Council of Europe

05/06/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/06/2024 07:14

'Defending fundamental freedoms in times of war and crises” on the Kristiansand conference agenda

The future of European co-operation and justice for Ukraine featured heavily at the 5th European Conference on Democracy and Human Rights in Kristiansand, Norway on 6 May.

Following a welcome address by the Mayor of Kristiansand, Matthias Bernander, the official opening speeches focused on the terrible physical and human impact of Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the response from Europe and beyond, and what must be done to secure a just peace and the rights of all Ukrainians.

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yuschchenko spoke powerfully about the situation in his country, including internally displaced persons and the fate of Ukrainian children, as well as the importance of a Ukrainian victory.

In his opening statement, Council of Europe Deputy Secretary General Bjørn Berge put Russia's war of aggression into a broader context, making clear that it represents the return of "an old ghost…violent, aggressive nationalism".

Linking Russia's descent into autocracy with the broader problem of democratic backsliding in Europe and beyond, the Deputy Secretary General made clear the moral and strategic importance for Europe of a victory for Ukraine, saying that since Russia's full-scale invasion in 2022, "We have done everything we can to support Ukraine…because the Ukrainian soldiers that are fighting in the trenches of Bakhmut and Avdiivka are not only fighting for the survival of their country, but for Europe, for us, for our democratic values and a rules-based international order.

"That's why there can be no room for fatigue on our side."

Also participating in the opening session were Bryndís Haraldsdóttir, President of the Nordic Council 2024; Ingjerd Schou, Chair of Norway's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe; and Bernd Vöhringer, President of the Chamber of Local Authorities of the Congress of the Council of Europe.

The annual European Conference on Democracy and Human Rights is held on or around Europe Day (5 May) and this year also marks the 75th anniversary of the Council of Europe.