Lithuanian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, May - November 2024

Lithuanian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, May - November 2024

Foreword by Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania

Lithuania is honored to assume the duties of the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

This is our second Presidency since Lithuania joined the Council of Europe on 14 May 1993. During our first Presidency in 2001-2002, we had high hopes that democratic transformation, cooperation and interdependency will eradicate wars on our continent.

We had many reasons to believe it. Lithuania, together with other Central and Eastern European countries, were forging their democratic institutions, with a significant contribution of the Council of Europe from justice reform to abolishing the death penalty. We then joined the European Union and NATO, thus correcting historical injustice of being forced to live through the 50 years of Soviet occupation.

Today’s geopolitical landscape is completely different, first and foremost due to Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Each day is marked by the unimaginable cruelty of the aggressor and suffering of the Ukrainian people. It is our common fundamental obligation to support Ukraine in this fight until its victory, whatever this victory takes.

At the same time, we witness the dangerous rise of authoritarianism, declining respect for universal human rights, and backsliding of democracy, where those who dare to defend democratic values are under attack, labeled as enemies, brutalized, and oppressed.

The Council of Europe is celebrating its 75th anniversary. We can be proud of a principled and values-based performance when faced with unprecedented political challenge and ethical choice. It is one of the very few organizations that expelled the aggressor state right after the start of Russia’s full-scale military invasion in Ukraine and has been since standing in full solidarity with Ukraine and its people.

Last year the Fourth Summit of Heads of State and Government chartered the strategic direction of this Organization for years ahead. I thank the former Latvian and Liechtenstein Presidencies of the Committee of Ministers for their firm leadership in consistently implementing Reykjavik decisions. Support for Ukraine and its people, as well as ensuring Russia’s full accountability, is at the core of that vision. Turning this vision into a reality will be at the center of the Lithuanian Presidency’s efforts.

Russia’s crimes against Ukraine and its people cannot be left unpunished. Top political and military leadership of both Russia and its accomplice Belarus must be brought to justice. Impunity would only embolden them and encourage further violations at an even larger scale.

Here at the Council of Europe we have already taken important steps in this regard. We have established the Register of Damage and will seek to expand its membership. Then we need to proceed further with the creation of a Comprehensive Compensation Mechanism for the damages inflicted by the Russia’s war of aggression. Finally, we should move towards the establishment of a Special International Tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine with a special role of the Council of Europe in it. Ukraine has very legitimate expectations of what this tribunal should look like, and we should meet them.

We continue to offer support and demand safe return of the Ukrainian children, who have been kidnapped by the invaders, deported and illegally adopted in Russia with a genocidal aim of changing their national and cultural identity. We are supporting all possible actions in this regard, including through the dedicated Consultation Group on the Children of Ukraine (CGU).

In line with Reykjavik decisions, the Council of Europe under Lithuania’s Presidency will also continue with a forward-looking agenda, developing new guidance, instruments, and cooperation formats in the context of modern challenges, such as fight against discrimination and hate speech, artificial intelligence and protection of human rights, as well as the impact of the triple planetary crisis on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

The Framework Convention on Artificial Intelligence, Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law is making history as the first international instrument of its kind. We would appreciate the opportunity to open it for signature in Vilnius and undertake to contribute significantly to the Convention’s visibility and impact.

The Council should also not relent in its efforts to further pursue gender equality and women’s rights, fight gender-based and domestic violence, advocate for protection of lawyers, safety of journalists, and promote social rights of our citizens. It is crucial to engage closer with parliaments, civil society and youth in the development and implementation of this important agenda. 

Member States of the Council of Europe must execute the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and do it in good faith. It is an important measure of success and relevance of our Organization and of the seriousness of our own commitment to its values.

Regarding the parliamentary dimension, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of the Parliamentary Assembly’s work. The PACE has lately been holding consequential debates, adopting resolutions and opinions on supporting Ukraine, on international accountability and illegitimacy of Putin’s regime, on reaching out to democratic forces of Belarus and on other important issues. Many such resolutions have paved the way for action by the Committee of Ministers.

In conclusion, Lithuania assumes the Presidency of the Committee of Ministers with a solid commitment towards cooperation in preserving and promoting our common values – human rights, democracy, and the rule of law – in the pursuit of peace in Europe and beyond.

Gabrielius Landsbergis, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania