Dear Ministers, Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to focus today on our common values enshrined in the Statute of Council of Europe. Let us remind that the Council of Europe was formed to achieve greater unity between its member states for the purpose of safeguarding and realizing the common ideals and principles. Using direct military force or hidden means of warfare for the purpose of aggression are not part of the values and principles dear to us. Vice versa – occupation or acquisition of a sovereign territory by another state must be condemned in the strictest terms. This is also clearly pointed out in Secretary General’s recent report.
The report also aptly reminds us that the current crisis is actually a crisis of values, which could have been avoided if each and every member state would have honored their commitments and obligations undertaken upon joining the Council of Europe. It is more than regretful that one of the member states has redrawn international borders unilaterally and through force. This act of violence has caused a lot of pain and suffering. The aggression has resulted in a tragic war. Thousands of people have lost their lives and many more have been forced to leave their homes. But, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and subsequent military activities in South East Ukraine are unfortunately part of a longer chain of events.
Since 2008 when Georgia became under a military attack by the Russian Federation, the use of force leading to occupation of neighboring sovereign states has become an unfortunate practice in the area of Council of Europe. This has led to the creation of black holes beyond the reach of international human rights monitoring mechanisms where grave violations of human rights and minority rights occur on a regular basis.
Unfortunately the situation in Georgia has deteriorated within last few months. The so called treaties signed by the Russian Federation with occupied regions of Georgia only undermine the efforts to return to the stable path of development. These treaties envisage policies and standards that suggest further possible breach of international law and order.
Now turning to Ukraine, we have to admit that the situation there is alarming, to say the least. It is clear that weapons and violence will not bring peace and stability. Sustainable political solution can only be based on the principles of the peaceful settlement, the full respect of Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders and the protection of human rights. We call upon all parties concerned to strictly respect Minsk Agreements and to take the necessary further steps for their swift implementation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We welcome the particular focus in the Secretary General’s report on the freedom of expression. This right is an enabler of many other rights and should be at the very core of the Council of Europe activities. Effective protection of the freedom of expression on the Internet requires the protection of the Internet eco-system which is open, free and secure. It is vital to base this on the broader platform of Internet governance which offers a basis for defending human rights online, including concepts such as cybercrime or protection of privacy. The Council of Europe has various instruments in this regard and we should make best out of them.
Today we have to look beyond current challenges to be better prepared for the future. In this context, while keeping our eyes on the horizon, let me highlight the importance of the digital society. There are many angles to approach the topic, but I am certain that most of us agree that over time digital technology and the Internet will become ever more prominent players in shaping the world of tomorrow.
The World Bank governance indicators have shown that there is a clear correlation between economic growth and different freedoms. The Internet allows for effective access to information, knowledge and skills, contributes to innovation and enables wider political participation. The latter has been underlined also in the report. Developing new restrictions on the Internet basically means limiting these perspectives dramatically. It is the free, open and democratic nature of the Internet that has made it a driving force of progress towards development in its various forms. Therefore it is absolutely crucial to protect and strengthen the freedoms both offline and online. Roughly half of the world’s Internet users have encountered restrictive measures being imposed on their net activities by various authorities. Manipulations with information flow and restrictions have also been prominent features of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict.
the expansionist policies of the Russian Federation have highlighted the importance of protecting our common values more than ever. Even though the rule of law, democracy and fundamental freedoms seem to be mere words without actual content for some member states, I believe they are strong guiding principles for the rest of us, not least my own country.
Finally, allow me to thank you and the entire Belgian team for your substantial and effective work. I also wish Minister Crnadak and his team every success in the coming six months.
Thank you for your attention!