Posts Tagged ‘Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe’

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

250 NGOs address letter to Hungarian parliament regarding restriction on the work of human rights defenders

February 20, 2018

Bulgaria: 200 European Human Rights Organizations Protest in Hungary

More than 250 (!) human rights organizations protested today against the new laws proposed by the Hungarian Parliament aimed at limiting the work of NGOs helping refugees in the country. “We express our solidarity with civil society and all human rights defenders in Hungary – the brave people who are fighting for a more honest society,” reads part of the open letter  published by Amnesty International [the list can be consulted via the link below]. Today, parliament is going to discuss legislative changes that will impose new restrictions on non-governmental organizations in the country. It is expected that many of them will even be banned. According to the bills published last week on Parliament’s website, these organizations will be required to pay a 25% tax on all their foreign funding, and their workers will be banned from accessing refugee centers near the country’s borders.

The affected NGOs will also have to register with the Ministry of the Interior, which in turn will have the right to impose fines or deny them the right to work legally in Hungary. But to approve the changes, Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government needs a two-thirds majority, which is not currently in parliament.

On 15 February 2018 the High Commissioner of Human Rights of the Council of Europe had already addressed the issue in a tough statement :

I am seriously concerned at the legislative package recently announced by the Hungarian government under the name “Stop Soros”. If adopted by Parliament, it will introduce further arbitrary restrictions to the indispensable work of human rights NGOs and defenders in Hungary. In a letter I sent to the Hungarian Parliament in May 2017, I set out my concerns regarding the then draft law on the Transparency of Organisations Supported from Abroad, which stigmatised a large number of organisations pursuing lawful activities in the field of human rights and introduced far-reaching restrictions on freedom of association in contravention of international human rights standards. I regret that instead of addressing those pressing human rights concerns, the Hungarian government appears now intent on intensifying stigmatisation and restrictions against NGOs working specifically on migration-related issues.

While I have not yet seen the final text of the proposed legislative package – changes to an earlier version I had examined were announced only the day before yesterday to make it “significantly stricter” – I am alarmed that it will aggravate the situation of freedom of association in Hungary even further. I understand that the changes made this week introduce mandatory licences for NGOs with a goal “to ensure that it is only possible to organise, support or finance migration in Hungary while in possession of a licence, which would be issued by the Minister of Interior following an assessment of the related national security aspects”. NGOs failing to abide by this requirement could be subject to sanctions, including a fine and ultimately dissolution. In addition, any such NGO that receives any amount of funding from abroad would be required to pay a 25% tax on such foreign funding.

The package also foresees the creation of “immigration restraining orders” that can be used to prevent any person deemed to “support the unlawful entry and residence of a third-country national” from accessing an 8-km zone from external borders – or even the entire Hungarian territory for non-nationals. Considering the context in which the proposed measures were conceived, there is an obvious risk that arbitrary restrictions may be applied on the freedom of movement of persons involved in refugee assistance at the border.

These proposed measures raise particular concerns because of the likelihood that they will be applied to organisations and individuals who carry out activities in the field of protecting the human rights of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees that should be fully legitimate in a democratic society. Unfortunately recent public declarations of the Hungarian government referring to organisations which may come under the effect of the package only reinforce these concerns. In particular, the proposed package (which the government itself has named “Stop Soros”) follows a series of legal measures and stigmatising government rhetoric targeting entities funded or otherwise linked to Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros, which carry out professional and important work in Hungary, including in the field of human rights.

Finally, I am alarmed at the escalating rhetoric used by the Hungarian government to portray NGOs and immigrants as a threat to national security. This discourse is stirring up among the population fears and intolerance towards foreigners and mistrust towards civil society organisations.

The proposed package of laws introduces administrative and financial burdens that constitute restrictions on freedom of association which cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society and are therefore at variance with international human rights standards. The package as a whole is stigmatising and is bound to have a chilling effect on NGOs but also their donors and individuals who work for or with them. I call once more on Hungary to refrain from penalising, stigmatising or putting at any disadvantage whatsoever NGOs, including those working in the field of migration, and to restore an enabling environment conducive to the work of human rights defenders.

The next day the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights labeled the law an “assault on human rights” and urged its government to uphold the right of freedom of association. It appeared to mark a further tightening of controls on groups “working on issues the government regards as against state interests, such as migration and asylum”, U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. It represented “an unjustified restriction on the right to freedom of association and is a worrying continuation of the government’s assault on human rights and civic space,” he told a Geneva news briefing…

See also my earlier post: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/06/13/human-rights-defenders-in-hungary-not-yet-foreign-agents-but-getting-close/

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2018/02/in-solidarity-with-civil-society-in-hungary/

http://www.novinite.com/articles/188074/200+European+Human+Rights+Organizations+Protest+in+Hungary

https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-proposed-additional-restrictions-to-the-work-of-ngos-in-hungary

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-soros-law-un/hungary-anti-immigration-bill-an-assault-on-human-rights-u-n-idUSKCN1G0102

 

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

Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, on Human Rights Defenders in Annual Report 2016

April 27, 2017

Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, devoted a short chapter to Human Rights Defenders in his Annual Report covering 2016 (Chapter 3 V p. 59 – 61):

Human rights defenders

The situation of human rights defenders and the responsibility of states to ensure a safe and enabling environment for their work remained at the forefront of the Commissioner’s attention in 2016. The Commissioner organised and participated in round tables and side events, and in two inter-mechanism meetings, related to the role and the situation of human rights defenders in various parts of Europe. He also published thematic documents relating to the important role and contribution of human rights defenders with respect to the protection of human rights. As part of his continued monitoring, the Commissioner published several statements on the situation of human rights defenders in various regions of Europe. Moreover, the Commissioner intervened before the European Court of Human Rights as a third party in three cases relating to human rights defenders: Khadija Ismayilova v. Azerbaijan; Svetlana Khusainovna Estemirova v. the Russian Federation; and Khalid Bagirov v. Azerbaijan (for further information on third party interventions, see chapter 6 of his report). In March, the Commissioner issued statements about a series of violent attacks against journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs in Chechnya and Ingushetia in the North Caucasus. The Commissioner contacted the Russian authorities indicating the need for immediate protection of those who had come under attack, and for a prompt and thorough investigation with a view to holding those responsible to account.

Round table on missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe

On 30 June and 1 July, the Commissioner organised in Strasbourg a round table with human rights defenders on missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe. In addition to human rights defenders from more than 20 different European countries, the event was attended by experts in the eld, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, and a member of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, Henrikas Mickevičius. During the round table, the participants discussed the recommendations contained in the Commissioner’s Issue Paper Missing persons and victims of enforced disappearance in Europe. The participants also exchanged important information on issues relating to missing persons, victims of disappearances and transitional justice in European countries affected by these issues. In particular, they raised the importance of establishing the truth, instituting efficient and effective domestic legal and institutional frameworks, and combating impunity through prosecution and punishment of those responsible for enforced disappearances, and the necessity to provide support and reparation for victims. The round table was also aimed at reviewing the situation of human rights defenders working on those issues, including obstacles that human rights organisations and defenders face in carrying out their activities and possible ways to overcome them.

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Europe also sees shrinking space for human rights defenders

April 4, 2017

On 4 April 2017 Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, wrote about “The Shrinking Space for Human Rights Organisations“. The new EU ‘alert site I referred to yesterday [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/04/03/protectdefenders-eu-launches-new-alert-website-but-no-single-stop-yet/] showed in 2016 some 86 reported violations in the European (and Central Asian) region, mostly detention and judicial harassment. Also the recent CIVICUS findings of the narrowing space for civil society points in this direction. An example could be Hungary as illustrated by reports of Human Rights Watch (2016), Human Rights First (2017) and Amnesty International (2016/17); the issue of academic freedom is not directly related but part of the restrictive trend [see links below].

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The 5th “Inter-mechanisms”: consultations between inter-govenmental and non-governmental entities on human rights defenders

November 17, 2014

On November 12 and 13, 2014, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, met with representatives of regional human rights defenders’ mechanisms, in the framework of the first part of the fifth “inter-mechanisms” meeting. Enhancing coöperation between the UN mechanism and its regional counterparts was defined as a priority by the UN Special Rapporteur in his first report to the UN General Assembly in October 2014.

The “inter-mechanisms meeting 5.1” gathered representatives from the UN, the International Organisation of “La Francophonie” (OIF), the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR, the European Union, as well as international NGOs. It was hosted by theOIF headquarters in Paris, and was facilitated by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT joint programme).Participants reflected on ways to enhance cooperation, if not articulation, in processing submissions and public statements about human rights defenders’ violations, and in enhancing the follow-up of individual communications and recommendations from country visits. They further discussed best practices and strategies to tackle the issue of arbitrary detention, particularly on emblematic cases.

The meeting also allowed for an exchange on the definition of reprisals and impunity, how they relate to each other, and how tackling impunity through accountability would ultimately mitigate the root-cause of reprisals.

Finally, participants had a discussion on the issue of NGO funding, including foreign funding, as well as on the protection of land rights defenders, echoing the topics of the 2013 and 2014 Annual Reports of the Observatory.

This meeting aimed to prepare an “inter-mechanisms meeting 5.2”, gathering mandate-holders themselves, which the Observatory will organise during the first quarter of 2015 at the OIF headquarters. Last but not least, FIDH and OMCT were invited by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe to hold the sixth meeting in Strasbourg, and a future meeting in Warsaw, by ODIHR.

“Inter-mechanisms 5.1”: enhanced cooperation will lead to better protection of human rights defenders – FIDH.