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Speech to the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly

Speech to the Standing Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly
Prague, 30 May 2017

Honourable Speakers,
Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Distinguished guests,
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour for me to open the Standing Committee which we are holding in Prague to mark the beginning of the Czech Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

It is a real privilege to be able to have this meeting in Prague where the spirit of Vaclav Havel lives on for the benefit not only of the Czech Republic but all of Europe.

It is in this spirit that we have to deplore the terrible terrorist attacks that continue to rock our countries and which seek to divide our societies. Yesterday in the Bureau we had a minute of silence to remember and show solidarity to the victims of two attacks; the first in Manchester which targeted the young on a night out at a music concert; the second was the attack in Egypt on Coptic Christian pilgrims. These were a heinous affront to our European values and way of life.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If Vaclav Havel had been with us today he might have repeated a message of living together as the best antidote to the ways of terrorism. He once said:

"One aspect of the immense and wonderful colour and mystery of life is that groups of people differ from each other in their customs, their way of life, their faith, the colour of their skin and their way of dressing and so on…this ‘otherness' of different communities … enriches life …"

Terrorists seek the opposite of this ‘otherness'.

At the 127th session of the Committee of Ministers held in Cyprus on 19 May, where the Assembly was represented by Ms Stella Kyriakides, Chairperson of the Cypriot delegation, the Ministers took important steps to tackle terrorism. Firstly they approved revised guidelines on the protection of victims of terrorist attacks and secondly they opened for signature a Council of Europe Convention on offences relating to cultural property. This session of the Committee of Ministers marked a highly active and successful Cypriot Chairmanship and the introduction of an important Czech chairmanship.

It gives an important signal that the first priority of the Czech Chairmanship is … ‘protecting the human rights of persons belonging to vulnerable or disadvantaged groups and promoting gender equality.' this is very much in the spirit of Vaclav Havel and we can look forward to hearing more about the Czech priorities from Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Lubomír Zaorálek, later this morning.

Also later this morning we will have the opportunity of having an exchange of views with Mr Paolo Alli, President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. Peace on our continent is what the founders of the Council of Europe sought. Peace can never be taken for granted and that is why it will be of great interest to listen to and discuss with Mr Alli the challenges that NATO and its parliamentary assembly are facing.

Distinguished guests
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

We have a long agenda ahead of us. I would like to close with a word of thanks to our hosts for organising this meeting of the standing committee in this magnificent capital of Prague. I would also like to thank the Czech authorities for the continuing generous support for the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize which will see a new prize winner nominated in October this year.