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Council Of Europe: Interview With New Secretary-General

The Council of Europe, Europe's top human rights watchdog, has just chosen a new secretary-general. The Council's Parliamentary Assembly yesterday elected British MP Terry Davis for a five-year term starting on 1 September. Davis, who succeeds Walter Schwimmer, has worked as a rapporteur on the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh for the last three years. RFE/RL spoke to him today about his plans.

RFE/RL: What are your plans? What do you want to be the Council of Europe's main priorities once you take office in September?

Terry Davis: I want the Council of Europe to concentrate on human rights and democracy, also to be very active in the field of culture, and to deal with some big human problems -- equality between men and women, but also the huge problem of refugees. There are hundreds of thousands of refugees in many countries in Europe, and we should give more attention to this problem.

RFE/RL: The Council of Europe includes among its members countries that don't yet meet all the council's standards. Do you want the Council of Europe, for example, to continue to urge the Armenian government to expand its dialogue with the opposition and give greater freedom to demonstrate?

Davis: I understand there is dialogue taking place between the Armenian government and the opposition. I don't think they need any encouragement from me, but I will be discussing matters in Armenia with the president of Armenia in due course.

RFE/RL: One of the reasons for admitting both [Armenia and Azerbaijan] was the hope this would help solve the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, and this is something you've been taking a close interest in, in recent years. Do you see any signs that this is happening?

Davis: There has been a lot of recent activity. There have been several meetings between the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan and between their foreign ministers. There has been a lot more activity since February than there was in the whole of last year. So, to that extent, it is hopeful. The last time I visited the region, and I also went to Karabakh itself, I was frankly depressed at the lack of contact, but I must now revise my opinion because, as I said, there has been a lot of discussions in recent months, and I would certainly encourage them to continue. These discussions are taking place under the auspices of the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, and I support their work very strongly.

RFE/RL: Does the recent violence in Ingushetia make the problem of Chechnya more intractable? Or does it mean there's a greater need for a Council of Europe role?

Davis: All terrorism makes the solution of problems such as Chechnya, all such terrorism makes these problems more difficult. In fact, the aim of many terrorists is precisely to make a solution more difficult. And I think that applies in this case of the terrorism in Ingushetia and Chechnya.

RFE/RL: In April, the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly called for maximum political pressure on Belarus in relation to the disappearances of four men several years ago. What sort of action do you think the Council of Europe can take? And what could really have any effect?

Davis: I'm very concerned about the people who disappeared in Belarus. I've met the mothers and wives of some of the men who have disappeared, and it's a very serious problem, one that gives me a great deal of concern. But I can't comment in detail on what the Council of Europe is going to do in future. That needs to be discussed with the Committee of Ministers. As I've said in an interview with your colleagues in Minsk, I'm not going to anticipate what the Committee of Ministers decides, nor will it be for me as secretary-general to impose a decision on them. We will have a discussion and come to an agreement about the best way to deal with these problems.