Statement by Jaakko Laajava, Under Secretary of State, at the Council of Europe session in Strasbourg

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe 109th session 8 November, 2001 Check against delivery

Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Democracy, human rights and the rule of law constitute both the aims and the foundation of the Council of Europe. This is also true for subsequently established European organisations. These remain the guiding principles of all endeavours to build future Europe.

The outrageous and tragic terrorist attacks of September 11th have shocked our continent. They have profoundly changed the environment and circumstances under which this and other organisations operate. It is our resolve to remain true and committed to our common aims, which by no coincidence are the very aims that the terrorists attempt to undermine. Fight against terrorism is fight for democracy. It must be conducted in conformity with democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Governments are responsible for security in their own territories and societies. Sustainable results can, however, be achieved only through broad-based international cooperation. Finland aligns itself with the European Union’s common strategies against terrorism. I entirely share the views presented earlier by the Presidency of the European Union.

Mr Chairperson,

In fighting terrorism, it is important that each organisation is given tasks and responsibilities that are the most suited for its competencies, abilities and resources. The United Nations should continue to play the leading role in this fight. The strength and expertise of the Council of Europe first and foremost lie in the areas of human rights and development of relevant legal instruments.

This Committee approves a mandate for a multidisciplinary working group on terrorism. Legal cooperation, crime prevention and human rights are all represented. I am confident that the working group will make a significant contribution.

In this connection, I would like to reiterate the importance that all anti-terrorism measures be fully in line with the requirements of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The fear for and fight against terrorism should not lead to racism, xenophobia or discrimination against minorities. It is timely to call for a speedy ratification of the 12th protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights. Once the Protocol has entered into force, the European Court of Human Rights will be better equipped to deal with cases of alleged discrimination.

The success and importance of the European Court of Human Rights is evidenced by a steady increase of individual applications over the past decade. This has unfortunately led to a situation where urgent steps are required to maintain the important role and credibility of the Court. In the streamlining efforts envisaged, inter alia, in the proposals of the Evaluation Group as well as in the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers, the unique right of individual petition must be respected. In addition the accession of the European Community to the European Convention on Human Rights with its control mechanisms remains a priority.

Mr. Chairperson,

Further efforts are still needed to enhance respect for human rights. Discrimination, be it direct or indirect, continues to take place in all our countries. Especially minorities face an increased risk of becoming victims of discrimination.

The Roma are present as a minority in practically each and every European country. Roma communities in their respective European countries are closely related, whether they refer to themselves as “Romany”, “Sinti”, “Gypsy” or by any other identification. They are close to each other not only by ethnic affiliation and by a common cultural heritage, but also through their experiences of discrimination in all European countries. Despite these common features, the Roma minority lacks a platform where it could voice its own concerns at a European level. We in Finland believe, that national experiences of Roma representation should be used as examples for developing a mechanism where the needs of the Roma could be addressed at the international level.

It is for these reasons that the President of Finland, Ms. Tarja Halonen, in January of this year, made a proposal concerning the establishment of a pan-European representative body for the Roma. The idea has been warmly welcomed by the representatives of the Roma community. Given its broad membership and extensive expertise in human rights, the Council of Europe provides, in our view, the most appropriate framework for such a body. An ad hoc group will study in detail the various aspects related to establishing such a body. My government looks very much forward to working together with all interested parties in order to develop this initiative further.

Mr. Chairperson,

We need to intensify the pursuit of the principle objectives of international cooperation, such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Terrorism is an antithesis of precisely these objectives, which is why a persistent international counter-effort is essential. The Council of Europe has an important role to play, not only in combating terrorism as such, but also in reminding that democracy, human rights and the rule of law should remain on the agenda of international cooperation. My Government is firmly committed to working towards this end.

Thank you Mr. Chairperson