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Revised Private Office procedure on human rights defenders interacting with the Council of Europe

Secretary General Strasbourg 1 August 2019
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Revised Private Office procedure on human rights defenders interacting with the Council of Europe

The Secretary General has announced changes to the procedure for investigating alleged reprisals against human rights defenders as a consequence of their interaction with the Council of Europe.

From now on, the procedure will:

  • Allow external direct reporting (e.g. by human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations) in addition to Council of Europe entities;
  • Be triggered by information provided to the Secretary General’s Private Office focal point (private.office@coe.int);
  • Seek to determine the accuracy of the allegation and define follow-up action, considering whether the reprisal, or risk of reprisal, 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; a submission that is too vague or general, contains misleading information, makes use of offensive language, is based on inaccurate facts or spurious allegations, or is in any other way unsubstantiated, will not be considered;
  • Continue to include the assessment and the proposals for follow-up action being submitted to the Secretary General;
  • Result in a report on the types of cases which will be presented annually to the Committee of Ministers (or more regularly, if circumstances require).

When the original procedure was published by the Secretary General in December 2018, he made clear that human rights defenders should never face retribution for their principled stance. The changes now made to this procedure are designed to ensure that this is the case. They have been made in light of experience of the current procedure and extensive internal and external consultation.

The procedure takes into account the existing mandates within the Organisation. The action undertaken does not interfere with the European Court of Human Rights’ procedures or the activities of the Parliamentary Assembly and the Commissioner for Human Rights.