Posts Tagged ‘Council of Europe’

High level European meeting on fight against COVID-19 and its impact on human rights

April 10, 2020

Christian Ugge/Regeringskansliet

Christian Ugge/Regeringskansliet

A “digital meeting” was organised by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to discuss the fight against COVID-19 and its impact on democracy and human rights.

“The major social, political and legal challenge is our democracies’ ability to respond to the COVID-19 sanitary crisis effectively, without undermining Europe’s founding values of Democracy, Human Rights and Rule of Law. The Council of Europe, through its statutory organs and all its competent bodies and mechanisms will ensure that measures taken have a legal basis and remain proportional to the threat posed by the spread of the virus and limited in time“, said Christos Giakoumopoulos, Council of Europe Director General of Human Rights and Rule of Law, at a digital meeting organised by the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

The topic of the meeting was the fight against COVID-19 and its impact on democracy: the participants aimed at contributing to the global conversation about the risk of the COVID-19 response leading to, or being used as a pretext for, undue restrictions on human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Christos Giakoumopoulos took part in the meeting with the Swedish Minister for Foreign Affairs Ann Linde and Minister for International Development Cooperation Peter Eriksson, as well as with other three representatives of key intergovernmental organisations: Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights and Ingibjörg Sólrún Gísladóttir, Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/human-rights-rule-of-law/-/digital-meeting-with-the-swedish-mfa-on-the-fight-against-covid-19-and-its-impact-on-democracy

 

Putin’s new constitution would undo exactly the provisions that allowed Russia to join Council of Europe

March 24, 2020

reported on 23 March 2020 in the Eurasia Review that Adel Bashqawi, a Circassian human rights defender, has pointed out something that most have lost sight of: Vladimir Putin – by amending the Russian constitution as he proposes to do – is eliminating the provisions which allowed Russia to join the Council of Europe in 1994.

The full text of Bashqawi’s open appeal is given below:

In 1993, the Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted, recognized by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in 1994 as conforming to the principles of a democratic state governed by the rule of law. This conclusion was one of the grounds for Russia’s admission to the Council of Europe.

In January-March 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated amendments to the Constitution hastily adopted by the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, causing extremely negative reactions from Russian civil society, representatives of indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation, human rights defenders, and the expert community.

The proposed amendments to the Constitution of Russia, in particular the new version of Article 68 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, establish “The state language of the Russian Federation throughout its territory is the Russian language as the language of the state-forming nation, which is part of the multinational union of equal nations of the Russian Federation.”

This norm, in our view, introduces ethnic segregation and discrimination of its indigenous peoples and national minorities in Russia, dividing the multinational people of the Russian Federation and granting a special status to ethnic Russians as a state-forming nation. Other indigenous peoples of Russia and national minorities are established as of non-state-forming peoples, if fact determining them to the status of “second-class” peoples and citizens. These amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation alienate Russia from the principles of a democratic federal state governed by the rule of law with a republican form of government, European constitutional values and democratic norms, and directly contradict Russia’s obligations within the Council of Europe.

We ask the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to send a request to the Venice Commission on the compliance of the amendments to the Constitution of the Russian Federation, in particular Article 68 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, with Russia’s obligations within the Council of Europe.

We also ask the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to send a monitoring mission of PACE to Russia to assess the situation of Russia’s indigenous peoples and national minorities, in the light of decisions taken in Russia on ethnic segregation and discrimination of its peoples.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/09/ruxit-a-real-possibility-and-bad-for-human-rights-defenders/

and https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/25/world/europe/council-of-europe-russia-crimea.html

Kremlin Gutting Constitutional Provisions That Allowed Russia To Join The Council Of Europe – OpEd

International Women’s Day 2020: Council of Europe on gender equality

March 9, 2020

Let us all rise to the challenge of making a world where gender equality is a reality

For International Women’s Day 2020, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatović issued the following statement: [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/09/council-of-europes-dunja-mijatovic-presents-her-first-annual-report/]

“.. it is saddening to note that most of the challenges identified 25 years ago are still present in Europe today. In some areas progress has stalled due to persistent structural obstacles and an increasing backlash, combined with the lack of a sufficient and robust state response.

Violence against women as a serious human rights violation remains a bitter reality for too many women in all Council of Europe member states. Notwithstanding the recent movements against sexual violence, huge challenges still lie along the path towards obtaining justice for women victims who have the courage to speak out. They may even face disbelief and stigmatisation by the very people who should be providing them with assistance and protection. With the rising popularity of social media platforms, sexist hate speech has acquired a worrying dimension, providing a new breeding ground for violence against women. Furthermore, the backlash against women’s rights, upheld by ultra-conservative movements, is particularly disturbing as it endangers the progress towards gender equality that has been achieved so far. This has a particularly negative impact on girls’ and women’s autonomous and informed decision-making about their bodies, health and sexuality and hinders their access to affordable, safe and good-quality reproductive health services. We have to remain vigilant to prevent any such rolling back of women’s rights. Special attention should also be given to the protection and promotion of the rights of girls and women who may experience multiple and intersectional forms of discrimination, such as women living in poverty, rural women, migrant women, Roma women, women with disabilities and LBTI women.

This dark picture is, however, brightened by the image of thousands of women of all ages and backgrounds who, regardless of the attacks, the threats and the harassment they may face, stand up against violence and for the full realisation of gender equality. Vigilance against stagnation and retrogression in women’s rights is ensured by their mobilisation as they peacefully demonstrate throughout Europe. I firmly stand by them and salute their courage and determination. In this respect, I reiterate the essential role played in the upholding of women’s rights by women human rights defenders, who are often at the core of such mobilisation. Not only do they provide assistance and shelter to victims of gender-based violence and combat discrimination against women, they also constantly monitor the situation, while holding authorities accountable for fulfilling their human rights obligations.

However, the fight for the realisation of women’s rights also relies on each of us. I invite society as a whole, from youth to the elderly, women and men, all acting together, to speak up against violence and discrimination. We all have a key role to play as agents of change.

Whilst I perceive society’s mobilisation as vital, we should not forget that citizens’ initiatives cannot in themselves remedy the continuous lack of a strong and official response by state authorities to the challenges currently affecting the full enjoyment of women’s rights. Council of Europe member states have the primary obligation to effectively uphold women’s rights. Against this background, I urge member states to support this civic mobilisation by taking concrete action. To this end they should: firstly, ensure the ratification and full and effective implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention); secondly, promote gender equality and combat sexism in all spheres of life; and thirdly, provide an enabling environment for all women human rights defenders by removing all obstacles to their work. We should all strongly advocate for the full realisation of women’s rights and rise to the challenge of making a world where gender equality is a reality. Fighting for women’s rights is fighting for everybody’s human rights and benefits society as a whole.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/let-us-all-rise-to-the-challenge-of-making-a-world-where-gender-equality-is-a-reality

Amani Ballour, Syrian paediatrician, awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize

January 16, 2020

© Stine Heilmann

Amani Ballour © Stine Heilmann

Dr. Amani Ballour, a paediatrician from Syria who ran an underground hospital in Eastern Ghouta in 2012-2018 and is now a refugee in Turkey, has been awarded the Council of Europe’s Raoul Wallenberg Prize for her personal courage, bravery and commitment in saving hundreds of lives during the Syrian war. For more on this and two other awards with Wallenberg in their name, see: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/raoul-wallenberg-prize-council-of-europe]

Human rights and personal dignity are not a peacetime luxury. Dr. Amani Ballour is a shining example of the empathy, virtue and honour that can flourish even in the worst circumstances: in the midst of war and suffering,” said Marija Pejčinović Burić, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe On 15 January 2020

A young paediatrician just out of university, Dr Ballour started as a volunteer helping the wounded and ended up, several years later, managing a team of some 100 staff members at the subterranean hospital, the ‘Cave’, in her hometown near the Syrian capital. “The Cave became a beacon of hope and safety for many besieged civilians. There, Dr Ballour risked her own safety and security to help those in the greatest need. She and others acted day after day to save the lives of so many people, including children suffering the effects of chemical weapons,” the Secretary General added.

https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/syrian-doctor-who-ran-underground-children-s-hospital-receives-wallenberg-prize

Dunja Mijatović calls on Bulgaria to counter hate speech and domestic violence

December 3, 2019

A Roma family who fled the village of Voyvodinovo, Bulgaria, during the anti-Roma protest in January 2019. ©Angelina Genova

A Roma family who fled the village of Voyvodinovo, Bulgaria, during the anti-Roma protest in January 2019. ©Angelina Genova

“The government should step up its efforts to fight the hate speech prevailing today in Bulgaria in particular against Roma, LGBTI people and other minority groups” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, on 2 December 2019 after a 5-day visit to the country.

Hate speech and hostility against Roma persist, with little if any response from the authorities to counter this long-standing phenomenon. “The lack of reaction to some very serious instances of hate speech by some high-level politicians, which systematically go unsanctioned, is worrying.” The Commissioner deplored the situation of Roma who had to leave their homes earlier this year following anti-Roma rallies in several villages, including in Voyvodinovo where around 200 individuals left in fear. “Such disastrous events illustrate the highly detrimental impact that hate speech can have on the lives of people and communities. I call on the authorities to urgently address the situation of the persons affected,” she added.

“There is a need for a political and cultural shift as regards the treatment and image of minority groups in Bulgaria. Recognising racist motivation as an aggravating circumstance for all offences and implementing the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, including those on forced evictions and the registration of associations of persons identifying as a minority are among the immediate steps which the government should take.” In addition, the Commissioner is concerned about the demonstrations organised by extremist groups and calls on the authorities to strongly and publicly condemn such manifestations.

…….The Commissioner visited the only crisis shelter for women victims of domestic violence currently operating in Sofia. “As a matter of urgency, the authorities should increase the number of shelters and other social services available to victims of domestic violence.” The Commissioner is also concerned by the climate of increased hostility against human rights defenders, in particular women’s and LGBTI rights activists.

Moreover, Commissioner Mijatović is alarmed by the continuous deterioration of media freedom in Bulgaria. Non-transparent media ownership, threats and harassment of journalists, and the use of defamation suits are chronic problems. In addition, political influence over media outlets severely undermines the credibility of the press. “This must stop. Citizens need a free, investigative and independent press in order to be able to participate more actively in the democratic fabric of society. Journalists should be free to play their crucial role without interference.”

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/bulgaria-should-counter-harmful-narratives-endangering-human-rights-and-step-up-efforts-to-fight-hate-speech-and-domestic-violence

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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:

Read the rest of this entry »

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/