Activity Report 2011

of the Conference of INGOs


I. The Conference of INGOs

II. The committees on specific themes and the transversal groups

III. Adopted texts

Rapporteur: Maritchu RALL (AIC)
International Association of Charities

1) The reform of the Council of Europe and restructuring of the operational bodies of the Conference of INGOs

The policy and budgetary reform being carried out by the Secretary General was decided by the Committee of Ministers with the support of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities.

Our work on the reform was approved by the Conference of INGOs at its plenary meeting on 27 January 2011, chaired by Jean-Marie Heydt. In particular, it involves limiting operational appropriations and restructuring operational bodies. The President of the Conference was very active on this front and a precise framework was drawn up that takes account of the new proposals implemented by the Council of Europe, particularly as regards the use of new communication technologies (Policy paper for implementing the reform of the Conference of INGOs, CONF/REFORM(2011)1, CONF/REFORM(2011)2). For example, the budget of the Conference of INGOs (for sessions and activities, such as the implementation of the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process, the work of the Expert Council on NGO Law, the regional NGO congresses/civil forums and seminars in Russia) decreased from €250,000 in 2010 to €108,000 in 2011, or a drop of 57%. The direct consequence of this is the redeployment of our various bodies while maintaining the goal of achieving greater efficiency and consistency. It was accordingly decided that:

It was also decided to organise an annual forum to be called the “Great European Civil Debate”.

The Bureau of the Conference instructed its three Vice-Presidents to monitor the work of the three committees.

In addition, the subject of gender equality will be dealt with by all the committees in view of its priority status and cross-cutting nature. A person in charge will be elected at the January 2012 Conference. He/She will sit on the Standing Committee to pass on information on the work and action of all the committees.

The three committees will work closely with the other pillars of the Council of Europe. The limitation of our resources also involves the full-scale rationalisation of our participation and external action in line with the Council’s refocused priorities.

Working groups within each committee have been set up. The Standing Committee will approve the groups with the sole aim of avoiding any duplication.

In the light of the new organisation, it should be stressed that, despite the staff cutbacks, the team of the secretariat of the Civil Society Division has done its utmost to ensure that the Conference of INGOs is able to meet its commitments and adapt to the indispensable restructuring.

2) The Council of Europe’s new policy approaches and the INGOs’ relations with the quadrilogue

The key aims of the reform are to ensure that the Conference is more efficient and responsive, in accordance with the Council of Europe’s new policy approaches. This development has been emphasised and confirmed by the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, which have expressed their views on the future of the Conference of INGOs.

The meeting with Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland enabled a better understanding to be gained of the challenges of the reform for the NGOs, the aims being to:

In addition, a broad exchange of views took place with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, from which it emerged that:

¤ European Court of Human Rights
As far as the European Convention on Human Rights is concerned, the NGOs are keenly involved in the discussions and proposals on the functioning of the European Court of Human Rights and its future – recognising that it is essential to maintain sufficient resources for its programmes and work and, in particular, to uphold the principle that applicants are not asked to pay any costs.

¤ Expert Council on NGO Law
The aim of the Expert Council on NGO Law, which was set up in 2008, is the creation of an NGO-friendly environment throughout Europe, especially by promoting compliance with the standards of the Council of Europe and good European practices in this area. It examines the legislative and regulatory framework for NGOs in European countries and administrative and judicial practices relating to their status and the way they operate. The third annual report, in 2010, was on “Sanctions and Liability in Respect of NGOs”.

In January 2011, the Conference adopted a recommendation on this subject. It also decided to extend by one year the term of office of Cyril Ritchie, the President of the Expert Council, to enable him to ensure continuity and draw up proposals on the Expert Council’s role and future operation. In October 2011, the Conference endorsed the Expert Council’s opinion concerning interference with the work of NGOs in Azerbaijan and measures undermining their right to exist.

Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process
The Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process was adopted by the Conference of INGOs on 1 October 2009. The Code is the result of a multi-stakeholder approach and has the support of the Council of Europe and the Committee of Ministers, which “recognises the importance of the Code of Good Practice as a reference document for the Council of Europe and as a basis for the empowerment of citizens to be involved in conducting public affairs in European countries”. The Conference hoped that NGOs would implement the document to enable them to promote it in an active and well-informed manner.

The North-South Centre in Lisbon
The Conference of INGOs continues to be committed to the North-South Centre in Lisbon and contribute to its activities. At this time of far-reaching institutional upheaval for many Mediterranean countries, the Centre is a unique setting for carrying out work, maintaining relations and engaging in dialogue between North and South. Civil society can use it to develop specific support for genuine living democracy. As part of the quadrilogue, the Conference of INGOs is a member of the Bureau of the Executive Committee and was chosen in November 2011 to chair its meetings in the event of the chair’s inability to attend.

Three-year Framework Co-operation Programme with the Russian Federation
The three-year Framework Co-operation Programme on “Strengthening Civil Society and Civic Participation in the Russian Federation” (2008-2011) came to an end in June 2011. The three seminars in 2011 were on respect for human rights in prisons and other closed institutions, the protection of human rights defenders and implementation of the European Social Charter.

The evaluation report by an outside expert has just been completed and is worth studying. However, it should already be stressed at this stage that the evaluation shows that two features of the programme were particularly welcomed by the NGOs and Russia’s federal, regional and local authorities: the frank discussions on sensitive and sometimes controversial issues, leading to recommendations adopted by the NGOs and the authorities, and the fact that many activities were not only organised in the capital but also in the regions, thus making it possible to increase the recognition and networking of NGOs operating on the ground with considerable commitment and, in many cases, few resources.

3) The activities and events of the Conference of INGOs and the Standing Committee

Following on from the report of the Group of Eminent Persons entitled “Living together – Combining diversity and freedom in 21st-century Europe”, the Conference of INGOs decided to hold the major Civil Society Forum, with the same title as the report, in Strasbourg on 13 and 14 November 2011, with two key themes:

This major event enabled the NGOs to:

Finally, this important forum made it possible to highlight the practical work done by NGOs aimed at “(showing) that organised society has a role to play in alleviating the effects of social setbacks”. This considerable added value is an asset that should strengthen the future proposals of the Group of Eminent Persons.

Among the important events organised by the Conference of INGOs, mention might be made of:

4) “INGO-Service”

In the light of the action and measures implemented by the Conference of INGOs and its various bodies, broader financial support for all NGOs proves essential as far as the INGO-Service association is concerned. Set up in 1994, its aim is to guarantee – with actual financial resources – the proper operation of the Conference and enable it to promote the work of NGOs by participating in international conferences and organising European events.

5) Conclusion

Should the reform, which has now entered its implementation phase, not encourage us to make our two sessions and the work of our three committees livelier, more open and more efficient? This is a real challenge that the Conference of INGOs should take up.

NGOs could for example be made more generally aware of the issue of media coverage of our work through the toolkit, which is an ideal instrument of communication, and through the creation of a newsletter on the initiative of the committee chairs.

Since we are more in synergy and in line with the new, refocused objectives of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, we must take a firm stance in favour of “Living together in 21st-century Europe” and in keeping with the philosophy of the wonderful “All different, all equal” campaign.

NB: the details provided below were prepared by the committee chairs and the chairs of the transversal groups

1. The Human Rights Committee

Chair: Annelise Oeschger, Vice-Chairs: Gérard Greneron and Marie-José Schmitt,
Rapporteur: Maritchu Rall

Held at ENA in Strasbourg on 17 October on the occasion of World Day to Overcome Extreme Poverty and the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter, the round table brought together 200 individuals from some twenty countries. In his conclusion, Luis Jimena Quesada, President of the European Committee of Social Rights, stressed that “the Social Charter must not be subjected to ‘anti-crisis’ measures but, on the contrary, affirmed as an anti-crisis instrument”. The proceedings will be published shortly.

Held at the Council of Europe on 15-16 December in co-operation with DG II to prepare the symposium on “Experiencing human rights in a connected world” to be held in 2012.

At its 17th session, in Kiev on 3-4 November, the Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Local and Regional Government decided “to invite the Committee of Ministers that it, as part of the Council of Europe programme on local and regional democracy and governance, in dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress and the Conference of INGOs, elaborate proposals for strengthening awareness raising of the human rights dimension of local and regional governance”. The role of the local and regional authorities and all players concerned with the implementation of human rights will be a priority for the committee, which ties in with its aim of bringing about the greater involvement of the national and local branches of the member INGOs.

The committee prepared the adoption by the Conference of INGOs of a recommendation opposing the plan to require applicants to bear the costs of their proceedings and decided to monitor the development of the reform.

Establishment of four new working groups for 2012:

- The European Social Charter, with three objectives:

- Human rights defenders, with the following working areas:

- Extreme poverty and human rights, in close co-operation with UN and EU projects

- Violence against the elderly and human rights (physical, psychological and material violence).

2. The Civil Society and Democracy Committee

Chair: Antonella Valmorbida, Vice-Chair: Veysel Filiz

3. The Social Cohesion and Eradication of Poverty Committee

4. The Sustainable Territorial Development Committee

Chair: Anne-Marie Chavanon, Vice-Chair: Georg Mäschig

5. The Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges Committee, set up on 26 June 2011

Chair: Anne-Marie Chavanon, Vice-Chairs: Vera John-Mikolajewski and Israël Mensah, Rapporteur: Edith Wenger

6. The Europe and Global Challenges Transversal Group

Chair: Michel Julien; Vice-Chair: Anne Sforza

Since the winter session on 17 January 2011, the Europe and Global Challenges Transversal Group has discussed in greater depth the current situation of the Jasmine Revolution, the work of the affiliated members of the European Association of Teachers (AEDE), through Jean-Claude Gonon, and the trade unions, through Alain Mouchoux, Vice-President of the Conference of INGOs. Sophie Dimitroulias, Vice-President of the Association of Women of Southern Europe (AFEM), stressed the importance and role of women in the aftermath of the shock wave that hit the Arab world. Their close relations with their Tunisian colleagues help to keep them informed about the course of the upheavals driven by civil society in their country. The population are seeking solutions to their problems without relying on their government, from which they expect nothing. The emphasis was placed on the desire of the Tunisian population to rid themselves of their dictator by peaceful means until his hurried departure on 14 January, which came as some surprise. The group adopted, at the initiative of the Association of Women of Southern Europe (AFEM), a proposal on the Declaration hailing the “Jasmin revolution in Tunisia” for dignity, democracy and human rights.

Loïc Tribot La Spière, General Delegate of the Centre for Long-Term Strategic Studies (CEPS) and Anna Rurka, Chair of the European Committee for Home-based Priority Action for the Child and the Family (EUROCEF), expressed their organisations’ fears concerning the events in Côte d’Ivoire and all the non-stabilised African countries. These concerns were mentioned at the 59th and last meeting of the European Committee on Migration chaired by Michel Villan, at which the transversal group’s Chair Michel Julien participated for the last time. As Louise Coffi rightly pointed out, “Africa is writing a new page in its history from many points of view. It has assets and talents to shape its own model, in accordance with its aspirations and cultural characteristics, with due respect, of course, for the diversity and uniqueness of its peoples”.

In the context of the NSC/Conference of INGOs co-operation agreement, we attended the presentation of the North-South Prize awarded to Louise Arbour and President Lula Da Silva. We also participated in the “Freedom of expression, conscience and religion” Forum.

We concluded the European forum on “social and educational innovations, support for parents and the fight against exclusion” held in Brussels in spring 2011. This forum resulted in a number of publications that received the “Excellence” label from the European Commission. It serves as a basis for new lines of action in 2012 with university teachers, professionals, students and members of the Council of Europe Conference of INGOs.

The Europe and Global Challenges Transversal Group has ceased to operate, and the 80 INGOs that were active in it will no doubt put every effort into the new groups that will be getting down to work in January 2012.

7. Gender Equality Transversal Group

Karin Nordmeyer, Chair

The work of the Gender Equality Transversal Group came to an end with the meeting on 26 January 2011.

The members of the group stated clearly that gender issues must not be omitted from the future work of the Conference of INGOs. The proposal for the new structure of the INGO Conference on gender issues was as follows: an elected person responsible for gender issues sitting on the Standing Committee of the Conference of INGOs and at least three gender experts or gender working groups in each of the three new committees.

After that final meeting in January 2011, several informal meetings took place to prepare for the structural reform which started in June 2011. These meetings were attended by people interested in gender issues.

The Gender Equality Transversal Group has contributed to the work of the Ad Hoc Committee on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (CAHVIO) over the last two years and the transversal group was pleased to see that the Council of Europe’s landmark Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (CETS 210) was opened for signature in Istanbul on 11 May 2011.

“It is the first legally binding instrument in the world creating a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, to protect victims and to end with the impunity of perpetrators. It defines and criminalises various forms of violence against women - including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence. It is foreseen the establishment of an international group of independent experts to monitor its implementation at national level.” (CoE press release, April 2011)

The Chair of the former transversal group was appointed to represent gender issues at relevant meetings of the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men and in the Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG). She was invited to speak at the international conference in Kiev in October 2011 on “Current Trends of Development of National Gender Mechanisms in European Countries”.

Texts adopted in 2011