Monday, October 15, 2007

Interview with Terry Davis, Secretary General, Council of Europe, Strasbourg

CoE on abolition of death penalty

“EU at risk of duplicating Council of Europe work:” Terry Davis

Interview with: Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is making an all-out effort to abolish the death penalty from the face of the planet and uphold the human rights of every man and woman even in facing justice. Speaking to Tejinder Singh in Strasbourg, Terry Davis, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, warned against risks of duplication of works in European institutions.

Q. You took office in September 2004, three years down the road, how do you feel the pace of progress?

We have come a long way in last three years. There have been reformative changes in the administration of the Council of Europe. We have already done a lot of reforms in resources with much more rigorous in our approach to financial matters and we have been running some very successful campaigns such as campaign against discrimination, campaign against trafficking in human beings and campaign against domestic violence. We are on a course, a process of becoming a campaigning organisation.

Q. Death penalty: You are committed to its abolition and you commented against Texas in strong words. What are your efforts to abolish the same?

I am personally against the death penalty. I voted against the death penalty in the United Kingdom when I was a member of Parliament. At the Council of Europe, we are united to oppose the death penalty. All our 47 countries have views against death penalty. In the USA, lets remember that some states do not have it and when some states do execute. I do comment on US executions as I do with Japan because they are observer countries of the Council of Europe.

Canada and Mexico are observer countries as well but both Canada and Mexico have abolished death penalty. It’s still being used in Japan and some parts of US. Since its an agreed policy of Council of Europe, I am authorised to comment when people are executed in Texas.

Q. You are cooperating with OSCE, UN and EU but it seems there is some duplication in EU projects with regard to Council of Europe work. Will you like to comment?

Our mandate is human rights, democracy and rule of law. We have activities which support these and activities in education, in culture, in youth, in sports and in social cohesion. These are what we call enabling factors and its true we are very active in these fields.

For example, sports, some people are surprised at our activities in the area of sports. There is an international organisation against doping and there is a doping agreement. The Council of Europe organises the representation of Europe in that body and it can not be done by the European Union because they only have 27 countries while we have 47.

There is a great risk of duplication, I agree and I am strongly opposed to duplication. Of course, there are some cases where its not duplication but partnership. There are many examples where we work in partnership but I will agree there is a tendency, there is a risk of the European Union duplicating what we do. Its against the interests of Europe, particularly against the interests of taxpayers who will finally be paying twice for same work being done.

Q. You recently spoke of “Commons Heritage of Europe.” During a recent visit to the Balkans especially Serbia, I found that Wahhabism, a fundamental form of Islam that is exported out of Saudi Arabia, is spreading very fast replacing centuries-old Turkish moderate form. Do you feel the threat of terrorism taking roots in these areas and what will you like to suggest as a remedy?

Terrorism comes not only from Islam or extreme fundamental form of it. Let’s be clear that terrorism comes from other sources also like the IRA or some of the Basque people. We believe in intercultural dialogue. The majority of Muslims are opposed to violence, opposed to terrorism. They want to attract people to their faith, not impose it on them. Christians share that point of view.

We need to have much more understanding at the local level, certainly to encourage intercultural and inter-religious dialogues at national levels but also at local levels. The fact is that a lot can be done by local religious leaders, local priest, local rabbi and the local mullah working together can lead the people who follow their faith to a greater understanding of each other and to concentrate on real social evils.

Q. You now mentioned intercultural dialogue. Will you like to comment that some states like France are not allowing Sikhs to wear turbans?

As far as the wearing of turbans is concerned, we have the European Convention of Human Rights and from time to time, people apply to European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe, complaining that the human rights are not being protected by the authorities in one of the member countries. Some of these decision do affect the wearing of turbans. I will not comment on a case that is going on before the court.

Q. You have been invited to join Global Rapid Reaction Force. What are its goals and what will you contribute to it?

It’s a programme organised by Jorge Sampaio, the former President of Portugal and now representative of the UN Secretary General to put into practice Alliance of Civilisations. We are going to comment quickly and take rapid reaction to events which take place and are damaging to people. For example, the recent march in Brussels Against Islamisation of Europe. Also some authorities try to ban gay pride marches. I am against all discrimination. My personal motto here is “All Different, All Equal!”

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