Council of Europe: draft resolution addresses reprisals with priority

December 9, 2015

An interesting read is the latest report to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly by Rapporteur: Ms Mailis REPS, Estonia, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe. The (draft) report is entitled: “Strengthening the protection and role of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States“.

[On 19 March 2013, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights appointed Ms Mailis as rapporteur, following the departure from the Assembly of the previous rapporteur, Mr György Frunda.]

The Draft resolution and draft recommendation (AS/Jur (2015) 37) were adopted by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights on 8 December 2015 and here are some highlights:

The Assembly notes that in the majority of Council of Europe member States human rights defenders are free to work in an environment conducive to the development of their activities. However, it is deeply concerned about increased reprisals against human rights defenders in certain member States of the Council of Europe, including Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey. The Assembly is particularly worried about the situation in annexed Crimea and in other territories outside the control of state authorities. It notes that restrictive legislation on registration, funding, especially foreign funding, or on anti-terrorist measures used to restrict human rights defenders’ activities or to even arbitrarily arrest them, bring serious criminal charges and condemn them to long term prison sentences. The Assembly condemns these practices and supports the work of human rights defenders, who put at risk their security and personal life for the promotion and protection of the rights of others, including those of the most vulnerable and oppressed groups (migrants and members of minorities – national, religious or sexual ) or to combat impunity of State officials, corruption and poverty.

5. The Assembly also deplores the fact that some of the most serious attacks on human rights defenders, including murders, abductions, and torture, have still not been properly investigated. When human rights defenders themselves become targets of oppression, this sends a devastating message to those counting on their help.

B. Draft recommendation

1. Referring to its Resolution … (2016) on “Strengthening the protection and role of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States”, the Parliamentary Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:

1.1. enhance its dialogue with human rights defenders, in particular by holding regular exchanges of views with them, in the framework of the work of its subordinate bodies;

1.2. co-ordinate its work on this subject matter with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, the Conference of INGO and the Assembly and hold regular exchanges of information on reprisals against lawyers with the Registry of the European Court of Human Rights;

1.3. establish a platform, such as that created for journalists, for the protection of human rights defenders;

1.4. publicly and regularly, and a least once a year, report to the Assembly on cases of intimidation of human rights defenders cooperating with Council of Europe bodies, and in particular, lawyers representing applicants before the European Court of Human Rights, and representatives of civil society cooperating with the Council of Europe monitoring bodies and the Commissioner for Human Rights;

1.5. reflect on other ways and means of strengthening the protection of human rights defenders against acts of intimidation and reprisals coming from State and non-State actors;

1.6. step up its cooperation on the protection of human rights defenders with other international organisations, in particular the European Union, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations.

There is an prominent section on “Recent and current reprisals against human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States”

4. My rapporteur mandate is a continuation of the work carried out by the previous rapporteurs on this subject – a former Committee colleague Mr Holger Haibach (Germany, EPP)7 and myself – and focuses on the situation of “those who work for the rights of the others” – individuals or groups who act, in a peaceful way, to promote and protect human rights, whether they are lawyers, journalists, NGOs or others. The findings of the reports of my predecessor and myself of respectively 2009 and 2012 showed that in some Council of Europe member States, namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, the Russian Federation, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine, human rights defenders had been confronted with a number of specific ‘obstacles’ or even a generally hostile environment. In my previous report, I pointed out a number of types of reprisals against them and impediments to their work: attacks on their physical and psychological integrity, arbitrary arrest and detention, unfair trials, including criminal prosecutions on trumped-up charges, administrative obstacles (in particular concerning the registration process of human rights associations), public defamation, restrictions on their freedom of movement and on access to funds as well as illicit pressure on legal representatives of applicants before the European Court of Human Rights (“the ECtHR” or “the Court”). I also noted that those working on sensitive issues such as fighting impunity for serious crimes committed by State officials, exposing corruption, or defending the rights of LGBT persons, migrants, and members of national or ethnic minorities, were targeted particularly often.

5. Since the adoption of the Assembly’s Resolution 1891 (2012), which was based on my previous report on this subject, the situation of human rights defenders has considerably deteriorated in Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation. Concerns were also raised about the arrests of several human rights lawyers in Turkey and the wave of inspections of NGOs in Hungary (the latter problem will be examined in more detail by my colleague Mr Yves Cruchten). Although I am not in a position to consider all alleged cases of reprisals against human rights defenders in all Council of Europe member States, I will try to pinpoint the most serious ones, on the basis of information received from civil society (and in particular from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders) and the Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner. But as a matter of urgency I shall focus on the recent developments in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey. As regards other member States of the Council of Europe, in the last two years, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders have reported some individual cases of reprisals against human rights defenders in Greece, the Republic of Moldova, and ‘the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’ and I will also refer to these cases.

6. I also intend to reflect on how we in the Council of Europe and the Assembly can help improve their protection. What national and international mechanisms could be put in place in order to allow human rights defenders to escape unfair prosecutions (in their countries of origin)? What type of assistance could be granted to families of prosecuted human rights defenders? Could intergovernmental organisations do more in order to ensure an ‘early warning’ in cases of prosecution, to better exchange information or to grant international protection? Should they establish a mechanism of protection of those who co-operate with them, by providing first-hand information on human rights abuses? These are examples of questions that are to be posed in this context and on which the Council of Europe should reflect without delay.

http://website-pace.net/documents/10643/1264407/20151208-protectiondefenseurs-EN.pdf/ec47e7db-b1a2-4a77-8c83-3c76216798f2

One Response to “Council of Europe: draft resolution addresses reprisals with priority”


  1. […] The Assembly now has an opportunity to act, by adopting two draft resolutions today, 28 January 2016. Together, these resolutions address reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the Council of Europe and impunity for actors targeting civil society, and call for measures to end restrictions on NGOs and the misuse of restrictive legislation to criminalise the work of human rights defenders. See my earlier post: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2015/12/09/council-of-europe-draft-resolution-addresses-reprisals-wi… […]


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