Statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Erkki Tuomioja, Council of Europe, 10-11 May



Mr. Chairman,

As I am taking the floor for the first time as Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Committee of Ministers I would like to extend the continued support of my Government to the work of the Council of Europe and congratulate you for the excellent achievements under your able chairmanship. I am also looking forward to a good cooperation with the forthcoming Italian presidency.

At the outset, I fully subscribe to the EU statement just made by the Presidency.

Mr. Chairman,

The situation in Chechnya has given cause for concern. The Russian Federation, like other members of the Council of Europe, is subject to the monitoring of its commitments to this organisation. In respect of Chechnya, I would like to stress the need of all concerned to fulfil their responsibilities. One example is the provision of safe and unhindered access to the humanitarian aid organisations to relieve and prevent further human suffering. Moreover, I would like to underline the need for an independent, credible and broadly based investigation of alleged violations of human rights and humanitarian law in order to bring those responsible to justice.

When the Committee of Ministers gives its reply to the Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1456, the progress made by the Russian Federation will be carefully reviewed. Finland trusts that the Russian Federation remains engaged in international and regional co-operation with the aim of promoting human rights and the rule of law. We also trust that the Russian Federation, as a member state, continues to contribute to the objectives of the Council of Europe.

As a corollary, the Council of Europe should also continue to strengthen its co-operation programmes with the Russian Federation. At present, particular attention should be paid to the Northern Caucasus. Therefore I welcome the fact that two seminars on federalism as well as democratic institutions and human rights are organised under the auspices of the Council of Europe.

Mr. Chairman,

Over the past fifty years the Council of Europe has greatly contributed to a peaceful development of European societies and to the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe. Such activities are often of a preventive character, lacking visibility. Much remains, though, to be done.

At the international level, the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan has called for a "culture of prevention". The establishment of such a culture in Europe requires the allocation of resources to preventive activities prior to a conflict, at the outset of a conflict and in the reconstruction phase. The preventive nature of actions should not be forgotten in the implementation of the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe.

The international community has over the years established fairly effective mechanisms for peacekeeping. Nevertheless, an overall concept of conflict management, including prevention in all its manifestations, is lagging behind. Recent crises have clearly shown that military capacity alone cannot provide adequate response to complex emergencies. Civilian operations are an essential element of an initial response to a crisis. Issues such as local governance and the administration of justice become ever more important for crisis management. With its expertise and experience the Council of Europe is a valuable partner to provide assistance in these fields, hopefully more frequently in the future. It is important for the Council to work closely together with other organisations established in the field, thus reinforcing its capacity to act in the areas where it holds a comparative advantage.

Mr. Chairman,

Finland has consistently underlined the key role that the European Convention on Human Rights and its supervisory organ, the European Court of Human Rights, play in maintaining high standards in the protection of human rights. The jurisprudence of the Court and the adoption of additional protocols have demonstrated the validity of the European protection mechanism in the face of changing challenges over the past fifty years. The commitment to this system should remain firm also as the European Union has initiated a process aiming at a codification of fundamental rights. The existing human rights standards of the Council of Europe, as well as the international ones, spell out a minimum level not to be undercut in any aspect by the EU project. Finland supports the view that the European Community should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The initiative of Finland to create a Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights was aimed at providing a further tool in the common efforts to strengthen democratic stability in Europe. We have noted with satisfaction that the first Commissioner for Human Rights, Professor Alvaro Gil-Robles, has already demonstrated the validity of the post, including in the Council of Europe response to the situation in Chechnya.

In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, after the First Summit of the Council of Europe in 1993, efforts to combat racism, xenophobia, anti-semitism and intolerance have been intensified. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, ECRI, has played a leading role in these efforts. I am happy to note that the preparations for the European input into the World Conference against racism, to be held next year, are well underway. In the meantime the adoption of the draft Protocol nr 12 to the European Convention on Human Rights on the general prohibition of discrimination should be our first priority. Adopting this Protocol before the World Conference against Racism would furthermore demonstrate a real European commitment to combating manifest violations of human rights which result from racism and xenophobia.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.