Council of Europe leaders meet in Reykjavik for first summit in 18 years
The leaders of the 46 countries that comprise the Council of Europe are meeting this week in the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik, for their first summit in 18 years. Russia is not attending, having been suspended following its invasion of Ukraine.
At the request of secretary-general Marija Pejcinovic Buric, a working group published a report last autumn on the role of the Council of Europe in a continent and a world in transition, prompted by the war in Ukraine. One of the group's recommendations was to convene a summit to reaffirm the organisation's core values.
The Council of Europe represents democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Ahead of the Reykjavik Summit, Buric urged member states to halt the "democratic decline" in Europe. In its latest annual report, the Council also called for its values to be upheld.
"We long for a return to peace, a lasting peace based on justice"
Russia's "brutal, illegal and continuous aggression" against Ukraine has caused immeasurable suffering, Buric said. Hundreds of thousands of people have already lost their lives, millions have fled, and there are horrific stories of torture, rape and other atrocities. "We long for a return to peace, a lasting peace based on justice," she said.
The Council of Europe, based in Strasbourg, was founded in 1949 shortly after World War II. It is the main human rights organisation on the European continent and should not be confused with the European Union, although all 27 EU member states are members.
There are also six observing members. This status is open to non-European states that accept democracy, the rule of law and human rights and wish to participate in the Council's initiatives. The US has been an observer since 1995.
Canada, the Holy See, Japan and Mexico are observer states, while Israel is an observer to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). This body of the Council of Europe was established in 1949 and meets five times a year. PACE advises the Committee of Ministers.
Previous summits were held in Warsaw in 2005, Strasbourg in 1997 and Vienna in 1993.
The Harpa Concert hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, where the Council of Europe is meeting © JOHN MACDOUGALL / AFP