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PACE President Press conference speaking notes

June Session 2011

Today is World Refugee Day and we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. and I am pleased to announce that the Assembly’s Migration Committee will carry out an inquiry into the tragic incident of 8 May, in which reportedly 61 boat people escaping from Libya died after their appeals for rescue had been ignored by armed forces operating in the Mediterranean. The Committee will designate a rapporteur this week and who will also look into other cases where better interception and rescue co-ordination could have saved human lives. We have a clear moral and legal obligation to save persons in distress. No vessel can ignore an appeal for rescue.

In the Council of Europe, it is also our duty to offer help to all those who clearly declare their willingness to build societies based on the standards we uphold. The report we will be discussing this week on the Moroccan Parliament’s request for “Partner for Democracy” status concludes that the authorities have clearly demonstrated such a willingness, and I hope to be able to sign tomorrow with both Speakers of Parliament the act conferring “Partner for Democracy” status.

This week, we will also hold a very timely debate on the situation in Tunisia, where the trial in abstentia of former President Ben Ali begins today. In our report to be debated tomorrow, the Assembly is invited to call on the authorities to “investigate abuses of power committed by the former ruling elites of Tunisia”, and I fully support this appeal.

The Tunisian authorities have invited us to observe their elections to the Constituent Assembly. The fact that these elections have now been postponed will give us more time to assist in preparing the right conditions for holding them.

Furthermore, the Bureau proposed this morning to hold a current affairs debate on the political and humanitarian consequences of the situation in Libya and Syria, which should be on the agenda on Thursday afternoon.

Just after this part-session, I will be the first Assembly President to carry out an official visit to Kirgyzstan. This country, which is already a member of the Venice Commission, has expressed an interest in exploring closer links with our Assembly, and it could also qualify as a “Partner for Democracy”. I will also visit Kazakhstan to continue discussions about partnership status with the new Speaker of the Senate and the new Foreign Minister. (The Palestinian National Council has also applied for this status).

The report “Living together – Combining diversity and freedom in 21st century Europe” prepared by the Group of Eminent Persons is also on our agenda this week. I welcome this report, but most of its content is not new to us. I consider that a Council of Europe Summit is needed in order to generate the political commitment needed to implement the proposed measures and I made this proposal at the Istanbul meeting.

Finally, I would like to mention the Human Rights Prize which honours, every two years, outstanding civil society action in the defence of human rights. This year, the prize goes to the Russian NGO “Committee against Torture”. Let me also pay tribute to Elena Bonner who passed away. She was an advocate for democracy, human rights and political freedom, at a time when there was little room for defending such principles. I thank her for her lifelong and constant fight to defend Council of Europe principles all over the world.
 
Two Heads of State – the Presidents of Ukraine and Armenia – and three Ministers – the Foreign Ministers of Ukraine and Bulgaria and the Minister of Justice of Germany – as well as the Speakers of both Chambers of the Moroccan Parliament and the General Attorney of England and Wales come here this week because they consider it important to address this Assembly. In this respect, I promise you to do my best to make my guests as much available to you as possible to reply to your questions.