Speech/statement | Date: 09/05/2019 | Ministry of Foreign Affairs
By Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide (Oslo, 9 May)
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide's welcome speech at the Council of Europe's 70th anniversary.
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to welcome all of you to this celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Council of Europe and the 60th anniversary of the European Court of Human Rights.
The years just after the Second World War were a time of soul-searching and institution building.
Politicians spent considerable time discussing how it could be that Europe, for the second time in 30 years, had plunged into a brutal, devastating war. And they discussed what they needed to do in order to prevent this from happening again.
Their answer was, at least in part, to build institutions and organisations that would bind countries together. The UN, the World Bank, the IMF, Nato. These institutions are the backbone of an architecture that was built in response to two devastating wars.
The Washington Treaty, which created Nato, was signed on 4 April 1949. And just a month later – on 5 May – leaders from many of the same countries gathered in London.
There they signed the Treaty of London, which created the Council of Europe.
An organisation designed to:
- prevent a return to totalitarian regimes,
- defend fundamental freedoms, peace and democracy, and
- promote cooperation and respect for individual rights in Europe.
History has also taught us that we need checks and balances.
That democracy involves more than free and fair elections. That democratic states are more stable and less likely to go to war with each other.
And that without an independent and effective judiciary, the rights of minorities may be jeopardised by the actions of the majority.
Europe has come a long way since 1949. But both history and current events have taught us that fundamental freedoms cannot be taken for granted.
Nor can the existence of a stable democracy, not even in Europe. Perhaps this is even truer today than just a few years ago.
We must therefore defend democracy and human rights every single day.
We know from experience that democratisation is not a linear process.
Establishing real commitment to democracy takes time after years of an authoritarian regime. Even countries that appear to be staunch democracies can slide backwards.
This is why robust democratic institutions are so important. Democracies can be undermined from within if the checks and balances are not strong enough.
The Council of Europe possesses the instruments to assist states in building resilient institutions.
Perhaps one of the most important achievements of the Council has been to assist new member states with the democratisation process.
The Council was created back in 1949 by 10 western European states, including Norway. Today, 47 states are members of the organisation, covering the whole European continent.
Many challenges remain, but I am convinced that membership of the Council of Europe has had a positive impact in these countries.
The Council has just released a short overview of its main achievements over the 70 years of its existence. High on that list is the establishment of a death-penalty free zone for 830 million citizens.
The Council has developed more than 200 legally binding instruments covering a broad range of areas. The Convention on Human Rights is perhaps the best-known.
But there are many others, including conventions to combat violence against women, sexual abuse of children and cybercrime and to protect national minorities, to name only a few.
Many of the Council of Europe conventions have established monitoring mechanisms, which provide both member states and the Council itself with key information on challenges at national level.
Based on this information, the Council has developed tailor-made assistance programmes in cooperation with some member states.
Norway supports the Council’s cooperation activities and has been the largest bilateral donor for several years.
I believe we should do what we can to maintain the Council of Europe as a pan-European organisation.
This means keeping Russia as a member of the organisation – but it also means that Russia must comply with its membership obligations and pay its dues.
I believe Russian citizens should still be able to have their cases heard before the Court of Human Rights.
I would like to thank the Finnish presidency for their work on this complicated issue over the last six months.
The European Court of Human Rights was established in 1959, just ten years after the Council of Europe.
The founding fathers of the court saw it as a collective insurance policy against the relapse of democracies into dictatorships.
I think it is safe to say that none of them would have predicted its current workload – the court now delivers thousands of decisions and binding judgments a year, protecting the rights of some 830 million citizens.
Today, the Court remains the guarantor of individual human rights all the way from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
The European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights have become integral parts of the legal framework in Europe.
A judgment against a state in Strasbourg may influence the lives of thousands of others in a similar situation.
For example, thousands of inmates now enjoy better prison conditions as a result of decisions by the Court of Human Rights.
Norwegian law would not be what it is today without the Court’s influence – it has developed in tandem with the Court’s jurisprudence over the past 60 years.
Striking a fair balance between different rights and interests can be a challenging exercise for national courts, not to mention for us politicians.
We recognise that states must be granted some discretion as regards restrictions on individual rights, which is known as the “margin of appreciation”- doctrine, but it is reassuring to know that we are guided by a common European court and a common European convention.
I am firmly convinced that respect for individual rights and freedoms, democratic principles and the rule of law is an essential basis for lasting peace and stability.
Given the challenges we are facing today, we need to stand together to protect the organisations that our predecessors established to sustain peace and protect fundamental freedoms and rights.
Later this spring, the government will present a white paper on the how Norway can strengthen the multilateral system.
It will examine how Norway can best support human rights and contribute to peace and prosperity through international cooperation, and at the same time safeguard its own interests, at a time when international cooperation is coming under increasing pressure. International cooperation is of course fundamental to the work of the Council and the Court.
We must uphold their role and functions for the benefit of future generations.
I would now like to introduce my colleague State Secretary Anttonen, who represents the Finnish chairmanship of the Council of Europe.