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56th Plenary Session of the Commission (Venice)

17/10/2003 - 18/10/2003

The Venice Commission held its 56th plenary session on 17-18 October at its seat in Venice (Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista).

At the request of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the Commission has discussed in the presence of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Peter Schieder, two reports. The first report concerns the question whether the Geneva Conventions for the treatment of prisoners of war and the protection of civilians should be amended to take account of post 9/11 developments. The other report deals with the impact of the future EU Constitution on human rights protection in Europe. The coexistence of the EU Charter for Fundamental Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) within the European legal space requires certain steps – notably accession of the Union to the ECHR - to guarantee legal certainty for all Union citizens. After in-depth discussions the Commission decided to develop further the above-mentioned reports and adopt the relevant opinions at the next plenary session in December 2003.

The Commission also addressed the constitutional situation in several countries:

- With respect to Azerbaijan, it adopted the Joint Venice Commission - OSCE/ODIHR Final Assessment of the Electoral Code, which has entered into force for the Presidential elections on 15 October 2003.

The recommendations of the Assessment had been largely taken up in the Code. The adopted election code provides a comprehensive framework for the conduct of elections and referenda which in most respects appears to meet international standards and best practice. However, inter alia the following points should still be revised by authorities:

· the parliamentary majority has a complete control over the composition of the election administration;
· the Code prohibits foreign funding of local NGOs for election observation;
· electoral disputes remain a time-consuming procedure.

The Commission stressed that an electoral law, even if it is in conformity with the international standards, remains void without proper implementation - the point which regretfully was again demonstrated during the latest Presidential elections in Azerbaijan of 15 October.

- Upon request by the Bulgarian Minister of Justice, Mr. Stankov, the Commission adopted an opinion on the reform of the judicial system in Bulgaria. Already in previous opinions, the Commission recommended that the Supreme Judicial Council be depoliticised by introducing a qualified majority for the election of its parliamentary component. This seems to be even more important as the draft constitutional amendments give substantial additional powers to the Council as regards the lifting of immunity of judges and prosecutors.

- The Commission also discussed its contribution to the drafting of the Constitution of Serbia together with a delegation of the Constitutional Commission of Serbia i.e. Mr Vladan Batic, President of the Constitutional Commission, Minister of Justice of Serbia and Mr Nenad Canak, President of the Constitutional Sub Commission on Territorial Organisation.

- The Commission took stock of the preparation of a new Constitution for Moldova with the aim of resolving the Transnistrian conflict.

- Finally, at the request of the Belarusian authorities, the Commission examined and adopted an opinion on the Draft Law on the National Assembly of Belarus. This request was submitted despite the strong past criticism by the Venice Commission of the country’s Constitution, which does not give enough powers to parliament as opposed to the president. The Commission concluded that the Draft Law in question based on this Constitution, does not comply with the European standards.

All the opinions adopted by the Venice Commission will be public and will be available on the Commission’s website - http://venice.coe.int - after
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