Non-Governmental Organisations



Strasbourg, 5 June 2009



The Human Rights Committee, meeting in Strasbourg on 28 April 2009, with Gabriel Nissim (SIGNIS) in the Chair:

1. Opening
Agreed that the meeting would be held in two parts:

      - the first on the subject of Religions and Human Rights: discussions, setting up of a working group, terms of reference;
      - the second on other items.

    Approved the standard arrangements for the committee’s three-hour meetings, which would be divided into two 1½-hour parts:

      - the first looking in greater depth at a particular subject;
      - the second involving exchanges of information.

2. Adopted the agenda.

3. Adopted the synopsis of the meeting held on 26 January 2009 [CONF/HR(2009)SYN1].

4. Part 1 of the meeting: Religions and Human Rights (François Becker, European Network Church on the Move (REEL), Head of the Working Group)

Adopted the group’s working method and the main themes, including:

      - Universalism of human rights and of the law of God (in liaison with the Culture Committee working group);
      - Freedom of religion,
      - Freedom of expression and conviction;
      - Women’s rights and religion, in liaison with the Gender Equality Transversal Group;
      - Religions and cultures.

    The themes would be considered from five angles: personal, social, political, legal and professional context.

Adopted the following objectives:

      - Draw up a framework taking account of the diversity of relationships between the state and religion in the various countries;
      - Be responsive to developments;
      - Tackle the subject from various angles without forgetting the dimension of non-religious beliefs;
      - Analyse the current position in the European Union and the Council of Europe;
      - Study the work done by the other pillars of the Council of Europe.

On the basis of lengthy and fruitful exchanges, the following strands emerged:

      - What would be the purpose of the activity? Was it a contribution to the construction of Europe?
      - Secularism was vital;
      - Produce a framework that would be a tool for national discussion;
      - Take account of people with no religion;
      - Target groups: young people, religious leaders, the European Court of Human Rights and NGOs.

Noted the following lines of approach:

      - Establishment of thematic sub-groups;
      - The working group would contribute its experience on the ground and build on its presence in other international bodies, which would involve added value (ideas from other international bodies);
      - Dissemination of the activity to religious leaders, political bodies and NGOs;
      - Issues to be considered on a European level: relationships between religions and states.

5. Part 2 of the meeting: information

The committee:

      · a) Position on the death penalty in Belarus

Expressed its support for the campaign against the death penalty in Belarus. During the June session, the issue of human rights defenders would be discussed.

      · b) Feedback from the Geneva Conference (Durban II)

Drew attention to the unanimous adoption by the January 2009 meeting of the INGO Conference of Recommendation [CONF/PLE(2009)REC4]: The Durban Review Conference “to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance”.

Noted that a workshop on the role of civil society and NGOs in combating discrimination and racism had been held by COJEP during the Geneva conference. Veysel Filiz (COJEP) presented the workshop, focusing in particular on continuity of the dialogue between organisations representing different religions and on the importance of defending the committee’s values and speaking out both within the various organisations and within international bodies.

Welcomed the adoption by many states of the final document of the Durban Review Conference:

Underlined the participation in the Geneva conference of many NGOs, whose contributions had highlighted the work done on the ground to counter prejudice, promote education for citizenship and combat the causes of terrorism. Positive initiatives such as joining the Jewish-Muslim platform were to be supported.

      · c) Report on the meeting of the Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) (Marc Leyenberger, Caritas, representative of the Conference of INGOs on the CDDH)

Reiterated the importance of sitting on the steering committees. Participatory status gave the INGO Conference a role. It was therefore desirable for the NGOs to submit their opinions to the representative so that he could report on their work on issues such as fast-track asylum procedures, the future of the European Court of Human Rights and human rights in culturally diverse societies: challenges and perspectives.

Agreed to post details of the main issues dealt with by the Steering Committee for Human Rights on the committee’s website so as to improve the flow of information.

      · d) Report on the children’s event “Build a Human Rights House for me”, 28-30 March 2009 (Brigitte Kahn, B’nai B’rith International, Head of the Children and Human Rights Working Group)

Heard a description of the event involving 300 children aged 9 to 12 years from different countries in Europe who had been asked to build a “Human Rights House”. The event had been a great success and other exchanges were under preparation. The working group’s task was to work with children and introduce them to human rights.

Was informed that the International Catholic Child Bureau (BICE) was going to launch an appeal on 4 June 2009 calling for renewed mobilisation for children:

      · e) 1st Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and New Communication Services: A new notion of media?, Reykjavik, 28-29 May 2009

Urged NGOs to take part in the conference and in the preparatory forum to be held in Paris on 5 May. The committee Chair would attend the ministerial conference on behalf of the INGO Conference. Several NGOs would speak on behalf of civil society.

6. Social Charter, Economic and Social Rights (Marie-José Schmitt, European Action of the Disabled, Head of the Working Group on the Social Charter)

Noted the working method of the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) tasked with examining the national reports and submitting conclusions to the Committee of Ministers.

Asked the NGOs to gather any concrete accounts of worrying situations in the area of employment law in particular. A questionnaire would be prepared and distributed in June.

7. Presentation and discussion of a draft recommendation on the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Marie-José Schmitt, European Action of the Disabled)

Discussed representation of the INGO Conference at the co-ordination forum for the Council of Europe Disability Action Plan. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities had been in force since 2006. It was the first international treaty dealing with the civic, economic, political, cultural and social rights of persons with disabilities.

Approved the presentation of a recommendation on the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to the INGO Conference with a view to encouraging Council of Europe member states to sign and ratify the convention. The recommendation would be circulated among all Council of Europe bodies.

Cc: Members of the Standing Committee
Secretary General of the Parliamentary Assembly
Secretary General of the Congress
Secretary to the Committee of Ministers
Directors General
Registrar of the European Court of Human Rights
Director of the Private Office of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe
Director of External Relations
Director of Strategic Planning
Director of Communication
Director of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights