Distinguished Fellow Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to participate in the 127th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and have an opportunity to exchange views with my fellow Foreign Ministers and other Heads of Delegation on current open issues that Europe is facing.
I wish to extend my congratulations to the outgoing Chair of the Committee of Ministers, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cyprus, Mr. Ioannis Kasoulides, for his highly successful chairmanship and my wishes to the incoming Chair of the Committee of Ministers, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic Lubomir Zaoralek for success in the discharge of his important duties, assuring him of Serbia’s full support.
The 127th Session of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe provides an excellent opportunity to exchange views on major topical issues we are facing today. Regrettably, when we look back, it appears that challenges we are confronted with have been rising year after year. In this regard it is enough to recall all developments that have taken place in our continent since our last year’s Ministerial meeting. The conclusion to be drawn is that, while heading towards the establishment of higher standards and goals, we have not been able to fulfil the fundamental ones, whose implementation has, more often than not, been taken for granted. This is yet another proof that, instead of introducing new ones, it is far more important to persevere in the fulfillment of core objectives and common values.
In this regard, the assessment made by the Secretary General in his Fourth Report on the state of human rights, democracy and the rule of law is thought-provoking and raises legitimate concerns. The Secretary General rightly draws attention to pressing problems and negative trends in many areas, of which no country is spared. Therefore, our joint approach to their resolution is of essential importance. In a community, success cannot be measured in individual terms, because the strength of a community depends on the resilience to challenges of its weakest link.
Arguments in support of such an assessment need not be sought beyond the migrant crisis. This crisis has demonstrated all the vulnerability of our societies and displayed difficulties in reaching a common approach. The problem of migrants and refugees calls for our joint commitment in order to ensure that responses to the current crisis are in line with the international obligations and interests of all, as well as of each state. In this context, the mass migration management with simultaneous respect for human rights stands out as a major challenge.
Serbia has strongly supported and actively contributed to the promotion of the approach adopted by the Council of Europe and Secretary General Jagland in particular, in dealing with this problem, in line with the mandate of the Organization. We share the belief that it is necessary to undertake urgent measures to protect migrant and asylum-seeking children, and unaccompanied minors in particular. Also, we deem necessary to ensure an active engagement in the prevention of trafficking in human beings and all forms of their abuse, as well as to bring to justice those responsible for the smuggling of migrants. In this context, Serbia supports the CoE Action Plan for the protection of migrant and refugee children.
Being located on the so-called Western Balkans migration route, Serbia has faced close to one million refugees and migrants transiting its territory since the outbreak of the crisis until today, which has put a severe strain on our capacities. We have devoted particular attention to vulnerable groups, especially to the protection of children, trying to alleviate the suffering of migrant and asylum-seeking children to the greatest possible extent, and protect them from abuse and potential organized crime related risks. The Law on Asylum envisages the principle of providing special care for asylum applicants with special needs including minors, appointing guardians to unaccompanied minors and of providing them with accommodation in a designated centre. Appropriate measures are being taken with regard to the healthcare and education of migrant minors.
I have to recall that Serbia has unfortunately had significant painful experiences with refugees and internally displaced persons. Today, Serbia is home to 29,457 persons still having the status of refugees, who have come from Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, and who have been in our care for two decades already, including over 200,000 internally displaced persons, forced out of their homes in Kosovo and Metohija after 1999. I firmly believe that reaching durable solutions for protracted displacement should be dealt with in parallel with the resolution of the current refugee crisis. I trust that we all share the view that people in protracted displacement must not be overlooked.
Serbia is fully committed to the protection of the standards and values embedded in the European Convention on Human Rights. We support the conclusions of the Secretary General’s Report on the state of democracy concerning the need for strengthening the efficiency of the European Court of Human Rights with regard to prosecution procedures and enforcement of judgements.
In accordance with its mandate, the Council of Europe has both the instruments and the capacity to contribute to an even greater degree to the resolution of problems in crisis areas, by engaging in the fields of preservation of democracy, protection of human and minority rights and of the rule of law, including in the areas of judicial reforms and fight against corruption.
Serbia attaches great importance to suppression of terrorism as a global threat. Increasingly frequent terrorist acts clearly indicate an imperative need for the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, as well as against violent extremism and radicalization that lead to terrorism, to remain a top priority of the Council of Europe. We believe that the activities being undertaken in this area by the CoE present an adequate response and support the CoE Guidelines on the Protection of Victims of Terrorist Acts.
With the aim of improving protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, Serbia supports the continuation of the engagement of the Council of Europe in Kosovo and Metohija, in full compliance with the UNSC Resolution 1244 and status-neutral approach. We note with regret that, in spite of the implementation of various Council of Europe projects for many years now, there have been no significant improvements in the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Kosovo and Metohija, which is particularly visible in everyday life of persons belonging to non-Albanian communities, mostly Serbs. The rights that are still violated or require further protection range from physical and legal safety to property and cultural rights, as well as freedom of religion, including free access to cultural and religious heritage sites. More than 200,000 forcibly internally displaced persons still cannot return to their homes. Serbia stands ready to be a constructive partner to the Council of Europe in its future activities in Kosovo and Metohija.