Posts Tagged ‘Council of Europe’

RUXIT: a real possibility and bad for human rights defenders

May 9, 2019

An article in www.politico.eu describes in ominous terms the looming rift with Europe that could have far-reaching consequences: “Ruxit.” That’s what Thorbjørn Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, has called Russia’s potential withdrawal from the human rights organization after 23 years as a member, amid a dispute over Crimea. 

The prospect of Ruxit — which could happen within the coming months — has Russian human rights defenders worried. Leaving the Council of Europe, Russian opposition figures warn, would be catastrophic for human rights in their homeland and provide a boost to Kremlin hard-liners.

In 2018, Russians submitted the largest number of petitions to the Strasbourg-based court out of any of the Council of Europe’s 47 members. Around 20 percent of the ECHR’s 56,000 pending cases were filed by Russian citizens. In the past two years, Moscow has reluctantly paid out €23.3 million to claimants, including opposition protesters, prisoners, and LGBTQ activists.

The European Court of Human Rights is the only legal body capable of restoring justice for those people who are illegally imprisoned and tortured, as well as ruling on compensation for the relatives of people killed either during investigations or while in prison,” said Maria Alyokhina, a Pussy Riot activist and co-founder of Zona Prava, an organization that works to protect prisoners’ rights in Russia.

….Although Russia, a signatory to the 1949 European Convention on Human Rights, has failed to implement around two-thirds of the court’s judgements — including many on the torture or ill-treatment of prisoners — human rights activists say the ECHR’s positive impact on Russian laws and judicial practice should not be underestimated. Even with all the severe problems with human rights in our country, the situation would be a lot worse if Russia hadn’t been a member of the Council of Europe,” reads an open letter signed in November by dozens of Russian human rights defenders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin | Yuri Kadobnov/AFP via Getty Images

….The dispute that could lead to Russia’s exit from the Council of Europe has been simmering since 2014, when the Kremlin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea triggered a suspension of its voting rights in the organization’s parliamentary assembly (PACE).  Russia hit back by refusing to participate in PACE sessions. As a result, more than half of the ECHR’s judges, who serve a single nine-year term, have been elected without Russia’s participation in the voting process. From June 2017 onward, Moscow also started freezing its membership payments, which amount to €33 million a year — equal to around 7 percent of the Council of Europe’s annual budget.

Under the Council’s regulations, countries that have failed to make payments for two years are automatically suspended from the 47-member organization and can later be expelled.  Russia has said it will jump, rather than wait to be pushed, and could announce its departure next month if the organization does not alter its rules in Moscow’s favor at its meeting of ministers in Helsinki on May 17.

Why should we be in an organization that we can’t work in and that doesn’t meet our interests?” Pyotr Tolstoy, the deputy speaker of Russia’s parliament and head of the country’s PACE delegation, told POLITICO. Jagland, who stands down this year after serving two terms as secretary-general, has said he wants to avoid a Russian exit. France and Germany, as well as other members of the Council, have also said they would prefer Russia to remain. But time may be running out.

…In 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved legislation giving Moscow the right to reject ECHR rulings if the country’s Constitutional Court decides that they contradict Russian law. So far, however, that law has only been enforced twice. And despite continuing tensions with the West, 58 percent of Russians are in favour of their country’s membership of the Council of Europe and the ECHR, according to a recent survey carried out by the Levada Center, an independent pollster in Moscow. Only 19 percent were opposed, while the rest of the respondents did not express an opinion.

Russia’s exit from the human rights organization would mark the second time a member state has left it since it was formed in 1949. Greece’s military junta withdrew in 1969 under the threat of expulsion, but the country was readmitted five years later after the junta’s fall.

..Dmitry Oreshkin, a Moscow-based political analyst whose vote-monitoring efforts helped spark massive protests against Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2011-2012, said that the dispute is symbolic of Russia’s shift away from Europe as part of the Kremlin’s revival of “Soviet values.”  But he added that economic and trade links with Europe, a key consumer of Russian energy exports, would make it hard for Moscow to cut ties entirely, and suggested that the Kremlin’s rhetoric is intended purely for domestic consumption. The Council of Europe is a convenient enemy,” Oreshkin said. “Leaving it would give Putin a burst of support among ultra-patriotic voters, but this would be a short-term propaganda victory that wouldn’t last long.”  He added: “It’s easy to slam the door, but a lot harder to open it again.

For other posts on Russia, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/russia/

https://www.politico.eu/article/ruxit-russian-human-rights/

Human Rights Education courses also exist in Europe!

February 28, 2019

2019 COMPASS National Training Courses on Human Rights Education with Young People

For those who think that human rights education work is done only in developing countries, here some information from the Council of Europe. The 2019 call for COMPASS National and Regional Training Courses in Human Rights Education for young people generated 45 projects proposals submitted by youth NGOs from 24 Council of Europe member states. The 2019 programme of Compass courses includes activities in Azerbaijan, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Republic of Moldova and Serbia (see list below). Proposals from Norway, Slovenia and Portugal are on a reserve list pending further availability of funds.

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Paris Principles@25: Needed More Than Ever says Dunja Mijatović

December 20, 2018

Dunja Mijatovićthe Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, published on 18 December a piece stressing the importance of the so-called “Paris Principles” for having strong National Human Rights Institutions. Worth reading in toto:

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Václav Havel Human Rights Prize 2018 awarded to Oyub Titiev

October 9, 2018

 

The sixth Václav Havel Human Rights Prize – which honours outstanding civil society action in defence of human rights – has been awarded to the head of the Grozny office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechyna, Oyub Titiev (Russian Federation). The prize was presented at a special ceremony on 8 October 2018 at the Palais de l’Europe in Strasbourg, on the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).[see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/15/chechen-human-rights-defender-oyub-titiev-arrested-on-trumped-up-charges/ ]

Oyub Titiev, in detention since January 2018, is a prominent human rights defender and head of the Grozny office of the Memorial Human Rights Center in Chechyna. In this capacity, Mr Titiev succeeded Natalia Estemirova, murdered in 2009, and has made a widely recognised contribution to the defence of human rights in the region by reporting on abuses by the local authorities. Mr Titiev being in detention, the prize was presented to Aleksandr Cherkasov, Chairman of the Memorial Human Rights Centre Board.

We are fully aware of the difficulties that Mr Titiev and his colleagues face. This prize is a recognition of the work he and Memorial are doing,” the PACE President said. “It is also a message to all those who work in this region to affirm the principles of the rule of law and human rights. Keep up the good work, you can count on our support, Liliane Maury Pasquier added.

The two other shortlisted nominees – Rosa María Payá, a young Cuban democracy and human rights activist [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/06/08/rosa-maria-paya-carries-on-the-work-of-her-father-in-cuba/], and Nabeel Rajab, a prominent democracy and human rights defender in Bahrain [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/nabeel-rajab/ ] – also received diplomas during the ceremony.

Fo amor on this and other awards see: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/vaclav-havel-prize-for-human-rights-pace

http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=7218&lang=2

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/10/russiaunfairly-jailed-human-rights-defender-honoured/

Dunja Mijatović starts her term as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

April 3, 2018

Dunja Mijatović takes up office as Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

On 3 April, 2018, Dunja Mijatović has taken up the post of Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

She was elected last January [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/25/dunja-mijatovic-new-council-of-europe-commissioner-for-human-rights/] as the first woman to hold this post, succeeding Nils Muižnieks (2012-2018).

“I intend to keep the legacy of the previous Commissioners’ work and maintain the ability of this institution to react rapidly and effectively to protect people’s human rights. My view is that human rights are indeed universal and that no country is beyond scrutiny.

In terms of priorities, my vision is simple. In a word, it is: implementation. Norms, resolutions, treaties are there to guide us. Yes, we do need political will to make sure they are realised. But this is not a matter only for governments. We must engage our societies at large in their implementation and involve everyone in a dialogue on human rights. It is paramount that we achieve a recommitment to and a reaffirmation of human rights for all, and bring back trust in their importance for the well-being of each and every person.

I look forward to cooperating with governments, national authorities, international organisations, human rights defenders, journalists, NGOs, and human rights structures.”

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner

Unfortunately Europe is not stepping up its human rights policy in US absence

March 22, 2018

There is no doubt that Europe is doing more than other regions to support individual human rights defenders and their organisations. The statement issued on 27 February 2018 to mark World NGO Day by EU High Representative Fedrica Mogherini says all the right things: “Civil society organisations are a voice for those who are too often not heard. They have the courage to stand up against injustices, even if sometimes with risks for themselves”. She noted that the EU’s annual support worth two billion Euros represents 73 percent of the world’s support to local civil society organisations. “The European Union will never leave human rights defenders and civil society organisations alone; it’s the most invaluable partnership we can rely on to protect rights and build opportunities.”
Still, there are also critical voices concerning what Europe is doing or not doing e.g. with regard to the increasingly harsh treatment of migrants (UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on 7 March).[see recent post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/19/ahmed-h-personifies-the-real-danger-of-populist-anti-terror-measures/]
Moreover, there is growing disappointment over the region’s unwillingness to stand up for human rights in its foreign policy, especially from those who had hoped that Europe would be able step up when the USA is no longer leading. Two lengthy pieces attest to this:
The first is by on 21 March 2018 under the title “The European Union has decided that it’s time to cuddle up to dictators’ in the Washington Post

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (in green tie) meets with other officials in Brussels on Wednesday. (Olivier Hoslet/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has just set a new low for Europe’s standing in the world. In the wake of Russia’s sham presidential election on Sunday, Juncker sent the victorious Vladimir Putin a message of unctuous praise. “Congratulations on your re-election,” Juncker tweeted. ……..Just like the United States’ President Trump, who was widely criticized this week for congratulating Putin on the Russian election’s outcome while failing to mention its flagrantly undemocratic character, Juncker had nothing to say about the brazen ballot stuffing, the intimidation of independent candidates, the unexplained deaths of activists, the role of state media, or a host of other irregularities leading up to the poll.

This latest failure of moral courage once again shows the growing indifference of European leaders and governments to the defense of human rights. At a time when the Trump administration seems uninterested in advancing the cause of democracy overseas and has just chosen Gina Haspel, who is closely linked with the George W. Bush administration’s policies on torture, to lead the Central Intelligence Agency, Europe should be at the forefront in taking a united stand against the flagrant abuse of human rights. But it isn’t. Dissidents and activists pushing for civil rights and democracy outside the E.U., and who once looked to Europe as a beacon for the values of freedom, can count on little support from Brussels these days. Authoritarian regimes have every cause to be overjoyed.

…When Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, took the floor at last month’s annual Munich Security Conference, he was, once again, treated with kid gloves. Forget about the torture, the executions, the flogging, the deaths during detention.

…French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have rolled out the red carpet for Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sissi — despite a crackdown on opposition that in its harshness has left the Hosni Mubarak regime far behind. Disappearances, torture, police brutality, detentions without trial: None of this seems to bother the French or German leaders. “Disgraceful policies of indulgence” was the term human rights activists used in connection with Sissi’s visit to Paris in October.

On China, the E.U. has completely discredited itself in the eyes of reformers and those struggling for human rights. It has criticized neither the Communist Party’s state-of-the art mass surveillance of its citizens nor the constant harassment and imprisonment of dissidents. Indeed, in June the E.U. failed, for the first time ever, to make a statement about China’s crackdown on dissidents and activists at the United Nation’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. The 28 member states couldn’t agree. (Greece blocked the statement. ..Athens didn’t want to offend Beijing). Hungary, which has also benefited from Chinese investments, has repeatedly blocked E.U. statements criticizing China’s rights record under Communist President Xi Jinping, according to diplomats.

….But there can be no hiding the shameful reality. Europe has lost its moral compass. Its current enthusiasm for interests and “stability” will one day come back to haunt it.

The second piece is by FLORIAN IRMINGER on 22 March 2018 in Open Democracy under the title Council of Europe: don’t compromise on human rights in Russia!”

After congratulating Vladimir Putin on re-election, the COE must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries. In the past year, Russia has seen numerous violations of freedom of assembly, as well as politically motivated criminal investigations dogged by poor evidence and procedure. While Vladimir Putin won the recent presidential election, he made his country fail a much more important test: the test of human rights, freedoms, and space for civil society and independent voices. So why has Thorbjørn Jagland and the Council of Europe welcomed him as a winner? …This came shortly after the OSCE election observation mission concluded that the presidential election took place in an “overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices.”

…Instead of abiding by his mission to defend the Convention and therefore highlighting the shortcomings during election day and the generally repressive climate, the Secretary General “hoped” for active engagement with Russia. He spoke of “our common duty to work together in order to consolidate and strengthen our common European legal and human rights space.” 

The Council of Europe must hold Russia accountable and require the same respect for fundamental freedoms as it does from other countries

Since Vladimir Putin’s re-accession to the presidency in 2012 – and the fully devoted Duma elected in 2011 – 50 laws have been adopted “designed to strangle opposition voices and raise the level of fear and self-control in the society,” as reported by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/03/18/fidh-collected-russias-50-anti-democracy-laws/]

In light of President Putin’s internal policies, we need a Council of Europe that stands firm on its values and upholds the human rights obligations enriched in the European Convention for Human Rights. What we see instead is a Secretary General “touring European capitals [since November 2017] warning of a serious risk that Moscow could withdraw… unless its demands are met.”

 

..Russia has now said it will stop contributing financially to the Council of Europe. At the Council of Europe, just like at the United Nations with President Trump’s administration, we see that governments are willing to defund the structures with which they disagree. In other words, they institute a relativism in such mechanisms and threaten their ability to continue working independently and serve the purpose they were set up for: holding governments accountable to their own commitments. 

Yes, we must fight for the European Convention to apply to as many citizens as possible in Europe. However, we must not shy away from saying that the cost of withdrawing from the Council of Europe is high for the Russian state, for its credibility at home and abroad. The Council of Europe is worth something. If states can be members at no cost – not even the cost of showing respect and cooperation to the organisation – it will soon be worth nothing….

—–

https://www.kuna.net.kw/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=2697509&language=en

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-un/u-n-rights-chief-attacks-eu-and-u-s-over-migrants-and-dreamers-idUSKCN1GJ1IZ

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2018/03/21/the-european-union-has-decided-that-its-time-to-cuddle-up-to-dictators/?utm_term=.f50fe466fd4f

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/florian-irminger/do-not-compromise-on-russian-human-rights

Dunja Mijatović new Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights

January 25, 2018

 

On Wednesday 24 January 2018, Dunja Mijatovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) was today elected as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights by the  Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg. Ms Mijatovic was elected for a non-renewable term of six years starting on 1 April 2018.

She obtained 107 of the votes cast in the second round, a relative majority. Pierre-Yves Le Borgn’ (France) obtained 103 votes and Goran Klemencic (Slovenia) obtained 19 votes. Mijatovic will replace Nils Muiznieks, who has held the post since 2012.

From 2010 to 2017, Dunja Mijatovic was the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Previously, she served as Director of Broadcasting at the Communications Regulatory Agency of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CRA). She was also the Chairperson of the European Platform of Media Regulatory Authorities (EPRA) and she chaired the Council of Europe’s Group of Specialists on freedom of expression and information in times of crisis.

Mijatović was awarded the Médaille Charlemagne in 2015. Since 2000 the Médaille Charlemagne is awarded to a European personality who has made an outstanding contribution to the process of European integration and the development of a European identity. She is also the recipient of the City of Geneva PEC AWARD 2015 for her work on the issue of the safety of journalists and media freedom in Ukraine during the crisis and her “exceptional personal commitment for the promotion of freedom of information in the whole region.”

The International Peace Center in Sarajevo awarded her the “FREEDOM” prize in 2010 for her work and activities on the struggle for freedom, peace and development in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Europe and the world.

http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/News/News-View-EN.asp?newsid=6941&lang=2&cat=8

Chechen human rights defender Oyub Titiev arrested on trumped-up charges

January 15, 2018

 
The arrest of Oyub Titiev has provoked international outcry. Source: Memorial Human Rights Center.

This blog has paid attention to many cases of harassment of human rights defenders in Chechnya, especially since two of the laureates of the MEA were linked to work there (the Joint Mobile Group (https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/03/17/russia-defenders-attack-closing-office-un-joint-mobile-group-chechnya/) in 2013 and earlier Lyda Yusopova in 2004 http://www.martinennalsaward.org/hrd/lidia-yusupova/]. But things continue to be extremely difficult, as shown by case of Oyub Titiev, who heads the regional office of the Memorial, and was arrested last week. Open Democracy (on 12 January 2018) in partnership with OVD-Info, wrote about this and other politically-motivated arrests in Russia (see below in green). Front Line (12 January 2018), Amnesty International, the Council of Europe, US State Department, IFEX and others spoke out on the case.

On the morning of 9 January, Oyub Titiev (60) was detained by people wearing the uniform of traffic police officers. A friend of the human rights defender who witnessed the arrest from his car, said he had wanted to stop to speak with Titiev, but Titiev indicated he should drive past. Titiev’s lawyers were not allowed to see him for several hours. That evening Titiev was charged with possessing drugs (Article 228). He categorically denies the accusation. On 10 January police arrived at Titiev’s home looking for his son and brother, and when they did not find them they forced all the other family members out of the house, locked the doors and took the keys. The law enforcement officers wanted to use the fact they had the keys to influence Titiev’s relatives, since to gain entrance to the property the family members would need to go to the police station. On 11 January a court in closed session remanded Titiev in custody for two months.

Titiev took up the post of head of the Chechnya office of Memorial after the kidnapping in Grozny and subsequent murder of his predecessor Natalia Estemirova in July 2009. The Chechen public figure Ruslan Kutaev, who heads  the Assembly of Peoples of the Caucasus, was also charged with illegal acquisition and possession of drugs. On 20 December 2017 he was released having served over three years in prison. There is evidence that Kutaev was tortured following his arrest. According to human rights defenders, the charges were trumped up.

The European Court of Human Rights is tired of hearing identical cases concerning torture in Russia, and has therefore asked Russia to pay compensation to Ildar Dadin on the basis of a simplified procedure. The European Court has proposed that Russia admit to violations of the prohibition on torture and inhuman treatment with regard to Ildar Dadin during the latter’s transfer to a prison colony and in the prison colony itself. The Court decided not to ask the Russian government for commentary.

In December 2015 activist Ildar Dadin was sentenced to three years in a general-regime prison colony for “repeated violation of the rules for holding public events” (Article 212.1 of the Russian Criminal Code). In 2014 Dadin had been arrested four times and fined for taking part in public protests. Later, his prison term was reduced to two-and-a-half years. On 22 February 2017 the Presidium of the Supreme Court quashed Dadin’s conviction.

Five members of the Moscow Public Monitoring Commission (PMC) have been banned from visiting Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) and the so-called Kremlin Central, which is on the territory of Matrosskaya Tishina. According to the authorities, this is because the five members of the PMC are witnesses in the criminal prosecution of another member of the PMC, Denis Nabiullin…

https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/ovd-info/titiev

https://www.thedailybeast.com/frame-up-the-outrageous-arrest-of-a-chechen-human-rights-defender

https://news.trust.org/item/20180110165044-wbsm1

later followed: https://memohrc.org/en/news_old/speaking-grozny-tv-ramzan-kadyrov-revealed-real-reason-behind-arrest-human-rights-defender

The will of the people or ‘democracy under the rule of law’ in Europe ?

December 9, 2017

It is not often that I recommend the reading of long ‘governmental’ documents, but this time it do without hesitation. The Dutch Advisory Council on International Affairs published on 4 October 2017 its 104th thoughtful report, entitled: “The will of the people? The erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe”. Below I reproduce the Conclusions and recommendations, but reading only these you miss out on gems such as the section on Media page 27:

“Until the end of the twentieth century the media landscape was dominated by newspapers, radio and television. However, the advent of the internet in the early 1990s and social media in the early 2000s brought about a radical change. The low cost of accessing the internet means that everyone is now, in principle, able to generate journalistic content (through blogs, websites, YouTube videos, live streaming, etc.). This has resulted in democratisation of the media and diversification of the media landscape, but has also had negative effects.

The independence of the media is crucial for the credibility of reporting. But on the internet this seems to be largely immaterial: media that focus on a specific political or ideological niche are highly successful online. Besides the role of the internet, another factor instrumental in undermining media independence is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of just a few companies..The income of the traditional news media is being squeezed by greater competition.

 

Online media are often funded from advertising revenue. Consequently, the facts are no longer necessarily central; what counts is attracting as many visitors as possible to the site, relying on the speed of posting news online, sensational content and the ideological message. This undermines the reliability of the media. As everyone is now potentially able to generate news and the quantity of media content has risen explosively, it is becoming ever more difficult to check the content, sender and sources. So it is easy, for example, for populist movements to claim that the traditional media, especially newspapers, are biased and mendacious. This problem is exacerbated by the phenomenon of ‘fake news’, which is disinformation generally intended to substantiate one’s own political positions or undermine the positions and reputation of political opponents.

Whereas at the time of the Arab Spring there was much praise for the positive impact of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) on the democratic process, there is now greater awareness of its darker side.61 First, social media contributes to the formation of ‘ lter bubbles’. Informational bubbles of this kind are created by the user personally (self-selection) and strengthened by search and personalisation algorithms (pre-selection). This hyperpersonalisation of news and opinion has created a situation in which people are shielded from conflicting positions and isolated from people who think differently. In addition, social media tends to polarise social debate. Although social media undeniably facilitates and intensifies political debate and discussion, the nature of reactions on social media (fast, brief, simplistic, one-sided and often anonymous) has made the tone of the social debate considerably more strident. Finally, social media makes individuals more transparent. Connections, posts and likes help to create a more complete picture of individuals, who they are and what they think, believe and want. Within a democracy under the rule of law this picture can be used, for example, to microtarget voters with a view to influencing their political choice. But social media is also a powerful tool for monitoring individuals and identifying political opponents.”

—————————–

Conclusions and recommendations

‘The rule of law is not a peaceful property, a house in which we can sleep serenely.’160

This statement, made by the late senator Willem Witteveen in a parliamentary debate on the rule of law in 2014, remains as relevant as ever. Democracy under the rule of law needs constant maintenance, in Europe as elsewhere. Since the turn of the millennium, the increasingly apparent alienation between the institutions of democracy under the rule of law and sections of the population whose circumstances and prospects have become precarious and/or who feel that the nation’s cultural identity is under threat, has created an environment fraught with risk. In several European states, movements with varying degrees of influence have emerged that want to use democratically acquired power to limit the political status and legal safeguards of other population groups. This indicates that, to a large extent, they do not feel that constitutional democracy, i.e. democracy under the rule of law, is in everyone’s interest, including their own.

As pointed out in the introduction to this advisory report, it is an essential but delicate task, when standing up for the rule of law in the international arena, to respect the democratic character of the states concerned and enhance their democratic quality. As societies become ever more complex, rights, obligations and diverse social interests must constantly be weighed against one another and conflicts resolved. This means that all levels of government need to strike a balance between catering to the public’s wishes and making an independent assessment based on the general interest. Due to a large number of developments and factors, which have been described in this report, this balance has gradually been disturbed in recent decades. Many people across Europe now feel that the institutions of democracy under the rule of law mainly benefit others, including ‘the establishment’ or minority groups. This dissatisfaction is fuelling alternative political movements that promise more consultation and more effective government.

In Europe, a broad effort is required to restore and strengthen public support for democracy under the rule of law. It should be clear to all that the rule of law does not hamper democracy but rather bolsters it. There needs to be greater awareness that democracy only benefits all citizens if it is accompanied by rule-of-law safeguards. Citizens also need to know that their voices are being heard at international level. EU institutions must serve the public visibly and tangibly. That is not sufficiently the case at present.

All member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union are responsible for maintaining democracy under the rule of law in Europe. The fact that national governments working together in the EU appear unwilling to call one another to account for the erosion of democracy, the rule of law and human rights does nothing to enhance the EU’s credibility in the eyes of its own citizens. It merely confirms the widespread perception that the EU promises human dignity but does not effectively protect it.

This does not just undermine norms and values that are a key part of the European identity; the stability of Europe, too, is at stake. If the protection of individual rights and minorities is eroded, this rapidly generates domestic tensions, bilateral conflicts and, inevitably, migratory flows that can sometimes assume unmanageable proportions.

And if the erosion of democracy under the rule of law goes hand in hand with the undermining of common EU institutions, as is often the case, those institutions will increasingly be incapable of taking effective action to resolve such crises.

Even if no large-scale escalation occurs, the erosion of democracy under the rule of law eats away at the foundations of interstate cooperation that are important in Europe. Police cooperation, the European arrest warrant, the transfer of asylum seekers under the Dublin system – all these forms of cooperation are based on mutual trust in the quality of legal systems and the protection of the core values of the rule of law. But if the factual basis for that mutual trust disappears, mutual recognition and solidarity will sooner or later also be put in jeopardy.161

In addition to these considerations, a deficient democracy under the rule of law creates an unattractive investment climate. Confidence in constitutional stability and in the fair and effective public administration of justice is, after all, essential. Without such confidence, investors will be forced to resort to arbitration and other forms of investment protection; they will then have to contend with both increasingly critical public opinion and legal objections.162

Recommendations

Below the AIV will make a number of policy recommendations concerning how the Netherlands can work in the appropriate international bodies and bilaterally to preserve the constitutional structures of democracy under the rule of law from (further) erosion. The Netherlands must be prepared to swim against the tide and continue its engagement on this issue, with a view to preventing the operation of the democratic system from eroding its own principles.

It needs to be completely clear, of course, that such efforts should support states’ democratic functioning – taking account of their historically acquired characteristics; a democracy’s procedural and substantive features must not be further torn apart, but rather woven together in a more convincing manner. This requires respect for the diversity that can exist among the member states of the Council of Europe and the European Union. Alignment should constantly be sought with the common fundamental values of democracy and the rule of law as accepted by all the nations concerned. The recommendations made here therefore build on what has been agreed with and by the other states.

There is a need for caution here. For various reasons, there is bound to be some discrepancy between the complexity of the problems described in this report and the recommendations presented below. First, there is no magic bullet that will halt the erosion of democracy under the rule of law in Europe in a simple manner, because numerous complex factors are involved (see chapter II). What is needed is a differentiated approach at various levels: national, international, governmental, societal, etc. Second, a society can only achieve democracy under the rule of law from within. Individuals and organisations from other countries can merely play a supporting role. It stands to reason that the Dutch government – to which many of the recommendations relate – can mainly offer support in the realm of social developments and their anchoring in the rule of law. Third, the political balance of forces in Europe, especially in the European Union, currently offers limited scope for voicing a powerful counter-message. Only a limited number of European countries are firmly committed to defending the principles of the rule of law. Finally, account must be taken of the increased public scepticism towards EU cooperation that has developed in the Netherlands, as in other countries.

1. Increasing institutional responsiveness

Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is the most important organisation in Europe when it comes to setting standards for human rights and monitoring how they are reflected in member states’ legislation, policy and practices. Nevertheless, there appears to be little awareness in Europe of the Council’s importance in this regard. The Netherlands could take the lead in a political re-evaluation of the Council’s importance. This could be done in the following ways:

  1. Working with like-minded countries to secure a greater political role for the Committee of Ministers in monitoring the implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in the member states. The Committee of Ministers should not restrain the Council of Europe’s independent institutions (the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights), but support and encourage them.
     
  2. Promoting the implementation of the Brussels Declaration and the Plan of Action on Strengthening Judicial Independence and Impartiality by entering into a twinning relationship with certain countries and helping them to increase knowledge about the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights within government and the judiciary, and among the legal profession and NGOs, to expand national parliaments’ role in implementing judgments by the European Court of Human Rights in the member states and to create an independent national human rights institute.
     
  3. Taking the initiative to expand the Committee of Ministers’ traditional focus on civil and political human rights to include the social rights laid down in the European Social Charter. The Netherlands could highlight this by providing extra support for the HELP programme.
     
  4. At set times, the government should provide the Permanent Parliamentary Committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice with confidential information about the deliberations in the Committee of Ministers, especially as regards the implementation of judgments by the European Court of Human Rights.
     
  5. The Netherlands can support reciprocity within the Council of Europe by asking the Venice Commission for advice on Dutch legislation in the event of dilemmas like those concerning the judicial review of legislation and the consequences of referendums.

European Union

  1. Within the EU, the Netherlands must continue its efforts to strengthen the annual rule of law dialogue, as a stepping stone towards a peer review mechanism,163 for which there is still insufficient support in the Union.
     
  2. The Netherlands can join with like-minded countries to form a (possibly informal) group of ‘trailblazers’ that launches a peer review. Such a group can set a positive example of European cooperation for EU citizens, including people in countries that do not yet want to participate. It will show them that ideas on the rule of law can be exchanged in an atmosphere of openness and mutual trust.
     
  3. Some EU member states, notably Poland and Hungary, are currently firmly opposed to the notion that membership of the Union entails certain responsibilities in terms of democracy and the rule of law. At the same time, these countries receive substantial amounts in EU subsidies. In the upcoming negotiations on the EU budget (multiannual financial framework) and how to reform it, the Netherlands should seek to link receipts from the cohesion and structural funds to success in satisfying the original Copenhagen criteria for EU accession.
     
  4. The Netherlands can express support for the European Parliament’s proposal for an    EU Pact for Democracy, the Rule of Law and Fundamental Rights.
     
  5. The Senate and the House of Representatives can play a constructive role in promoting the principles of democracy under the rule of law in Europe by raising this issue with other European national parliaments. Consideration could be given to creating a parliamentary network focusing on practical cooperation and knowledgesharing on linking democracy and the rule of law. This could be done bilaterally, but also, for example, by setting up a trilateral partnership among a number of parliaments. In addition, like-minded leaders of European political parties should enter into a dialogue in their own political group in the European Parliament with those parties that approve measures at national level that undermine democracy under the rule of law.
     
  6. Dialogue should always be preferred over confrontation in international diplomacy. The same applies when addressing the issues of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Where dialogue repeatedly fails, however, the international community should be willing, as a last resort, to draw a line in the sand. In concrete terms, this means that the Netherlands and its EU partners should make clear that there can be no room for Turkey in the Council of Europe and the European Union if it decides to reintroduce the death penalty.
     
  7. Legislation like Russia’s ‘foreign agent’ law and its abuse of general legislation in respect of NGOs should consistently be condemned by the Netherlands, both bilaterally and internationally, in cooperation with like-minded countries.

OSCE

The Netherlands could in the near future consider launching a candidacy for the Chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). This would give it the opportunity to put democratisation and the principles of the rule of law more emphatically on the organisation’s agenda, including in the field of human rights.

G20/OECD

The Netherlands is currently taking part in the G20 at the invitation of Germany, which now holds the Presidency. The Netherlands should strive for ongoing participation in this forum, which is ideally suited for working with like-minded countries to address the adverse consequences of globalisation. As in the OECD, a discussion on this subject should focus not only on trade, investment and development but also on socioeconomic rights, environmental rights and the relationship between government and citizens. The Sustainable Development Goals could provide a useful tool for this purpose.

2. Social diplomacy

The above recommendations are aimed mainly at governments and multilateral institutions. Earlier in this report, however, the AIV stated that international political pressure by governments, however essential, is not sufficient to safeguard democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe. Above all, there should be broad support in society for these values, and the public should have confidence in the institutions of democracy under the rule of law. This requires a long-term dialogue with civil society organisations, opposition movements and institutions that can translate international human rights to the national level. The AIV would make the following recommendations for this purpose.

  1. As part of its human rights policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should set up a democracy and rule of law programme that focuses on the member states of the Council of Europe where democracy under the rule of law is in danger. It should also draw on the expertise of other relevant ministries (e.g. the Ministries of Education, of Security and Justice, and of Economic Affairs).

    To support this programme, a rule of law fund should be created. During the next government’s term of office, around €2.5 million per year should be set aside for this purpose in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs budget. The existing MATRA programme, which focuses exclusively on strengthening democracy and the rule of law in candidate and potential candidate countries of the EU and the countries of the Eastern Partnership, can be integrated into this broader rule of law fund. The MATRA programme budget is set to decline from €13.7 million in 2017 to €9.1 million in 2018 and 2019. The AIV recommends that, at the very least, this reduction should be reversed.

    The rule of law fund will support civil society organisations with a regional focus on areas such as the following:

    • People-to-people and profession-to-profession contacts. Through placements and exchanges, knowledge and experience can be shared between socially relevant professional bodies, like the judiciary and legal profession, the ombudsman, educational, knowledge and cultural institutions and the media.
    • Raising public awareness of the value and importance of democracy under the rule of law. This can be achieved, for example, by promoting education in citizenship, democracy and human rights, especially among young people. The expertise of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation can be used for this purpose.
    • Supporting citizen and other initiatives aimed at research and quality journalism in vulnerable democracies.
     

  2. In international forums dealing with internet freedom and governance (e.g. the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can devote more attention to the internet’s potential role in strengthening the principles of democracy under the rule of law where they are under threat.
     
  3. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs can work with the private sector (e.g. via major social media platforms and the Global Network Initiative) and NGOs in organising projects on digital citizenship, democracy and human rights. A concrete example is the organisation of a Democracy Hackathon, where European software programmers and website developers work together on ICT products (e.g. an app) that can improve trust between citizens and government (both local and national). This ‘hackathon’ could focus on a different theme every year, such as the internet and privacy, social media etiquette, fake news and fact-checking, as well as services provided by local and national government, migration and election observation.

3. Strengthening the capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its missions

  1. The AIV strongly recommends that the policy capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch missions in Council of Europe member states be evaluated and, where necessary, expanded with local knowledge. This will enable the ministry and missions to identify and respond quickly to local initiatives and opposition movements in the fields of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. Missions will need to have sufficient funds at their disposal for this purpose.164
     
  2. In its strategic secondment policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could focus more explicitly on both non-governmental and multilateral organisations that exert influence, directly or indirectly, on democratisation and the principles of the rule of law, for example the G20, the OECD and the World Summit on the Information Society/Internet Governance Forum and the Freedom Online Coalition.

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160 From senator Willem Witteveen’s contribution to the debate on the rule of law, Proceedings of the Senate 2013-2014, 22-5-1 (March 2014).
161 For example, Germany will no longer be able to avoid the decision not to send asylum seekers back to Hungary. See Politico, 11 April 2017, ‘Germany suspends migrant returns to Hungary – Hungary’s been criticized for detaining migrants in camps on its border with Serbia’, <http://www.politico.eu/article/ germany-suspends-migrant-returns-to-hungary/>.
162 See case C-284/16 (Achmea), now pending before the EU Court of Justice, which, among other things, revolves around the question of whether the Dutch-Czech arbitration agreement is compatible with EU law.
163 See the earlier recommendation for a peer review in AIV advisory report no. 87, The Rule of Law: Safeguard for European Citizens and Foundation of European Cooperation, The Hague, January 2014, pp. 35-37.
164 See also AIV advisory letter no. 32, Representing the Netherlands Throughout the World, The Hague, May 2017.