Strasbourg, France; 13 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Council of Europe's summit meeting in Strasbourg ended Saturday with a reaffirmation of the importance of democratic values on the continent and an action plan to guide the organization's work in the next several years.
The two-day meeting was attended by leaders of the 40 member states of the Council and of four nations closely associated with the organization (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia).
All of them endorsed a summit political declaration that reaffirmed their attachment to pluralist democracy, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
The declaration underlined the importance of what it called "the essential standard-setting role of the Council of Europe in the field of human rights." It said that the promotion of human rights and the strengthening of pluralist democracy both were essential to stability in Europe.
The declaration emphasized, too, the Council's determination to step up cooperation to protect all persons belonging to national minorities.
The Council was created almost a half-century ago (1949) to promote democratic values and human rights throughout the continent. Since 1990, it has admitted 16 reforming Central and East European nations as members.
The declaration specifically called for the universal abolition of the death penalty and insisted on the maintenance of existing moratoria on executions in Europe. Two of the Council's newest members, Russia and Ukraine, both pledged to halt executions when they were admitted (Ukraine in November, 1995 and Russia in February, 1996), but until recently both had continued to executive condemned prisoners.
Under the action plan adopted by the summit Saturday, major states pledged increased activity in four broad areas -- human rights, social cohesion, citizen security, and education in democratic values and cultural diversity.
The plan calls for, among other things, a streamlining of the often slow-moving European Court of Human Rights, the Council's most important subsidiary organ. It endorses the creation of a post of Commissioner for Human Rights to represent the Council on all questions in this area.
The action plan also calls on all member states to prohibit the use of cloning techniques aimed at creating genetically identical human beings. It pledges as well to promote social cohesion, combat terrorism, drug-trafficking, corruption and organized crime.
No formal decision was taken on when the next Council of Europe summit meeting will take place. But several speakers said they hoped it would occur in 1999, when the organization will celebrate its 50th anniversary.