CIA probe puts spotlight on Council of Europe

Philippe Boillat says Switzerland should make more of its membership of the Council of Europe. Council of Europe

A top Swiss official at the Council of Europe tells swissinfo the body's probe into the CIA prisons scandal confirms its role as the guardian of European values.

This content was published on March 26, 2006 - 10:31

Philippe Boillat, co-director of the Council of Europe's Directorate General of Human Rights, also underlined how important the organisation's inquiry was for the rest of the world.

The Council appointed Swiss politician Dick Marty in December to investigate allegations that the CIA set up secret prisons in eastern Europe for terror suspects.

Marty said in an interim report in January that European governments were probably aware of alleged CIA abductions and the transfer of detainees through European airspace.

At the end of January a parliamentary sub-committee cleared the Swiss cabinet of knowing about alleged overflights in Swiss airspace of CIA planes carrying prisoners.

Boillat is the former director of the Federal Justice Office and has been a member of the human rights directorate since 2005.

swissinfo: Is the mandate given to Dick Marty by the Council's Parliamentary Assembly exceptional?

Philippe Boillat: It's quite a standard procedure. Let me remind you that there is currently another procedure in progress on this matter.

Last November the Council of Europe's Secretary General, Terry Davis, also decided to open an official investigation into the allegations concerning the detention of suspected terrorists in secret prisons in Europe.

This second probe is aimed at finding out how much governments respect the European Convention on Human Rights in the fight against terrorism and at eventually drawing up measures to avoid such events happening again.

swissinfo: The Council of Europe's primary aim is to defend human rights and democracy. Is the European Court of Human Rights its main instrument for this?

P.B.: This court does indeed play a central role. Its jurisdiction is obligatory and its jurisprudence is binding for the states parties to the convention. The court considers the convention a living instrument to be interpreted according to current events.

Member states also play an essential role because they adopt the new international instruments in this field, such as the additional protocols to the convention.

The Parliamentary Assembly too contributes to the protection of human rights, for example by monitoring how well member states respect the commitments they made when they joined the Council.

swissinfo: Doudou Diène, the United Nations special rapporteur on racism, recently criticised Switzerland for trivialising the issue of xenophobia. Is this also a matter of concern for the Council?

P.B.: Doudou Diène's preliminary conclusions are similar to those made by the Council's commission against racism, which visited Switzerland in May 2003.

The commission reported that there had actually been positive developments in the fight against racism and intolerance. But it was also worried about the discriminatory behaviour observed in the police force towards certain minorities, especially Africans.

It also noted the attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees, which had started a "negative and hostile" debate in the political arena.

The same conclusion was reached by the European Union's commissioner for human rights following a visit to Switzerland last year.

swissinfo: Could Switzerland make more of its membership of the Council of Europe?

P.B.: Switzerland became a member in 1963 – almost 15 years after the Council was created. In doing so, Switzerland committed itself to actively participating in realising the organisation's goals, which it does very well.

Nevertheless, Switzerland could do more, especially by ratifying the 1961 European Social Charter or by joining the revised version of 1996.

It is rather a paradox that Switzerland, one of the richest countries in Europe, is among the last to sign up to this fundamental instrument.

This becomes even more of a paradox when you consider that new member states are required to sign and ratify all the fundamental instruments in the shortest possible time, but the older members are allowed to join those which best suit them.

swissinfo-interview: Frédéric Burnand in Geneva

In brief

Switzerland joined the Council of Europe in 1963. Eighteen Swiss currently work at the Council and six parliamentarians take part in the Parliamentary Assembly. The Swiss also participate in the Council's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Switzerland has contributed €4.4 million (SFr6.8 million) to the Council of Europe's budget for 2006.

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 and is the oldest European organisation of its kind. It is based in Strasbourg and aims to promote human rights and democracy.

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