President of Lithuania

Speech made to the Assembly

Wednesday, 27 January 1999

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to address this distinguished forum. For fifty years, its democratic spirit and commitment to the principles of human rights, pluralism and the rule of law have been instrumental in enhancing respect for the individual, democracy and the law, making them the fundamental values of contemporary Europe.

During its fifty years of activity, the Council of Europe has become a globally recognised international forum which, through ideas and practical steps, has contributed considerably to the establishment and application of common humanistic criteria in Europe. Therefore, it is not surprising that, although it started as an organisation of merely western European states, today the Council of Europe stands out as an organisation of almost all European countries.

I take this opportunity to congratulate the new President of the Parliamentary Assembly and wish him success in leading this institution. I would like also to thank the former President of the Assembly, Mrs Leni Fischer, who has contributed to the development and the standing of the Assembly and the whole Organisation.

By using the benefits of its membership of the Council of Europe, Lithuania has progressed rapidly in creating civil society. Implementing the membership obligations assumed six years ago, the Lithuanian Government has carried out essential reforms aimed at consolidating the principles of the rule of law and human rights and freedoms. The development of the mechanism for protecting human rights and dignity is one of the most laudable achievements of Lithuania’s democratisation.

In 1992, the citizens of Lithuania expressed their commitment to the principles of human rights and freedoms by adopting a democratic constitution – the provisions and the spirit of which guide us in our daily decisions. The Constitutional Court and the ombudsman system, as well as reformed and independent courts, are the institutions working to ensure human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national level. The new penal and civil codes have been submitted to the parliament. Harmonisation of the national legal system with the provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights and other Council of Europe documents required concrete and in-depth work, which was completed successfully before ratifying these legal instruments in Lithuania.

Lithuania has made a decision in principle to integrate fully into the European treaty system, and works consistently in this direction. In 1998, the Lithuanian Parliament ratified the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Ratification of the European Charter of Local Self-Government is included in the parliament’s agenda for the spring session this year.

As the President mentioned, the major maturity test of Lithuanian society in 1998 was the decision to abolish the death penalty, which was suspended in 1995.1 declare formally and officially from this podium today that the death penalty has been abolished in Lithuania. I should note that it was not easy. Public opposition to the abolition of the death penalty was rather strong and, during the past three years, Lithuania has had a most heated public discussion. At present, the country is undergoing a certain mentality reform. It will take time to convince those in doubt that punishment should be a tool of re-education and prevention rather than revenge.

However, our society has accepted as indisputable, and implements unconditionally, the decision of the Constitutional Court that the death penalty stands in contradiction to the constitution adopted by the citizens themselves. This factor demonstrates the commitment of the Lithuanian people not only to human rights but the principle of the rule of law. Having signed Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights a couple of days ago, Lithuania will ratify it in the near future, thus demonstrating its full compliance with international commitments.

Meanwhile, Lithuania faces the most important task of continuing the reform of its legal system. In order to secure an effective outcome in this regard, we envisage employing the instruments of the Council of Europe and the valuable experience of its member countries in reforming the law enforcement institutions and prisons as well as in crime prevention. I think that active cooperation with the bodies of the Council of Europe will facilitate a further reform that will build public confidence in justice, law and, at the same time, in democracy. This confidence depends to a fairly large extent on how the public authorities combat social ills, of which corruption is the most complex and the most difficult to uproot. Lithuania is determined to apply all available stringent measures in the fight against it. Therefore, we welcome the Council of Europe’s initiative to elaborate and adopt the Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. I am glad that this afternoon Lithuania will be among the first to sign it.

Today, the prime task of the Council of Europe is to ensure that its high standards are implemented by all member states and to assist new members in carrying out legal, political and social reforms. Considerably expanded membership and a further increase in membership requires the Organisation to adapt further to its new tasks and new environment. Lithuania appreciates the work carried out by the Committee of Wise Persons and expects the final decision on the reforms to be made at the forthcoming Budapest session of the Committee of Ministers.

We believe that the Council of Europe has been very effective in performing the monitoring function of observing the adherence to membership commitments. Apart from general obligations, the Assembly elaborated specific requirements for each new entrant, which must be observed unconditionally upon accession. Therefore, I think that the monitoring system, which has proved its effectiveness, should continue to be applied.

Lithuania honours and pays attention to the implementation of assumed commitments and expects the same attitude from the other member states. Lithuania was among the first to whom the monitoring procedures were applied. The Parliamentary Assembly recognised our progress and the irreversible nature of the ongoing reforms by closing the monitoring of Lithuania in 1997.

As a way of facilitating further progress in the sphere, enhanced cooperation among the Parliamentary Assembly, Committee of Ministers and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe could be called for. The necessary follow-up should be carried out in the framework of the activities for development and consolidation of democratic stability, and within the intergovernmental programme of activities of the Organisation.

Last year, on the eve of its fiftieth anniversary, the Council of Europe completed a most significant reform in the field of human rights protection by setting up a single European Court of Human Rights. That step has allowed increased effectiveness in protecting rights and fundamental freedoms, simplified procedures and better access to the system for individual applicants. It also enhances the authority of the Organisation and has raised the confidence of the people in it. We are proud to have in the Court a judge from Lithuania. At the same time, we feel bigger responsibility for the realisation of the fundamental principles of the Council of Europe.

The new single European Court of Human Rights attests to the twenty-first century Europe that is taking shape – a Europe without dividing lines and without different standards of democracy. Establishment of the new Single Court not only guarantees the people of Europe, regardless of their nationality, a possibility of defending their rights in a genuinely democratic and independent court, but also reflects the tendency towards enhanced stability and confidence in the continent. The proposed post of the Commissioner for Human Rights will complement and strengthen those mechanisms. In creating the new Europe and European democracy and ensuring social stability, contemporary governments face a number of challenges that require close co-operation of international organisations on the basis of common interests and distinct competencies. I have in mind the cooperation of the Council of Europe with the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Nato, the United Nations and such European regional bodies as the Council of the Baltic Sea States.

It should be noted that, nowadays, European institutions tend to complement each other in their work of establishing the basis for democratic security and stability. At the same time, every European state that is striving for a more effective use of those mechanisms finds it vitally important to become part of the operating structures. Lithuania aspires to accelerate full integration into the European Union and Nato. Their communities and Lithuania share the same values. Those values are in fact the bedrock of the Council of Europe.

Ladies and gentlemen, this session of the Parliamentary Assembly has put high on the agenda the creation of a Europe that is free of dividing lines. That issue is even more relevant as the Council daily builds a common house of Europe.

Creation of a united and undivided Europe requires us to promote and enhance confidence among the states. The Council of Europe, providing a forum for multilateral political discussion, substantially contributes to better mutual knowledge and understanding. Moreover, Lithuania seeks to make use of other measures – first and foremost good relations with its neighbours. Being high on our policy agenda, good neighbourly relations not only commune with the spirit of the Council of Europe but have proved their effectiveness in concrete results. Pursuing a policy of good neighbourliness, Lithuania promotes European values beyond its borders.

Today, one can draw on Lithuania’s valuable experience of establishing stability at home and of pursuing a policy of fostering minority rights in building relations with neighbouring countries. With a view to utilising the accumulated experience for studying issues of pan-European concern, the European Institute for Displaced Ethnic Minorities was established in Vilnius. It is gratifying that the Council of Europe has taken it under its auspices.

Another indicator of Lithuania’s civic maturity is the growing number of non-governmental organisations and their increasing influence in the state. That tendency not only makes the government consider-decisions covering a wide range of interests, but allows us to cater for the spheres of life in which the state’s action is still difficult.

Social support is one of the fields in which a number of issues demand immediate action and, certainly, the assistance of financial institutions. It is very advantageous that the Council of Europe has its own effective instrument in that sphere – the Social Development Fund. Lithuania became a member of the fund three years ago and is very satisfied with the successful cooperation which it hopes to expand in future.

I do not doubt that each and every member state of the Council of Europe is concerned with enhancing the spirit of democracy, which prevails in this hall. I believe that all members, Lithuania among them, will support the efforts designed to add effectiveness to the Organisation.

At the same time, the Council of Europe has to put all its efforts into ingraining its values in every European country. We have to help the European states that are not yet members of the Council to achieve the level of its own standards. I believe that all those countries – when they are able to accept the commitment to, and responsibility for, the realisation of human rights, democratic pluralism and the rule of law – will join the Organisation. It is gratifying that the Council of Europe – as the current discussion, and today’s debate, on the membership of Georgia has shown – consistently proceeds in that direction. We congratulate Georgia and believe that that wise decision by the Parliamentary Assembly should encourage and oblige the leaders of the region to build with greater vigour a democratic civic society.

Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, I wish you the best of success in promoting democratic thinking, and in establishing it at a political and people-to-people level. I hope that my address has helped to enrich this debate, a debate which brings certain significance to our meeting here.

Thank you very much for your attention.

THE PRESIDENT (translation)

Thank you very much, Mr President. Our members have listened to your speech with attention and appreciation. I believe that you have indicated that you are willing to answer some questions. In all, thirteen members have asked whether they may ask you a question and, with a bit of luck and brevity, we should be able to answer them all.

I have grouped some of the questions. The first group of questions is on Lithuania and European institutions. Both Mr Sinka – your neighbour from Latvia – and Mr Volcic, from Italy, have asked to ask questions.

I remind members that questions must be limited to thirty seconds. Colleagues should ask questions and not make speeches.

Mr SINKA (Latvia) (translation)

First, on behalf of the Latvian delegation, I want to welcome Mr Adamkus to this august Assembly.

It is obvious that Lithuania has been paying close attention to the activities of the Council of Europe. When Lithuania becomes a full member of the European Union – which we sincerely hope will be in the near future – will that attention be maintained?

Mr VOLCIC (Italy) (translation)

Mr President, when your country gained its independence, it seemed that never again would a Russian, never again would a communist occupy a high-ranking position. Yet what do we see? We see what to my mind is an illustration of your country's democratic maturity – first Mr Brazauskas, and now you, in other words, power changing hands normally in a normal democratic country.

Against this backdrop of normality, I should like to ask you how you view the problem of minorities. I am, of course, referring to the Russians, but also to the Jews, for whom your country was a world centre until the second world war scattered them, although some are now returning.

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

On the first question, I want to confirm that I adhere to one and the same goal. The Council of Europe and the European Union complement each other, so not to support one and to abstain from the other would be the gravest mistake that we could make. Lithuania will continue with the same commitment to paying attention to and supporting both the Council of Europe and the European Union. We believe that we have not only the privilege, but the right to be among the European countries participating in and building Europe’s feature within whatever organisation goes forward. Therefore, my strong response to the question is that Lithuania will work hard with members of the Council of Europe, while also working hard to build up its potential among the members of the European Union.

I am glad to answer the question about minorities. I want to state my position. Personally, I am very sensitive to the issue of minorities. I believe that, in principle, every minority has the right to preserve its culture, promote its national pride, and provide every possibility for its children to learn its language and to use it wherever they live. I have expressed that principle many times and I repeat it now in front of this distinguished audience. Lithuania will respect the rights of minorities and ensure that every minority, not simply the largest, has the opportunity to exercise its rights. At the same time, we want to build up their loyalty as citizens to the country in which they live. If only we could all recognise those general rules, the world would be a better place than it is today.

Mr GLIGOROSKI (“The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”)

The need for the establishment of better communication and co-operation between the countries of northern and eastern Europe has already been confirmed. What are the views of Lithuania on contractual regulation and the development of bilateral relations with the countries of south-eastern Europe, including the Republic of Macedonia, with which some of the basic inter-state agreements have not yet been concluded?

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

I shall respond in general terms. We live in a world where communications are now so accessible that distance is not a problem. In talking about East and West or North and South, I simply do not envisage any difficulties with communication. The issue is more one of spirit. Are we willing to co-operate, to recognise problems and to exchange ideas? I believe that Lithuania is building a society and living by rules that will enable us to be an active member of the European continent.

A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of meeting the Macedonian President in Berlin at a summit meeting. We discussed issues that affect both of our countries and we were in total agreement on them. However, I recognise that some of the inter-state agreements have not yet been concluded. We have forwarded some suggestions to Macedonia and we hope soon to receive a response so that we can conclude whatever agreements are necessary to ensure our active cooperation.


There are two questions on co-operation in the Baltic Sea region. They have been tabled by Mr Kelam and Mr Iwinski. I call Mr Kelam.

Mr KELAM (Estonia)

First, I welcome Mr Adamkus as someone who, when living in America, contributed to the upholding of the legal continuity of the Baltic states during the Soviet occupation.

My question relates to Mr Adamkus’s experience of environmental issues. What is his opinion on any improvements in the environmental situation in the Baltic Sea region and the possible role of the Council of Europe in that?

Mr IWINSKI (Poland)

Poland’s relations with Lithuania have a special historical character. We lived together for 500 years in one state. Today, our special relationship is shown in the unique existence of the Polish-Lithuanian Parliamentary Assembly.

My question relates to regional cooperation in the Baltic area. What is Mr Adamkus’s opinion of the Euro-regions such as Nemunas, Niemen and Baltic?

How does Lithuania, as the present chairman of the Council of Baltic Sea States, perceive the activity of this organisation?

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

In response to the respected Estonian Representative, I can say that environmental issues in the Baltic countries have been of great concern to me personally for the past twenty-five years. That concern has been institutionalised by the United States environmental protection technical assistance programmes in which I have personally been involved. I am familiar with the issues that face us today. Estonia has taken a leading role and the three countries have made tremendous progress. The contrast between the situation in 1972 and now, is like that between day and night. However, problems still exist, especially in the Baltic Sea. Recently, the Canadian and United States Governments have decided to use the expertise gained through research in the Great Lakes to assist in the Baltic Sea and they have offered financial support for that work. I hope that that assistance will make a dramatic change to existing conditions.

In answer to the question from the representative from Poland, I can say that improvements in the relationship between the two countries have been historic. In front of this distinguished Assembly, I can assure him that co-operation and understanding on common commitments between the two countries is the best ever. Lithuania is currently presiding over the Council of Baltic Sea States and we are looking to expand the activities and involvement of all the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. We want their active participation and we are even trying to expand the idea by inviting other interested countries to become involved, possibly as observers. The future is positive. We will use our six-month chairmanship of the council to promote those ideas and we hope that the subsequent chairmen will continue that work.

Mr ZHEBROVSKY (Russian Federation) (interpretation)

asked, given that Lithuania was looking increasingly to the West, what was the future for Russian- Lithuanian relations, given the aim of integrating Lithuania into the Euro-Atlantic structures.

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

I can proudly state that our relationship with Russia is a priority in our relations with neighbouring countries. We value our good working relationship. I had the opportunity to prove that by talking directly to your President and Prime Minister. We have discussed our relationship and both sides agree that we have a neighbourly relationship, based on selfrespect and with benefits for both countries from working together to provide security in our part of the world. Even though Lithuania is seeking a closer relationship with the West, that does not mean that we are turning away from our close neighbours. We must close the painful chapter of the past fifty years and continue the friendly relationship we have developed between the two countries.

Mr GLOTOV (Russian Federation)

asked, in terms of respecting human rights, what was the President of Lithuania’s attitude towards the persecution of Mr Mitsevich and Mr Ivanov, given Lithuania’s membership of the Council of Europe and its obligations to respect human rights.

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

Let me state my position. I believe that the rule of law should have the highest position in a country and I will do everything I can to ensure that. I am convinced that we are complying with the requirements. I reassure you and the Assembly that we do not have any political prisoners who have been tried or convicted because of their beliefs. I do not believe in such an approach. We have come through tragic times in the past in which individuals and nations in Europe – indeed, globally – have suffered for their beliefs. That should not be tolerated and will not be tolerated in Lithuania. I give you my word on that.

Because of the rule of law, no government can insert itself into the judicial process. As the President, I can observe the process, but I cannot influence it. However, I reassure you that the particular cases you mentioned are not political. We must let the courts and judges determine whether Lithuanian law has been violated and I cannot comment until they have done so.


l am afraid that time is running out, but we may squeeze in one more question from Mr Muehlemann.

Mr MUEHLEMANN (Switzerland) (translation)

Mr President, Lithuania is in a strategically important position between East and West, and so too is Belarus, but Belarus is almost completely isolated. What requirements does this self-willed man President Lukashenko have to meet in order at least to be granted Special Guest status for his country again?

Mr Adamkus, President of Lithuania

I wish to base my response on a personal meeting with the President of Belarus. He has political ideas that he is trying to implement in his country. Lithuania’s longest border is with Belarus and we are conducting our foreign policy so as to leave the door open for Belarus to communicate and co-operate at its pleasure with the rest of the world. We are trying to influence the President’s attitude, but Belarus’s problem is that it is not moving fast enough to introduce basic human rights. If the present leadership of Belarus accepted the concept, no one would object to that country’s active participation.

I hope that I can say that everyone in this Organisation takes the view that they will be welcome if they accept and believe in the principles for which this Organisation stands.


Thank you very much, Mr President, for the frank and open way in which you have responded to our questions.