Strasbourg, 26 December 2010
FOR THE ATTENTION OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CONFERENCE OF INGOS
The Conference of INGOS, meeting in Strasbourg on 6 October 2010 (from 9.30 am to 12 noon), with Jean-Marie Heydt in the chair:
1. Address by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and exchange of views
· Took note of the address by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, in which he underlined the following points in particular: co-operation with civil society had to be regarded as a key factor in democracy and was central to the work of the Council of Europe; in these times of uncertainty where he had set the fight against all forms of discrimination as one of his priorities, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly saw civil society as a key ally, which was capable of overcoming the divide between citizens and their political representatives; he listened to the messages which he received from NGOs and took account of them in his discussions with his counterparts, in particular during his visits to the member states; he was pleased that the Conference of INGOs had included discussion of the situation of democracy and human rights in Belarus on its agenda for the present meeting and believed that a non-negotiable precondition for any discussions with the Belarusian authorities was the abrogation of the death penalty in the country, which was the last in Europe still to apply it. In this connection, following the latest executions in spring 2010, the Assembly had decided to freeze all high-level contacts with the Belarusian authorities. However, in his view, the Council of Europe had a moral duty to stand by the country’s citizens; as far as the contribution by the Conference of INGOs to the reform of the Council of Europe was concerned, he felt that all institutions in the organisation needed to contribute to the debate and the Assembly had therefore set up an ad hoc committee to look into reforms of its own; lastly, he assured the Conference of INGOs of his full support to make sure that the Council of Europe turned the potential offered by the INGOs to the best possible account in pursuing its objectives.
· Held an exchange of views with the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, during which the questions from the members of the Conference of INGOs focused, in particular, on assessment of the co-operation between the corresponding committees of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Conference of INGOs and of the challenges to the legitimacy of the Conference of INGOs in the context of the reform of the Council of Europe. In reply, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu underlined that co-operation between the corresponding committees was active but that it could be improved, for instance in the area of legislative assistance to member states and the preparation of resolutions. With regard to the reform of the Council, he was against a reduction in the budget of the Conference of INGOs and would notify Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland accordingly.
2. Contribution by the Conference of INGOs to the Council of Europe reform (discussed in camera from 10.30 am) Recommendation “Menace to democracy within the Council of Europe” [CONF/PLE(2010)REC2]
3. Political situation in Belarus – Adoption of a declaration [CONF/PLE(2010)DEC1]
· Took note of the introductory memorandum by Cyril Ritchie, Rapporteur of the Conference of INGOs on Belarus, setting out a draft declaration by the Conference of INGOs on Belarus;
· Gave the floor to civil society representatives from Belarus, who stressed the following points in particular: Aleh Hulak (Belarusian Helsinki Group) said that, even though political repression was declining in Belarus, that did not mean that the situation in terms of freedoms had improved, as demonstrations were still banned. Journalists continued to be prosecuted by the authorities. The current legislation (article 193/1, which apparently had not been applied for some time) was still problematic because it provided that action on behalf of unregistered organisations was not allowed and the authorities accordingly put pressure on and made threats against certain organisations, especially in the youth sector. Yet the registration of organisations was sometimes refused on apparently formal grounds. There was a campaign calling for the abolition of article 193/1 and another on the holding of free elections. To date, the two campaigns had not come up against any serious obstacles. Co-operation between the authorities and civil society was developing very slowly and, while councils on relations with civil society had indeed been set up, some had been inactive for over a year. In this context, it was vital to continue the dialogue between Belarusian civil society and the Council of Europe, and the existence of the Conference of INGOs was very important here, as the support which it offered Belarusian NGOs helped safeguard them. Nikolai Samoseiko (Union of Belarusian Lawyers, Chair of the Standing Committee on Legislation and Judicial and Legal Matters of the House of Representatives of Belarus) said that civil society and democracy had made progress in Belarus: 977 NGOs and 15 political parties had been registered as at 1 July 2010. Registration of certain organisations had been refused on the grounds that the documents they had submitted had not complied with the legislation, not because of political considerations. Many NGOs had their own websites which were officially monitored only when there were suspicions of violence, paedophilia or pornography. A bill proposing the abolition of article 193/1, which Mr Samoseiko confirmed had not been enforced for a year and a half, was currently being considered by the Ministry of Justice.
· Held an exchange of views with the two representatives, during which the following points were underlined: there were positive developments in terms of intergovernmental activities with Belarus, as demonstrated by the recent roundtable on the death penalty organised by the Directorate General of Human Rights and Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe and by the forthcoming inauguration in Belarus of an exhibition on the abolition of the death penalty. Nevertheless, two executions had taken place this year. There had also not been any progress regarding accession to two Council of Europe groups, namely the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) and the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA). Belarus was also currently in a pre-electoral period, which was not particularly conducive to the consolidation of relations with the Council of Europe. In this connection, no observers from the Parliamentary Assembly had been invited to observe the forthcoming election. Lastly, the support of the Belarusian authorities for the registration of the Belarus School of Political Studies would be welcome.
· Unanimously adopted the declaration on the situation in Belarus.
4. Expert Council on NGO Law – Annual thematic report on Sanctions and Liability in respect of NGOs
· Took note of the presentation by the Chair of the Expert Council on NGO Law, Cyril Ritchie, of the Expert Council’s third report [Link to report]. The final version, supplemented by country case studies, would be submitted to the Conference of INGOs in January 2011 for adoption and follow-up;
· Also took note of the reminder by Cyril Ritchie concerning the proposal by the Bureau of the Conference of INGOs that the operation of the Expert Council in its current form be reviewed to see whether or not it should be transformed into a permanent body.
5. Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-Making Process – Proposal for a revised action plan [link to strategy adopted on 1 October 2009]
· Took note of the comments by certain members regarding the need for INGOs to study the document more closely so that they could really promote it in an active and well-informed manner;
· Agreed to continue the activities to promote the code.
6. Activities of the Conference of INGOs in 2010-2011
· Took note of the information provided on the following activities:
9.1 2010 Exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue (Ohrid, 13-14 September 2010)
9.2 Congress on “Social work as a factor of social cohesion”, including a workshop on “the European Social Charter and the concept of social cohesion: modern approaches” (Moscow, 14-15 October 2010)
9.3 Council of Europe Forum for the Future of Democracy: “Perspectives 2020 – Democracy in Europe, principles and challenges” (Yerevan, 19-20 October 2010)
9.4 Forum on the Universality of Human Rights (Oslo, 21-22 October 2010)
9.5 “The role of civil society in promoting intercultural dialogue”: draft contribution by the Conference of INGOs on the occasion of the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers (November 2010 – May 2011)
7. Opinion of the Conference of INGOs on Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1908 (2010) on “Lobbying in a democratic society (European code of good conduct on lobbying)”: (Link to recommendation and link to opinion of the Conference of INGOs)
· Took note of the information provided by the rapporteur for opinion, Rémi Berthier (Chair of the Verification and Dispute Committee of the Conference of INGOs), who had put together the contributions received from the members of the Conference of INGOs. The opinion of the Conference of INGOs had been submitted to the Committee of Ministers in due time.
8. Other business
· Took note of the information provided on the subject of 17 October 2010, in particular in the area of youth work, and of the existence of a website listing all the activities organised worldwide on that occasion (www.17oct.org).
· Took note of the information that INGO-Service would only hold an ordinary general assembly during the autumn session.
9. Date of the next meeting: to be determined later.