Posts Tagged ‘european region’

OSCE message for Human Rights Day: human rights defenders will lead in 2021

December 15, 2020

(Alex Tait/ Creative Commons 4.0)

On 10 December 2020, Human Rights Day, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) issued a statement “The brave people strengthening human rights in 2020 will lead us out of adversity“. A bit belatedly. I reproduce here OSCE paying “tribute to human rights defenders and many organizations across the OSCE region that have protected our rights throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, and will have a key role to play if the global recovery is to put respect for human rights at its core

OSCE states have long recognized the important role played by human rights defenders in ensuring full respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law.  Throughout the pandemic, numerous organizations, initiatives and activists have worked hard to lessen the suffering caused by the health crisis. They have exposed gaps in responses to the health emergency and drawn attention to the undermining of human rights standards and democratic values in the name of public safety.​​

As public emergencies were introduced across the OSCE region and human rights and freedoms of millions of people were restricted, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) as well as civil society organizations were swift to hold accountable those states that were using vaguely defined regulations to bypass human rights obligations and lower standards. In addition to their regular monitoring activities, NHRIs were often quick and resourceful in developing solutions and disseminating key information to the public when it was needed. 

A spirit of dialogue and compromise, the ability to combat systematic inequality and exclusion, and the will to overcome ever-deepening polarization, are hard to imagine without a strong and vibrant civil society. But in many places across the OSCE region, pressure on civic space is increasing. This takes many forms, from legislation restricting the activities of civil society to smear campaigns against human rights defenders and journalists.

Despite their commitment – or because of it – many courageous human rights defenders across the OSCE region have been the brunt of attacks in 2020. They have faced threats and intimidation, frequently initiated by national authorities, as well as funding cuts and risks to their data security and privacy.

Two years ago, ODIHR launched its first ever targeted assessments on the situation of human rights defenders. Early next year, ODIHR will publish trends and recommendations based on an analysis of almost 250 discussions across five OSCE countries. The report will identify gaps and challenges in the protection of human rights defenders, as well as highlighting good practices so countries can learn from each other as they seek to rebuild societies overwhelmed by the challenges of the pandemic. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/12/11/human-rights-day-2014-odihr-director-link-wants-to-move-from-words-to-deeds-for-human-rights-defenders-in-the-osce/]

Today, ODIHR wants to thank all those brave people across the OSCE region who are committed to safeguarding the human rights of us all. The Office will continue to support and work with them towards this ultimate goal.

https://www.osce.org/odihr/473352

Human rights values under threat say European human rights leaders

December 10, 2020

Helena Dalli – the European Union Commissioner for Equality – and Dunja Mijatović – the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights – published a joint opinion piece “Stop the rain on human rights” in Euractive at the occasion of International Human Rights Day 2020 on 10 December:

The current pandemic crisis serves as a magnifying glass of all existing inequalities in Europe – racism, gender and sexual discrimination, treatment of migrants: there is still a long way to go to ensure full and real equality in Europe,

Regrettably, for all the progress of the past seven decades, there is still a long way to go to ensure full and real equality in Europe. Our societies breed divisive levels of inequality, fear and polarisation. Structural discrimination keeps millions of Europeans on the margins of our societies, especially in employment, health, education, housing, and the criminal justice system.

The current pandemic crisis serves as a magnifying glass of all existing inequalities in Europe and exacerbates them. Those who were poor before it became poorer; those who were disadvantaged faced even greater disadvantages. Inequalities affecting women, LGBTIQ people and ethnic minorities illustrate this problem well….

Restrictions to freedom of assembly and association, obstacles to legal gender recognition and lack of adequate protection at public events are evident failures of state authorities to uphold their commitments and legal human rights obligations to ensure equality for LGBTIQ people.

The situation is not much better for people from ethnic minority and immigrant backgrounds. If you are of African descent you are more likely than white people to face discrimination in the job market, in education and housing, and to be stopped by the police without reasonable suspicion.

Hate incidents also continue to scar the lives of Jews, Muslims and Roma, who are among the preferred scapegoats of those who still stigmatise some groups of people on the grounds of their ethnic origin or religion.

The unkept promise of equality betrays a long political, philosophical and judicial tradition which places equality at the centre of European democracies. Both the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights have upheld the principle of equality and non-discrimination since the 1970s.

Yet, more and more governments and parliaments seem to pay little attention to their legal obligations, and to the destabilising consequences that keeping millions of Europeans as second-class citizens is having on our societies. Hard won progress’ longevity is not a given. We must protect and reinforce it every day.

The many challenges that our societies will have to face require that Europe strengthens the place equality occupies in our societies, starting by giving a more central focus to the principle of equality and non-discrimination in relations to all human rights, be they civil, political, economic social or cultural.

We must do better for the rights of the single mother living in poverty and for the disabled child prevented from attending a mainstream school. We must protect the rights of women and girls who have been sexually harassed, of young graduates who face discrimination in the labour market because of how their name sounds.

We also must remain vigilant in the face of worrying attempts to roll back progress towards equality for women and LGBTIQ people.

There is no easy fix, but already taking the decision to address these long-standing problems together is a good start. We firmly believe that the founding principles and values of the Universal Declaration are as relevant today as they were when they emerged from bloodshed, tyranny and war. They require that governments become stronger defenders of human rights.

We are helping them do so by addressing effectively the pervasive discriminations against women in Europe. Ratifying and implementing the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence is key to advance gender equality. This Convention has been ratified by 34 European countries, and signed by the EU.

However, the EU is not yet in a position to ratify because unanimity between member states has not been reached. We will join forces to make clear that the Convention protects from violence and nothing else; contrary to the misconceptions, fallacious and uninformed claims that have circulated and sown doubts.

Likewise, we are committed to fight racism and bring about an anti-racist culture. To this end, we believe that one of the priorities is to help member states stamp out ethnic profiling and end impunity for police misconduct.

We will also strengthen our work to counter discrimination against LGBTIQ people. We will continue to raise the visibility of LGBTIQ people in our dialogue with member states, support activists and use all means at our disposal to defend the right of LGBTIQ people to equality.

For this to happen, however, our voices alone will not suffice. There is the need for a renewed commitment by national authorities to uphold the founding values and legal obligations set out by the European Union and the Council of Europe. And here we get to the heart of the problem.

At best, many politicians in our member states remain indifferent about discrimination. At worst, they instigate violence and hostility. Politicians must be champions of equality, not obstacles to it. International organisations and the human rights community too have their bit to do.

We must become more inclusive in the way we defend human rights. We deliver a public service in the interest of society, but we do not own that service. We talk about, for and sometimes with people who have suffered human rights violations.

But we rarely empower them to speak for themselves. They should take part in decision-making processes as much as possible. We should learn to listen more and they must have the space to tell their stories and shape the policies and laws that concern them.

When states adopted the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on 10 December 1948, they pledged themselves to achieve equality. Giving practical effect to that vision is still possible – but only if we choose to strengthen freedoms, promote participation and empower all people.

EURACTIV’s editorial content is independent from the views of our sponsors.

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

 

New Amnesty report on human rights defenders helping migrants

March 4, 2020

Amnesty accuses European law enforcement agencies of using trafficking and terrorism laws
Human rights group Amnesty has warned that concerned citizens across Europe are facing prosecution for offering help and assistance to refugees and migrants.

In a new report published on 3 March 2020, Amnesty International said European law enforcement authorities and prosecutors are “misusing already flawed” laws intended to prevent people smuggling and terrorism to target members of the public who offer migrants shelter and warm clothing, or attempt to rescue them at sea. Amnesty examined several cases that took place in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and the UK between 2017 and last year, during which human rights defenders who attempted to help refugees and migrants were targeted under legislation intended to tackle organised immigration crime networks. Amnesty’s report comes as world media attention has once again turned to the Mediterranean migrant crisis after Turkey opened its border with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees.

In one such case, Frenchman Pierre Mumber was charged with “facilitating irregular entry” into France when he was caught offering tea and warm clothing to four west African asylum seekers before being acquitted on appeal. The report also notes that Swiss citizens have faced prosecution for providing migrants and refugees with shelter or helping them access services and protection. Elsewhere, the agency revealed that people in Italy who have worked to rescue migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean on unseaworthy vessels have been subjected to smear campaigns and criminal investigations. See also:

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/12/02/un-experts-consider-human-rights-defenders-in-italy-under-threat/

https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/12/luventa10-sea-rescue-group-gets-ai-germanys-human-rights-award/

Commenting on the contents of the report, Elisa De Pieri, Regional Researcher at Amnesty International, said: “The increased focus on limiting and deterring arrivals in Europe has meant that making refugees or migrants feel safer or welcomed is seen as a threat. “The failure of European states to fulfil the basic needs of refugees and migrants means it is often left to ordinary people to provide essential services and support. “By punishing the people who step up to fill the gaps, European governments are putting people on the move at even greater risk.”

Click to access EUR0118282020ENGLISH.PDF

Amnesty accuses European police of targeting ‘human rights defenders’ who help refugees and migrants

“luventa10”, sea rescue group, gets AI Germany’s human rights award

February 12, 2020

Hilfsorganisation Iuventa Jugend Rettet (picture alliance/dpa/Iuventa Jugend Rettet)

Amnesty International Germany has awarded its human rights prize to the “luventa10“, the crew members of a sea rescue ship that saved refugees stranded at sea. The activists currently face human trafficking charges in Italy. For more on this and similar awards: http://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/a-i-germanys-human-rights-award. This was announced on Tuesday.

In 16 operations between July 2016 and August 2017, the Iuventa crew allegedly helped rescue more than 14,000 people at sea, Amnesty said. Run by the German non-governmental organization Jugend Rettet (“Youth Rescues”), the Iuventa was confiscated by Italian authorities in Lampedusa in August 2017 under the suspicion that the organization was aiding illegal immigration and working with Libyan smugglers. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/15/european-governments-should-stop-treating-solidarity-and-compassion-as-a-crime/

Criminal investigations have been brought against ten ocean rescue activists from Germany, the UK, Spain, and Portugal, “even though all they’ve done is save humans from drowning in the Mediterranean Sea,” Amnesty said, explaining its reasoning behind the choice.

An Italian court has charged the activists with “aiding and abetting illegal immigration.” Markus Beeko, secretary-general for Amnesty International Germany, calls the charges “more than shaky.” Iuventa10 stands as an example of how those that help “are criminalized for not forsaking people fleeing their home countries in their moment of need,” the organization said. An awards ceremony will take place in Berlin on April 22.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/18/international-migrants-day-the-story-of-the-ocean-viking/

https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/22717/migrant-rescue-crew-of-iuventa-awarded-human-rights-prize

https://www.dw.com/en/amnesty-international-germany-awards-human-rights-prize-to-ocean-rescue-activists/a-52335304

EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency has new website to serve mobile users better

February 5, 2020

It prominently highlights useful tools like FRA’s EU Fundamental Rights Information System (EFRIS). This section steers users to key resources, such as promising practices from across the EU on how to combat hate crime or collect equality data, which they could use in their own work. In addition, country-specific information is more prominent so users can find local information from their country. It also flags which information is available in other EU languages. Users can also sign up for project updates via email so they can keep abreast of the latest agency developments. The site reflects FRA’s convening power as a hub for all human rights defenders which they can draw on for their work. It also aims to mirror FRA’s communicating rights mantra to maximise impact and outreach, helping to make a difference for people across the EU.

Accessibility remains a key consideration in the new design of the site.

https://fra.europa.eu/en/news/2020/new-modern-fra-website-promises-better-user-experience

European judges demonstrate in Poland against the ‘muzzle law”

January 13, 2020

Not many of us would expect to see European judges demonstrating in the streets, but Al Jazeera reports that on Saturday 11 January 2020 many joined their Polish peers in protest against the ‘muzzle law’, a bill which proposes strict disciplinary measures against Polish judges critical of the government’s judicial overhaul.

The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]
The latest escalation came when the government introduced a bill to discipline judges who question its changes [Anadolu]

The office of Warsaw’s mayor said some 30,000 people took part in Saturday’s march to denounce a bill that would allow the Law and Justice (PiS) government to discipline judges who question its judicial changes. The introduction of the measure in December is the latest episode in a years-long squabble over courts reform in the country that has triggered a feud with the European Union. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/04/08/polish-judges-have-become-human-rights-defenders/]

Judges from more than 20 other European countries, many wearing judicial robes over their thick winter coats, carried placards with their countries’ names. As each delegation was announced, chants of “Thank you, thank you” rose from the crowd. About 1,000 Polish judges also joined the rally, with many travelling to Warsaw from all corners of the country.

We want to feel that we are safe at work. A judge cannot fear that if a ruling they hand down is inconvenient for the government, they will bear consequences. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to that,” said judge Halina Musial.

Background: Despite protests in some 200 towns and cities when first announced, the draft law passed the PiS-dominated lower house in late December. It is now being considered by the opposition-controlled Senate, which may delay its passage, but is unlikely to stop it. The draft law, which makes it easier to dismiss or fine uncooperative judges, is seen as a response to an earlier blow to the government’s reforms.  In early December, the Supreme Court ruled that its own disciplinary chamber, a body created by the government, is “not a court within the meaning of EU and national law”. The court also found that the constitutional body nominating judges, the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), which has been reformed to be mostly appointed by parliament rather than other judges, is “not an impartial and independent body”. When first introduced in December, Małgorzata Gersdorf, Supreme Court chief justice, warned that the changes would “infringe EU treaties” and risked driving Poland out of the bloc. For its part, the government claims that the bill is necessary to stop judges from “undermining” the legal system.  Since taking power in 2015, PiS has been at loggerheads with the EU over its judicial meddling, including installing allies in the constitutional court, trying to force Supreme Court judges into retirement and politicising lower-level appointments.  The European Commission’s vice-president, Vera Jourova, has urged Poland to halt work on the legislation until it had been properly consulted, echoing calls by the Council of Europe and the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights

At Saturday’s protest, Irish Supreme Court judge John MacMenamin carried letters of support from Irish Chief Justice Frank Clarke and the Association of Judges of Ireland, according to the Irish Times. Murat Arslan, an imprisoned Turkish judge and winner of the 2017 Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize, also sent a note of support to the protesters, Polish website OKO.press reported. At the request of the opposition Senate speaker, the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, visited Warsaw this week to prepare its “urgent opinion”, but the government declined to meet the representatives. Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin responded that “Poland is a sovereign country and shapes its own legal system, including the judiciary. These are not issues governed by European law”.

InSPIREurope: new EU-Funded Initiative to Support Researchers at Risk to be launched in September

July 11, 2019

Ten European partner organizations announce an ambitious new initiative to be launched this September to support researchers at risk. The initiative – InSPIREurope – is a ten-partner project funded under the European Commission’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions and coordinated by Scholars at Risk Europe at Maynooth University, Ireland.

InSPIREurope will forge a coordinated, cross-sectoral, Europe-wide alliance for researchers at risk. InSPIREurope project partners include: Scholars at Risk Europe, hosted at Maynooth University, Ireland (Project Coordinator) • Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Germany • European University Association • Jagiellonian University, Poland • University of Oslo, Norway • University of Gothenburg, Sweden • PAUSE program, hosted by the Collège de France • Stichting voor Vluchteling-Studenten UAF, Netherlands • Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece • Scholz CTC GmbH, Germany.

InSPIREurope begins from the view that excellence in research depends upon open scientific debate, and is driven by a multiplicity of ideas, cultures, people, and perspectives. When researchers are at risk and excluded from participating in the global research circuit, whether due to discrimination, persecution, suffering, or violence, not only are individual lives and careers at risk; the quality, the very future of research is also at stake. With record numbers of researchers at risk reaching out, there is no one country, government, NGO, or enterprise that can meet the scope of the challenge alone; an ambitious and concerted approach is required. Toward this goal, and in recognition of a shared commitment to excellence in research and to the principles of freedom of inquiry and academic freedom that are essential pre-conditions for world-class research, the InSPIREurope project will facilitate transnational cooperation between European and national initiatives and programs in support of researchers at risk. Further information, including project webpages, will be available when the project begins in September.

New contact group among intergovernmental organisations to support human rights defenders in Europe

May 12, 2019

On 10 May 2019 the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) reported that from 7 to 8 May, representatives from intergovernmental organisations and EU institutions responsible for cooperation with civil society and for supporting human rights defenders in Europe and Central Asia met in Warsaw at the invitation of the FRA and the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). Others represented at the meeting were the Council of Europe, European Commission, European External Action Service, European Asylum Support Office (EASO), OSCE Chairmanship in Office, OSCE Representative for Freedom of the Media, the OHCHR Geneva and Brussels office, UNDP, UN Women, and the World Bank.

The press release did not elaborate what was discussed or achieved but only that “It served to establish ongoing, practical information exchanges to facilitate further cooperation between these organisations in supporting human rights defenders.”

The need for more action in support of HRDs in Europe has been often referred to in this blog. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/01/27/human-rights-ngos-in-europe-no-longer-the-standard-to-follow/

https://fra.europa.eu/en/news/2019/new-contact-group-support-human-rights-defenders-europe-among-intergovernmental

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/