On 30 June and 1 July 2022, the Council of Europe Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) held its 2022 Network Conference. Due to the post-pandemic context, the conference was held in a hybrid format, bringing together around 150 participants in the Council of Europe premises in Strasbourg and hundreds more remotely. The Conference was organised under the auspices of the Irish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
Initially aimed at the HELP Network members - national judicial and prosecutorial schools and Bar associations - as well as HELP’s partners such as the European Judicial Training Network (EJTN), the Council of Bar and Law Societies in Europe (CCBE), the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the UNHCR or OSCE/ODIHR, the Conference was also open to a wider audience.
Thomas BYRNE TD., Minister of State for European Affairs of Ireland, opened the Conference stating the overarching goal of Ireland’s Presidency: to renew and refocus “the conscience of Europe”, including supporting the values codified by the Council of Europe and that, currently, Ukrainians are fighting for. Minister Byrne recalled the essential nature of the European Convention on Human Rights as a fundamental component of peace in Europe, its importance to the Good Friday Agreement and as a vital safeguard to peace in Ireland. He underlined the role of education to secure and disseminate European values and the vital role played by the HELP Programme in enhancing capacities of judges, lawyers and prosecutors to apply the ECHR in their daily work. The minister illustrated this in particular by mentioning the HELP courses on the fight against homophobia or transphobia, on the environment and human rights or on the child friendly justice.
Christos GIAKOUMOPOULOS, Director General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe, reminded that sadly, Europe is in crisis again. “A crisis caused by the aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, that has been lasting for more than four long months -causing immense suffering in Ukraine -and with repercussions on all our continent and globally. The Council of Europe is providing immediate support to our member State, Ukraine in the framework or our mandate. This includes HELP, of course”, he said. . He then recalled that HELP, which is celebrating its 18th anniversary this year, has achieved a lot, thanks in particular to the crucial support of the European Union, and also to the digitalisation of our society, accelerated by Covid but not only. All this has led to the success of the HELP programme and its courses. Finally, he thanked all the partners and participants of this conference, recalling that by bringing the HELP programme to life, they contribute to the reinforcement of the human rights culture on our continent and beyond.
Meglena KUNEVA, Ambassador, Head of the European Union Delegation to the Council of Europe, underlined the wide impact of the work done every day by the Council of Europe and its HELP programme - "It's not just about the legal professionals, it's broader than that" she said. She also passionately claimed that the CoE's missions deal with people and that [judicial] decisions taken can really change lives and restore justice, in the EU, EU candidate countries of those showing a clear interest in human rights standards. She also welcomed the very fruitful cooperation between the CoE and the EU and underlined that such grassroot cooperation as HELP is delivering and will continue to do. “We are happy to continue to financially support HELP. I cannot imagine better investment in our future”, she said. She concluded her speech by recalling the words of the Irish poet Yeats, which are undoubtedly applicable to the work done every day by the CoE, HELP and legal professionals: "I have spread my dreams under your feet; Walk softly for you walk on my dreams".
The keynote speech at the Conference was delivered by Judge Tim EICKE, judge at the European Court of Human Rights (the ECtHR). Paraphrase what the President of the Court said at the Solemn Hearing, he noted “that this year’s conference takes place at a transformative moment in our European history, a moment when the relative peace and security which we have taken for granted on our continent has been shattered by Russia’s war in Ukraine. In these circumstances, the importance of the structural integrity of the convention, one of the greatest peace projects in human history as well as other instruments safeguarding fundamental human rights takes on a renewed significance”. He then underlined the importance of the principle of subsidiarity and how the work done every day at the European Court of Human Rights relies on the efforts and cooperation made by all the legal professionals, which this conference manages to bring together every year.
Judge Tim EICKE selected a few cases to show what the ECtHR has been up to in the last year: Vavricka and Others v. the Czech Republic, Big Brother Watch and Others v. United Kingdom and Centrum för rättvisa v. Sweden, Grzęda v. Poland; the latter of which highlighted the interplay and Court’s engagement with the judgments of the Court of Justice of the EU. He praised the close and useful cooperation between the ECtHR and the HELP team and high-quality of its courses. The protection of human rights by law is necessary for the construction of the rule of law, recalled Judge Tim EICKE in his speech. To conclude, he finally addressed the participants, mentioning that "human rights judges and practitioners, are at the very juncture of these foundational concepts. Just as individual applicants rely on [them] to protect their rights, [their] national governments also rely on [them] to provide counterbalance and legitimacy to the legal system which are absolutely indispensable for the rule of law”.
The achievements of the HELP Programme and the engagement of the HELP Network members and partners in the past year were presented by Eva PASTRANA, Head of Justice and Human Rights Training Division, Council of Europe, who revealed that the number of users on the HELP online platform had grown to more than 105,000 at the end of June 2022, (top 10: Türkiye, France, Italy, Spain, Ukraine, Russia, Greece, UK, Romania and Poland). The catalogue of HELP online courses on various human rights topics grew to 42 courses and more than 500 national adaptations (translations and national law and jurisprudence) freely available on the HELP online platform. HELP courses cover European human rights standards illustrating the interplay between the Council of Europe (ECHR, European Social Charter and other Council of Europe Conventions as well as jurisprudence) and EU (EU Charter and other EU law & jurisprudence the Court of Justice of the European Union).
The HELP achievements under the regional Projects on HELP in the EU and HELP in the Western Balkans, as well as the HELP activities in Türkiye, Eastern Partnership countries, and in Central Asia were also presented to the participants by Ana-Maria TELBIS and Ana MEDARSKA-LAZOVA, from the HELP Secretariat
Wojciech POSTULSKI, Policy officer at the European Judicial Training Unit of the European Commission also spoke widely during the second day of the conference about the crucial challenge of the training of legal professionals in Europe and thus the role of the Council of Europe in this context. In congratulating the HELP programme and its team, he particularly emphasised the importance of human rights training and education in ensuring “resilience, integrity and trust between national justice systems and society”. On many issues, such as the scope of application of the Convention or the Charter, or on the access to certain very specific rights, training of professionals is more than necessary. This training must evolve over time and must be innovative, both in face-to-face and online formats. Finally, Wojciech POSTULSKI underlined that no less than 320,000 legal professionals had been trained on European law and standards, thus underlining both the interest of such training and the expectations of professionals.
A prominent place in the Conference agenda was dedicated to the initiatives carried out by the CoE and in particular by its Justice and Human Rights Training Division to support Ukrainian and European legal professionals in the face of the war in Ukraine following the Russian military aggression and its consequences (particularly with regard to human rights).
In his address on the Council of Europe immediate support to Ukraine, Frédéric DOLT, Head of Department for the Implementation of Human Rights, Justice and Legal Cooperation Standards, highlighted the Council of Europe's clear, political and immediate support for the Ukrainian people by condemning in the strongest terms the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Frédéric DOLT then assured that, since then, the actions carried out by the Council of Europe had contributed to the strengthening of human rights, democratic standards and the rule of law. In this regard, both the initiatives taken by the HELP programme, which will be explained later, and other operational support provided by the CoE, such as assistance in setting up videoconferencing tools - to enable Ukrainian judicial institutions to continue to work despite the context and possible destruction – fully illustrate the continuous support of the CoE. Finally, he also recalled all the decisions taken by the institutions of the Council of Europe, in particular the European Court of Human Rights and the Committee of Ministers, in accordance with their respective mandates.
Jeremy MCBRIDE, member of the CoE expert advisory group for support to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine, further outlined the support provided by the CoE to Ukrainian legal institutions. Ensuring that trials are not rendered impossible by the standards and admissibility criteria required by the ECHR is an example of the adaptations that must be applied in times of war and which appear particularly necessary in the current context.
In their speech, Noemi ALARCON, manager of the HELP eDesk for Spain, and Leila ZHDANOVA, former manager of the HELP eDesk for Ukraine, recalled the principles and objectives of this HELP eDesks on Asylum/ Migration’s initiative. By bringing together all lawyers and legal professionals from the same country in a single space and providing them with a flow of official asylum and immigration information from national authorities, the HELP eDesks and all HELP courses related to these issues have provided legal professionals with the necessary tools to "tackle the challenges of the influx of refugees in Europe". Leila ZHDANOVA, as a Ukrainian lawyer from Odessa, outlined the importance and relevance of this project, mentioning the total absence of information and even more so of official information at the beginning of the conflict. These "spaces for cooperation, exchange and information were quickly very welcomed by legal professionals from Ukraine".
Also in this special session dedicated to the Council of Europe's responses to the war in Ukraine, Tetyana FULEY, HELP Focal Point, National School of Judges of Ukraine Olesia OTRADNOVA, Director, Prosecutor's Training Centre of Ukraine, and Savva KUZMENKO, Director of the Ukrainian National Bar Association's High School for Advocates, then addressed the participants to underline the importance of training legal professionals, especially in times of war. "Education is the only weapon that does not kill". These are the words that could be used to synthesise the intervention that the participants attended. By recalling the tragic consequences, first human and then legal (huge number of cases on war crimes, on crimes against national security), of the war in Ukraine, all the speakers have demonstrated the extent to which the HELP programme has enabled, over the years and its exponential growth in Ukraine and elsewhere, legal professionals to better understand the subjects related to human rights, which appears so indispensable today. They have also warmly thanked their colleagues, as well as the Council of Europe, and other national institutions and authorities for their support and help in these tragic times.
Throughout the conference, participants also received a presentation of the new HELP courses, developed during the year and addressing important issues raised by many demands from HELP institutional partners.
- Judge Danute JOCIENE, President of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, former Judge at the European Court of Human Rights, and advisor to the Working Group for the course update presented the HELP course Judicial Reasoning and Human Rights to participants. Judge Danute JOCIENE explained the concrete and useful work done by the experts and that it was one of the most interesting projects ever carried out in the field of Judicial Reasoning.
- Nina LICHTNER, Programme Manager at the Cybercrime Division of the Council of Europe, also detailed the different challenges that the new course in Cybercrime and Electronic Evidence addresses. Nina LICHTNER particularly underlined the growing importance of this subject, and the wide challenges it raises in a world where a criminal may be from one country, the victim in another, and the electronic evidence may be located on servers in another country. This course therefore details and explains the issues involved in these new legal paradigms.
- Sasha JANKOVIC, member of the Working Group for the course development and Tigran KARAPETYAN, Head of Transversal Challenges and Multilateral Projects Division of the Council of Europe, also detailed the issues addressed by the new course on Human Rights in the Armed Forces, which will soon be available as an open access course on the HELP platform. Many general principles applicable in our standards are not necessarily respected in the daily life of the armed forces. These particularly relevant challenges are tackled in this course.
- Caterina BOLOGNESE, Head of Gender Equality Division of the Council of Europe also presented the main aspects of the course on Violence against Women and Domestic Violence for law-enforcement.
- Petya NESTOROVA, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings presented the new course on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings for the purpose of Labour Exploitation, which can be taken as stand-alone or as complement of the HELP courses on combatting Trafficking in human beings or the one on Labour rights.
- Eva MASSA ARRANZ, former Project Coordinator and former HELP Info Point, finally shared the challenges and results of the EU-funded project on International Cooperation in Criminal Matters and Prevention of Radicalisation.
The HELP Network members also took the floor to address their peers, present their experiences with HELP courses, highlight good practices, and to project their plans and ideas for future cooperation:
- Giovanni PANSINI, HELP Info Point for Italy and HELP Consultative Board member emphasised the real need and interest expressed by professionals when it comes to training. Finally, he also recalled the role of the lawyers "lawyers might be the eyes on the law, and a good lawyer can do the difference (…) for more justice and peace in the world”.
- Diogo RAVARA, HELP Focal Point for Portugal also recalled the growing interest of legal professionals in Portugal in just a few years. He also shared with all the participants the autonomous way in which the HELP programme is implemented in Portugal as they are fully integrated in the "continuous training activity plan".
- Nenad VUJIC, Director of the Serbian Judicial Academy, also explained, in a similar manner and very concretely, how HELP courses are implemented in the training of legal professionals in Serbia. Thanking the members of the HELP programme and the Council of Europe, he said that serbian lawyers are expected to complete six courses in two years.
- Sergey ARAKELYAN, Rector of the Armenian Justice Academy, also informed the participants about how the HELP programme is implemented in Armenia, and which courses were particularly attended by Armenian legal professionals.
Through the conference, participants were also made aware of the different programmes, cooperation dynamics and synergies existing within the HELP network, its geographical implementation and its institutional collaborations and partnerships.
- Markus BRÜCKNER, Secretary General, European Judicial Training Network (EJTN), briefly presented the work done by the EJTN and its objectives. By “providing and fostering mutual trust across Europe, by contact, seminars, face to face events or activities or even the 'Erasmus' exchange program for judges” the EJTN contributes, by cooperating with HELP and its network, to the collaboration between legal professionals from all over the continent.
- Simone CUOMO, Secretary General of the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe also addressed all the participants. He presented the role of the CCBE on a continental scale, bringing together nearly one million legal professionals from 32 countries as well as from the 11 observer member countries. He emphasized the crucial role of HELP in providing high-quality to lawyers around the world.
- Clare OVEY, Head of the Department for the Execution of Judgments of the Council of Europe also spoke about the important synergies and cooperations within the Council of Europe itself and its various bodies. This internal cooperation is fundamental for the concrete success of the HELP programme.
- From a more geographical point of view, Pilar MORALES, Coordinator of Neighbourhood Policy and Head of Council of Europe office in Tunis, underlined the undeniable success of the HELP programme on the South Mediterranean region. For example, in the region, the number of users has risen from 110 in 2019 to 2300 today, demonstrating the interest of legal professionals in the HELP programme as well as the programme's ability to meet the expectations expressed by local partners and institutions. Amina BOUAYACH, President of the National Human Rights Council (CNDH) of Morocco also underlined the fundamental nature of the collaboration between the two shores of the Mediterranean. The stakes covered by the HELP courses, in particular those related to violence against women and the fight against racism and discrimination, were perceived by the Moroccan professionals as being of great interest and quality. Finally, she also emphasised that the great adaptability of the courses, taking into account the time constraints and national specificities of Morocco, had really made the programme a success in the country. Abdelhanine Touzani, acting Director General of the Institut Supérieur de la Magistrature who spoke about the relevant and useful implementation of the HELP programme for Moroccan magistrates.
- Lilja GRETARSDOTTIR, Head of the Cooperation Division, then presented the CoE’s programme in Central Asia, the projects carried out by the division, the results obtained and the close collaboration with national institutions. She was followed by Uigun NIGMADZHANOV, Deputy head of the Academy of General Prosecutor’s office of the Republic of Uzbekistan, who underlined the relevance and importance of the HELP courses for legal professionals in Uzbekistan. He particularly outlined the importance of certain topics tackled such as cybercrime, prevention of violence against women or domestic violence. Aïnour SABITOVA, Member of the Human Rights Commission of the President of Kazakhstan and Director of the Sorbonne-Kazakhstan Institute, also expressed her gratitude to the HELP programme and its team for the fruitful collaboration in her country. The courses on cybercrime or on the armed forces are of particular relevance to her country and look forward to further cooperation.
In addressing the HELP Strategy and further developments, Ana-Maria TELBIS and Ana MEDARSKA-LAZOVA, briefly explained the future challenges and initiatives that will be taken by the Justice and Human Rights Training Division, to best meet the expectations of European legal professionals. The audiobook format, a close collaboration with international partners and the future development of courses that are particularly demanded and expected by professionals were discussed. Three courses in preparation were particularly introduced to the participants, such as Interplay between ECHR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, Quality of Justice/the work of the CEPEJ, Prohibition of Ill-treatment.
Finally, and in conclusion, Christophe Poirel, Director of Human Rights, Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law of the Council of Europe, outlined the major challenges we have all had to face in recent years, including national and international judicial and legal bodies. The role of the HELP programme and the Council of Europe has been strengthened as a result. The translation of courses, their contextualisation and adaptation to national specificities is essential to the success of the courses. The HELP eDesk has proven to be an innovative way of using the HELP infrastructure to respond in a reactive and relevant way to sudden and severe challenges. To conclude, Christophe Poirel reaffirmed the major role of the HELP Network in the success of the HELP programme because, according to his own words "We are stronger when we are together".
Presentations and Speeches
Frédéric DOLT, Head of Department for the Implementation of Human Rights, Justice and Legal Cooperation Standards, Council of Europe
Thomas BYRNE, Minister of State for European Affairs, Ireland
Christos GIAKOUMOPOULOS, Director General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe
Judge Tim EICKE, European Court of Human Rights
Council of Europe immediate support to Ukraine
Frédéric DOLT, Head of Department for the Implementation of Human Rights, Justice and Legal Cooperation Standards, CoE
Jeremy McBRIDE, member of the CoE Expert Advisory group for support to the Office of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine
Training of legal professionals at times of war: why and how?
Tetyana FULEY, HELP Focal Point, National School of Judges of Ukraine
Savva KUZMENKO, Director of the Ukrainian National Bar Association's High School for Advocates
Trends in European training of legal professionals
Wojciech POSTULSKI, Policy Officer, European Judicial Training Unit, European Commission
Highlights of the HELP Network members experiences
Giovanni PANSINI, HELP Info Point for Italy, HELP Consultative Board member - presentation
Diogo RAVARA, HELP Focal Point for Portugal
Sergey ARAKELYAN, Retor of the Armenian Justice Academy
Eva PASTRANA, Head of Justice and Human Rights Training Division, Council of Europe
Ana MEDARSKA-LAZOVA, Deputy Head of Justice and Human Rights Training Division, HELP in the Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership
Ana-Maria TELBIS, Coordinator, HELP in the EU III Project
New HELP Courses
Judicial Reasoning and Human Rights - Judge Danute JOCIENE, President of the Constitutional Court of Lithuania, former Judge at the ECHR
Cybercrime and Electronic Evidence - Nina LICHTNER, Programme Manager, Cybercrime Division, Council of Europe
The future: HELP Courses and other novelties
Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Ana-Maria TELBIS, Coordinator, HELP in the EU III Project
Trafficking in Human Beings for the Purpose of Labour Exploitation - Petya NESTOROVA, Executive Secretary of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
International Cooperation in Criminal Matters and Radicalisation Prevention - Eva MASSA ARRANZ, former Project Coordinator, former HELP Info Point
Christophe POIREL, Director of Human Rights, Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law, Council of Europe
The HELP Annual Network Conference is the main gathering of the HELP Network members (Justice Training Institutions and Bar Associations) and partners such as European Judicial Training Network (EJTN), Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe (CCBE), EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), UNHCR.
The objectives of the conference are:
- To highlight the response of the Council of Europe Programme on Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) to the current challenges, including response to the war in Ukraine
- To present the developments in the HELP Programme since the 2021 HELP Network Conference:
- update on the HELP projects and initiatives
- presentation of newly developed or updated HELP courses
- To provide the HELP Network members a forum for addressing their peers.