The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

Statement by Mr. Johannes Koskinen, Minister of Justice of Finland

Mr. Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

At the outset I would like to fully associate myself with the statement made by Minister Lindh on behalf of the European Union.

Mr. Chairperson,

The agenda today covers two regions where the Council of Europe recently has played a significant role. In the Balkans the Council of Europe has established a presence to assist a number of countries, each one in its own way affected by the violent disintegration of the former Yugoslavia. From the Caucasian region Armenia and Azerbaijan today for the first time participate in the ministerial session as full members. I want to wish the new members, Armenia and Azerbaijan, most welcome and encourage them to take full benefit of this organisation.

In northern Caucasia, in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation, the clashes and fighting continue to raise concerns with regard to the poor humanitarian situation in that region. The international community condemns any acts of terrorism. Safe and unhindered access to humanitarian aid agencies should be ensured and the specific provisions of international humanitarian law be adhered to by all parties to the conflict. As a party to various human rights treaties the Russian Federation is also expected to abide by their provisions. In any event it needs to be emphasised that there will be no end to the human distress without a political solution to the conflict. We also look forward to the swift return of the OSCE Assistance Group.

Mr. Chairperson,

Recently we have seen in some countries disturbing signs indicating a deterioration in the situation of media independence or of freedom of expression in general. We note the assurances by the Ukrainian Government to investigate the cruel murder of Mr. Gongadze and urge the government to ensure that these investigations be conducted promptly and according to European standards with a view to bringing those responsible to justice.

Mr. Chairperson,

Today with the accession of Armenia and Azerbaijan the whole Caucasian region, south as well as north, falls under membership status. The three southern Caucasian countries will need our committed support for the foreseeable future to continue in their post-accession efforts. In the Balkans we are looking forward to receiving the two remaining countries as members: Bosnia and Hertzegovina and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

From our experience I can confirm that the Council of Europe is a demanding organisation. Nonetheless meeting its standards is not a burden and not an end in itself. By doing its homework well a country will in fact create a society, which provides incentives, equality, security and prosperity to its people. In this respect, pre-accession criteria, post-accession commitments and membership programmes all aim at the same goal: democratic stability.

The situation of ethnic minorities in the Balkans has been subject to quite some concern throughout the whole decade of conflict in the region. The failure to protect minority rights has always been a major cause of conflicts, and the promotion of human rights is an effective way of crisis prevention. Ethnic violence must always and under all circumstances be condemned. Violence may never be accepted as a means to further extremist goals, as has recently happened in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. We commend the efforts of different political forces towards a unity government in order to facilitate peaceful inter-ethnic dialogue.

Mr. Chairperson,

During the conflict over Kosovo the international community again became pain-fully reminded that the Roma communities live in minority position everywhere and they may be exposed to discrimination and even targeted for persecution on the part of majorities as well as other minorities. Also in Central Europe the status of the Roma minorities is low and has been identified as a specific human rights problem to be monitored in the context of the candidacy of those countries for membership in the European Union. Discrimination of Roma is by no means unknown in western or northern Europe either. Roma all over Europe are regularly discriminated against when they seek housing or work and many have had to experience violence. School systems which do not pay attention to the educational needs of Roma children lead to high drop-out rates and threaten to perpetuate social exclusion.

To address this problem a variety of measures are needed. One goal, which seems to be gaining acceptance, is to increase opportunities for Roma to participate, on different levels of decision-making that concerns them. Since the Roma is a European minority and since many of their problems have a regional dimension also Roma participation in decision-making is needed on all levels, national as well as European. The Finnish Government welcomes the broad interest shown for the initiative of our President Ms. Tarja Halonen, to consider the need to create for the Roma some kind of consultative assembly to represent them on the pan-European level.

A European forum would give the Roma an opportunity to jointly formulate representative views and to make these views known to political decision-makers in European organisations as well as in national governments. The steps to be taken to gradually establish such a forum should be developed in close consultation with the Roma organisations and with the best advise of experts involved in promoting Roma rights.

Mr. Chairperson,

The European Court of Human Rights constitutes a part of the Council of Europe which serves as an example for other regions of the world and is viewed with envy by other international organisations. In particular the opportunity for any individual to address the Court is a unique feature which provides an asset for the whole organisation in its search for political visibility. The right of every individual has been established irrevocably as part of the present acquis and must be preserved. When individual justice is realised at the European level, constitutional justice is at the same time developed.

Presently the main problem of the functioning of the control system appears to be the overload of the Court's Registry during the phase preceding the judicial assessment of cases. The Court has within its sphere of competence already taken some measures to cope with this and other problems relating to the growing caseload and is continuously looking for new procedural improvements. We welcome this development with great satisfaction.

The establishment of the Evaluation and Reflection Groups is also an important step in this process. After having received the results of these elaborations, it is for the Contracting States to make their decisions.

Mr. Chairperson,

Finland gives her full support to these efforts to develop the procedures of the Court. Whatever the measures later chosen, the Court must be able to concentrate on issuing judgements of high quality within a reasonable time in cases raising genuine human rights concerns now amounting only to 15 to 20 percent of the overall number of complaints.

Moreover Finland finds it very important that the prerequisites, including additional financial and human resources, for the effective functioning of the Court are secured also in the future.

Finally, Mr. Chairperson,

I would like to reiterate the position of Finland that the European Community should accede to the European Convention on Human Rights with its control mechanisms.

Thank you Mr. Chairperson