Tuesday, 10 March 2009, 10:51
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 STRASBOURG 000006
DEPT ALSO FOR EUR/ERA
EO 12958 DECL: 3/9/2019
TAGS PREL, COE, FR”>FR
SUBJECT: COUNCIL OF EUROPE: MORE EFFECTIVE AROUND THE EDGES THAN AT
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CLASSIFIED BY: Vincent Carver, CG, Strasbourg, State. REASON: 1.4 (b), (d)
1. (C) SUMMARY: The Council of Europe (COE) likes to portray itself as a bastion of democracy, a promoter of human rights, and the last best hope for defending the rule of law in Europe – and beyond. It is an organization with an inferiority complex and, simultaneously, an overambitious agenda. In effect, it is at its best in providing technical assistance to member-states and at its worst in tackling geo-political crises. The following is a brief overview of the COE for the Department’s use in preparing for COE Secretary General Terry Davis’ talks in Washington March 17-20. End summary.
2. (C) The current COE Secretary General, Terry Davis (UK), leaves office this summer, after a five-year term that has been, according to many sources, devoid of vision. Davis is known as a micromanager and will not be missed by many of his staff as well as by many resident ambassadors. In addition to having an unpopular lame duck at its helm, the COE suffers from a large and entrenched secretariat that bristles at direction from member-states. It also (particularly under the current Chair – Spain) suffers from an attempt to proceed only with full consensus. Finally, the COE receives (rightfully, in our view) neither the level of funding nor the attention from member-states that other regional organizations, such as the EU and the OSCE receive. The next Secretary General will have to address these factors if the COE is to fulfill its limited – yet important – potential (septel addresses the four candidates running to replace Davis).
3. (SBU) On the eve of Secretary General Davis’ meetings in Washington, we outline some of the COE’s “value added” while note some of its serious shortcomings. The COE can provide valuable services, such as training EU monitors in protecting human rights in Georgia and in arranging for prisoner exchanges in the aftermath of the August war there. The COE’s European Commission for Democracy Through Law (commonly known as the “Venice Commission”) advises governments on national legislation on constitutional law, electoral codes, and fundamental freedoms. Its Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO – of which the U.S. is a formal member and a major financial contributor) investigates and reports on individual countries’ efforts to root out systematic corruption. Various COE bodies also exchange information on money laundering and cyber crime (the U.S. is a party to the COE Convention on Cybercr8me, as well as the conventions on Transfer of Sentenced Persons and on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters).
4. (SBU) One of the COE’s bodies with the widest reach is the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The ECHR serves as the court of final appeal for member-states’ citizens who have exhausted all legal appeals in their own country and whose case pertains to an area covered by the European Convention on Human Rights. All member-states are required to respect and implement the ECHR’s decisions. The Court currently has a backlog of almost 100,000 cases (Russia is blocking a mechanism – Protocol 14 – that has been ratified by every other COE member-state that would reduce the number of judges required to process routine cases – one critical example of how consensus can work against COE efficacy). The ECHR will block the extradition of prisoners to non-COE countries if it believes they would be subject to the death penalty or torture. It has also requested more information on pending British extradition cases to the U.S. where it believes the prisoners might be sentenced in the U.S. to life imprisonment with no possible appeal or automatic judicial review of the life sentence.
5. (C) While the COE can be effective in the various important tasks as noted above, on key geostrategic questions, it muddles through at best. The most recent – and serious – example is the COE’s approach on the Georgia-Russia conflict. The Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) strongly condemned Russia’s actions against Georgia and called on member-states – and other countries – not to recognize the breakaway “republics,” the decision-making Council of Ministers (and their deputies – the 47 resident ambassadors in Strasbourg) did little to promote a meaningful action plan regarding Georgia. This was partially due to the chronic “consensus at any price” approach of some delegations – including those of some EU member-states – that basically provided Moscow a veto on meaningful COE action. It is also indicative of the current Council of Ministers’ Chair – Spain – which takes a much more collegial approach to discussions than the previous Chair – Sweden. In any case, if the EU’s 27 member-states are not unified on an issue, the COE will not be, either.
6. C) Two other illustrations of the COE’s reach extending far
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beyond its influence is the omnipresent agenda item of “the situation in Cyprus.” COE discussions on this issue amount to little more than an undiplomatic volley of mutual recriminations between the Cypriot and Turkish ambassadors. Still, behind the scenes, the COE is promoting limited programs such as the use of “neutral” history text books in both countries. We also note that the COE has had little success in pressuring Belarus to meet COE criteria so that it can resume its application process for full COE membership.
7. C) Finally, we turn to one issue where the COE has been both an irritant and, more recently, somewhat of a champion – Guantanamo. Dick Marty, a member of the Swiss delegation to the PACE, conducted an investigation into renditions and “secret prisons” in Europe connected to the U.S. war on terrorism. His work created a great deal of controversy and anti-U.S. sentiment in the COE. More recently, however, SecGen Davis and COE Human Rights Commissioner Hammarberg have called on COE member-states to work with the U.S. and consider accepting detainees from Guantanamo to help the U.S. shut down the detention facility there. CARVER