September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Council of Europe: Speech by Mr Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General, on the Occasion of the 109th Session of the Committee of Ministers; November 8, 2001

Strasbourg, 8 November 2001

Speech by Mr Walter Schwimmer, Secretary General, on the occasion of the 109th Session of the Committee of Ministers

"I had two good reasons to invite the Secretary General of NATO, Lord Robertson, to the so-called "fireside chat" or the informal meeting of the Ministers. One reason is, of course, that every meeting, every word, every action since 11 September is overshadowed by the tragic events and by the threat of terrorism and, as questions of national defence are excluded from the mandate of the Council of Europe and we have to discuss the fight against terrorism in a spirit of complementarity, it was good to have the opportunity to discuss with the Secretary General of NATO the military aspects of the fight against terrorism.

Secondly, as we all know, Lord Robertson is firmly involved in the solution of a crisis in a member state of the Council of Europe, "the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia", and he in fact arrived yesterday directly from Skopje, a bit late because he had held very difficult discussions in Skopje on the implementation of the framework agreement. He also had some problems leaving Skopje, so we were most grateful to Lord Robertson that he came to Strasbourg, and he not only gave us a very interesting overview of what is happening there at the moment, but also what the task of the international community for several questions in South Eastern Europe is. Afterwards, of course, we discussed the terrorism question with him.

This leads me to introduce briefly my report on the Council of Europe and international action against terrorism. You will find in your files an introductory memorandum of thirty-two paragraphs with two appendices, one is an inventory of Council of Europe activities relating to action against terrorism in the wider sense and the other is a list of political and legal texts produced by the Council of Europe on terrorism.

As I said before, nearly every meeting held at European and international level since 11 September 2001 has been overshadowed by the question of terrorism and this is true for the Council of Europe too.

However, there is one risk and one danger. That the interlocutory institutions of the European political architecture all do the same or intend to do their utmost in the fight against terrorism. This could lead to many duplications or even multiplications in the fight against terrorism. So we have to recall the need for co-ordination of actions in the spirit of complementarity. If everybody does the same, this will not be the best thing for Europe. If we can co-ordinate, if we can harmonise our activities, we will build an impressive package in the fight against terrorism. I have the firm intention to contribute to such a co-ordinated package of activities against terrorism.

We at the Council of Europe have some comparative advantages in some fields. We should act in those fields where we have a comparative advantagesa comparative advantage. First and foremost we need to improve the effectiveness of the Council's existing conventions through further signatures and ratifications and through the re-examination of reservations. And I am very proud to be able to inform you that as from today the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism has now been signed by all our forty-three member states. So we can say that our member states reacted rapidly to the appeal of the Committee of Ministers' Deputies requesting that all member states sign this important convention which exists since 1977.

Discussions have already been held on the opening of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism to observer states. Not only to observer states, but to all OSCE states which are not members of the Council of Europe. In this way we will have a wider field in our common fight against terrorism.

A multidisciplinary group on international action against terrorism, responsible for improving the existing mechanisms will be created - I think there is room for improvement. We have, in the spirit of complementarity, to develop new forms of mutual assistance in criminal matters in co-operation globally with the United Nations and in the European area, and with the European Union. For example, and this is just an idea, a proposal, we should consider how we could extend a European arrest warrant to the whole continent by the means of the Council of Europe.

We have to reinforce action to deprive international terrorism of its funding, notably through our anti-money laundering convention and the seizure of terrorist assets.

The Council of Europe has always supported the idea of the international Criminal Court and, following Recommendation N° 1534 of the Parliamentary Assembly, we should also consider extending the mandate of a future international Criminal Court to deal with terrorists.

Our Steering Committee for human rights could rapidly draft guidelines to oppose movements threatening fundamental values. And we should offer very quickly, rapidly, expert advice to member sates on the conformity of the proposed anti-terrorist measures with the European Convention on Human Rights. We have to strengthen and reinforce social cohesion and respect for cultural diversity.

One important role the Council of Europe could play in co-operation with other European organisations and institutions, is to initiate a discussion on multi-cultural and inter-religious issues. In our 3+3 meeting with the OSCE, we discussed that the Council of Europe, together with the OSCE, but also in co-operation with the European Union, could initiate such a dialogue with the Islamic world with the organisation of the Islamic conference. That would also follow a proposal which was made by the Turkish Foreign Minister, Mr Ismail Cem, and the Greek Foreign Minister, Mr Giorgos Papandreou, at the Enlarged European Conference. With the comparative advantages of the OSCE and the Council of Europe we can actively contribute to such a dialogue.

We also have, for the same purpose, our famous North-South Centre where we can enhance the dialogue with the southern Mediterranean regions. We should contribute to the European Union's Barcelona process, notably in the legal and cultural fields, and we should adapt projects in the fields of education, media, minorities and the fight against social exclusion, and our Council of Europe Development Bank could also play a supportive role in that respect.

And last, but not least, we are planning two integrated projects which would start by the beginning of next year, one on the question of everyday violence in democratic societies and the other on the functioning of democratic institutions. I think in both integrated projects we should elaborate further action against terrorism.

In conclusion, Mr Chairman, I think that it is essential that we uphold the principles of justice and human rights in our fight against terrorism. We should agree that defence of our fundamental values is not only necessary, but could be an integral and constitutive part of fighting terrorism. Meanwhile, we have to realise that fundamentalism and extremism unfortunately occur in all religions in all cultures.

Of course, since 11 September 2001, terrorism has taken on a new and frightening dimension, but unfortunately, terrorism is not unknown in Europe and we were sadly reminded of this fact by recent terrorist attacks in Spain where a hundred people were hurt and where a judge was killed by terrorists. This shows clearly that terrorism cannot be justified on religious and on national grounds. It will not help the interests of the Basque people when a hundred people in Madrid are injured by a car bomb. No religious grounds can justify throwing bombs at 4-year-old schoolgirls or shooting a 25-year-old man just because he is a protestant. We have a strong common interest in fighting terrorism. We should do this in co-operation with of our member states and our partner organisations in Europe."

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