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Europe: Secretary-General Focuses On Preventing Future Rights Violations

Terry Davis (file photo) (Council of Europe) PRAGUE, June 19, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, was in Prague recently to attend a meeting of the body's Development Bank. RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Yefim Fistein caught up with Davis to ask him about a recent Council of Europe report that alleges that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency secretly operated illegal prisons for terrorism suspects in multiple locations in Europe from 2003 to 2005.

RFE/RL: Regarding the so-called Marty reports, the Council of Europe report on American prisons in Europe. What is rumor and what is fact, and how do you tell one from another?

Terry Davis: The Marty report [resulting from Swiss Senator Dick Marty's investigation at the initiative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe] tells us where he thinks these things have happened. But we know they have actually happened in Europe. We know that because we have the best of all witnesses. [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush has admitted that they have happened. He did it on television, I saw it myself on American television, at a press conference. And the secretary of state, that's equivalent to the foreign minister in the United States of America, Ms. Condoleezza Rice, said it had happened with the knowledge of the European governments, the governments of those countries in Europe where it had happened. So there's no arguing about whether it has happened.

For me, however, the important thing is: how do we make sure that it will never, ever happen again? Because let it be very clear. Arresting people, and putting them in prison without a trial, or taking them to other countries where they may be tortured, these things are illegal in every member country of the Council of Europe. And as you know, the Councillorship has 47 countries, we're much bigger than the European Union, we include every country from Russia to Portugal in the west, and from Iceland in the north to Turkey in the south. And in every one of those countries the governments have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights, and that forbids this sort of thing taking place. So what we need to do now is discuss how we can plug the gaps, make sure that these abuses of human rights never take place anywhere in Europe again.

RFE/RL: The reason I am asking for evidence is because I don't know of a single European government that has acknowledged that such prisons were on its territory. And because I've never seen photos, pictures from those prisons -- that's why I'm asking, because the new reports are still based on former reports that are based on previous reports.

Davis: I'm surprised you say that. I believe President Bush when he says he has authorized these crimes, I believe him, these abuses.

RFE/RL: What about rendition flights?

Davis: The flights taking people to countries where they might be tortured, and the secret prisons, he's admitted all of this. What he's not done, he's refused to do, is to say in which countries it happened. When you say you want to see photographs I think you're being unrealistic. Do you really think Marty's going to go around Europe photographing places? He wouldn't be allowed to do that. But he has evidence from people who were involved. He's made that very clear. His report is not some work of imagination. He says he has evidence, he has statements from people who were involved in these wrong practices, in these crimes.

But, I repeat, although it's very much a course of much interest to journalists like you to know what has happened and where it has happened, that's what makes news, I'm concerned to make sure it never, ever happens again, and that's why I put forth some proposals to deal with the gaps in the existing laws.

Because you see, although, in some countries in Europe, the parliaments try to supervise what the security services are doing, this isn't true in all countries, and so far as I know, there is not a single European country that tries to supervise what is happening by foreign security services, friendly foreign security services. And the CIA, and the American security services are regarded as friendly security services in the whole of Europe. And if they can behave like this, with impunity, well that is wrong. And the second thing, of course, is that in some cases we think that Americans have claimed diplomatic immunity when they have committed these abuses, in order to avoid being put on trial. Now immunity for diplomats is very important, I do not challenge that, but it should not mean impunity. A diplomat should not be able to kill somebody else or torture somebody else or keep them in a secret prison with impunity, without being brought to account in a court of law.
"I'm concerned with the governments of European countries who are members of the Council of Europe. They've accepted these restrictions, these restrictions on abuses of human rights. They've agreed to maintain human rights, in some cases are not doing it." -- Davis

So these are very important gaps that we have in the moment, in the effective implementation of what all our member countries have voluntarily accepted. Not the Americans. The United States of America is not a member of the Council of Europe, because it's not in Europe, and because its standards of human rights are not as good as the member countries of the Council of Europe. So they could not join. There are all sorts of criticisms of human rights abuses in the United States of America.

But that's a separate issue. I am not concerned with the United States of America, I'm concerned with the governments of European countries who are members of the Council of Europe. They've accepted these restrictions, these restrictions on abuses of human rights. They've agreed to maintain human rights, in some cases are not doing it. And when you're wrong, you're totally wrong when you say that none of them have admitted it. Some countries have actually admitted it. I give you an example of Sweden. They've put up their hand and admitted this happened. Bosnia-Herzegovina has done the same. Some other countries have given very careful and guarded replies so they do not deny it, but they do not admit it. So I think you can draw your own conclusions.

RFE/RL: You said you made your proposals so that similar abuses and crimes never repeat themselves. What was the reaction of governments, of member states of the EU?

Davis: I put forth some proposals as to how the Council of Europe should go about the business of filling these gaps to make sure these things can't take place again. And that was a year ago. The ambassadors representing our member countries discussed my suggestions not as to what should be done but how they should decide what should be done. They said they would come back to it on a future date. They have not done so. And that's why very respectful organizations like Amnesty International are so concerned about the delay.

RFE/RL: The second round of questions is connected to the situation in Russia, especially the wide range of human-rights violations in this country.

Davis: It is true that there are lots of violations of human rights in Russia. There are violations of human rights in other countries as well. Last year, here in the Czech Republic, there were 37 cases where the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the Czech authorities, on the basis of the European Convention on Human Rights, with the Czech Republic, like Russia, have ratified. So Russia is not unique. But I certainly agree that some of the abuses that have taken place in Russia are very, very serious indeed, and more serious than those that have taken place in the Czech Republic, so I'm not comparing two things and saying they are equal, but I simply draw your attention to the fact that other countries, including the United Kingdom, have abused human rights. And judgments against them are given regularly by the European Court of Human Rights.

RFE/RL: How do you treat the special violations of human rights in Russia? Do you have some mechanisms, some instruments, some tools to punish the Russian government for such offences?

Davis: We have the European Court of Human Rights. And they deliver judgments against Russia, like the Czech Republic and other countries. And, to be fair to the Russian authorities, with one very important exception, the Russian authorities have always implemented the judgments of the Court of Human Rights. And they've had some very serious judgments against them, particularly affecting the Chechen Republic and abuses by the Russian army and security services in the Chechen Republic. Very serious abuses indeed. But I must say to be fair that the government of Russia have always accepted these judgments and has implemented them, the same way that they get decisions against the United Kingdom.

RFE/RL: Could you single out the biggest sources of friction between the Council of Europe and Russia today?

Davis: Well there are several frictions between the Council of Europe and the Russian Federation. There's one very long outstanding commitment, a promise that was made by Russia when it joined the Council of Europe, which is now more than ten years ago. Russia promised to abolish the death penalty. Now since then, nobody has been executed in Russia, that is true, that is the practice, but the law still contains the death penalty. I've been asking the Russian authorities to keep their promise to a full and to bring the law into line with their practice.

They have no alternative. If the death penalty were used in Russia, it would be a breach of Russia's commitments because Russia promised not use the death penalty, pending amending the law. We're still waiting for the law to reflect what actually happens in Russia, and it is the only member country in the Council of Europe where we are still waiting. All the other forty-six countries have abolished the death penalty. And I would like my Russian friends to join, you have a world majority of Europeans, in doing that, by amending the law. So that is one important point of friction.

We also have some concerns about the law on nongovernmental organizations, and we are reviewing the way this law has operated in the last eighteen months. There is a joint review proposed between the Russian government and the Council of Europe, and I look forward to the results of that joint review, I think there may need to be some amendments of that law. And of course there have been a number of criticisms by the Council over what happens in the Chechen Republic. I think this is a terrible situation, the Chechen Republic. And we have had a number of very serious cases come to Court of Human Rights from the Chechen Republic, and unfortunately they are cases where things cannot be put right, because people have been killed.

RFE/RL: We often hear the accusation by the Russian government or authorities about the violation of the rights of Russian-speaking minorities in the Baltic states. What are you doing in this regard?

Davis: Well, cases like that can also come before the European Court of Human Rights, but it's not enough just to make allegations. And I have to say that sometimes I think people in the Russian Federation do not help people who speak Russian or are of Russian origin in Baltic countries in the way that they refer to the situation there. It's much more complicated than that. I understand the feelings of people in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. However, those feelings do not justify abusing people today, in the year 2007, who may be of Russian origin. That is wrong also. And so I defend the rights of the Russian people, Russian speakers, because there are people who speak Russian from other countries, which were, which used to be in the Soviet Union. And it's quite wrong to in any way punish or discriminate against those people for the crimes of Stalin.

I'll give you one example, this situation in Estonia about which there has been a lot of controversy. Now of course certainly we must remember, I remember very well, that these Russian soldiers who died, they died liberating Europe from fascism, and they deserve to be respected and their graves should be treated with respect. And it's not treating them with respect for their bodies to lie under a road. So it's quite right to remove those bodies, and it's also reasonable to put the monument where the bodies are, in a cemetery for the war dead. In the end, I think, tempers calmed down, and the Estonians showed that their heart--they were not totally opposed to all Russians.

You remember that on the celebration of the liberation of Europe, a few weeks ago, representatives of the Russian government took part in a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of the so-called bronze soldier. I felt it was a very good situation where people on both sides were responsible for unnecessary antagonism and hostility, and a lot of it was people shouting at each other, instead of talking to each other. A very important part of democracy is dialogue. Expressing your point of view, but also, dialogue means you listen to what the other person says.

RFE/RL: One often hears about the ineffectiveness of international organizations. What do you think about the Council of Europe? Is it an effective organization?

Davis: Well it's certainly not out-of-date in the sense that it is unnecessary, and our discussion about secret prisons and sending people to other countries where they can be tortured shows there is still a need for the Council of Europe if anybody had any doubts about that.

But of course our work is not restricted to that. I refer you to the European Court of Human Rights which is part of the Council of Europe. And the European Convention on Human Rights which is the basis of the Council of Europe. But we're not restricted to that -- we do a lot of other work as well, because we deal with a lot of issues affecting democracy, human rights, the rule of law. We're active in education, in culture, youth and sport, and social cohesion. In fact, the reason I'm here in Prague is because there is a meeting of this very important part of the Council of Europe called the Council of Europe Development Bank, which arranges loans to those countries which are members of it. These loans are used for projects which involve social cohesion, such as better jobs, more jobs, such as better living conditions, such as dealing with natural disasters after floods, repairing the damage that has occurred. So this is very worthwhile as well.

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