Posts Tagged ‘Council of Europe’

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/

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