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Address by Andres Herkel

Address by Andres Herkel,
Vice-President of the Parliamentary Assembly
of the Council of Europe

Conference on “Prevention of terrorism: prevention tools,
legal instruments and their implementation”

(Istanbul, 16 December 2010, 16h00)

[Minister,
Secretary General,] – if present
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to represent the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe at this Conference organised within the framework of Turkey’s Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers. I would like to welcome warmly the fact that this conference takes place immediately after the meeting of the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on Terrorism (CODEXTER), thus enabling the members of the Committee to contribute to the debate with their expertise. This is the second time that a high-level Council of Europe conference follows the meeting of the Expert Committee and I think we should pursue this practice in future.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Council of Europe’s intergovernmental sector has done a great deal of work on the prevention of terrorism. The Assembly also works a lot on this issue and in the last couple of years our Committee of Legal Affairs and Human Rights has prepared as many as 9 reports dealing with different aspects of prevention of terrorism. To give but a few examples, these included:

- UN Security Council and EU blacklists
- Secret detentions and illegal transfers involving Council of Europe member states
- Legal remedies against human rights violations in North Caucasus
- The need to eradicate impunity
- The protection of human rights in emergency situations

In all these reports, the Assembly strongly and resolutely condemned terrorism. There can be no justification whatsoever for having recourse to acts of indiscriminate violence against civilian  population and others. I would like to express, once again, our condolences and solidarity to the families of all victims of terrorist acts. I also would like to join the President of the Assembly who condemned, most strongly, the Saturday’s explosions in Stockholm. Terrorism has no place in Europe based on the values of democracy, human rights and rule of law and we must do everything possible to eradicate it!

Needless to say that all Council of Europe member states are under the obligation to protect the public against terrorist attacks. At the same time, we all agree that terrorism can and must be combated effectively by means that fully respect human rights and the rule of law. Over the past fifty years, the European Court of Human Rights was called upon to rule on cases involving terrorism on several occasions and has developed a case law which provides standards of reference for member states’ measures and policies to prevent terrorism. The Assembly, for its part, is also working on developing new policy guidelines on this matter. Our Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is currently working on two reports which focus, respectively, on examining the compatibility of counter-terrorism legislation and its application with the Council of Europe standards applicable to human rights, as well as on the obstacles to parliamentary and judicial scrutiny of human rights violations. I am sure that these two reports will provide food for thought as well as concrete recommendations in order to make sure that our member states’ policies and practice comply fully with European standards including the European Convention of Human Rights and the case law of the Strasbourg Court.

Endowing the State with compliant counter-terrorism legislation and practice is important. But in my view, prevention complements prosecution and sanctions. Prevention also means the creation of conditions in our societies in which terrorism simply cannot develop. Obviously, this is easier said than done. But I think that by jointly enforcing our standards of rule of law and human rights as well as by promoting democracy, we can make the change happen. I would like to briefly mention two aspects which are important for me in this respect.

Firstly, it is essential to eradicate impunity for human rights violations. All perpetrators of human rights violations, including the authors of terrorist acts, but also the instigators and organisers, must be held to account for their actions. In this respect, I would like to stress that the European Court of Human Rights has developed extensive case law on impunity, in particular by imposing on member states the positive obligation to investigate serious human rights violations and to hold their perpetrators to account. I would like to welcome the fact that today’s conference will give participants an opportunity to exchange experiences and practices in preventing incitement to terrorism, recruitment for terrorism as well as the prevention of terrorism financing. Indeed, these aspects of the prevention policies are just as important as the prosecution of those who actually commit terrorist acts.

But this is only one side of the coin. Impunity also means that the law enforcement agencies and officials involved in counter-terrorism measures should be equally sanctioned for any human rights abuses they may commit in performing their duties. Unfortunately, such incidents are happening in our countries, as exemplified, among others, by Assembly reports on renditions and secret detentions in Council of Europe member states as well as on human rights violations in the North Caucasus. In this latter report, the Assembly stressed that human rights violations committed by the authorities end by conferring a status of martyrdom on the terrorists, whereas in fact they are no more than criminals who should be treated as such.

In this context, I would like to stress that, as Members of Parliament, we also have a role to play in ensuring that impunity is eradicated. It is our right and duty to use fully our democratic oversight powers to scrutinise the activities of the law enforcement agencies and security services, in order to make sure that, in their counter-terrorist activities, they use only means which are compatible with the standards of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Secondly, we should focus on the root causes of terrorism. In this respect, the recent general rise of extremist, racist and xenophobic rhetoric in many of our member states is a serious matter of concern. Indeed, recently, we have seen political support growing for parties inspired by racist ideas in a number of national elections in our member states as well as in the elections to the European Parliament. These extremist populist parties are capitalising on security concerns by simply equating immigration with crime and insecurity. Nowadays, in an attempt to regain the support of the electorate, mainstream political parties are tempted to pick up some of the radical, xenophobic and discriminatory language of extremist parties. This is an extremely worrying trend.

In this context, I would like to mention specifically the issue of Islamophobia. Although Islamic fundamentalism remains largely marginal in Europe, in some Council of Europe member states, it exerts a growing attraction amongst young Muslims, who feel sometimes frustrated due to racism, discrimination, social exclusion and unemployment. We should deal with this threat effectively, while countering the risk of stigmatising Islam as a religion. The General Policy Recommendation No. 5 of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) on Combating intolerance and discrimination against Muslims contains a number of concrete measures members states should implement in this respect.

What can we, politicians, do to address these issues? Firstly, I would like to stress that we bear a special responsibility for eliminating from the political discourse the negative stereotyping or stigmatising of any minority or migrant group. On the contrary – we must promote a message of non-discrimination, tolerance and respect for people from different backgrounds.

Secondly, we must work with our colleagues from the executive branch of power on implementing socio-economic policies aimed at contributing to the efforts for the eradication of racism, xenophobia and intolerance within society. These measures should aim at eliminating discrimination on grounds of religious beliefs in access to education, employment and at the workplace, housing in mixed areas, public services as well as democratic participation through citizenship.

Thirdly, and perhaps, most importantly, we must enhance inter-cultural dialogue including its inter-religious dimension, and the Council of Europe White Paper on inter-cultural dialogue can be an important guidance in this respect. In this context, I would like to stress that the promotion of inter-cultural dialogue is one of the priorities of our Assembly. During the April 2011 part-session, we will hold a debate on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue. We will invite religious personalities to participate in this debate in order to have a comprehensive exchange of views. I am confident that this debate will offer us an opportunity to have a fresh look at the problems we are facing and come up with concrete initiative which will help make our societies more tolerant, respectful of differences and, ultimately, more democratic.

Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Before I finish, let me briefly mention one more issue. Our  Conference brings together European experts and practioners as well as our international partners from the UN and INTERPOL. This is a very positive sign, as the threat of terrorism is global and, therefore, requires a co-ordinated international response. In this context, I have to congratulate the Secretary General of the Council of Europe for his efforts to strengthen co-ordination between the Council of Europe and the United Nations in the fight against terrorism. We are glad that the UN Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee will be meeting in Strasbourg next year, on 19-21 April 2011. I am sure that this meeting will provide an excellent opportunity to bring our positions on counter-terrorism policies even closer as well as agree on concrete joint initiatives. Given the fact that the Parliamentary Assembly has been very active in this field as well, I trust our representatives will be invited to participate in this meeting.

Ladies and Gentlemen, let me now wish you a very fruitful conference and a nice stay in Istanbul. Thank you very much for your attention.