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Address to the Members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia

Address to the Members of the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia
Belgrade, Tuesday 10 March 2015

Provisional / Provisoire

Poštovana predsednice Skupštine,

Poštovani poslanici,

Dame I gospodo

Poshtovana Predsednitse Skupshtine

Poshtovani poslanitsi

Dame i gospodo

It is a real honour and a special privilege to be addressing you today. This is my second visit to the region: two weeks ago, I was in Zagreb and tomorrow I am going to Sarajevo.

I am extremely grateful to the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Maja Gojković, for inviting me to Serbia and for giving me the possibility to address you today as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. (a little improvisation a about the need of personal contacts and dialogue to understand each other.)

Serbia joined the Council of Europe relatively recently – in 2003, some 12 years ago. But, during these 12 years, the country has undergone profound political, institutional and legal changes.

  • Today, Serbia is a stable, democratic, multiethnic and multi-cultural state;
  • A candidate state to join the European Union;
  • An important player at the European scene, as the Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, as well as a major actor in the region.

What is even more important: Serbia is a full member of our Pan-European community values, sharing the highest standards of human rights, rule of law and democracy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The changes I have referred to a moment ago are very important for Serbia and for the citizens of your country who must be able to benefit from the high standards that the Council of Europe offers in the field of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. I would like to praise the Serbian authorities, as well as the political stakeholders, for having resolutely embarked on the path of reforms. You have made considerable progress in strengthening your country's democratic institutions, reforming the electoral system and the judiciary, tackling corruption, strengthening local self-government, as well as guaranteeing minority rights.

I am proud of the fact that the Council of Europe bodies, including our Parliamentary Assembly, have largely contributed to achieving these high results.

Last week the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe took stock of the co-operation between Serbia and the Council of Europe and decided on the basis of the progress achieved to discontinue the dialogue-based regular stocktaking. This is a welcome development which I wholeheartedly salute!

But let me say a word of caution: Serbia has made considerable efforts, but you should not stop halfway through the reform process. All political stakeholders across the board must join efforts to achieve a common goal: making Serbia's democracy stronger, upholding the rule of law, and guaranteeing the protection of human and minority rights to the highest European standard.

Let me highlight several priority areas.

The reform of the judiciary should continue building upon the positive results already achieved, in particular, to make courts more efficient, reduce delays in proceedings and ensure the full implementation of domestic judgments.

Reforms aiming at strengthening media pluralism and increasing the transparency of media ownership should go on. The recently adopted legislation on media creates an appropriate legal framework. Its implementation should now be "number one" priority.

Journalists must be immune from pressure and undue influence, respecting at the same time the principles of professional ethics in their work.

The implementation of minority rights should continue, building upon the good legal framework that already exists. The effective implementation of non-discrimination legislation should be further promoted.

Independent oversight bodies should be further supported as they play already an active and positive role in defending and promoting human rights as well as controlling government action. Their findings and recommendations should be carefully considered and given appropriate follow-up.

In all these as well as in many other areas the Council of Europe has valuable expertise and support to offer. The Assembly's co-rapporteurs of the Monitoring Committee are also at your disposal to provide political support.

Let me also stress that these reforms are crucial for Serbia's European integration agenda. To succeed, you have to have all the assets on your side. All countries of the region are engaged in the EU integration dynamic. Some are more advanced and have joined the EU already. Therefore, co-operation and experience-sharing are important. Don't hesitate to learn from your neighbhours as well as share with them your own experience. By joining efforts, you can advance much faster on the path of European integration.

* * *

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,

Let me now share with you some thoughts about the challenges that our Organisation has to face and which require a co-ordinated response by all member states.

The first challenge I would like to mention is counteracting manifestations of extremism.

The recent terrorist attacks in Denmark and in France, were a blow to the very foundations of our societies. There can be no justification to terrorism and it is the duty of our Organisation to contribute to finding an effective response to this threat.

Maybe this para will be left out: As the guardian of human rights, rule of law and democracy, the Council of Europe must ensure that the necessary security responses by our member states comply with the highest human rights standards. Legal norms are important and I believe that the European Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism is the right tool at our disposal. The Council of Europe is now preparing an Additional Protocol to this convention which will soon reinforce our legal arsenal.

Terrorism is without any doubt the most visible and dangerous threat our societies have to face. Yet, there are other threats in Europe today that are far less obvious at first sight, albeit devastating in their effects. They undermine the very foundations of our democratic societies.

Populism is on the rise; divisive and sometimes even inflammatory rhetoric is becoming more present in the political discourse. Hate speech is becoming more and more widespread, especially on the Internet. 

Let me stress in this context: politicians bear a special responsibility to promote tolerance and respect. All democratic political forces must speak out against divisive and populist rhetoric, intolerance and hate speech. We must stay united and defend our values vigorously against the dangers of extremism.

The Parliamentary Assembly is now well-equipped to respond to this challenge. In January 2015, we formally launched the No Hate Parliamentary Alliance - a Pan-European political platform for combating racism, hatred and intolerance, as well as promoting living together. I look forward to the participation of all Council of Europe Parliaments in this project.

* * *

The second challenge I would like to address is regional co-operation.

Regional stability is the key for the European perspective of the region. Not so long ago, the region was the theatre of devastating wars which resulted in thousands of victims, broken families, refugees and missing persons. The only way to heal the wounds of war and foster reconciliation is to promote dialogue and co-operation.

European integration for the past 60 years has been based on these very same principles: bringing justice to the past, on the one hand, and, joining efforts in finding common solutions to common challenges, on the other.

There is no sustainable peace without justice and there is no justice without truth. It is our duty to speak the truth, condemn the heinous war crimes that were committed during the conflicts of the nineties, and show political commitment to bring those responsible to justice.

Let me emphasise: there can be no impunity for human rights violations, especially, when it comes to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Therefore, today, as the final prosecutions in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia are drawing to a close, all countries of the region should strengthen domestic efforts and provide justice, truth and reparation to the victims.

Moreover, good co-operation with the ICTY is essential to complete on-going proceedings. Serbia's co-operation with the ICTY is good and I encourage your authorities to continue in the same vein.

At the same time, a clear commitment by politicians is needed to find common solutions to the problems the countries of the region are facing.

First of all, I am thinking about the need to find sustainable solutions for refugees displaced during the conflicts. Efforts on this front have recently been intensified and I would like to commend the politicians of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia for their political commitment within the framework of the so-called Sarajevo Process.

The issue of missing persons should also remain a key priority. Commendable progress on this front has been made and I welcome the "Declaration on the Role of the State in Addressing the Issue of Persons Missing as a Consequence of Armed Conflict and Human Rights Abuses" that was signed by the Presidents of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro and Serbia in August last year. This political commitment expressed at the highest level should further stimulate progress. 

Finally, speaking about regional co-operation, I must welcome the positive dynamic in the Belgrade – Pristina dialogue. The "First agreement of principles governing the normalisation of relations" has been an important milestone in this process and I am confident that we will see more progress in future.

As you know, the Council of Europe's activities in Kosovo[*] are developed in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 1244. Our main goal is to ensure that all European citizens – and I stress all without exception – enjoy the standards of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Our co-operation activities in Kosovo* pursue this objective and I welcome the constructive approach of Serbia to this matter which has enabled our Organisation to launch a range of projects in Kosovo*.

* * *

Last but not least, the crisis in Ukraine.

This is probably the most serious challenges we have to face in Europe today.

There can be no military solution to this crisis and the recent new Minsk agreement is a glimmer of hope. Let us give peace a chance.

Because, we need peace in order to support Ukraine in putting in place the necessary conditions for building a solid democratic state based on the rule of law

As you know, the Council of Europe has the necessary tools and expertise to support these reforms. We are now putting in place a new Action plan 2015-2017 to support reforms in the field of human rights, the rule of law and democracy.

At the same time, we must continue working on European and international fronts in order uphold the basic principles of international law.

Respect for territorial integrity is a fundamental principle of international law. Borders cannot be changed unilaterally or by force. All member states must respect these principles.

For this very reason the Assembly decided to extend and strengthen further the sanctions against the Russian delegation at its last part-session.

Some members of the Assembly, including the members of the Serbian delegation, did not support this approach. As President of the Assembly, I have to respect the vote of all members of the Assembly. But, my role is to ensure that Assembly's decisions are implemented.

Let me put it straight: we did not exclude the Russian delegation from the Assembly's work. We ratified their credentials, so as to be able to work with them including on the search of the solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

We are ready to engage in serious and meaningful talks with the members of the Russian delegation. However, this is going to be a difficult task as we were recently informed that the Russian delegation had decided to suspend all its contacts with the Assembly until the end of 2015.

I regret this decision and hope that we will find ways of keeping the communication channels open. As President of the Assembly, I shall explore all avenues for dialogue on the parliamentary diplomacy front and count on the support of all other members of the Assembly to succeed.

Indeed, we cannot afford the luxury of not talking to each other.

* * *

Distinguished members of the National Assembly,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The challenges before us are great and in my address today I could only focus on some of the issues we have to tackle.

But we should not give up. As elected politicians representing 820 million Europeans, it is our political duty to work together and find solutions.

Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law are neither left, nor right, nor in the center. When it comes to defending the fundamental rights of our citizens, we must stay united.

It is going to be a bumpy ride and there is a lot of hard work ahead of us, but I am confident that we will succeed. Because we have to succeed.

Together, we can make the difference. And I emphasise "together".

Thank you very much for your support.

Hvala vam puno

Thank you very much

[*] All references to Kosovo, whether to the territory, institutions or population, in this text shall be understood in full compliance with United Nations' Security Council Resolution 1244 and without prejudice to the status of Kosovo.