The Secretary General leads and represents the Organisation. Elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a five-year term, the Secretary General is responsible for the strategic planning and direction of the Council’s work programme and budget. Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić was elected in June 2019.
On 2 June 2020, the Secretary General issued her proposals on the implementation of decisions adopted at the ministerial session in Helsinki in May 2019 “A shared responsibility for democratic security in Europe – the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe”. The Secretary General’s proposals build on existing standards and practice and other relevant discussions, including consultations with national delegations and civil society. They focus on areas where further action was identified as necessary and complement the existing framework of work with civil society. The Secretary General has continued to repeat the message that civil society and NGOs are key partners of the Council of Europe, including in her annual reports of 2020 and 2021, highlighting the way their work complements government and international organisations, especially given the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the ensuing emergency measures. This support for the role and diversity of civil society, including human rights defenders and national human rights institutions in member states, is reflected in key priority 11 of the Council of Europe’s strategic framework and was echoed by the corresponding decision taken at the Hamburg ministerial session on 21 May 2021. At the May 2021 ministerial session the Committee of Ministers reiterated the commitment to strengthening the role and meaningful participation of civil society and national human rights institutions.
The Secretary General’s procedure to assist human rights defenders
The Secretary General has set up a procedure to assist human rights defenders who allege that they have been subject to reprisals because of their interaction with the Council of Europe. This is managed by the Secretary General’s private office based on the existing mandates within the Organisation. The information provided should include precise elements regarding the persons/entities subject to the alleged reprisals; as to the nature of the alleged incidents (when, where and how they have occurred and by whom).The assessment considers whether the reprisal or risk thereof meets a minimum level of severity, upon which it will warrant consideration. The assessment of this minimum level will depend on the circumstances of the case; there should be a reasonable degree of causality between the interaction or the intention to interact and the alleged reprisal. Any action under the procedure does not interfere with European Court of Human Rights procedures or the activities of the Parliamentary Assembly or the Commissioner for Human Rights.
The Secretary General’s patronage is non-material support which may be granted to any non-profit event which has a European dimension and is of clear political importance to the Council of Europe’s activities or objectives. A limited number of events are granted patronage each year. No financial undertaking is linked to the granting of patronage, as the Council of Europe has no budgetary resources beyond those which are used to implement its intergovernmental work programme.