Council of Europe is not Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch. We have been created and we are run by our member states, and it follows that our relationship with governments is different and usually less confrontational. In fact, we pursue similar objectives to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, but with very different methods.

The abolition of the death penalty is a very good case in point. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organisations have a key role in the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty everywhere in the world. In comparison, the Council of Europe of Europe not only campaigns but has also produced two legally binding international instruments banning this barbaric form of punishment.

Third, the Council of Europe is not a school in which professors from Western Europe give lectures to "bad pupils" from the East.

That is an old-fashioned and outdated pre-1989 attitude - unfortunately an attitude which is still far too prevalent in the so-called "established democracies" among politicians, in the media and public opinion. It is true that in countries with more recent experience of democracy, the problems tend to be more frequent and more important, but we can find difficulties in respecting human rights and democratic standards everywhere in Europe. It is neither fair nor useful to divide European countries into "untouchables" and the "usual suspects".

Consequently, the Council of Europe is not a club of perfect democracies or a Champions League of Human Rights. The Council of Europe is a place of work, where governments accept legally binding obligations and voluntarily submit themselves to rigorous monitoring of their compliance with those obligations. Our most important leverage is peer pressure, not sanctions.

Some countries have more difficulties than others, but the unvarnished and untrumpeted truth is that we are making progress. This progress is not always as quick as we would like, but it is steady, it is important, and it makes a difference.

I have already mentioned that problems exist in all our 47 member states. Against this background, allow me to mention several issues which are of some concern with regard to the United Kingdom. …

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Dangerous Times - but We Have to Protect Our Rights; AGENDA More, Not Fewer, Human Rights Are Needed If Societies Are to Be Protected from Terror Threats, According to Former Birmingham MP and Now Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Terry Davis. This Is His Speech Yesterday to the One World Forum at Warwick University
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