On November 17, Italy assumed the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe (CoE). This is an important responsibility, which, however, is not always fully understood by those not working in this field. This is why we asked Ambassador Valeria Biagiotti, coordinator of the task force for the Italian presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, to define the terms of the commitment. «It is a precious opportunity to play a guiding and impulsive role in the work of the organization, trying to advance all the reports on the table, naturally starting with those we have identified as priorities», she replied, highlighting that «The CoE plays a key role in promoting human rights, democracy and the rule of law, both in Europe and in the broader multilateral architecture, thanks to its unique framework of conventions and legal instruments, which also attract non-member states. Furthermore, the presidency is an appointment that happens very rarely, in fact the last one took place in 2000, over 20 years ago».

Italy intends to promote a broad reflection on the issue of female empowerment and the fight against all forms of violence and discrimination

Among the objectives that the Italian presidency has set itself, the first is to «reaffirm the shared principles and values of the Council of Europe». There are many initiatives in this sense, in particular we would like to focus on the methods devised to emphasize the potential of cultural heritage as a tool for dialogue and social inclusion.

I will answer this question by giving the example of one of the success stories in this area: the ‘European Cultural Routes’ launched by the Council of Europe. There are 45 routes with a common theme that may be religious, historical, scenic, architectural or gastronomic, related to intangible heritage or linked to great figures of European art, music or literature. The Routes unite different countries, representing a platform for intercultural dialogue from which to value common identities. They remind the European peoples that their interaction, mutual contamination and intercultural dialogue, but also economic exchanges, were not just born in 1949, but are the distinctive characteristics of millenary civilizations, bestowed with pronounced attributes of affinity, despite their variegated cultural identity.

As regards the emancipation of women, in recent months we have had to see some withdrawals from the signing of the Istanbul Convention. How are we trying to increase the number of signatory countries?

To begin with, on the occasion of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, on November 25, a joint declaration was signed by the Secretary General of the CoE, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, and by the Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities, Elena Bonetti on the importance of the Convention as an instrument to combat violence in all its forms, including that perpetrated on the web. In light of the profound impact that the pandemic has had on women, recording a dramatic increase in episodes of domestic violence, gender abuse and a significant decrease in the participation of women in the labour market, Italy intends to promote a broader reflection on the issue of female empowerment and the fight against all forms of violence and discrimination, in the context of the Council of Europe also through a high-level event on this issue in April.

In order to guarantee «a future centred on people», the aim was to address the challenges posed by new technologies. What are the dangers involved and what are the prospects that open up?

The profound transformations we are experiencing in our societies due to digital technologies, and artificial intelligence in particular, offer enormous opportunities regarding the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedom, economic development, progress in the health sector, circulation of information and education. At the same time, artificial intelligence can pose significant risks to our societies, also in terms of human rights violations and abuse as well as challenges to democracy and the rule of law. For example, improper use of algorithms could lead to discrimination based on ethnicity, gender or age. For this reason, we believe it is useful to have a clear and shared framework of rules so as to address the risks associated with the development and use of these technologies. In this regard, we believe that the CoE is a particularly suitable forum for examining such potential threats and proposing adequate safeguards in order to defend human rights, democracy and the rule of law, the protection and promotion of which represent the core business of the organization and for which it has developed an unrivalled expertise.

Artificial intelligence can pose significant risks to our societies, in terms of human rights violations and challenges to democrac

What are the direct and indirect effects that the initiatives of the Italian presidency could have on civil society?

We hope that there will be raised awareness in civil society regarding the values and activities that have been carried out since 1949. Although this organization plays a fundamental role in the daily life of each citizen through the European Court of Human Rights and the numerous conventions and activities, the Council of Europe is still not very well-known and is often confused with the European Union, in particular with the European Council. We have organized a series of initiatives during the term aimed specifically at increasing the knowledge of the CoE by a wider audience, starting with the Italian public. In particular, we intend to address the younger generations, so that they may be aware of their rights from the start and of what the organization does to promote them.

And finally, we come to what is the "core business" of the Rovereto Peace Bell. Among the objectives of the Italian presidency is that of raising awareness in the international community «on the crucial role of education in supporting peace, the protection of human rights and the rule of law». What are the initiatives in this regard?

As I mentioned, we intend to commit ourselves to promoting greater knowledge of the Council of Europe, its principles and values, starting with the European Convention on Human Rights. For example, the Ministry of Education has launched a competition for primary and secondary schools, to invite students to reflect on the tasks and functioning of the CoE and on the importance of education to the knowledge of human rights and fundamental freedom. A Forum will also be organized in Turin, with the participation of young people from all countries of the Council of Europe, on human rights education and democratic citizenship. Other initiatives will be coordinated to support human rights education for different age groups, from infancy to universities. We have anticipated a wide-ranging commitment, which will not end once the presidency is over but which we also intend to maintain in the future.

Ambassador Valeria Biagiotti

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