The Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) Programme of the Council of Europe and its courses on human rights cover many of the topics where the Council of Europe is active linked to SDG16. The whole catalogue of HELP courses can be consulted here. Some course videos are also available here.

Access to justice

Goal 16, as it refers to providing “access to justice for all”, is an important objective and reference for a number of Council of Europe Conventions (for instance, on fighting trafficking in human beings, violence against women and domestic violence, sexual exploitation of children) and transversal Strategies (notably on Gender Equality, Children Rights, Disability), and it is as well addressed through activities and cooperation with the 47 member States and the South-Mediterranean countries (Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia).

 

The Council of Europe, through its European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), develops concrete measures and tools aimed at policy-makers and judicial practitioners in order to analyse the functioning of judicial systems. CEPEJ prepares benchmarks, collects and analyses data and defines instruments of measure and means of evaluation. Through the collection of quantitative and qualitative data, this process enables a detailed photograph of the functioning of justice and the measurement of its evolution.

 

The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE) are the first bodies consisting solely of judges and prosecutors ever set up within an international organisation. They support the Committee of Ministers in carrying out the priorities for safeguarding the status of judges/prosecutors and strengthening of their role in Europe. They enrich the corpus of European standards in the judicial field by adopting Opinions on issues of common interest and examine the situation of the judiciary and judges/prosecutors in the member States. They highlight regularly main challenges to judicial independence and impartiality in Europe and contribute to the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Plan of Action on strengthening judicial independence and impartiality.

 

The Council of Europe has also adopted standards and guidelines enhancing children’s access to the justice systems, including the 2010 Guidelines on child-friendly justice) which aim at adapting the judicial system to the specific rights and needs of children. In order to strengthen and harmonise the knowledge of the relevant ECHR and other European standards on child-friendly justice, a free online training course on child-friendly justice and children’s rights has been developed within the program for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) of the Council of Europe.

Building on such ground-breaking standards, the Committee of Experts on the rights and the best interests of the child in parental separation and in care proceedings (CJ/ENF-ISE), under the supervision of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF) and the European Committee on Legal Cooperation (CDCJ), is undertaking a review of law, policy and practice related to children in those particular situations. Furthermore, the Committee will prepare policy instruments or practical tools to facilitate states’ implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and other related standards, while complying with the objectives set forth by Agenda 2030.

 

The EU/CoE Joint Programme on access to justice for Roma women (“JUSTROM”) aims at improving access to justice of Roma women in Bulgaria, Greece, Italy and Romania by enhancing capacities of the judiciary, law enforcement and NGOs/human rights advocates regarding the application of anti-discrimination standards with a focus on multiple discrimination, gender equality and Roma women, and strengthening their involvement towards a more inclusive society. CM/Rec(2017)10 on improving access to justice for Roma and Travellers in Europe was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in October 2017.

 

The Parliamentary Assembly most recently covered issues related to the effective access to justice in its following texts prepared within the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights:

  • Resolution 2322 (2020) Reported cases of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  • Resolution 2315(2019) Interpol reform and extradition proceedings: building trust by fighting abuse (which recalls the need for transparent international cooperation in the field of criminal law)
  • Resolution 2297(2019) Shedding light on the murder of Boris Nemtsov (which raises concerns as to the independence and effectiveness of the authorities’ efforts to identify and prosecute all participants in the crime)
  • Resolution 2293 (2019) Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges (which notes a series of fundamental weaknesses in the country’s system of checks and balances, seriously undermining the rule of law and judicial independence)
  • Resolution 2252 (2019) Sergei Magnitsky and beyond – fighting impunity by targeted sanctions (which called upon member States to consider enacting legal instruments enabling their government to impose targeted sanctions on individuals reasonably believed to be personally responsible for serious human rights violations for which they enjoy impunity on political or corrupt grounds)
  • Resolution 2188 (2017) New threats to the rule of law in Council of Europe member States: selected examples (which expresses concern about the state of the rule of law in Bulgaria, the Republic of Moldova, Poland, Romania and Turkey).
  • Resolution 2154 (2017) Securing access of detainees to lawyers (aimed at guaranteeing the effective access of suspects, accused and convicted persons (deprived of liberty or not), as well as participants in the criminal proceedings, to a lawyer of their choice)
  • Resolution 2161 (2017) on Abusive use of the Interpol system: the need for more stringent legal safeguards (particularly concerned about abuse by certain governments of the ‘Red Notice’ procedure for locating and arresting suspects and the lack of an effective remedy within Interpol’s procedures against such abuse)
  • Resolution 2190 (2017) on Prosecuting and punishing the crimes against humanity or even possible genocide committed by Daesh (reaffirms the PACE position that certain of Daesh’s crimes constitute genocide under international law)
  • Resolution 2188 (2017) on New threats to the rule of law in Council of Europe member States: selected examples (i.e. examples of states where such threats exist)
  • Resolution 2187 (2017) on the Venice Commission’s Rule of Law Checklist (encourages wider and more systematic use of the VC Checklist to ensure conformity with basic principles of the rule of law; for illustrative purposes, applies the Checklist to the situations in Poland and Turkey)
  • Recommendation 2121 (2018) on The case for drafting a European Convention on the profession of lawyer was adopted by the Assembly on 24 January 2018 and It includes a review of the difficulties facing lawyers in certain CE member states, as well as the proposal for a new convention.
  • and in Resolution 2054 (2015) on Equality and non-discrimination in access to justice, prepared by its Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination

Furthermore, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights adopted a report on “Judges in Poland and the Republic of Moldova must remain independent” (Doc. 15204) and the Assembly adopted Resolution 2359 thereon during the January part-session 2021. The committee is currently preparing reports inter alia on ‘‘The continuing need to restore human rights and the rule of law in the North Caucasus region’, ‘Ensuring accountability for the downing of flight MH 17’, and ‘Ending enforced disappearance on the territory of the Council of Europe’. A report on “Political prisoners in the Russian Federation” is also underway.

R

The Commissioner for Human Rights has called on member states to provide effective access to justice in the scope of country monitoring work. In addition, the Commissioner has raised awareness on the importance of accessing justice in several contexts including transitional justice and missing persons.

See in particular:

 Constitutional Justice

Most national constitutions provide for democratic institutions but often these constitutions are not implemented sufficiently in practice in order to make these institutions effective, accountable and inclusive. Constitutional courts and equivalent bodies (constitutional councils and supreme courts exercising such jurisdiction) are pivotal in ensuring that all branches of power respect the constitution. The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe tries to strengthen constitutional courts and equivalent bodies by providing various services for the courts and by directly supporting them when they come under undue pressure. This cooperation is steered by the Venice Commission’s Joint Council on Constitutional Justice, which shapes the tools provided by the Commission that enable the exchange of information and cross-fertilisation between courts. These tools are the Bulletin on Constitutional Case-Law, the CODICES database (more than 10.000 cases submitted by the courts) and the Venice Forum. Upon request by the courts, the Venice Commission provides amicus curiae briefs, assisting the Courts. The Venice Commission also acts as the Secretariat for the World Conference on Constitutional Justice which unites 117 Constitutional Courts and equivalent bodies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia/Oceania and Europe. It promotes constitutional justice – understood as constitutional review including human rights case law – as a key element for democracy, the protection of human rights and the rule of law.

Various committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe work in close cooperation with the Venice Commission. Assembly representatives participate in all Venice Commission meetings

Desistence from crime and social reintegration of offenders

The European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC), the Council for Penological Cooperation (PC-CP) and the Committee of Experts on European Conventions on Cooperation in Criminal Matters (PC-OC) update and develop standards, and promote best practice to help legislators, the judiciary, prison and probation services in preventing impunity for crime, ensuring just and proportionate responses to it, better rehabilitation and societal reintegration of offenders and facilitating international co-operation to these ends.

In 2018, combating transnational organised crime was a priority, notably through a quicker and more efficient use of the Council of Europe instruments on international cooperation in criminal matters. A Committee of Ministers recommendation on witness protection was reviewed and modernised and several new practical tools were put at the practitioners’ disposal on the PC-OC website.

A new Recommendation, concerning restorative justice in criminal matters was adopted. A special meeting on artificial intelligence and criminal law launched a project on the criminal law aspects of the advent of automated vehicles.

In 2018, some 7000 prison/ police/ probation officers, out of which 33,9% were women, benefitted from assistance provided through Council of Europe technical co-operation activities and projects in the areas of prison and law-enforcement.

The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights considers in particular national and international criminal law and criminology; the treatment of offenders and conditions of detention (including pre-trial detention); and alternatives to imprisonment.

considers in particular national and international criminal law and criminology; the treatment of offenders and conditions of detention (including pre-trial detention); and alternatives to imprisonment.

Corruption

Corruption -– in all its forms and manifestations of unethical and dishonest behaviour – undermines the principles of the rule of law and respect for human rights, provokes mistrust in the way public affairs are managed and feeds populism, and damages economic development and growth. The regular and ad hoc evaluations of the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, known as the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) serve as a yardstick for GRECO’s 50 member states developments towards achieving this target.

In addition, a vast programme of targeted technical assistance against economic crime, promotes its democratic standards and supports the “more vigorous implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption” called for in the Synthesis report of the Secretary-General on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Demand for technical cooperation against corruption continues to increase. In 2019, twenty jurisdictions saw improvements in their legislative frameworks and institutional capacities relevant to corruption prevention, conflict of interests, whistleblower protection, political party financing, asset declaration and asset recovery. The Council undertook a significant expansion of cooperation and networking efforts in its neighbouring regions, with a major programme launched in Central Asia, as well as increased engagement in the Middle East and North Africa through the Network of Corruption Prevention Agencies (NCPA) established by the Council of Europe.

In this field, the Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has recently worked on reports relating to corruption including Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges (Resolution 2293 (2019)), Laundromats: responding to new challenges in the international fight against organised crime, corruption and money laundering (Resolution 2279 (2019), Recommendation 2154 (2019)) and Improving the protection of whistle-blowers all over Europe (Resolution 2300(2019), Recommendation 2162(2020)).

In June 2017, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 2170 (2017) and Recommendation  2105 (2017) on Promoting integrity in governance to tackle political corruption, with a view to stepping up the fight against corruption and restoring trust in the efficiency and effectiveness of democratic institutions, which must be a priority for many European democracies, including European institutions.

Promoting the rule of law (target 16.3), the fight against corruption (target 16.5) and developing effective and accountable institutions (target 16.6) are generally among the priorities in the Assembly’s relations with parliaments enjoying partner for democracy status (Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, and the Palestinian National Council). This status directly contributes to the strengthening of national institutions, including through international cooperation, and to building capacity at all levels, in order to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime.

Based on reports by its Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media the Assembly also recently adopted Resolution 2171 (2017) and Recommendation 2106 (2017) on Parliamentary scrutiny over corruption: parliamentary co-operation with investigative media and Resolution 2192 (2017) on Youth against corruption.

Trust and confidence in the quality of education are also essential in sustaining a democratic society. In order to raise awareness of the risks involved and the responsibilities of providers and learners alike, a Pan-European Platform on Ethics, Integrity and Transparency in Education has been launched in the autumn of 2015. The initial work of the Platform is to propose ethical principles for all actors in education and discuss such issues as diploma mills and plagiarism.

Co-operation against cybercrime

Societies all over the world exploit the opportunities that information technologies bring for sustainable human development and democratic governance. However, reliance on such technologies makes societies vulnerable to risks, including cybercrime. Cybercrime thus threatens the human development potential of information and communication technologies and achievement of SDGs.. The COVID-19 pandemic is accompanied by further proliferation of cybercrime.

This underlines the need for effective criminal justice action, making use of frameworks such as the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime and additional solutions, including those being developed for the 2nd Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention to permit instant cooperation in urgent and emergency situations subject to human rights and rule of law safeguards.

For this reason, the Council of Europe is supporting countries in all regions of the world in the implementation of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime of the Council of Europe and its additional Protocol on Xenophobia and Racism committed via computer systems.

Many States (including countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia-Pacific) have decided to join these instruments.

The effective application of the Budapest Convention is supported by the Cybercrime Convention Committee (T-CY), serving as an international forum to reach agreement on how to deal with cybercrime and evidence as a matter of criminal justice. The T-CY is tasked not only to assess the quality of implementation of the Convention, but also to map the challenges to criminal justice in cyberspace and possible solutions to address these challenges.

As a result, the T-CY in 2017 commenced the negotiation of a 2nd Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention on enhanced cooperation and disclosure of electronic evidence. This Protocol is expected to be adopted and opened for signature by the end of 2021 and it will offer much added value, both from operational and policy perspectives shaping international criminal justice action on cybercrime and electronic evidence for many years to come.

The T-CY in 2018 also completed a mapping study on cyberviolenceand concluded that “measures to prevent, protect against and – in cases where it constitutes a criminal offence – prosecute cyberviolence should be conceived as contributing to the implementation of the UN Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, in particular, Sustainable Development Goal 16.”

[LN1]Link replaced with: https://rm.coe.int/t-cy-mapping-study-on-cyberviolence-final/1680a1307c

While cybercrime, cyberviolence and other offences entailing electronic evidence on computer systems are thriving, capacity building remains the most effective way ahead to help countries on all continents meet this challenge. For this reason, the Council of Europe established in 2014 a dedicated Cybercrime Programme Office (C-PROC) in Romania, the sole purpose of which is to support capacity-building programmes worldwide. From 2014 to 2020, C-PROC supported the strengthening of legislation, the training of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, and other measures through more than 1100 activities in Africa, Asia and Pacific, Latin America and Caribbean as well as Europe. These activities help societies meet the challenge of cybercrime while contributing to the development agenda at the same time.

The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights adopted a report on ‘Legal challenges related to hybrid war and human rights obligations’ (Resolution 2217 (2018) and Recommendation 2130 (2018)).

 

Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism

MONEYVAL (the Council of Europe Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism) is proceeding with its 5th round of mutual evaluations. This round focuses on the practical implementation of the global standard against money laundering and terrorist financing (AML/CFT) in MONEYVAL’s 34 members.

MONEYVAL continued to look into recent trends, such as virtual currencies, and regulation of transnational operations of financial gatekeepers, such as global law and accounting firms, trust and company service providers, real estate firms and casino operators.

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic MONEYVAL issued specific guidelines and red-flag indicators for anti-money laundering authorities, and additional research in this field is underway. In light of international money laundering scandals in 2020, the Council of Europe is promoting advanced solutions for additional AML/CFT regulation beyond the European continent, based on its Convention on Laundering, Search, Seizure and Confiscation of the Proceeds from Crime and on the Financing of Terrorism (CETS 198).

In this context the Council has launched an EU-wide assessment of anti-money laundering systems, at the request of the European Commission. A number of methodological instruments in the field of anti-money laundering were made available Council of Europe Member-States. This includes the National Risk Assessment Methodology, which successfully completed its pilot phase in 2019. Institutional and human capacity building continued to be a strong focus of co-operation, benefitting twenty member and non-member jurisdictions of the Council of Europe.

The Council of Europe technical co-operation against money-laundering and terrorism financing covered, amongst others, improved international cooperation in criminal matters and better prevention policies. In 2018, twenty-two countries benefitted from such co-operation.

In its Resolution 2130 (2016) on Lessons from the “Panama Papers” to ensure fiscal and social justice, prepared by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development, the Parliamentary Assembly addressed the issue of “dirty” money by, inter alia, drawing attention to the importance of ensuring technical compliance with already existing international standards in the field of anti-tax evasion and anti-money laundering policies.

Furthermore, in Resolution 2211 (2018) Funding of the terrorist group Daesh: lessons learned tabled by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, the Parliamentary Assembly proposed concrete measures to step up international co-operation in the fight against the financing of international terrorism.

The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has recently prepared reports on Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination and the rule of law in Malta and beyond: ensuring that the whole truth emerges (Resolution 2293 (2019)), Laundromats: responding to new challenges in the international fight against organised crime, corruption and money laundering (Resolution 2279 (2019), Recommendation 2154 (2019)) (see also under ‘Corruption’ above) and has adopted a report on the “Urgent need to strengthen Financial Intelligence Units – Sharper tools needed to improve confiscation of illegal assets” (due to be debated as the Standing Committee meeting on 19 March 2021)and is currently preparing a report on “How to put confiscated criminal assets to good use?”.

 Countering Terrorism

The Riga Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism (CETS No. 217), in force since 2017, has promoted the consistency of recently adopted legislation relevant to foreign terrorist fighters and returnees, and has thus facilitated international legal co-operation.  Established under Article 7 of the Protocol, the network of national contact points, available in real time, on a 24/7 basis has facilitated first alerts about the travel of foreign terrorist fighters and returnees.

The Council of Europe Committee on Counter-Terrorism (CDCT), which is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Council of Europe Counter-Terrorism Strategy for 2018-2022, has set up working groups on the nexus between terrorism and organised crime; on the gathering of evidence from conflict zones for the purpose of criminal prosecution of alleged terrorists; on awareness-raising on radicalisation and other preventive measures among frontline practitioners, in particular in schools; and on identification of emerging terrorist threats. All these working groups will deliver concrete and timely results in the form of policy standards and reports to member States throughout 2020. In late 2019 the CDCT already finalised a practical tool for the preliminary evaluation of the risk that a terrorist attack may be carried out by radicalised persons. This tool is designed to aid the authorities of member States responsible for identifying potential terrorists and mitigating the risks these persons pose to society.

Addressing the phenomenon of “foreign terrorist fighters”, i.e. persons who have travelled abroad for the purpose of terrorism, sadly remains a priority for the Council of Europe. The return of some of these foreign terrorist fighters to Europe together with other persons with presumed links to Daesh during 2019 has necessitated renewed policy considerations regarding the criminal prosecution of such persons and what other measures can be taken to mitigate potential threats. In 2021, the Council of Europe will continue its efforts in this regard, including by holding an international conference focusing on the roles of women and children in terrorism.

In this context, the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF) has provided input for the conceptualisation of the international conference on the roles of women and children in terrorism, and it is now contributing to the implementation of the Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2018-2022). To fulfil such endeavour, the CDENF undertakes actions for the development and promotion of activities and non-binding instruments, in particular addressing welfare and child protection challenges relating to child returnees.

As to the work of the Commissioner for Human Rights regarding human rights and counter-terrorism, the Commissioner has stressed that while terrorism constitutes a serious threat to human rights and democracy and action by states is necessary to prevent and effectively sanction terrorist acts, there is a compelling duty for states to protect the general interest of public security and the rule of law without jeopardising the core of human rights, which are enshrined notably in the European Convention on Human Rights. For more information, see the Commissioner’s thematic webpage ‘Counter terrorism and Human Rights’.

The Parliamentary Assembly has paid great attention to various issues related to combatting terrorism, and has systematically underscored the need to ensure respect for human rights. In 2016, the Assembly adopted Resolutions 2090 (2016) on Combating international terrorism while protecting Council of Europe standards and values and 2091 (2016) on Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq. Most recently, in Resolution 2303 (2019) and Recommendation 2164 (2019) Protecting and supporting the victims of terrorism prepared by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, the Assembly stressed that victims of terrorist acts, with their specific physical, material, emotional and psychological needs, must be afforded adequate protection and support, and their dignity and human rights must be fully upheld.

Furthermore, in April 2019, the Assembly co-organised, with several other interparliamentary institutions, as well as with the United Nations Offices of Counter-Terrorism (UNOCT) and on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), a major parliamentary conference on Countering international terrorism (Saint-Petersburg, Russia).

The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights follows closely legal and human rights issues relating to the fight against terrorism. For instance, the Assembly adopted recently a report on “Withdrawing nationality as a measure to combat terrorism: a human rights-compatible approach?” (Resolution 2263 (2019) and Recommendation 2145 (2019)).

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, as well as high ethical standards and quality of journalism, are pillars of true democracy and a pre-condition for effective accountability of democratic institutions to their citizens.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, through its Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, is particularly active in this domain. In the last four years (2017-2020), the Assembly adopted not less than 12 resolutions in this domain. In 2017-2020, the Assembly adopted several resolutions in this domain, such as:

In 2019, the Assembly also adopted a report on “Improving the protection of whistle-blowers all over Europe”  (Resolution 2300(2019), Recommendation 2162(2020)) on the basis of the work of its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

In 2020, the Assembly adopted Recommendation 2168 (2020) and Resolution 2317 (2020) on “Threats to media freedom and journalists’ security in Europe”, based on a report by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. In these texts, the Assembly expresses its high concern for dozens of journalists who are physically attacked, arbitrarily imprisoned and even murdered, while persons responsible for these crimes remain mostly unpunished. Threats, harassment, legal and administrative restrictions, and undue political and economic pressure against journalists are commonplace. The Assembly reminds all Council of Europe member States that they must effectively guarantee the safety of journalists, create an environment conducive to freedom of the media and prevent the misuse of laws or normative provisions that may affect this freedom. The Assembly also highlights the key role of the “Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists” and calls for Member States to respond quickly and effectively to alerts issued by the Platform and co-operate with the latter in good faith.

Also in 2020, the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media prepared an Opinion on the report “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on human rights and the rule of law” (issued by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights). The Opinion analyses the severe consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis on the media freedom and safety of journalists in the member States. It highlights that the right to freedom of expression and, by extension, media freedom have frequently come under pressure during the Covid-19 crisis.

All these texts show the holistic approach of the Parliamentary Assembly to key challenges that freedom of expression is facing today; they identify and analyse the many threats to people’s right to access accurate, balanced and trustworthy information, making concrete proposals on how to counter them, and point to different interconnected elements of an enabling environment for media freedom and journalists’ security.

The Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2016)4 on “Protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors” provides specific guidelines to member states to act in the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution, promotion of information, education and awareness rising.

Also, issued in April 2017, the study “Journalists under pressure: unwarranted interference, fear and self-censorship in Europe”, conducted among 940 journalists and other news providers in the 47 Council of Europe member states and Belarus, assesses the prevalence and impact of unwarranted interference on journalists.

Freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, but also high ethical standards and quality of journalism, are pillars of true democracy and a pre-condition for effective accountability of democratic institutions to their citizens. The Parliamentary Assembly, namely through its Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, is particularly active in this domain and recently adopted Resolution 2143 (2017) on Online media and journalism: challenges and accountability and Resolution 2141 (2017) on Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe.

Further reports are currently prepared on “New methods of political influence over independent journalism”, “The protection of editorial independency”, “The status of journalists in Europe”, “Are social media contributing to limiting freedom of expression?”,  “Media freedom as a condition for democratic elections” and “Media education in the new media environment.

 

The work of the Commissioner for Human Rights concerning freedom of expression covers different aspects of this freedom, including media freedom. In this respect, the Commissioner has stressed that free, independent and pluralistic media based on freedom of information and expression is a core element of any functioning democracy. Freedom of the media is in fact essential for the protection of all other human rights. For more information, see the Commissioner’s thematic webpage ‘Media Freedom’.

Freedom of assembly

Human Rights Comment ‘Shrinking space for freedom of peaceful assembly’

Internet governance

The Council of Europe puts a great deal of emphasis on the development of standards and policies related to the information society and internet governance since human rights apply equally online as well as off-line. The Council of Europe’s Internet Governance Strategy 2016-2019 aims at ensuring that public policy relating to the internet is people-centred and contributes to building democracy online, protecting internet users, and ensuring the protection and respect for human rights online.

In its efforts to promote rights and freedoms and maximise the enjoyment of benefits in the information society while minimising restrictions but ensuring an appropriate level of security to users, the Council of Europe has developed a Guide to Human Rights for Internet Users. This is a unique tool for individuals when facing difficulties in exercising their rights, for governments and public institutions to discharge their obligations to protect, respect and remedy human rights as well as an instrument to promote corporate social responsibility by encouraging the private sector to act responsibly and with respect for the human rights of individuals.

 

A number of other legal instruments developed by the Council of Europe have other socially important targets, relevant for sustainable development and strengthening of the knowledge based society. The recommendation on protecting and promoting the right to freedom of expression and the right to private life with regard to network neutrality deals with the practice of managing internet traffic transiting through the networks that internet access providers operate. Unjustifiable interferences with internet traffic may affect the quality of the internet service delivered to users and may result in blocking, discrimination or unfounded prioritisation of specific types of content, applications or services. Some of the techniques used in this context permit inspection or monitoring of communications, which can undermine users’ trust in the internet.

 

The recommendation on Internet freedom provides benchmarks and references for national evaluations of internet freedom. It aims at facilitating regular evaluations of the internet freedom environment at the national level, with a view to ensuring that the necessary legal, economic and political conditions are in place. Such evaluations contribute to a better understanding of the application of the European Convention on Human Rights to the internet-related challenges in member States. The indicators serve as an analytical framework for States to implement human rights standards online and as a reference for developing international policy and approaches for internet policy development.

 

The involvement of young people in internet governance processes is promoted in the follow-up to the No Hate Speech Movement campaign.

 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe adopted, in 2019, Resolution 2256 (2019) on “Internet governance and human rights”. The Assembly stresses the need for a digital society that is based on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms, advocating internet governance that is multi-stakeholder, decentralised, transparent, responsible, collaborative and participatory. It calls for public investment policies that are coherent with the objective of universal access to the internet, the commitment of member States to uphold Net neutrality, holistic policies for combating computer crime and abuse of the right to freedom of expression and information on the internet, and an effective implementation of the “security by design” principle.

Its Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media has prepared a report on “Towards an Internet Ombudsman institution”. A report on “Closing the digital divide: promoting equal access to digital technologies” is under preparation by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.

In January 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Resolution 2326 on Democracy Hacked? How to respond?, analysing the impact of disinformation on democracy, especially through the internet and social media. It pointed to the need to improve the internet’s content and architecture, build up the resilience of Europe’s democratic systems and societies, counter disinformation, invest in quality journalism and preserve freedom of expression and media and political pluralism, especially in the context of elections.

in 2019, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2281 (2019) on “Social media: social threads or threats to human rights?”. The resolution highlights that, on the one hand, social media have played and continue to play a crucial role in promoting freedom of expression and information, and citizens’ participation in the debate on political and societal issues, while, on the other, social media have become a forum where these freedoms, and the right to the protection of privacy, are under threat due to abusive practices. The resolution addresses issues such as the quality of information, the diversity of sources, users’ consent to the collection and use of their data, the parameters relating to confidentiality, and the transparency of the algorithms used to regulate the flow of information.

In 2020, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2334 (2020) “Towards an internet ombudsman institution”. The resolution looks at the expediency and feasibility to establish an ombudsman institution, which would have the necessary powers and authority to assess whether or not content published on the internet is lawful, and which could intervene to prevent situations where freedom of expression on the internet could be limited in a discriminatory manner by social media platforms, while preserving the possibility to combat effectively unlawful online content.

In October 2020, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe contributed to the artificial intelligence debate by adopting the following resolutions and recommendations:

  • Resolution 2341 (2020) and Recommendation 2181 (2020) on Need for democratic governance of artificial intelligence;
  • Resolution 2342 (2020) and Recommendation 2182 (2020) on Justice by algorithm – The role of artificial intelligence in policing and criminal justice systems;
  • Resolution 2343 (2020) and Recommendation 2183 (2020) on Preventing discrimination caused by the use of artificial intelligence;
  • Resolution 2344 (2020) and Recommendation 2184 (2020) on The brain-computer interface: new rights or new threats to fundamental freedoms?;
  • Recommendation 2185 (2020) on Artificial intelligence in health care: medical, legal and ethical challenges ahead;
  • Resolution 2345 (2020) and Recommendation 2186 (2020) on Artificial intelligence and labour markets: friend or foe?;
  • Resolution 2346 (2020) and Recommendation 2187 (2020) on Legal aspects of “autonomous” vehicles.
  • The Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is also currently preparing a report on “Emergence of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and their necessary apprehension through European human rights law”

 

The Commissioner for Human Rights published an Issue Paper in 2014 on ‘The rule of law on the Internet and in the wider digital world’.

Safeguarding human rights in the era of artificial intelligence

The Commissioner for Human Rights has identified the human rights implications of artificial intelligence as one of her priority themes.

The Commissioner raises awareness of the human rights implications of AI systems in her dialogue with national authorities but also with national human rights structures and AI actors in general, so that all those involved directly or indirectly in the development or application of AI systems have the necessary knowledge and understanding about AI’s impact on human rights to take action. She also provides guidance on the way in which the negative impact of AI systems on human rights can be prevented or mitigated. The Commissioner’s work is based on existing standards and builds on work done in this area by the Council of Europe and other international organisations.

See in particular:

 Supporting states in adhering to human rights standards

Inclusive societies and sustainable development are not possible without the respect for Human Rights of all members of these societies. The European Convention on Human Rights and the entire CoE convention system, as well as the case law of the European Court of Human Rights set the standards for human rights and the way they should be implemented in each country. Council of Europe Member States increasingly rely on support of the CoE to ensure effective and coherent implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights at national level.

The CoE supports the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights and other European human rights standards at the national level in all Council of Europe member states through cooperation programmes in line i.a. with the 2012 Brighton and 2015 Brussels Declarations as well as Recommendations from the Committee of Ministers such as Rec (2019)5 on the system of the European Convention on Human Rights in university education and professional training. The latter reinforces the work of the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) Programme of the Council of Europe, including its work with national training institutions. The CoE provides a combination of legislative expertise and capacity building support, paying attention to impact and aiming at sustainability, both essential and complementary elements to ensure a better protection of human rights at the national level. Through the projects, the CoE disseminates good practices and contributes to raising the standards of human rights observance in Europe and the effective application of the principle of subsidiarity.

Concrete cooperation projects aimed at improving the national legal frameworks, capacity building of national institutions, and consolidating the skills and knowledge of key justice actors including. This work focuses on implementing the criminal justice reforms and ensuring a harmonised application of European standards in national jurisdictions as well as facilitating the execution of the European Court’s Judgments. Targeted activities are carried out to maintain human rights dialogue and cooperation. See f.i. the work of the Human Rights National Implementation with links to thematic work on criminal justice reform, combatting ill-treatment and impunity, effective domestic judicial remedies, harmonisation of national case-law and judicial practice, support to Ombudspersons and anti-discrimination institutions (National Human Rights Institutions) and human rights education for legal professionals including support to national training institutions.

 

In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted in October 2020 a series of reports on various aspects of the impact of pandemic crisis on democratic societies. In particular, in Resolution 2337 (2020) and Recommendation 2179 (2020) on Democracies facing the Covid-19 pandemic prepared by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy, while supporting States in giving priority to saving and protecting populations from the pandemic, the Assembly recalled fundamental principles to be respected when introducing emergency measures to cope with the crisis. It stressed that no public health emergency may be used as a pretext to destroy the democratic acquis and warned governments against abusing emergency powers to silence opposition or restrict human rights. Parliaments must continue to play their role of representation, legislation and oversight.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe strongly supports the system of human rights protection in Europe. Its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights considers all matters concerning the human rights treaties and mechanisms of the Council of Europe, notably the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and its protocols, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ETS No. 126), and other legal instruments. It is committed to guaranteeing the effectiveness of the Convention at national level and regularly examines the implementation of judgments of the Court. It also promotes Council of Europe standard-setting legal instruments in the field of respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law in non-member States. The Committee has also produced a number of reports on the situation of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States (see the Parliamentary Assembly’s latest Resolution 2225 (2018) and Recommendation 2133 (2018) on ‘Protecting human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States’) and has a general rapporteur, who closely follows this issue on a regular basis.

The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial non-judicial institution established in 1999 by Council of Europe to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the 47 Council of Europe member states. The fundamental objectives of the Commissioner for Human Rights are laid out in Resolution (99) 50 on the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights. According to this resolution, the Commissioner is mandated to: foster the effective observance of human rights, and assist member states in the implementation of Council of Europe human rights standards; promote education in and awareness of human rights in Council of Europe member states; identify possible shortcomings in the law and practice concerning human rights; facilitate the activities of national ombudsperson institutions and other human rights structures; and provide advice and information regarding the protection of human rights across the region.

The Commissioner's work thus focuses on encouraging reform measures to achieve tangible improvement in the area of human rights promotion and protection. Being a non-judicial institution, the Commissioner's Office cannot act upon individual complaints, but the Commissioner can draw conclusions and take wider initiatives on the basis of reliable information regarding human rights violations suffered by individuals. The activities of this institution focus on three major, closely-related areas:

  • country visits and dialogue with national authorities and civil society
  • thematic reporting and advising on systematic human rights implementation
  • awareness-raising activities

Support for the work of human rights defenders, their protection and the development of an enabling environment for their activities lie at the core of the Commissioner’s mandate. The Commissioner assists member states in fulfilling their obligations in this regard by providing advice and recommendations.

 Data protection

Relying on a sound protection of personal data is an element of freedom, which can, in turn, better enable endeavours for professional, personal and economic development, both for individuals and groups. In particular, new technologies representing a chance for developing countries, it is equally important that their development goes together with the necessary safeguards.

The Council of Europe Data Protection Convention is a unique instrument due to its international and binding nature; it can provide a worldwide basis for the harmonisation of data protection legislations and enables the participation of developing countries in this work of fundamental importance.

The Convention allows other fundamental rights to be exercised, such as freedom of expression and access to information (as set in goal 16.10 on ensuring “public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements”), freedom of assembly and association.

It also sets forth the principles to be followed by States when developing technology-based systems digital identity systems to guarantee the respect of individuals’ dignity and autonomy, notably when the use of biometric data is envisaged. Modernised in 2018 to better address the challenges of new technologies, Convention 108+, when in force, will also be a valuable instrument for international co-operation.

Anti-Discrimination

The multiple European crisis – austerity economic agenda, uncertainty, terrorist attacks, arrival of high number of migrants and refugees – create a climate of anxiety and fear, which is a fertile ground for hate speech and xenophobic populism. The Council of Europe, notably through the European Commission against Racism and intolerance (ECRI), the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) and the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML), actively supports the UN determination to protect human rights and minority rights and promote equality every human being. These activities also contribute to the implementation of goals 4, 5 and 11.

 

ECRI is an independent human rights monitoring body which helps member States to overcome problems of racism, intolerance and discrimination on grounds such as “race”, national or ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion, language, sexual orientation and gender identity. ECRI prepares reports based on country visits and issues General Recommendations to member States. It has put a special focus on the implementation of effective anti-discrimination legislation, the establishment and impact of equality bodies, combating hate speech and hate-motivated violence, education, and on integration and inclusion of groups of concern to ECRI (including Roma and migrants), as well as policies to combat intolerance and discrimination against LGBTI persons. ECRI recently marked its 25th anniversary and published its Roadmap to Effective Equality for the years to come. The Roadmap includes work on antisemitism, intolerance and discrimination against Muslims and LGBTI issues.

The FCNM  is a comprehensive treaty designed to protect the rights of persons belonging to national minorities. Parties to this Convention undertake to promote the full and effective equality of persons belonging to minorities in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life together with the conditions that will allow them to express, preserve and develop their culture and identity. An independent  and impartial Advisory Committee prepares an opinion on the implementation of the FCNM by the parties, based on which the Committee of Ministers adopts recommendations to the parties.

In 2019 the implementing provisions of the FCNM underwent thorough reform in order to render the instrument more versatile. Most importantly, procedures were redesigned to operate more speedily. Further, amongst other things, a rapid response mechanism was introduced.

The ECRML aims to protect and promote the use of regional or minority languages in all spheres of public life, notably in the areas of education, administration, public services, the judiciary, media, cultural activities and facilities, economic and social life and cross-border exchanges. The Charter contributes to the maintenance and development of Europe’s cultural wealth and traditions, and stresses the values of cultural diversity and multilingualism. The languages of indigenous peoples are covered by the Charter. An independent Committee of Experts publishes an evaluation report on the implementation of the ECRML by its States Parties, based on which the Committee of Ministers adopts recommendations to the parties. Following a reform in 2019 to strengthen the Charter's monitoring mechanism, States Parties to the Charter must now, inter alia, present to the Council of Europe a comprehensive periodical report on the application of the treaty every five years and then two and a half years thereafter information on recommendations for immediate action. Further changes were introduced via the above-mentioned reform.

 

The Council of Europe Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is a unique instrument which identifies very specific measures to ensure full respect for LGBT persons, promote tolerance towards them and ensure that victims have access to legal remedies. The implementation of the Recommendation by member States was reviewed by the Council of Europe in 2019 and the report is available on the SOGI Unit’s web site. The Unit also organises, from 2020, regular exchanges between the European Network of Governmental LGBTI Focal Points with the newly established Council of Europe Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) in order to discuss policy developments to improve the implementation of Recommendation (2010)15. Through its cooperation activities, the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit (SOGI Unit) addresses issues related to hate crime and hate speech against LGBTI persons, homophobic and transphobic violence and bullying, multiple discrimination, legal gender recognition of transgender persons, as well as protection of intersex children, and has helped improving the legal framework, practices and policies of the member States that seek its expertise.

 

The Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities programme supports local authorities in preventing and combating discrimination in all areas of life by encouraging more open, inclusive institutions, neighbourhoods, schools, enterprises, and public space as well as by combatting prejudice and stereotypes via the pioneering anti-rumours approach which is being applied by more than 50 cities.

 

The Council of Europe Strategy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities - Human Rights: A Reality for All (2017-2023) aims to achieve equality, dignity and equal opportunities for persons with disabilities. This requires ensuring independence, freedom of choice, full and active participation in all areas of life and society. The Strategy addresses a number of areas covered by the SDGs, notably equality, inclusion and accessibility, acting as an implementing tool, at regional level, of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

 

The No Hate Speech and Cooperation Unit runs cooperation projects with CoE member states and observer states to strengthen inclusion and address discrimination and inequality that undermine the enjoyment of human rights and democracy by everyone. The projects offer concrete and tested solutions to governmental and non-governmental partners to protect and promote the European Convention on Human Rights, relevant Council of Europe standards and support in particular implementing the recommendations of the Council of Europe monitoring bodies such as  ECRI, FCNM and ECRML. The Unit supports national authorities to reform the Criminal, Civil and Administrative law, improve data gathering and in cooperation with CSO partners implement capacity building and awareness raising measures through a multi-stakeholder approach (see for example the projects in Western Balkans and Eastern Partnership region). The Unit is co-managing the work of the Committee of Experts on Combatting Hate speech (ADI/MSI-DIS) and implementing specific projects related to the development of comprehensive policies against hate speech in member States; new tools to promote human rights narrative online. Risks that artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithmic decision-making (ADM) systems can pose to equality and non-discrimination principles during the delivery of public and private sector services are being addressed with new tools including an online course for Equality Bodies and other regulators. In line with UN goal 16, the Unit enables vulnerable groups, including persons belonging to national minorities and LGBTI persons, to make full use of their rights and participate in society. The Unit’s work strives to strengthen gender equality (UN Goal 5), sustainable cities and communities (UN Goal 11) and reduce inequality (UN goals 10).

the unit supports national authorities to reform the Criminal, Civil and Administrative law, improve data gathering and implement capacity building and awareness raising measures through a multi-stakeholder approach. In line with UN goals 16, the unit enables vulnerable groups, including persons belonging to national minorities and LGBTI persons, to make full use of their rights and participate in society. The units work strives to strengthen gender equality (UN Goal 5), sustainable cities and communities (UN Goal 11) and reduce inequality (UN goals 10). The Unit is co-managing the work of the Committee of Experts on Combatting Hate speech (ADI/MSI-DIS) and implementing specific projects related to the development of comprehensive policies against hate speech in member States, and new models for the governance for online hate speech.

 

The Steering Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) was set up by the Committee of Ministers at the end of 2019. Its main task is to steer the Council of Europe’s intergovernmental work to promote equality and build more inclusive societies, offering effective protection from discrimination and hate and where diversity is respected. The CDADI advises the Committee of Ministers in areas such as preventing and combating hate speech and discrimination on the grounds covered by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) (“race”, national or ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, religion, language, sexual orientation and gender identity), with a particular focus on fighting anti-Gypsyism and improving the active participation and inclusion of Roma and Travellers in society, safeguarding the rights of persons belonging to national minorities and the use of regional or minority languages, and promoting intercultural integration. Under the CDADI, several expert committees and working groups have also been set up and have begun their work in 2020.

Subordinate bodies under the CDADI have also been set up and will begin their work in 2020. The Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues (ADI-ROM) will oversee the implementation of the strategic priority actions in the field of Roma and Travellers inclusion, review the implementation of national legislation, policies and practice, through thematic reports based on visits, with a view to promoting relevant Council of Europe standards, and exchange information, views and experience in this area. The Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech (ADI/MSI-DIS) is tasked with preparing a draft recommendation by the Committee of Ministers on a comprehensive approach to addressing hate speech, including in the context of an online environment, within a human rights framework building on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and drawing upon existing Council of Europe texts and the legacy of the No Hate Speech Movement Youth Campaign, as well as possible practical tools to give guidance to member States and other stakeholders in this area. In addition, the CDADI will form a Working Group to develop the multi-level policy framework for intercultural integration (GT-ADI -INT), in particular as regards migrants, composed of representatives of member States with specialised knowledge in intercultural integration and diversity management and representatives of local authorities that are full members of the Intercultural Cities Programme.

The working group on COVID-19 responses drafted ‘Guidelines on upholding equality and protecting against discrimination and hate during the Covid-19 and similar crises in the future’, which were adopted by the CDADI in February 2021 and will now be submitted to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The working group also produced a “Compilation of promising and good practices that Council of Europe member states have developed and implemented to uphold equality and protect against discrimination and hatred during the Covid-19 crisis”.

The Committee of Experts on Roma and Traveller Issues (ADI-ROM) overseesthe implementation of the strategic priority actions in the field of Roma and Travellers inclusion, reviews the implementation of national legislation, policies and practice through thematic reports based on visits, with a view to promoting relevant Council of Europe standards and exchange information, views and experience in this area.

The Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech (ADI/MSI-DIS) is tasked with preparing a draft recommendation of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on a comprehensive approach to addressing hate speech, including on the Internat, building on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and drawing upon existing Council of Europe texts and the legacy of the No Hate Speech Youth Campaign, as well as possible practical tools to give guidance to member States and other stakeholders in this area.

In addition, the CDADI established a Working Group to develop a multi-level policy framework for intercultural integration (GT-ADI -INT), in particular as regards migrants, composed of representatives of member States with specialised knowledge in intercultural integration and diversity management and representatives of local authorities that are full members of the Intercultural Cities Programme. The GT-ADI-INT also drafted a report on the implementation of Recommendation CM/Rec(2015)1 of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to member States on intercultural integration, which was adopted by the CDADI during its second plenary in February 2021.

Youth participation in decision making at all levels which concern them is promoted through the Youth for Democracy programme and informs capacity-building measures that are organised for member States and youth organisations. These measures adopt participatory approaches to youth policy and youth work, based inter alia on the Council of Europe Congress’ Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life and in the Youth Department’s manual “Have Your Say!”. Specific attention is paid to promoting the participation of vulnerable or disadvantaged young people, notably Roma youth. Standards and approaches to meaningful youth participation in decision making also inform Euro-Arab youth co-operation activitiesSpecific attention is paid to promoting the participation of vulnerable or disadvantaged young people, notably Roma youth. Standards and approaches to meaningful youth participation in decision making also inform Euro-Arab youth co-operation activities.

 

The Council of Europe also combats inequality and discrimination through raising awareness and training legal professionals in the member states.  Several courses of the European Programme for Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals (HELP) target issues relevant to gender equality.  These include courses on Anti-Discrimination, Labour Rights, Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, Child-friendly Justice, and a course on Combatting Trafficking in Human Beings.  The Council of Europe also contributes to the strengthening of the capacities of national human rights institutions, such as Ombudspersons and dedicated equality bodies in addressing issues of discrimination and gender inequality.

 

The activities of the Council of Europe in the field of promoting gender equality and empowering women in girls, described extensively under SDG 5, are also relevant to the implementation of SDG 16.

 

The work and activities of the Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination focus on fighting racism, hatred and hate speech, intolerance, antisemitism, islamophobia, anti-Gypsyism, homophobia and transphobia. These issues are tackled through a number of reports, recommendations and resolutions as well as through the activities carried out by the No Hate Alliance, .a network of parliamentarians, who commit to take an open, firm and pro-active stand against all acts of racism, hatred and intolerance, coordinated by the General Rapporteur on Combating racism and intolerance

See some of the relevant documents tackling these issues:

Report are currently being prepared on issues including Afrophobia, Antisemitism, Islamophobia, the situation of Crimean Tartars, Alleged violations of the rights of LGBTI people in the South Caucasus region, rising hate against LGBTI people in Europe, discrimination against Roma and Travellers in the field of housing, discrimination based on social origins.

 

The work of the Commissioner for Human Rights relating to anti-discrimination has comprises a wide range of actions focused on combating discrimination on grounds such as age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, race, ethnic origin, religion or economic or other status. The activities of the Commissioner on this theme are undertaken in different thematic areas such as human rights of LGTBI persons, human rights of persons with disabilities, human rights and migration, human rights of Roma and Travellers, and women’s rights and gender equality. The Commissioner has also carried out some country and thematic work relating to racism and intolerance and on the human rights of older persons. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commissioners published a number of statements where she called for measures to combat discrimination affecting a number of the groups mentioned above.

See in particular:

Thematic webpages:

Concerning combating racism and intolerance, see in particular the Human Rights Comments:

Concerning human rights of older persons, see in particular the Human Rights Comments:

 

  Action against Trafficking in Human Beings

The Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings is a ground-breaking and comprehensive instrument which is of relevance notably to achieving target 5.2 of Goal 5, target 8.7 of Goal 8 and target 16.2 of Goal 16. While building on existing international instruments, the Convention goes beyond the minimum standards agreed upon in them and strengthens the protection afforded to victims. The Convention has a comprehensive scope of application, encompassing all forms of trafficking and taking in all persons who are victims of trafficking (women, men or children). The Convention makes particular reference to children’s vulnerability in trafficking and requires States to take special account of their need for special protection and assistance. The Convention is not restricted to Council of Europe member States; non-members States and the European Union also have the possibility of becoming Party to the Convention. The implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Convention by the State Parties is monitored by the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the Committee of the Parties.

The Council of Europe offers member States and other stakeholders guidance and support for achieving targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2 to end human trafficking through the provision of recommendations resulting from the monitoring of the Convention by GRETA and expertise on human trafficking issues and activities, such as round-table meetings in the monitored countries. The round-table meetings are a tool for stimulating dialogue between relevant stakeholders in each country, and identifying areas where the Council of Europe can support national anti-trafficking efforts.

The Council of Europe supports the implementation of the SDGs that aim to end human trafficking by organising conferences and other events to raise awareness of the provisions of the Convention and GRETA’s recommendations. Further, in order to strengthen capacity in preventing and combating human trafficking, workshops and training seminars are organised for different professional groups.

A free online course on human trafficking has been developed by the Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals of the Council of Europe (HELP) and translated into a range of languages. In addition, information and good practice examples are collected for the promotion of the implementation of the Anti-Trafficking Convention.

The Council of Europe furthers the achievement of the trafficking-related SDGs through the financing and implementation of anti-trafficking projects and activities whose results bring along the necessary outcomes at national or regional level, in line with the SDGs 5, 8 and 16 and its associated targets 5.2, 8.7 and 16.2. The projects support the national authorities in preventing and combating trafficking in human beings, by addressing the legislation, policy and practice in particular fields.

The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons worked on a report entitled ‘Concerted action against human trafficking and the smuggling of migrants’ (see Resolution 2323 (2020) and Recommendation 2171 (2020)) in which it encouraged national parliamentarians to assist in the domestic implementation of the recommendations contained in the reports of the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA).

Ending violence against children

The Council of Europe is actively engaged in the eradication of all forms of violence against children (VAC) at pan European level. “A life free from violence for all children” is one of the five key priority areas of the current Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021) which was subject to a mid-term evaluation in November 2019.The Strategy stipulates its mission clearly as contributing to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development building on its standards, intergovernmental platforms and monitoring bodies. To this end, the Council of Europe will continue to act as a regional driver of initiatives to prevent and respond to violence against children, including by protecting victims and promoting child-friendly services and efficient reporting mechanisms. The work programme of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF), established in January 2020 and entrusted with the implementation of the Strategy, includes, inter alia, actions to enhance the implementation of international and Council of Europe’s standards on the protection of children from violence in member States and the development of non-binding instruments to guide states in this endeavour. The CDENF has entrusted the Working group on Violence against Children (CDENF-GT-VAE) to develop a recommendation on systems for professionals to report violence against children and to further explore member states’ action aimed at preventing peer violence and sexual abusive behaviour by children. In addition, the CDENF’s specific tasks include actions to promote the prevention and protection of victims of sexual exploitation and abuse, as well as contributing to effectively protect children from violent extremism. The Council of Europe will furthermore continue to support the mandate of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children as well as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.

To date, the Lanzarote Convention is the most ambitious and comprehensive legal instrument on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, covering and criminalising all possible kinds of sexual offences against children, protecting child victims, prosecuting perpetrators and promoting international co-operation. Its implementation is overseen by the Committee of the Parties (“Lanzarote Committee”), which has been involving children in the current, 2nd thematic monitoring round of the Convention on “the protection of children against sexual exploitation and abuse facilitated by ICTs: addressing the challenges raised by child self-generated sexual images and/or videos”. Next to the Lanzarote Convention, the Council of Europe policy guidelines on integrated national strategies for the protection of children from violence are of particular interest for States committed to promote a child rights based and holistic approach to ending violence. These instruments are extremely relevant to the implementation of Target 16.2 and continue to be promoted amongst member States.

With regard to topical challenges of child protection against violence, several co-operation projects are currently underway, and support global efforts in this area. In particular, a regional project to End Online Child Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (EndOCSEA@Europe) is currently being implemented by the Council of Europe until June 2021, with the financial support of the End Violence against Children Fund. This project works with 10 focus countries (Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, Republic of Moldova, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine) and 3 pilot countries (Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan) to promote and support national and regional actions to prevent and combat online child sexual exploitation and abuse. It contributes to the improvement of legislation and policies in accordance with the Lanzarote and Budapest Conventions, supports capacity building tools and activities for professionals, including law enforcement and the judiciary, and works on raising the awareness of all stakeholders including children themselves.

The intergovernmental sector of the organization, representing member States, the Lanzarote Committee, and the Parliamentary Assembly have been promoting the Lanzarote Convention very pro-actively over the past years, namely through the Council of Europe ONE in FIVE Campaign to stop sexual violence against children (2010-2015). In 2019, joint action is being pursued under the current Campaign to End immigration detention of children (2015-2019).

 

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe continues to keep matters of child protection and the promotion of children’s rights high up on the agenda, by regularly urging member States to take action. Amongst the most recent texts adopted by the Assembly in this area are Resolution 2204 (2018) on Protecting children affected by armed conflicts, Resolution 2232 (2018) Striking a balance between the best interest of the child and the need to keep families together, Resolution 2236 (2018) on The treatment of Palestinian minors in the Israeli justice system, Resolution 2284 (2019) on Addressing the health needs of adolescents in Europe, Resolution 2294 (2019) on Ending violence against children: a Council of Europe contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals..

Recommendation 2175 and Resolution 2330 (2020) on Addressing sexual violence against children: stepping up action and co-operation in Europe, Recommendation 2169 and Resolution 2321 (2020) on International obligations concerning the repatriation of children from war and conflict zones. Preparation of reports on “For an assessment of the means and provisions to combat children's exposure to pornographic content” and on the “Impact of COVID-19 on children’s rights” is currently under way.

Furthermore there have been recent Resolutions on Missing refugee and migrant children in Europe (see Resolution 2324 (2020) and Recommendation 2172 (2020)) and on Effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separated migrant children (see Recommendation 2190 (2020) and Resolution 2354 (2020)). The Committee on Migration Refugees and Displaced Persons is currently preparing a report on Alternative care for unaccompanied and separated migrant children.

The Commissioner for Human Rights addresses the problem of violence against children in the context of country and thematic work on human rights for children. For more information, see the thematic webpage on children’s rights and in particular the Human Rights Comment ‘No violence against children is acceptable, all violence is preventable’.

Values in and through sports

Threats to sports integrity (such as doping and match fixing) have an impact on people’s trust in sports organisations and institutions. The Council of Europe Convention on the manipulation of sports competitions and the Anti-Doping Convention address those threats by promoting cooperation between States and the sports movement. By promoting human rights values through sports and fostering safety and good governance in sports, the Council of Europe reaches out to millions of people and involves the sports movement and economic sector in the building of sustainable societies. Besides the Convention tackling the threats of sports the activities of the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) aim at ensuring good governance in sport and defending the integrity of sport . In this sense, it plays a considerable role in building accountable and inclusive institutions and in restoring confidence/trust in these institutions. Namely EPAS has contributed to promote good governance and reduce corruption thought the publication two important resolutions in 2018. Within the International Partnership against Corruption in Sport (IPACS), composed of sports organisations, governments and other inter-governmental organisations, the Council of Europe is strengthening work that will reduce corruption and bribery in sport, and develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions. The sport migrant integration platform aims to index and share knowledge on good practices which are taking place at a pan-European level, on current activities and future projects focusing on newly arrived migrants and their integration via sport. The CoE is co-ordinating the preparation of guidelines on sport integrity within the format of the Kazan Action Plan uniting its experience and stakeholders.

See also:

Promotion of human rights in sport

The Parliamentary Assembly, through its Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media  is also active in this domain. Resolution 2199 (2018) - Towards a framework for modern sports governance proposes an innovative sports governance framework including a set of 20 core common criteria in sports governance (concerning transparency, democracy, integrity, development and responsibility), an ISO certification standard on governance of sports organisations and an independent sports ethics rating system. Resolution 2200 (2018) - Good football governance, among others, calls for closer co-operation between sports organisations and international organisations, at both global and regional levels, to promote human rights in and by sport. Resolution 2336(2020) and Recommendation 2178(2020) – Time to act: Europe’s political response to fighting the manipulation of sports competitions calls for sports integrity to be placed higher on member States’ political agendas, with more resources attached and with a view of urgently ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on the Manipulation of Sports Competitions (CETS No. 215). It further urges the European Union institutions to find a rapid solution to the years-long deadlock imposed by Malta over the definition of “illegal sports betting” withing the Convention, while the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe should reconsider its agreement with the European Union to ensure that a single member State can no longer prevent others from joining a Council of Europe treaty. The report underlines that a global threat needs a global response, all the more urgent given the drastic impact of Covid-19 on the financial sustainability and integrity of sport. The Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, is currently working on a new report on sports policies in the times of crisis and on football governance and ethics.

 

 Good Governance

The Centre of Expertise for Good Governance offers practical support to central governments which want to reform their legislation, institutions or policies, and to local authorities which want to improve the quality of their governance and public services. For example, the 12 Principles of Good Governance, as well as specific capacity-building tools, training materials and benchmarks developed by the Centre of Expertise allow local authorities to improve governance and help achieve SDGs in a very concrete and practical way.

The European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG) is the Council of Europe intergovernmental structure where high-level officials from the 47 member States meet to share information about policy and best practice, as well as to develop or update standards, in the fields of modernisation of democratic institutions, public administration reform, citizens’ participation and democratic governance at all levels.

The Committee promotes compliance of domestic legislation with the European Charter of Local Self-Government, and disseminates Committee of Ministers’ Recommendations and Guidelines in the above mentioned fields.

The Committee provides direct support to member States by way of exchanges among peers and rapid responses to demands regarding legal issues or established practice. It also relies on the Centre of Expertise for Good Governance for the provision of practical assistance or the development of country-specific programmes.

Civil Society

Civil society plays a leading role in the promotion of accountable, effective and inclusive institutions in democratic societies.  The Council of Europe is working on enhancing the space for effective civil participation in public life and in political decision-making at all levels of government. The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe represents European civil society within the Council of Europe and aims to defend the freedom of association, amplify the independent voices of civil society, and protect the space for civil participation.  The Council of Europe North-South Centre of the Council of Europe carries out activities to empower civil society organisations in Europe and the Southern Mediterranean to strengthen their role in the preparation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of public policies and in governance.

The Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights  has produced three reports on unjustified restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States (see Resolution 2362 and Recommendation 2194 (2021) and Resolutions 2226 (2018) 2096 (2016)).

The Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development is currently working on a report on “Giving a voice to every child: promoting child participation as a foundation for democratic societies”.

Promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development

The Youth for Democracy programme involves youth organisations in the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, notably by supporting them through capacity-building activities and exchanges on peace education and conflict transformation. The “Youth Peace Camp” brings together young people from conflict-stricken communities and helps them to overcome hatred and prejudice, as well as to develop joint projects and initiatives to promote inter-community dialogue and, when appropriate, reconciliation. Activities promoting intercultural dialogue among young people are organised on a regular basis, notably in the framework of the Euro-Arab co-operation, and based on the Council of Europe White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue.

The successful No Hate Speech Movement Youth campaign strove to raise awareness of the role and importance of a safe, reliable and human-rights compatible cyberspace for inclusion and peace. National campaign committees and a dedicated network of youth organisations are continuing to combat hate speech. Education for media literacy as well as digital competences are important dimensions to protect societies from abuse and hate speech which fuel social rift and conflict. The use of counter and alternative narratives to hate speech is particularly important, including as a means of combating violent extremism. Educational resources have been developed through the Campaign and are being promoted in national campaigns.

 

The role and importance of a safe, reliable and human-rights compatible cyberspace for inclusion and peace is the object of the No Hate Speech Movement Campaign and its follow-up measures. Education for media literacy as well as digital competences are important dimensions to protect societies from abuse and hate speech which fuel social rift and conflict. The use of counter and alternative narratives to hate speech is particularly important, including as a means of combating violent extremism.  Educational resources have been developed through the Campaign and are being promoted in national campaigns.

 

Apart from the reference in the part of Civil Society, the North-South Centre promotes intercultural dialogue among young people notably in the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Cooperation and the North-South Centre’s Network on Youth and Global Citizenship.

The Network encourages the definition of a common agenda, through the quadrilogue approach, and the implementation of common actions to foster democratic participation and global citizenship among young people, contributing to this goal of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

From 2016 to 2020 the North-South Centre’s Network on Youth and Global Citizenship has been focusing on SGD16. The umbrella theme of the Universities represent the thread that connects all the activities, advocacy efforts and awareness raising initiatives taking place in the framework of the universities, ensuring coherence and greater impact in the medium term. Every year, the umbrella theme is broken down into specific annual focuses. In 2018 “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies”, in 2019 “Youth and justice” and in 2020 the theme is “Institutions”.

Take an insight into the latest editions of the University on Youth and Development and Mediterranean University on Youth and Global Citizenship.

During the biennium 2018-2019 the North-South Centre’s contribution to the “Youth, Peace and Security” (YPS) agenda was recognised by its main stakeholders. Funded through a transversal scheme of projects and programmes - South Programme III funded by the European Union, the Euro-Mediterranean youth cooperation project and in synergy with the Network on Youth and Global Citizenship - the North-South Centre explored the complementary relationship between democratic participation, human rights and peacebuilding. To that end, the North-South Centre has been promoting and participating in a series of initiatives, following a path that goes form uplifting youth engagement in peace and democratic processes in the 2018 Lisbon Forum, to enhancing the interregional and multilevel cooperation to support such youth engagement in peace processes in the 2019 follow-up seminar organised in Jordan.

The 2019 Lisbon Forum addressed the relation between Development and Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Democracy: achieving together the Sustainable Development Goals. It not only promoted a Council of Europe coordinated approach but also prompted widespread support for the notion that the implementation of the UN SDGs could greatly benefit from a stronger regional (continental) effort of SDG governance and coordination.

For 2020-2023, the North-South Centre will implement a project which aims at ensuring youth partnership for development and global citizenship through interregional cooperation between Europe, the Southern Mediterranean and beyond. The project is a follow-up action of the Euro-Mediterranean Youth Cooperation Project (2018-2019), which incorporates in an integral manner the work of the North-South Centre's Network on Youth and Global Citizenship and its universities for the period 2020-2023.

In the framework of the Joint Programme between the Council of Europe and the European Union, ‘South Programme III,’ the North-South Centre’s 2018 Lisbon Forum addressed ‘Youth Peace and Security: uplifting youth engagement in peace and democratic processes in the Euro-Mediterranean Region’. During the Forum, representatives from governments, parliaments, regional and local authorities and civil society from Europe and neighbouring regions, explored the opportunities for a greater youth engagement in decision making processes to ensure peace and democracy in the Euro-Mediterranean, under the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution 2250 (2015).

Building up from previous successful experiences with diaspora youth leaders – namely the African Diaspora Youth Network in Europe - ADYNE – the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe works with diaspora youth groups and young migrants who have proven to be crucial actors in the promotion of global/development education, representing an immense richness for the hosting societies. In this context, the activities of the youth cooperation programme in the framework of the iLEGEND seek to strengthen the role of youth as key actors in global and interregional development, as well as to facilitate the development of youth policies and structures for youth participation.

The activities of the Council of Europe in the field of migration and refugees, coordinated by the Special Representative of the Secretary General, adopted also in the framework of the Council of Europe Action Plan on Protecting Refugee and Migrant Children in Europe (2017-2019), contribute further achieving SDG 16, by ensuring access to rights and child-friendly procedures; providing effective protection; and enhancing refugee and migrant children’s integration. It is important to note that activities carried out by implementing the Action Plan are also relevant to a number of other Sustainable Development Goal, such as SDG 1, SGD 4 and SDG 10."

At the level of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development looks into various categories of individual and collective social rights, social inclusion and good governance notably at the local and regional level; this led, for example, to Resolution 2024 (2014) on Social exclusion: a danger for Europe’s democracies. More recently, it adopted Resolution 2152 (2017) on “New generation” trade agreements and their implications for social rights, public health and sustainable development, Resolution 2197 (2018) on The case for a basic citizenship income, Resolution 2302 (2019) on The Council of Europe Development Bank: contributing to building a more inclusive society and Resolution 2272 (2019) on Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals: synergy needed on the part of all stakeholders, from parliaments to local authorities.

The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has worked to promote inclusive societies through the integration of refugees, leading in particular to the adoption of Resolution 2176 (2017) on the Integration of refugees in times of critical pressure: learning from recent experience and examples of best practice. In March 2019 the Assembly adopted Resolution 2268 (2019) on Development co-operation: a tool for preventing migration crises, based on a report by the committee illustrating the usefulness of effective development co-operation in reducing inequalities and contributing to avoiding future sharp rises in migratory flows, through regional capacity-building and assistance with economic development in less developed countries. It is currently preparing a report entitled For a European policy on diaspora, encouraging diaspora networks and encouraging countries to look at how to support diaspora networks.

Many Assembly reports in the field of education, culture, heritage, youth and sport, as prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, focus on promoting diversity and dialogue to cultivate a sense of identity, collective memory and mutual understanding and to promote shared values which are the foundation of “living together” in peace and of an active and responsible citizen participation in public life. In this respect, in 2019, the Assembly adopted: Resolution 2270 (2019) - The value of cultural heritage in a democratic society; Resolution 2269 (2019) - Safeguarding and enhancing intangible cultural heritage in Europe; and Resolution 2309 (2019) - The preservation of the Jewish cultural heritage.

The Committee has generally supported Council of Europe activities in the area of social cohesion over the past years, such as those by the European Social Cohesion Platform (PECS) and previous relevant bodies.

The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has worked to promote inclusive societies through the integration of refugees, leading in particular to the adoption of Resolution 2176 (2017) on the Integration of refugees in times of critical pressure: learning from recent experience and examples of best practice. It has also worked on a report leading to a Resolution on “Recently arrived refugees and migrants at risk of radicalisation” (see Resolution 2238 (2018)) with recommendations to member States on policies to avoid extremism and violence in society.

Most of the Assembly reports prepared in the field of education, culture, heritage, youth and sport as prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media focus on promoting diversity and dialogue to cultivate a sense of identity, collective memory and mutual understanding and to promote shared values which are the foundation of “living together” in peace and of an active and responsible citizen participation in public life. In 2016, the Assembly adopted the following resolutions in this field:

  • Access to school and education for all children
  • Sport for all: a bridge to equality, integration and inclusion
  • Culture and democracy
  • Educational and cultural networks of communities living abroad.

In its Resolution 2123 (2016) on culture and democracy, the Parliamentary Assembly recommended, inter alia, that governments support the right of everyone to participate in cultural life as a core human right, seeking to offset barriers which hamper the access to culture of women, youth, minorities, migrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups, and that they promote the diversity of cultural expressions and cultural pluralism as positive factors for innovation and development.

Further reports are currently prepared on “Education and culture: new partnerships to support personal development and cohesion”, “The value of cultural heritage in a democratic society” and “Safeguarding and enhancing Europe’s intangible cultural heritage”.

 

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities organised the following events:

 

The achievement of the SDGs is a responsibility shared by all levels of governance - international, national, local and regional. Thanks to its expertise and proximity to the citizens, the Congress of the Council of Europe carries the territorial dimension of the SDGs. The Congress's work focuses on 12 of the 17 objectives defined in the United Nations Agenda 2030.»

The Congress acts for the promotion of inclusive and sustainable societies, by fostering regional democracy, based on human rights, respectful of its citizens rights, liberties and freedoms.

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities adopted the following texts of relevance:

The Commissioner for Human Rights has called upon member states of the Council of Europe to enhance social cohesion and refrain from taking measures that would have the effect of discriminating, excluding, marginalising, isolating or segregating persons or groups of persons. The approach has been to recommend better human rights protection and social inclusion for specific groups of persons. These groups include (but are not limited to) children, women, elderly people, LGBTI persons, persons with disabilities, migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, Roma and other ethnic or religious minority groups. Recent work of the Commissioner on this theme includes two documents related to social cohesion and inclusive societies containing recommendations and positions on these respective issues.

See in particular:

 Addressing post-conflict situations through confidence-building measures

Over the past decades, several regions of Europe have experienced armed conflicts, some of them still protracted, some frozen, others having now found a more long-term political settlement, but in all cases the countries concerned are still experiencing the consequences of the conflicts on their societies. Failure to find peaceful viable solutions to the conflicts, in particular through democracy and rule of law mechanisms, results in further isolation of the populations living in the areas concerned, gravely affecting their human rights and depriving them of guarantees provided for all Europeans, notably under the European Convention on Human Rights. As a direct consequence, the populations affected by the conflict experience multiple difficulties of a material and moral character. These situations concern the entire population of the affected regions but in particular influence the younger generations, provoking bitterness and distrust, which has serious consequences for future possibilities of conflict resolution.

The Council of Europe sees its role in proposing to the interested parties its Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) in the fields of its expertise as a valuable contribution for the conflict resolution processes. Confidence Building Measures conducted by the Council of Europe aim at facilitating dialogue among populations, in particular different professional groups across dividing lines, and at raising awareness and respect of human rights principles as contained in the relevant instruments of the Organisation. They also aim at creating a good level of mutual trust between the populations across dividing lines, notably by addressing problems of common concern and pointing at reconciliation with a view to building the foundations for a peaceful future, rather than returning to the tragic events of their common past.

The pan-European character of the Organisation, its inclusive mandate, as well as its values-oriented nature, make the Council of Europe particularly well placed for the implementation of CBM activities which are interesting and acceptable to all parties involved.

The proposed activities and programmes are designed to respond to concrete common problems faced by the populations in conflict-affected areas as identified jointly by the different actors across the divides.

Activities are technical and not political in nature, as they never address the issues of status or territorial questions, but strive to support initiatives intended to improve respect for individual rights of people affected by a given conflict and its consequences.

In general, the protracted conflicts areas are not being monitored by the Council of Europe Convention-based monitoring mechanisms. CBMs can therefore provide the Organisation’s expertise by way of sharing examples and good practices as a first step of the assistance-oriented activities. As such, they therefore constitute a pragmatic channel for dialogue on technical issues addressing the rights of the populations affected by conflicts.

Implemented since 2010, CBM activities continue to bring together professional groups from Chisinau and Tiraspol, Tbilisi and Sukhumi, as well as from Tskhinvali. Since 2016, a CBMs Programme has also been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina to enhance inter-ethnic dialogue at the level of municipalities and local communities, and also involving young people and women, in order to promote reconciliation and improve the respect for human rights standards.

The Council of Europe CBM activities are based on the principle of equal participation both as far as the number of participants from the interested sides and their involvement in the programme is concerned. Representatives of civil society are actively involved in the events as natural partners, not least because of their role as multipliers and a feedback channel for the impact of the projects. In recent years, their role in the Confidence-Building Measures programmes constantly increased.

At the level of the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights examines situations such as the “continuing need to restore human rights and the rule of law in the North Caucasus region” and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons is currently preparing a report on the Consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 Existence of independent national human rights institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles and the Venice Principles

The Commissioner for Human Rights recommends that member states set up independent national human rights institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles. See in particular the Human Rights Comment ‘Paris Principles at 25: Strong National Human Rights Institutions Needed More Than Ever.

In March 2019, having observed how ombud-institutions in several states were the object of different forms of attacks and threats, such as physical or mental coercion, legal actions threatening immunity, suppression reprisal, budgetary cuts and a limitation of its mandate, the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, in close consultation with the associations of Ombud-institutions at regional and world level as well as with international organisations competent in this area, established new standards on Ombudsman institutions in its “Venice Principles”. These standards are specific to Ombud-institutions and are complementary to the Paris principles. They are also complementary to the recently adopted Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)6 of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers to member States on the development of the Ombudsman institution.

Despite the variety of Ombudsman institutions, the text identifies core legal principles which should prevail when setting up or reforming an existing ombudsman institution. The text starts by singling out major elements that ensure the independence of the institution going from the nomination to the term of office. Independence has also financial and functional aspects. Thus, the Venice Principles call for sufficient and independent means, foresee the Ombudsman’s consultation in its preparation, ban any reduction during the financial year unless the reduction applies to other state institutions. Functional guarantees as sufficient staff, functional immunity or prevention from any instructions from any authorities are also provided for. The mandate of the Ombudsman shall not only cover prevention and correction of maladministration but also protection and promotion of human rights, the scope of intervention includes also public services provided by private entities. Finally, the Ombudsman institution shall be meaningful. Hence, the Venice Principles identify the Ombudsman’s most important powers and competencies going from unhindered access to documents, people or buildings, a capacity to report in public and make recommendations which should be responded, access to the judiciary as well as a capacity to monitor the implementation at the national level of international instruments related to human rights.

The Venice Principles have been endorsed by the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. On 16 December 2020 the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Resolution A/RES/75/186 on “The role of Ombudsman and mediator institutions in the promotion and protection of human rights, good governance and the rule of law”.

The resolution provides strong endorsement of the Principles developed by the Venice Commission on the Protection and Promotion of the Ombudsman Institution – “the Venice Principles”. It establishes these principles as the new global standard for the ombudsmen institutions. The Venice Commission intends to follow the situation as concerns the implementation of the Venice Principles with the assistance of the World and Regional Associations of Ombud-institutions and will keep the Committee of Ministers regularly informed.

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Within the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has always promoted the establishing of independent national Ombudspersons. It recently adopted a report on “Ombudsman institutions in Europe - the need for a set of common standards” (Resolution 2301(2019) and Recommendation 2163 (2019)) which recalls that Council of Europe member States should ensure that the ‘Venice Principles’ adopted by the Venice Commission are fully implemented and take all necessary measures to ensure the independence of Ombudspersons.

 Public debate in biomedicine

Public debate on bioethical issues is vital for states in advancing healthcare and in addressing the possible concerns they raise about integrity, dignity, autonomy, privacy, justice, equity and non-discrimination among human beings.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the fundamental importance of everyone’s right to the protection of their health yet the public’s understanding of the health risks and the preventative actions they can take have been mixed. It is difficult to convey to the general public with certainty what they should know and how they should act, both individually and collectively towards others. This has resulted in confusion and differences of behaviour arguably fuelled by misinformation, public protests and irresponsible behaviour in certain parts of the population, such as amongst young people.

Public debate - namely information, awareness raising, dialogue and feedback loops between policy makers, scientists and the public - can help to build trust on healthcare issues and developments.

The Council of Europe’s Guide to public debate on human rights and biomedicine assists member states in initiating and promoting dialogue with the public on the challenges posed by biomedical developments, both for individuals and society. It has the following aims: (i) to raise public awareness, in particular by encouraging the circulation of information, views and opinions; (ii) to promote discussion in the public sphere between different actors, groups and individuals, including those who may be in vulnerable or disadvantaged situations; and (iii) to consult the public including target groups and thereby to consider their interests and understandings, with a view to making informed policy decisions.

Aimed primarily at government officials, public authorities, national ethics committees and other relevant institutions and organisations, the Guide promotes open discussion on biomedical developments, the human rights implications of which are questions not only for experts or authorities but for a society as a whole. The Guide highlights the need for public debate, how to prepare for it, ways to make it effective and meaningful. It also refers to examples of public debate in a selected number of countries, which illustrates good practices and experiences. The Guide (currently available in English, French, German, Portuguese, Armenian, Georgian, Spanish, Russian and Italian) was developed in the light of Article 28 of the Oviedo Convention.

New Council of Europe multilateral and multidimensional cooperation project on “Protection of human rights in healthcare during public health crises”

The Secretary General of the Council of Europe in a document published on 15 September 2020 : “A Council of Europe contribution to support member states in addressing healthcare issues in the context of the present public health crisis and beyond” announced a new multilateral and multidimensional cooperation project to address healthcare issues and devise effective, tailor-made solutions to be implemented at national level.

The project includes the review of COVID-19 response policy and practical measures for the promotion of public dialogue as well as the production of tools to promote dialogue between the public, scientists and policy makers in order to build trust in the management of the crises.