Human rights protection is under strain in Europe

[25/04/2013 15:30] "The picture of the human rights situation which I have observed during country visits, meetings with authorities and discussions with NGO representatives in 2012 is worrying" said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while presenting his first annual report. "Of particular concern are the persisting patterns of discrimination, racism and homophobia; the treatment of migrants; constraints to freedom of expression; as well as the inefficiency of national judicial systems."

On top of these long-standing problems, austerity measures have contributed to undermining the overall post-war acquis of social and economic rights. Civil and political rights have also been affected, including access to justice, conditions in detention and relations between the police and the public. "In many countries key institutions for human rights protection, such as the courts and national human rights structures, have been weakened by excessive budget cuts. Furthermore, populist politicians as well as nationalist and extremist groups have exploited people's frustrations and fears for electoral purposes."

Minorities, in particular Roma, are increasingly the targets of discrimination, racism and intolerance. Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity continues to be a widespread problem. "Legislative measures restricting the freedom of expression and association of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons represent a worrying step backwards to a bygone era when homosexuals were treated like criminals."

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are also experiencing tough times in today's Europe, as they are often confronted by policies and attitudes driven by security concerns to the exclusion of humanitarian principles. "Even recognised refugees face serious obstacles to their integration in society and are kept in limbo situations because of the absence of effective integration frameworks."

Children's rights is another critical area. "Child poverty is on the increase, and brings with it the risk of a resurgence of child labour. It is still the situation in some countries children are born and grow up stateless, which denies them the right to have rights. Moreover, forced evictions of Roma hit children very hard, disrupting their education, their ties of friendship and traumatising them."

The living conditions of persons with disabilities are in general unsatisfactory. "Thousands of them are kept in old, secluded institutions; school segregation still affects many children with disabilities; and discrimination in the job market is widespread."

The state of freedom of expression also worries the Commissioner. "As long as being a journalist or a human rights activist in some of our member states may cost your life or a prison term, we cannot consider our democracies safe. Several countries still have laws which criminalise defamation and excessive control on the Internet is gaining ground."

Lastly, the Commissioner underlines that the dysfunction of some national justice systems and the excessively slow implementation of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights seriously undermine the rule of law. "Cherry-picking and disregarding judgments of the Court have a disruptive effect not only on our system of human rights protection, but on the very essence of those values on which the Council of Europe is built."

Simultaneously with the publication of the report, an updated video on the Commissioner's work has also been released.

flèche Read the annual activity report 2012