SP Senator Kox: International cooperation must not be free of obligations

10 November 2013

SP Senator Kox: International cooperation must not be free of obligations

Cooperation of countries in North Africa and the Middle East with the Council of Europe must be aimed at strengthening the rule of law, protecting human rights and advancing democracy. Only countries willing to fulfil these obligations can become partners of Europe’s biggest treaty-based organisation, in which forty-seven European states participate. So said SP Senator Tiny Kox at a special conference in Lisbon with delegations from the parliaments of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine. Kox, who is president of the European United Left Group in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, was one of the initiators of the conference.

Tiny KoxThree years after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, parliaments from the affected countries are looking to the Council of Europe for support. The Council of Europe played an important role in the democratic reform of central and eastern Europe, and the knowledge imparted by this experience could be useful to countries which have recently rejected their authoritarian regimes or are seeking in other ways to modernise themselves politically.

Each country is experiencing its own problems in doing so and nobody expects to see a 'one size fits all’ solution, as the parliamentary delegations from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) made clear in Lisbon. European countries have in the past not listened sufficiently to these countries’ specific needs. This must improve, says Senator Kox. But MENA countries must also understand that cooperation under these conditions only makes sense if they are also prepared to accept their concrete obligations.

Kox confronted the MENA delegations with the issue of what obligations cooperation with the Council of Europe would impose. The completion of a pluralistic and democratic state under the rule of law, a state which respects human rights, is one of these obligations, while the announcement of a moratorium on the death penalty was another step which must be taken. Free and fair elections and a balanced participation of women and men in public life and politics is also an important part of this, as is participation in the relevant Council of Europe treaties, to the extent that this is possible for non-member states. In exchange the Council of Europe should give the countries concerned access to all available knowledge and experience. Parliamentary delegations should be able to take part in all of the work of the parliamentary assembly in Strasbourg. Kox referred to the Council of Europe’s unique character: every member state is obliged to adhere to the European Convention on Human Rights and to recognise the legal force of the European Court of Human Rights.

According to Kox, the ‘partnership for democracy’ established by the Council of Europe in 2009 is a convenient cooperation mechanism within which both sides must fulfil obligations. To date, the parliaments of Morocco and Palestine have achieved this special status. The Jordanian parliament has tabled a request and a similar move by Tunisia is probable, while Israel has long been in cooperation with the Council of Europe.

It was recently decided that the special cooperation agreement with Morocco would be extended by two years. In January the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe will decide whether to do the same for Palestine. In order to make an evaluation possible Senator Kox, in his role as special rapporteur for Palestine, will next week travel to Ramallah to meet with the Palestinian government and parliament, as well as with trade unions and human rights groups.

The conference in Lisbon ended with a common declaration in which all of the politicians involved are called upon not to disappoint their citizens, as the consequence of this would be renewed mass protests which in the most serious cases could lead to violence and war. The civil war in Syria with all of its consequences for neighbouring countries is a tragic example of how wrong things can go when politicians leave their people out in the cold, the declaration states.

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