“2015 was a year of fear and insecurity in Europe. The conflict in eastern Ukraine and ongoing economic malaise were overshadowed by a sense of vulnerability to terrorist threats and panic at the apparent inability to cope with the influx of asylum seekers”, said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while presenting his annual activity report for 2015. “The instinctive response has been to retreat back into one’s ‘national fortress’ and to restrict freedoms.”
“Ukraine continued to be the locus of a great deal of suffering. The conflict in the east of the country has by now claimed thousands of lives, many more people have been injured, and close to two million displaced. The rest of Europe cannot ignore the tragedy and hardship in Ukraine. We must all assist in achieving peace with justice.”
The continuing inflow of migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, was accompanied by a growing fear in many European countries, sometimes exacerbating doubts about Europe’s ability to manage diversity and feeding anti-Muslim prejudices. “Despite this unfavourable context, I sought to advocate a human rights approach vis-à-vis migrants. To this end, I examined allegations of pushbacks and ill-treatment at borders, access to international protection, reception conditions, treatment of vulnerable groups, as well as xenophobia towards the new arrivals.” The Commissioner stressed the need to develop safe legal passage options for migrants into Europe and the importance of creating effective integration policies for newcomers.
A resurgence of horrific terrorist attacks has led some states to enact legislation that failed to pay adequate attention to human rights protection in the field of security service operations. “While it is legitimate to enhance the budgets and powers of security services, great care must be taken in drafting and adopting new anti-terrorist measures to ensure respect for human rights and democratic oversight,” stated the Commissioner.
The report also underscores the persistent and intensified growth of pressure on human rights defenders and journalists in 2015. “The landscape I describe is a bleak one, and those who cherish human rights, who value Europe, cannot remain silent. To all human rights defenders, to all those who protect the most vulnerable, to all those politicians who stand by principles and values even when it is not electorally convenient, I say: do not leave the battlefield. With you, we will overcome this negative period and build a stronger Europe based on human rights for all.”