16 Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
- Human rights consequences of the war in Ukraine
- Access to justice
- Constitutional Justice
- Desistence from crime and social reintegration of offenders
- Co-operation against cybercrime
- Anti-Money Laundering and Combating the Financing of Terrorism
- Countering Terrorism
- Freedom of expression
- Digital partnership
- Internet governance
- Supporting states in adhering to human rights standards
- Data protection
- Action against Trafficking in Human Beings
- Action against Trafficking in Human Organs
- Ending violence against children
- Values in and through sports
- Good governance
- Electoral Assistance
- Participatory Democracy
- Civil Society
- Promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development
- Addressing post-conflict situations through confidence-building measures
- Existence of independent national human rights institutions in compliance with the Paris Principles
- Public debate in biomedicine
- Co-operation against the counterfeiting of medical products and other similar crimes
- Access to Archives
- History Education
- Protection of cultural heritage and fight against offences related to cultural property
- Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
- Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels
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.
The judgments of the European Court of Human Rights have promoted peaceful and inclusive societies, enhanced access to justice and national institutions based on human rights and the rule of law. See Thematic Factsheets on the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights
The Commissioner and her Office have been actively engaged in the response to the human rights consequences of the war in Ukraine since the beginning of the conflict. This engagement has so far involved, among other things: a 4-day visit to Kyiv, including a field visit in the region, in May 2022 and a memorandum on the human rights consequences of the war in Ukraine; a series of monitoring missions carried out in March 2022 to countries receiving people fleeing Ukraine (Republic of Moldova, Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic); as well as direct exchanges with human rights defenders in Ukraine, Ukraine’s officials, international organisations and non-governmental organisations. Several statements were also published on specific human rights issues and the situation of particularly vulnerable persons.
See also the Commissioner’s webpage on the “War in Ukraine”.
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 46 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 (see also the last implementation review adopted by the European Committee for Legal Co-operation (CDCJ)).
The Venice Commission of the Council of Europe – a consultative body of constitutional law experts – regularly addresses questions related to the judicial governance, independence of the judiciary and access to justice in its opinions on the legislation of specific countries. These opinions are prepared either at the request of the authorities of those countries or of the bodies of the Council of Europe (most often – the relevant committees of the Parliamentary Assembly). Two general reports adopted by the Commission in 2010 on the most important European standards applicable to the judiciary and the prosecution service constitute a key reference for the Commission in the assessment of country-specific legislation.
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 working on new legal instruments and practical tools to provide guidance to member States 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.
- Resolution 2423 (2022) on the Poisoning of Alexei Navalny
- Resolution 2375 (2021) on The arrest and detention of Alexei Navalny in January 2021
- Resolution 2425 (2022) on Ending enforced disappearances on the territory of the Council of Europe
- Resolution 2372 (2021) on Human rights violations in Belarus require an international investigation
- Resolution 2359 (2021) on “Judges in Poland and the Republic of Moldova must remain independent”
- Resolution 2322 (2020) on 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 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
On the basis of reports by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Assembly also adopted two resolutions calling for the setting up of a special international criminal tribunal to prosecute Russian political and military leaders responsible for Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine (Resolution 2436 (2022) on “The Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine: ensuring accountability for serious violations of international humanitarian law and other international crimes” and Resolution 2482 (2023) on “Legal and human rights aspects of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine”). In its most recent Resolution 2482 (2023) of 26 January 2023, the Assembly unanimously demanded the setting up of such a tribunal in The Hague to prosecute Russian and Belarusian political and military leaders who “planned, prepared, initiated or executed” Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
Moreover, in a recent report on “Addressing the issue of Daesh foreign fighters and their families returning from Syria and other countries to the member States of the Council of Europe” (Resolution 2475 (2023) and Recommendation 2244 (2023)), the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights advocated the establishment of a special international tribunal or hybrid tribunal with jurisdiction over international crimes committed by Daesh foreign fighters.
Furthermore, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights also adopted reports on ‘‘The continuing need to restore human rights and the rule of law in the North Caucasus region” (Resolution 2446 (2022) and Recommendation 2236 (2022)), on “Ensuring accountability for the downing of flight MH 17” (Resolution 2452 (2022)) and on “Political prisoners in the Russian Federation” (Resolution 2446 (2022) and Recommendation 2236 (2022)). A report on “Transnational repression”” is also underway, as well as a report on “Pegasus and similar spyware and secret state surveillance”.
Some Resolutions in connection with texts and reports prepared by the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons also entail recommendations on access to justice for migrants and refugees, the role of the judiciary to protect vulnerable groups especially children, and accountability for human rights violations in the context of border management, migration and asylum policies:
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:
- Thematic webpage on Transitional Justice and Human Rights Protection in Europe
- Human Rights Comment ‘Reconciliation stalled in the Western Balkans’
- Issue Paper ‘Post-war justice and durable peace in the former Yugoslavia’
Most national constitutions provide for democratic institutions but are often not sufficiently implemented to make these institutions effective, accountable and inclusive. Constitutional Courts and equivalent bodies (i.e. constitutional councils and supreme courts exercising such jurisdiction) are key in ensuring that all branches of power respect the constitution. The goal of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe in its cooperation with these courts is to help strengthen them by providing them with useful services 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 Venice Commission that enable the exchange of information and cross-fertilisation between these courts. The tools are the e-Bulletin on Constitutional Case-Law, the CODICES database (over 11,600 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 119 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.
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 2022, 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. The PC-OC is currently modernising the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, as well as exploring the modalities of co-operation with the European Public Prosecutor’s Office under this Convention.
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 2022, some 4185 prison/ police/ probation officers, benefitted from assistance provided through Council of Europe technical co-operation activities and projects in the areas of prison and law-enforcement on inter alia the provision of treatment programmes to prisoners enabling their reintegration into the society.
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.
Corruption -– in all its forms and manifestations of unethical and dishonest behaviour – undermines the rule of law and the protection of human rights. It diverts funds from their intended purposes and erodes trust in democratic institutions. Corruption also feeds populism, and damages economic development and growth. It makes our societies less fair and less equal. The regular and ad hoc evaluations of the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), serve as a yardstick for GRECO’s 50 member states in their efforts to prevent and fight corruption.
In addition, a vast programme of targeted technical assistance against economic crime, promotes Council of Europe’s standards and supports the “more vigorous implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption”.
Demand for technical cooperation against corruption continues to increase. In 2021, the Council supported more than twenty jurisdictions which 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 continues its assistance and cooperation efforts in its member States, supporting reforms in the Western Balkans, Eastern Partnership jurisdictions as well as in its neighbouring regions, with two major programmes being implemented in Central Asia and in the Middle East and North Africa regions.
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), and Fighting corruption – General principles of political responsibility (Resolution 2406(2021) and on "How to put confiscated criminal assets to good use?" (Resolution 2434 (2022) and Recommendation 2229 (2022)).
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.
The Assembly's general rapporteur on the situation of human rigths defenders, acting within the Commitee on Legal Affairs and Human rights also monitors the situation of whistle-blowers. 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.
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 of the new Second Additional Protocol 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, its two protocols, the First Additional Protocol on Xenophobia and Racism committed via computer systems. and the Second Additional Protocol on enhanced co-operation and disclosure of electronic evidence.
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.
In particular, between 2017 and 2021, the T-CY prepared the Second Additional Protocol to the Budapest Convention that will be opened for signature in May 2022. This new treaty 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. In its opinion of September 2021, the Assembly backed the Second Additional Protocol but suggested nevertheless some improvements to further strengthen the protection of human rights. It stressed that while the Budapest Convention and its Protocols left open the possibility for more advanced States to implement stronger protections, such higher standards of protection must not jeopardise the common goal of making international co-operation in the fight against cybercrime more efficient and effective. In its opinion of September 2021, the Assembly backed the Second Additional Protocol but suggested nevertheless some improvements to further strengthen the protection of human rights. It stressed that while the Budapest Convention and its Protocols left open the possibility for more advanced States to implement stronger protections, such higher standards of protection must not jeopardise the common goal of making international co-operation in the fight against cybercrime more efficient and effective.
The T-CY in 2018 also completed a mapping study on cyberviolence and 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.” Follow up includes an online resource on cyberviolence.
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 2022, C-PROC supported the strengthening of legislation, the training of judges, prosecutors and law enforcement officers, and other measures through more than 1800 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 Russian aggression against Ukraine raised further challenges related to cybercrime and e-evidence, including evidence of war crime. C-PROC also supported capacity building activities for Ukrainian authorities to address some of these challenges.
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. In 2021, additional guidance has been issued to assist financial sector supervisors to carry out remote inspections. In light of the “Pandora papers” revelations in 2021, 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).
The Council of Europe’s technical co-operation included a wide array of support to member States in addressing money laundering and terrorist financing risks as well as in developing better prevention policies against money laundering and terrorism financing.
In this context the Council, at the request of the European Commission, is finalising an EU-wide assessment of practical application of selected requirements of the 4th EU AML directive. Numerous methodological tools in the field of anti-money laundering were developed and made available to Council of Europe member States. This includes the anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism National Risk Assessment Methodology, and the sectorial risk assessment methodologies for virtual assets and virtual asset service providers as well as for the risks to terrorist financing in the non-profit sector.
Institutional and human capacity building continued to be a strong focus of the technical assistance and co-operation, benefitting more than 30 member and non-member jurisdictions of the Council of Europe.
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)) and “How to put confiscated criminal assets to good use?” (Resolution 2434 (2022) and Recommendation 2229 (2022)) (see also under ‘Corruption’ above) and is currently preparing a report on “How to put confiscated criminal assets to good use?”. In March 2021, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2365(2021) on the “Urgent need to strengthen Financial Intelligence Units – Sharper tools needed to improve confiscation of illegal assets”.
The Council of Europe Committee on Counter-Terrorism (CDCT) continues to contribute to achievement of the SDG 16 through its different actions. From 2020 to 2022, it has contributed to strengthening national and cross-border efforts aimed at fighting terrorism through provision of recommendations and guidelines to member States on use of information collected in conflict zones as evidence in criminal proceedings for terrorism offences; risk assessments of individuals indicted or convicted for terrorism offences; measures aimed at protecting children against radicalisation for the purpose of terrorism; and links between terrorism and organized crime. These policies have complemented the existing prevention, repression and protection structures provided for in the Council of Europe Convention on Prevention of Terrorism and its Additional Protocol.
Looking ahead, the CDCT will embark upon the implementation of the new Counter-Terrorism Strategy (2023 – 2027), which envisages new tools and concrete responses to continuous and emerging challenges faced by state authorities. Specifically, it aims to address the growing threat from violent extremism in Europe, the surge in abuses of new technologies for messaging, recruitment and training, and the interplay between acts of terrorism and violations of the rules of armed conflict (war crimes), while ensuring continuing and stronger responses to the threat coming from ISIL(Daesh) and Al Qaeda inspired activities.
Through its first actions under the new Strategy, the CDCT will provide specialised counter-terrorism authorities with guidelines on preparedness and emergency responses to the immediate aftermath of terrorist attacks and on strategies to prosecute violent extremism conducive to terrorism, as well as resources concerning emerging patterns of misuse of technology by terrorist actors and status of foreign terrorist fighters across Europe.
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 a a report on “Counter-narratives to terrorism (Resolution 2221(2018)) and a report on “Withdrawing nationality as a measure to combat terrorism: a human rights-compatible approach?” (Resolution 2263 (2019) and Recommendation 2145 (2019)) and more recently a report on “Addressing the issue of Daesh foreign fighters and their families returning from Syria and other countries to the member States of the Council of Europe” (Resolution 2475 (2023) and Recommendation 2244 (2023)) (see above “Access to justice”).
Through its cooperation programmes the Council of Europe (www.coe.int/cpdl) provided technical assistance to prison and probation services within the Western Balkans which includes inter alia introduction of risk and needs assessment tools for the violent extremist prisoners, capacity building for prison staff on using these tools, treatment programmes, and a limited support to the post penal care through involvement of the local civil society organisations. Establishment of a web platform and a collaborative workspace for the prison and probation services in the region that will additionally enhance prevention of radicalisation in prisons through the regional cooperation and the sharing of good practices.
Freedom of expression, media freedom and pluralism, as well as reliability of information and quality journalism, are pillars of true democracy and a pre-condition for effective accountability of democratic institutions to their citizens.
The Media and Internet Division of the Council of Europe develops and implements, under the authority of the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI), an array of standard setting, cooperation and awareness-raising activities, to help member States respond to long-standing as well as newly arising challenges to freedom of expression in Europe.
As shown in consecutive annual reports of the Secretary General, as well as in the 2022 Report on freedom of expression prepared by the Information Society Department, these challenges range from insufficient legal safeguards and increasing threats to journalists’ safety to media sector’s reduced sustainability, information disorder and propaganda, all of which impacts on the citizens’ trust in news and information. In recent years, these challenges have been exacerbated first by the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently by the war in Ukraine.
The Council of Europe thus gives high priority to developing standards and activities to support media freedom, including on topics such as hate speech, culture of tolerance, gender equality, public service media governance, media and information literacy, protection of journalists etc.
In 2022, the unjustified and unprovoked aggression of Russian Federation against Ukraine led to priority adjustments to the Council of Europe assistance and cooperation activities in support of Ukraine, focusing on the ability of the media to continue their work during the times of war and uninterrupted access to information. The new Action Plan for Ukraine (2023-2026) includes a strategic objective to strengthen a pluralistic media environment through harmonisation of legal and policy frameworks in line with European standards.
A separate page was also developed within the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists, dedicated solely to challenges journalists face as related to the war in Ukraine. As of 13 January 2023, at least twelve journalists and media workers have been killed while covering the war or because of their status, and at least eighteen have been injured.
Also a number of awareness-raising and information-sharing activities were organised, ranging from webinars such as the one providing a testimony from a journalist in Mariupol to a conference “Media in Times of War”.
Protection of journalism and safety of journalists
Since its launch in 2015, the Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists has been facilitating reporting on serious threats to the safety of journalists and media freedom in Europe.
In 2016 the Recommendation on protection of journalism and safety of journalists and other media actors” was adopted, providing guidelines to member States to act in the areas of prevention, protection, prosecution, promotion of information, education and awareness rising. Its Implementation guide provides valuable practices and concrete suggestions for action steps to improve journalists’ protection and stem impunity.
In 2017, the study “Journalists under pressure” was issued. In 2020 and as a follow-up to the study, the book “A mission to inform: journalists at risk speak out” was published. It is based on interviews with a handful of journalists across Council of Europe member states and provides a unique exploration of the intimidation of journalists.
In 2021, a Conference of Ministers responsible for Media and Information Society adopted, among others, a Resolution on the safety of journalists. Noting that the dangerous declining trend in the area of safety of journalists needs urgent and effective action, the ministers committed to a comprehensive and coordinated action and called for a wide Council of Europe campaign for the safety of journalists. The campaign is to raise awareness, both amongst the decisionmakers and the public, about the importance of journalists’ safety for discharging their watchdog function and is to lead to concrete national actions. It is currently in its preparatory phase and will be launched in the second half of 2023.
In 2022 the Committee of Ministers adopted a Recommendation on promoting a favourable environment for quality journalism in the digital age, calling on member States to introduce institutional and support measures for more sustainable media, and on media stakeholders to put in place effective mechanisms for enhancing quality and professional ethics, with the goal of reinforcing independent, pluralist and reliable journalism.
The CDMSI is furthermore to finalise by the end of 2023, a draft Recommendation on strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs), a collection of Good practices for sustainable media financing and Guidelines on the responsible use of artificial intelligence in journalism.
The Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) adopted on 2 December 2022 an Opinion on freedom of expression of judges. The Opinion provides general guidance to judges and a broad framework for an ongoing discussion on which parameters to consider when judges exercise their right to freedom of expression, both inside and outside the court, including in the media and social media. It considers judicial expression that addresses matters of concern for the judiciary, as well as controversial topics of public interest, and examines the judicial restraint that must be exercised.
Freedom of expression online
Freedom of expression online is another area in the spotlight of the Council of Europe. In 2018-2022, the Committee of Ministers adopted several recommendations dealing with important aspects of online expression and actors involved in the dissemination of content online, namely on roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries (CM/Rec(2018)2), the human rights impacts of algorithmic systems (CM/Rec(2020)1), the impacts of the digital technologies on freedom of expression (CM/Rec(2022)13), principles for media and communication governance (CM/Rec(2022)11), combatting hate speech (CM/Rec(2022)16) and electoral communication and media coverage of election campaigns in the digital age (CM/Rec(2022)12).
The CDMSI, in charge of steering the Council of Europe’s work on freedom of expression, media, internet governance and other information society-related issues, also adopted the Guidance Note for human rights and rule of law compliant content moderation and the Guidance Note on the prioritisation of public interest content online.
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) launched in 2020 a Manifesto on the Freedom of Expression of the arts and culture in the digital age (Manifesto on the Freedom of Expression of Arts and Culture in the Digital Era) as well as a digital exhibition “Free to Create – Create to be free” in 2021. The exhibition builds on the Council of Europe’s legacy of art exhibitions and allows member States to display works of art reflecting the essential role of artistic freedom in a democratic society and thereby sustainably grow into a living archive, showcasing the status of artistic freedom in Europe in the 21st century.
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. In 2017-2019, based on reports prepared by this committee, the Assembly adopted several resolutions in this domain, such as:
- Resolution 2143 (2017) - Online media and journalism: challenges and accountability;
- Resolution 2141 (2017) - Attacks against journalists and media freedom in Europe;
- Resolution 2171 (2017) - Parliamentary scrutiny over corruption: parliamentary cooperation with the investigative media;
- Resolution 2179 (2017) - Political influence over independent media and journalists;
- Resolution 2213 (2018) - The status of journalists in Europe;
- Resolution 2212 (2018) - The protection of editorial integrity;
- Resolution 2254 (2019) - Media freedom as a condition for democratic elections;
- Resolution 2255 (2019) - Public service media in the context of disinformation and propaganda;
- Resolution 2256 (2019) - Internet governance and human rights;
- Resolution 2281 - Social media: social threads or threats to human rights?;
- Resolution 2314 (2019) - Media education in the new media environment;
- Resolution 2317 (2020) – Threats to media freedom and journalists’ security in Europe
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. Again based on a report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human rights, in 2021 the Assembly adopted Resolution 2381 (2021) on “Should politicians be prosecuted for statements made in the exercise of their mandate?” and, in 2022, Resolution 2458 (2022) on “Misuse of the Schengen Information system by Council of Europe member States as a politically-motivated sanction”.
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.
In 2021, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2382 (2021) and Recommendation 2204 (2021) on “Media freedom, public trust and the people’s right to know” based on a report by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media. The report notes that in a democratic society, citizens must have a real possibility of making conscious choices, and that this can only be ensured if the public is duly informed and can freely inform itself; a real debate of ideas can only take place on the basis of exact, precise and complete knowledge of factual elements and if everyone has the necessary capacity and culture to critically analyse the various points of view and can express themselves without fear. The report also notes that today, our democratic values and the functioning of our democratic institutions are challenged by disinformation and recurrent attempts to manipulate public opinion. Therefore, there is a need to establish a wide right to know, defined as the citizen’s civil and political right to be actively informed of all aspects regarding all stages of the policy-making and administrative or rule-making processes.
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 rise in hate speech and the relaying of discriminatory narratives in the media and by some politicians targeting foreign communities has also prompted the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons to investigate this issue from the perspective of the risk that hate speech during electoral campaign is posing to the rights of foreign nationals but also to democracy and social cohesion at large. Echoing the Assembly’s resolution 2275(2019) on The role and responsibilities of political leaders in combating hate speech and intolerance , the committee is preparing a report on “The theme of migration and asylum in the election campaign and the consequences on the welcoming and rights of migrants.
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’.
Since 2000, the Venice Commission has adopted about 20 opinions on freedom of expression, and has been particularly active in the field in 2022, where it adopted four such opinions (on Azerbaijan, the Republic of Moldova – twice – and Türkiye).
Freedom of assembly
Freedom of Expression of the arts and culture
On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the Steering Committee for Culture, Heritage and Landscape (CDCPP) launched in 2020 a Manifesto on the Freedom of Expression of the arts and culture in the digital age (Manifesto on the Freedom of Expression of Arts and Culture in the Digital Era - CDCPP Newsroom (coe.int)) as well as a digital exhibition “Free to Create – Create to be free” (Free to Create - Create to be Free) in 2021. The exhibition builds on the Council of Europe’s legacy of art exhibitions and allows member States to display works of art reflecting the essential role of artistic freedom in a democratic society and thereby sustainably grow into a living archive, showcasing the status of artistic freedom in Europe in the 21st century.
The recent Council of Europe publication “Free to create; Artistic Freedom in Europe” reports on the challenges that European artists and cultural workers face in the practice of their right to freedom of artistic expression, a core human right requiring particular protection in view of multiple recent threats: laws curtailing creative freedom, attacks from specific groups, online threats, “under-the-radar” pressures, ... Based also on the experiences and perspectives of artists, it also includes recommendations on what can be done by international institutions and by the cultural sector and artists themselves to protect artistic freedom.
The fast pace of technological advancement and the cross-border nature of digital services present great opportunities but also challenges for individuals, societies and institutional frameworks. It is the task of governments to protect human rights and the rule of law in the digital environment. However, companies play a critical role in addressing technology-related challenges because they provide and control the digital infrastructure. A constructive, open and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach is therefore required to find effective and sustainable solutions. The Council of Europe has been cooperating closely with civil society for decades. Its partnership with businesses enables company representatives to sit side-by-side with governments and civil society when shaping policies related to digital technologies, in the perspective of the respect of human rights and supporting democracy and the rule of law.
Since the launch of the Digital partnership in 2017, the partners have been invited to join Council of Europe activities related to the fight against cybercrime, data protection, artificial intelligence, freedom of expression, promotion of equality and non-discrimination, education and the protection of children.
Among the latest activities, on 3 and 4 February 2022, the Council of Europe organised an exchange of views with the 26 members of the Partnership with the aim of fostering closer cooperation and building concrete initiatives linking innovative technologies in the public sphere and business. In June and December 2022, recognizing the relevant work of external partners, CDMSI held two in-depth exchanges with Meta of views on users’ rights.
The Partnership is still expanding and in June 2022 two new entities were welcomed to it, while one company was excluded as a result of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine.
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 aimed 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.
A new strategic document, “Protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the digital environment: Council of Europe Digital Agenda 2022-2025”, has as its objectives to consolidate the existing digital regulation into a coherent set of legal mechanisms to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the digital environment; to help member States meet present and future challenges raised by the digital transition, and to accompany them through monitoring and co-operation activities based on Council of Europe standards.
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.
The Recommendation on Internet freedom (2016) 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.
While states have a huge role in ensuring conditions for a safe and accessible internet, there is a shared responsibility for such an achievement. Internet intermediaries play an increasingly important role in modern societies. The market dominance of some places them in control of principal modes of public communication. The Council of Europe has developed human rights-based guidelines to help member states address this challenge. One of them is the Recommendation on the roles and responsibilities of internet intermediaries which sets out obligations for both States and intermediaries to properly integrate human rights and the rule of law into the governance of platforms.
The high pace of digitalisation raises new concerns regarding freedom of expression, as regards communication between individuals, in terms of processes in newsrooms, and with respect to public debate. Discrimination and reinforcement of already existing inequalities, bias in treatment, permanent and generalised surveillance, manipulation of individuals, and electoral interference are just some of the constant risks related to the application of digital tools and increasingly artificial intelligence (AI) systems. These phenomena necessitate a reaction, including through regulation, co-regulation and self-regulation mechanisms carried out by state and non-state actors alike.
Among the documents which addressed these issues are the 2020 Recommendation on the human rights impacts of algorithmic systems and the 2022 recommendations on the principles for media and communication governance and on the impacts of the digital technologies on freedom of expression.
In the digital sphere, also the use of hate speech is increasing and can have a much greater impact, given the speed and scale at which it can spread. The flood of hateful and divisive messages is often artificially amplified by “bots” (automated accounts), as well as exploited by various populist movements, deepening social divides. Recommendation on combatting hate speech recognises that a comprehensive approach is needed to encompass a variety of harmful expressions and corresponding different layers of liability, but also that hate speech in the digital environment needs addressing through specifically adapted measures and responsibilities of relevant intermediaries.
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.
analyses the impact of disinformation on democracy, especially through the internet and social media. It points 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. (SDG 16.10).
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 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.
A report on “Closing the digital divide: promoting equal access to digital technologies” is under preparation by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.
A report on “Right of the child to protection while using the internet” is currently in preparation by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
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 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
Artificial intelligence (AI) is part a of new reality. Its broad use may, and already does, affect the functioning of democratic institutions and processes and the social and political behaviour of citizens. A framework is needed to ensure that this technology is developed and used in full respect of our values, fundamental rights, rule of law and democracy. Assembly contributes to designing ways and formats to ensure that AI-based technologies are used to enhance, and not to damage democracy. (SDGs 16.7 and 16.10). On the basis of reports by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Assembly also adopted Resolution 2342 (2021) and Recommendation 2182 (2021) on “Justice by algorithm – The role of artificial intelligence in policing and criminal justice systems”, Resolution 2356 (2021) and Recommendation 2187 (2021) on “Legal aspects of “autonomous” vehicles” and Resolution 2344 (2021) and 2184 (2021) on “The brain-computer interface: new rights or new threats to fundamental freedoms?”.
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.
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 with the Committee of Ministers’ decisions on ensuring the long-term effectiveness of the Convention system, 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, Recommendation CM/Rec(2021)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the publication and dissemination of the European Convention on Human Rights, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and other relevant texts, and the Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the prevention and remedying of violations of the Convention. These recommendations and guidelines reinforce 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.
Faced with the Covid-19 pandemic, many governments introduced extraordinary measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus, which have had a significant impact on people’s lives, on fundamental rights and on the functioning of democratic institutions. In this context, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted a series of reports on various aspects of the impact of the pandemic crisis on democratic societies (see above “3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”). In particular, recalls fundamental principles to be respected when introducing emergency measures to cope with the crisis. It stresses that no public health emergency may be used as a pretext to destroy the democratic acquis and warns governments against abusing emergency powers. (SDGs 16.3, 16.6, 16.7 and 16.10). As new crises or emergencies of different kinds could again lead the public authorities to take exceptional measures calling into question the democratic order, Assembly Resolution 2470 (2022) on Protecting the pillars of democracy during health crises based on reports prepared by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy report further calls for vigilance and reiterates the importance of ensuring the functioning of the essential mechanisms and institutions of democracy, with particular attention to the continuity of the work of parliaments, elections, local democracy and civil society organisations. The Steering Committee for Human Rights (CDDH) adopted a report on member states’ practice in relation to derogations from the European Convention of Human Rights in situation of crisis.
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 (see, for instance its latest – 10th - report on this subject, “Implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights” as well as Resolution 2358 (2021) and Recommendation 2193 (2021); a new – 11th - report is currently being prepared). 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.
Based on a report by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2209 (2018) on “State of emergency: proportionality issues concerning derogations under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights”. In 2022, the Assembly approved the Committee’s report on “Fighting and preventing excessive and unjustified use of force by the law enforcement officers” (Resolution 2435 (2022) and Recommendation 2230 (2022)) and, in January 2023, its report on “Emergence of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS) and their necessary apprehension through European human rights law” (Resolution 2485 (2023)).
The Committee has also produced a number of reports on the situation civil society (see, for instance, its latest report on “Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States” as well as Resolution 2362 (2021) and Recommendation 2194 (2021) of January 2021) and 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 Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is currently preparing reports on “the Accession of the European Union to the European Convention on Human Rights” , on “National Constitutions and the European Convention on Human Rights”, on “Allegations of systemic torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in places of detention in Council of Europe member States”, on “Legal and human rights aspects of the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine” and on “Threats to life and safety of journalists and human rights defenders in Azerbaijan”.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has called for greater support to the protection of rights of refugees and migrants. In 2022, the Committee prepared a report that led to the adoption of Resolution 2462 (2022) on "Pushbacks on land and sea: illegal measures of migration management ». Pushbacks have taken on worrying proportions, taking place routinely on land, but also in the more deadly environment of the sea. Changes to the law and practice in the Council of Europe member States to stop pushbacks at land and sea and to codify the principle of non-refoulement in national legislation are indispensable. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 4 of its Protocol No. 4 prohibit State Parties from returning migrants and asylum seekers to another country without an individual assessment as to whether this is safe. Member States are called upon to take a series of measures to prevent pushbacks, to protect the victims of pushbacks, to prosecute those responsible for pushbacks and to improve international co-operation and co-ordination between border authorities, police, and other bodies in charge of border protection.
The Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons looked into the « safe third country » notion. Recommendation 2238 (2022) and Resolution 2461 (2022) on « Safe third countries for asylum seekers ». Member States of the Council of Europe have used a certain strategy to decrease their responsibility for asylum seekers: the so-called “safe third country” concept. By applying this concept, States delegate the responsibility for processing asylum applications to another State considered as safe. Hence, they can transfer asylum seekers to this third country and, in cases where protection is granted, the rights deriving from the refugee or subsidiary protection status also have to be fulfilled by the third State. The practice of States remains heterogenic and divergent presumptions of safety can be observed among them. The risk is imminent that a wrong presumption leads to undermining the right to apply for asylum. This risk cannot be taken light-hearted, because a violation of this right can in every single case lead to a violation of ius cogens and of a non-derogable right: the right not to be refouled pursuant to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
And indeed: due to valid complaints, since the last recommendation on the application of the safe third country concept was adopted in 1997, the case law of the European Court of Human Rights evolved and has clarified that obligations deriving from the European Convention on Human Rights for its States Parties when applying the safe third country concept. Every case identifying a violation underlines the need for clarity and the importance of an up-to-date instrument as regards the safe third country notion. The report, on which the resolution and recommendation are based, identifies necessary measures to be taken to seek coherence in line with human rights obligations to be respected by member States.
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 46 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.
Recommendation CM/Rec (2021) 2 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on measures against the trade in goods used for the death penalty, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is already widely acknowledged as an important achievement in combatting torture globally: it encourages prohibition of trade in certain goods and regulation of trade in ‘dual use’ goods, building on standards that are already binding for EU member States, and multilateral co-operation, including through the ‘Alliance for a Torture-Free Trade’ and with the UN Group of Intergovernmental experts in this area.
The Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents (CETS No. 205), which entered into force on 1 December 2020, promotes transparency of public authorities as a key feature of good governance and an indicator of pluralistic democracy. The Convention has currently 13 Parties while seven other Council of Europe member States have signed it. The Convention is open to accession to States which are not members of the Council of Europe and international organisations. The Council of Europe Access Info Group, one of the monitoring bodies established by the Convention, will report on the adequacy of measures in law and practice taken by the Parties to give effect to the provisions set out in the Convention.
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 and its modernised version is a unique instrument as it is the only legally binding multilateral instrument in the area of the protection of privacy and personal data. It is the international instrument of reference in the field of data protection, which , as such, has inspired a number of other international and national instruments (for example the EU General Data Protection Regulation); it provides a worldwide basis for the harmonisation of data protection legislations and enables the participation of developing countries in this work of fundamental importance. With 55 members and some 40 observers, it expands on all continents and provides for a principle-based framework for the protection of individuals’ privacy and personal data and a viable forum for cooperation to supervisory authorities.
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 creates the conditions necessary for a digital society based on trust and respect for human dignity and the human rights for all.
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 and is a unique opportunity to re-instating the human being in her/his position of subject, and not a mere object of algorithmic deduction, control or surveillance while giving the necessary reassurance for data controllers in the public and private sector to process personal data on a daily basis
The Committee of the Convention 108 has provided extensive standards and guidance on data protection (an Amending Protocol, draft recommendations for the Committee of Ministers, numerous practical guidelines, opinions and reports) and has transformed a conventional provision into a unique and lively forum of exchange and cooperation, giving to the Convention its role of bridge between national, regional and international legislations on privacy.
Based on a report prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, the Parliamentary Assembly Resolution 2478 (2023) on “Contact tracing applications: ethical, cultural and educational challenges” focuses on digital health technologies, such as contact tracing applications (CTAs), which have been promoted worldwide by governments as well as private companies to mitigate the Covid-19 pandemic. Their ethical and legal frameworks remain unclear, with risks related to unlawful interference with the right to a private life; they must be evaluated carefully to ensure compliance with the data protection standards laid down by the Council of Europe Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to automatic processing of personal data (Convention 108), and its modernised version, Convention 108+. The Resolution also highlights the difficulty in assessing CTAs’ impact on public health as well as the need for scientific evidence and impact assessment, and for public debate and parliamentary scrutiny.
Another report by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media on “Youth and the media” discusses, among other challenges, the need to ensure the protection of young people’s data and privacy and to regulate illegal content, including unlawful pornographic material, which is a major problem for young people in Europe. One specific source of concern relates to digital identity and online reputation, and the need for security measures and data privacy protection for young people, who are not always aware of the risks linked to digital technologies. In this respect, it is crucial to take into account minors’ cognitive abilities and to effectively uphold the right to have one’s personal data erased (“right to be forgotten”).
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 of 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, gender identity and sex characteristics. ECRI prepares reports based on country visits and issues general recommendations to member states. It has put a special focus on strengthening equality bodies, combating hate speech and hate-motivated violence, and on integration and inclusion of groups of concern to ECRI (in particular Roma and migrants), as well as LGBTI equality. In 2021, it revised two general recommendations on preventing and combating antisemitism on the one hand and anti-Muslim racism and discrimination on the other hand. It now works on a new general recommendation on preventing and combating intolerance and discrimination against LGBTI persons.
The FCNM , which celebrates 25 years since the entry into force in 2023, 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 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. The Advisory Committee joined other Council of Europe bodies in condemning in the strongest terms Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine and strives to follow closely its impact on persons belonging to national minorities.
The ECRML is a convention designed to protect and promote regional or minority languages and enable their use in public life, notably in the areas of education, judicial authorities, administration and public services, , media, cultural activities and facilities, economic and social life and cross-border exchanges. The Charter, which celebrates 25 years since its entry into force in 2023, contributes to the maintenance and development of Europe’s cultural wealth and traditions and highlights 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. The Committee of Experts condemned in the strongest possible terms Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine
Statement by the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages on Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine
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. In 2019, the Council of Europe carried out a comprehensive review of the implementation of the Recommendation by member States and the report is available on the SOGI Unit’s web site. In addition, in 2021, a thematic review dedicated to legal gender recognition in Europe was conducted. In 2020 and 2021, the Unit also organised regular exchanges between the European Network of Governmental LGBTI Focal Points and the Council of Europe Committee on Anti-Discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) in order to discuss policy developments to improve the implementation of Recommendation (2010)5. 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 at schools, multiple discrimination, legal recognition of same-sex couples, legal gender recognition of transgender persons, inclusive employment, LGBTI asylum seekers, 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’s Intercultural cities programme (ICC) has pioneered a new policy framework for inclusion and sustainable diversity management at the local level, supporting local authorities in the building of cohesive culturally diverse cities which are resilient to conflict. This policy framework has been endorsed by the Committee of Minsters in their Recommendation CM (2015)1 on intercultural integration and it is now implemented by over 150 cities around the world.
People” and the “society” have been gaining a central role in the scope of sustainable development until the latter became the foundation for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. However, while there is extensive guidance, scientific knowledge, legally binding instruments, and relatively big funding for a more sustainable development of our societies, there are still important gaps in dealing with the green transition in a way that is truly inclusive.
For this reason, the ICC has recently launched work Sustainable Intercultural Cities, with the view to ensure that sustainable development policies and actions contribute to achieving equal rights and opportunities for all, build on the diversity advantage, and enable meaningful intercultural interaction, active participation, co-creation, co-development and co-evaluation. The first area on which the ICC programme focussed in 2021 is circular economy, an alternative to linear economy and a model which devises solutions from a systems and human-centric design perspective. In 2022 the programme will address the inclusive transition to green infrastructures by collecting good practices, conducting a study visit and producing policy guidance for its members.
Finally, it should be noted that various studies and research have revealed strong links between local intercultural policies and citizens’ well-being, with positive impact on cities' social and economic performance. These studies also demonstrated that countries where intercultural policies are co-ordinated between the national and local levels, have better overall integration results. The ICC programme will continue contributing to the work of the Committee of Experts on Intercultural Integration of migrants, under the Steering committee on anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion (CDADI), to extend and adapt the intercultural integration policy framework to the national level.
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 and observer states to strengthen inclusion and address discrimination and inequality which 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 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). 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 work also strives to strengthen gender equality (UN Goal 5), sustainable cities and communities (UN Goal 11) and reduce inequality (UN goal 10).
The Unit is providing the Co-Secretariat to the Committee of Experts on Combatting Hate Crime (PC/ADI-CH) and the follow-up to the Recommendation on Combating hate Speech adopted in 2022, by implementing specific projects related to the development of comprehensive policies against hate speech and hate crime in member states; new tools to promote human rights narrative online and the governance for online hate speech.
The Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Crime (PC/ADI-CH) is tasked with preparing a draft recommendation of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers on a comprehensive approach to addressing hate crime, including its investigation and victim support, building on the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and drawing upon existing Council of Europe texts.
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 antigypsyism 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 Steering Committee on Anti-discrimination, Diversity and Inclusion (CDADI) and the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society (CDMSI developed, through the Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Speech (ADI/MSI-DIS), a new and comprehensive draft Committee of Ministers (CM) Recommendation on combating hate speech, which was finalised in December 2021 and is to be presented to the Committee of Ministers for discussion and possible adoption. In 2022 and 2023, the CDADI and the European Committee on Crime Problems (CDPC) will develop, through the Committee of Experts on Combating Hate Crime (PC/ADI-CH), a comprehensive draft CM Recommendation on combating hate crime, including its investigation and victim support.
The CDADI has furthermore carried out a Study on the active political participation of national minority youth, which was published in June 2021. In 2022 and 2023, it will develop, on the basis of this study, a Committee of Ministers Recommendation on this topic.
addition, in 2021, the CDADI established a Working Group on sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (GT-ADI-SOGI). The GT-ADI-SOGI will review the implementation of the 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 and will develop a draft recommendation on the equality of rights of intersex persons.
It should also be mentioned that the Committee of Ministers has adopted CM/Rec(2017)10 on improving access to justice for Roma and Travellers in Europe.
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 ADI-ROM is also tasked with developing a Handbook on democratic governance and representation and participation of Roma and Travellers in public and political life. Despite lower education level, lower familiarity with legal, institutional or administrative procedures which are basic for processes of contemporary life among the Roma and Traveller community, the steps and activities are taken by the governments should serve to Roma community not only in improving their socio-economic conditions but also for building their civic capacities in various fields. Their active involvement and participation should become the element of change and a response to the common widespread negative about Roma and Travellers that they are the “only demanding” groups that are passively expecting public funding support. National strategies should become a kind of informal school of civic activity and civic responsibility of Roma and Travellers as the fully-fledged citizens.
In 2020, the Council of Europe’s Roma and Travellers Team published the “Toolkit for Police Officers: Council of Europe standards on racially motivated crimes and non-discrimination including relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights” with the aim of supporting police officers to better understand, investigate, and prosecute human rights violations. Its objective is to promote the common application of CoE standards on racially motivated crimes throughout the CoE member states. It also puts emphasis on informing police officers of human rights and identifies and presents good / promising practices in the field of policing vulnerable social groups.
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 activities. 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 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, antigypsyism, 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:
- Resolution 2457 (2022) on Raising awareness of and countering Islamophobia, or anti-Muslim racism, in Europe
- Resolution 2447 (2022) on Combating antisemitism in Europe
- Resolution 2443 (2022) The role of political parties in fostering diversity and inclusion: a new Charter for a non-racist society
- Recommendation 2220 (2022) and Resolution 2417 (2022) Combating rising hate against LGBTI people in Europe
- Resolution 2418 (2022) Alleged violations of the rights of LGBTI people in the Southern Caucasus
- Resolution 2389 (2021) Combating Afrophobia, or anti-Black racism, in Europe
- Resolution 2387 (2021) The situation of Crimean Tatars
- Recommendation 2198 (2021) and Resolution 2368 (2021) Preserving national minorities in Europe
- Resolution 2364 (2021) Ethnic profiling in Europe: a matter of great concern
- Recommendation 2183 (2020) and Resolution 2343 (2020) Preventing discrimination caused by the use of artificial intelligence
- Resolution 2339 (2020) Upholding human rights in times of crisis and pandemics: gender, equality and non-discrimination
- Resolution 2275 (2019) The role and responsibilities of political leaders in combating hate speech and intolerance
- Resolution 2276 (2019) Stop hate speech and acts of hatred in sport
- Recommendation 2098 and Resolution 2144 (2017) Ending cyberdiscrimination and online hate
- Resolution 2153 (2017) Promoting the inclusion of Roma and Travellers
- Resolution 2106 (2016) Renewed commitment in the fight against antisemitism in Europe
- Recommendation 2032 (2015) A strategy to prevent racism and intolerance in Europe
- Resolution 2069 (2015 Recognising and preventing neo-racism
- Resolution 1967 (2014) and Recommendation 2032 (2014) A strategy to prevent racism and intolerance in Europe
- Resolution 1968 (2014) Tackling racism in the police
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:
- Human Rights of LGBTI persons
- Women’s rights and gender equality
- Human rights of Roma and Travellers
- Human rights of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers
- Human Rights of persons with disabilities
- COVID-19 and human rights
Concerning combating racism and intolerance, see in particular the report on “Combating racism and racial discrimination against people of African descent in Europe” and the Human Rights Comments:
- ‘Afrophobia: Europe should confront this legacy of colonialism and the slave trade’
- ‘Anti-Muslim prejudice hinders integration’
Concerning human rights of older persons, see in particular the Human Rights Comments:
- ‘The right of older persons to dignity and autonomy in care’
- ‘Discriminatory policies towards elderly people must stop’
Concerning human rights of women with disabilities, see:
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 Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe also adopted in 2022 a Recommendation to member States on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings for the purpose of labour exploitation.
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 of the Parliamentary Assembly 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).
The shortage of organs, the disparity accentuated by the economic crisis, the vast differences between health systems and the greed of unscrupulous traffickers have, in recent years, led to an increase in organ trafficking.
As demonstrated in the Joint Council of Europe/United Nations study on trafficking in organs, tissues and cells and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs, the trafficking in human organs, tissues and cells is a problem of global proportions that violates basic human rights and constitutes a direct threat to individual and public health.
The Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Organs aims at punishing trafficking in human organs, protecting the rights of victims and facilitating co-operation at both national and international levels.
The Convention, which was opened to Council of Europe member States and non-member States in Santiago de Compostela (Spain), entered into force on 1st of March 2018. The Convention calls on governments to establish as a criminal offence the illegal removal of human organs from living or deceased donors:
- where the removal is performed without the free, informed and specific consent of the living or deceased donor, or, in the case of the deceased donor, without the removal being authorised under its domestic law;
- where, in exchange for the removal of organs, the living donor, or a third party, receives a financial gain or comparable advantage;
- where in exchange for the removal of organs from a deceased donor, a third party receives a financial gain or comparable advantage.
The Convention also provides protection measures and compensation for victims as well as prevention measures to ensure transparency and equitable access to transplantation services.
The Council of Europe is actively engaged in the eradication of all forms of violence against children (VAC) at pan European level. The promotion of legislative and political action aimed at fighting violence against children has always been a priority for the Organisation, and continues to be under the current Council of Europe Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2022-2027). Like previous editions, this Strategy aims at contributing to the implementation of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and establishes clear references to its goals and targets under each of the six strategic objectives. The Council of Europe will therefore continue to act as a regional driver of initiatives to prevent and respond to violence against children. The terms of reference of the Steering Committee for the Rights of the Child (CDENF), the body entrusted with the implementation of the Strategy, includes amongst its key objectives, “work to enhance the implementation of international and Council of Europe standards on the protection of children from violence in member States, notably through the European Day on the Protection of Children against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse (18 November) and the development of non-binding instruments”. In 2022, the CDENF adopted the Explanatory Memorandum to Recommendation CM/Rec(2019)11 on Effective guardianship for unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration, the appointment or designation of a guardian being a vital step towards protecting such children from violence.
Upcoming Activities will, inter alia, include the finalisation of guidance on VAC reporting mechanisms for professionals, an implementation review report on Recommendation CM/Rec(2009)10 on Council of Europe policy guidelines on integrated national strategies for the protection of children from violence, as well as a feasibility study and a non-binding instrument on age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education to strengthen responses for inter alia preventing and combatting violence against children, including sexual violence and harmful behaviour. The CDENF has also continued to work on standard setting instruments related to violence against children, including the latest one on Guidelines on Strengthening reporting systems on violence against children, which is currently pending final approval prior to its submission for Committee of Minister adoption.
The Council of Europe will also pursue its close co-operation with internal and external partners in delivering towards the UNSDGs. An internal collaboration with the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities led to the production of a leaflet on the children’s contribution to the UNSDGs at the local level (“How to make your town a better place”). External partners in VAC matters include the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children (UNSRSG) and 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 involved children in its 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”, with an implementation report adopted by the Committee on 10 March 2022. The Lanzarote Committee’s other function is to exchange information, experiences, and good practices, and, in this context, organised several events so that its members, and other stakeholders, improve their capacity on relevant issues. 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, currently the Council of Europe is implementing three bilateral projects in Finland, Ireland and Spain on enhancing response mechanisms of member states to child sexual abuse through introduction and development of Barnahus-type services. Barnahus (Children’s House) is the leading European response model for child sexual abuse. Its unique interagency approach brings together all relevant services under one roof to avoid re-victimisation of the child and provide every child with a coordinated and effective response that has a legal standing. The core purpose of Barnahus is to coordinate parallel criminal and child welfare investigations and provide support services for child victims and witnesses of violence in a child-friendly and safe environment. The main objectives of the projects are to support the relevant authorities in establishing, developing further and operating Barnahus for child victims of sexual abuse in line with international standards and promising European practices. The Council of Europe also is active in Ukraine supporting the authorities to provide psychological support for children and training for relevant professionals on how to document crimes against children in wartime. In the Republic of Moldova, our efforts have been diverted to address the rights of refugee children, as well as work on strengthening the countries’ child protection frameworks and judicial systems with focus on the protection of children against sexual violence, promotion of child-friendly justice practices and the rights of the child in the digital environment. In Slovenia, the Council of Europe is contributing to the country’s efforts in reforming the juvenile justice system which aims at supporting the Slovenian authorities to pursue a comprehensive review of the national legal framework on juvenile justice, in order to harmonise it with the latest European and international standards and good practices. A new project “Ensuring child-friendly justice in Georgia: preventing and protecting children from sexual violence, including in the digital environment” was launched in Georgia in autumn 2022 to strengthen the child protection framework in the country.
The intergovernmental sector of the organisation, representing member States, the Lanzarote Committee, and the Parliamentary Assembly have been promoting the Lanzarote Convention pro-actively over the past years, through the European Day for the Protection of Children Against Sexual Exploitation and Sexual Abuse. Celebrated each year on or around 18 November, its objectives are, in particular, to raise public awareness on sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, and the need to prevent such acts.
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 (2020) and Resolution 2330 (2020) on Addressing sexual violence against children: stepping up action and co-operation in Europe, as well as Recommendation 2169 (2020) and Resolution 2321 (2020) on International obligations concerning the repatriation of children from war and conflict zones. In 2021, the Assembly adopted Recommendation 2206 (2021) and Resolution 2385 (2021) on the “Impact of Covid-19 on children’s rights”.
“ Resolution 2429 (2022) and Recommendation 2225 (2022) “For an assessment of the means and provisions to combat children's exposure to pornographic content” were adopted by the Assembly in 2022.
Reports on “Child abuse in Europe: addressing, compensation and prevention” and “Children in the world of work: eradicating harmful child labour” are currently in preparation.
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 also prepared a report on Alternative care for unaccompanied and separated migrant children, which led to Resolution 2449 (2022).
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’.
Threats to sport 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. The Saint-Denis Convention further promotes the protection of fundamental rights and civil liberties, namely the right to life, the right to liberty and security and the prohibition of discrimination of participants at sports events, stressing the importance of inclusiveness, diversity and fair treatment of all participants as key factors for safe, secure and welcoming sports events.
In the framework of the Anti-Doping Convention special attention is paid to ensuring that the principles of fair trial are appropriately applied in anti-doping proceedings, and that athletes receive adequate support when accused of violations of the anti-doping rules.
The Macolin Convention on the manipulation of sports competitions contributes to the reduction of corruption in sport and the promotion of good governance sport.
The HELP online course on Human Rights in Sport is a tool developed by the Council of Europe to educate legal professionals and other sport officials about challenges for human rights in sport and how to protect them.
Besides the Conventions 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 respect, it plays a substantial role in building accountable and inclusive institutions and in restoring confidence/trust in these institutions. In its work priorities EPAS contributes on an ongoing basis to promoting good governance and reducing corruption in sport and this area of EPAS’ work has most recently been strengthened by the adoption of the revised European Sports Charter by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
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 pan-European level pertaining to current activities and future projects and focusing on newly arrived migrants and their integration via sport. The CoE co-ordinated the preparation of guidelines on sport integrity within the format of the Kazan Action Plan uniting its experience and stakeholders.
The “Council of Europe and Sport - Strategic Priorities for 2022-25” (document SGInf(2022)2) state the following three main strategic priorities to enhance sport as a values-based activity with a clear focus on human rights:
• Firmly place the protection of human rights and respect for the rule of law in sports, in particular in the fight against corruption, on the agenda of both governments and sports organisations;
• Strive for major advances in the promotion of values-driven sport (through the European Sports Charter), in the fight against doping, the manipulation of competitions and in ensuring safety, security and service at sports events;
• Reaffirming the Council of Europe as a reliable and key partner in addressing European and global challenges in sport, influencing developments ‒ through partnership and co-operation between governments and sports organisations.
- Children protection with Start to Talk
- Stepping up the pace towards gender equality in sport!
- Fight against corruption with Macolin convention
- International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport (IPACS)
- Related publications and handbooks
Promotion of human rights in sport
- New Council of Europe HELP course on “Human Rights in Sports”
- Inclusion of migrants/ integration platform
- Resolutions on protecting 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 Resolution 2420(2022) on “Football governance: Business and values”, adopted in January 2022, stresses that promoting human rights must always be the force driving the major umbrella organisations’ actions. Countries bidding to host major football competitions must respect human rights and staging competitions must contribute to real and lasting progress in this field. Both protecting under-age players and promoting gender equality should be priorities for all levels of football organisations. It also encourages the initiatives that contribute to creating a safer environment for children and teenagers and fully supports the project to set up a Safe Sport Entity to deal with cases of abuse in sport. It expresses concern about increasing disparities and blatant financial excesses, and it urges more solidarity within the football system.
A report on “Child protection in competitive sports” is currently in preparation by the Committee on Social Affairs, Health and Sustainable Development.
The Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG) is the Council of Europe intergovernmental structure dealing with the modernisation of government institutions and their democratic functioning, public administration and territorial reforms, citizens’ participation as well as good and democratic governance in general, at all levels (national and subnational). It involves experts appointed by the 46 member States who develop legal instruments and guidance documents, and who act as a forum where information is shared about policies and best practices, in the above-mentioned fields. It holds regular exchanges with members of government.
In 2023, the Committee is finalising a recommendation of the Committee of Ministers on the principles of good democratic governance at all levels of government, and a recommendation on deliberative democracy. New work is also being launched to take stock of methods for greening the public administration and to elaborate a report and draft recommendation on multilevel governance.
The Committee has core responsibility for following-up on, and supporting the implementation of the European Charter of Local Self-Government and its additional protocol. The Charter is one of the European cornerstones for the democratic organisation of public administration and interaction between the various tiers of government.
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 to deliver targeted interventions and develop country-specific cooperation projects designed to promote Council of Europe standards; address issues and fill gaps that have emerged through monitoring; and support on-going processes of public administration and local government reforms.
One of the particular missions of the Centre of Expertise for Good Governance is to promote respect for the 12 Principles of Good Democratic Governance by building capacities of governance actors of all levels based on best practice, tools, and standards. Its projects strive to develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels. By addressing the environmental sustainability of public action and disseminating good practice and guidance on the greening of public administration, it will also contribute to sustainable urbanisation.
An e-learning course on the 12 Principles of Good Democratic Governance is available on the HELP platform.
The Centre makes available a number of practical tools 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: capacity-building tools, training materials, benchmarks, e-learning courses (via the HELP platform).
Since its creation in 1990, the Venice Commission has been active in the electoral field, through the adoption of opinions on draft electoral legislation (more than 160 by the end of 2022), and set standards through Codes of good practice, guidelines and documents of a general character (70 by the end of 2022), organisation of annual Conferences of Electoral Management Bodies, Scientific Electoral Expert Debates and pre- or post-election seminars. The Commission also provided legal advice to members of the Parliamentary Assembly who carried out observation missions.
The Venice Commission has created, together with the Parliamentary Assembly ad the Congress, has created the unique tripartite body of the Council of Europe, the Council for Democratic Elections, which is in charge of examining all draft opinions and standards/documents of a general character in the electoral field before their submission to the Venice Commission.
The Division of Elections and Participatory Democracy provides technical and practical assistance to national, regional and local authorities in the Council of Europe's member States to find adequate responses to the shortcomings identified by the Election Observation Missions (EOMs) as well as the Venice Commission’s opinions.
The overall aim of the Division is to contribute to restore and building citizen’s trust and engagement in the electoral process - a process in which tangible impacts are undeniably hard to measure. However, by specific cooperation activities, the Division, through its cooperation projects in the field, accompanies electoral stakeholders (Election Management Bodies (EMBs), such as Central Election Commissions (CEC’s), Electoral Boards or Departments of Elections, Electoral training centres, concerned departments of Ministries or State Audit instances) throughout all phases of the electoral cycle.
All put together, the activity of the Council of Europe, through election observation, standard-setting, the opinions on legislation, exchange of views in seminars and conferences, the action to strengthen the capacity of electoral administrations or electoral stakeholders and the respective trainings or awareness-raising campaigns directly contributes to the United Nations’ SDG N°16.
The Venice Commission’s key tasks is to assist states in the constitutional and legislative field so as to ensure the democratic functioning of their institutions and respect for fundamental rights, thus directly contribution to the United Nations SDG 16.
Constitutional reforms relating to the foundations of a democratic state remain at the core of the Venice Commission’s activities, and providing assistance to states in relation to such reforms one of the Commission’s main functions. Such assistance takes the form of opinions prepared by the Commission as well of guidelines and other documents of a general character.
In recent years, the Venice Commission has been working on important constitutional reforms and/or constitutional issues in a significant number of European and non-European countries.
In this context, the Commission tackled diverse and complex issues including:
- the balance between flexibility and rigidity of the Constitutional provisions;
- procedures for amending the Constitution (thresholds and required majorities for constitutional amendment, the inclusiveness of the constitutional process, the citizens’ participation in the decision-making);
- the need for a coherent concept for the country’s political system;
- checks and balances between powers and the principle of inter-institutional co-operation;
- the delegation of legislative powers;
- judicial reforms;
- guarantees for the respect of the rule of law and fundamental rights and freedoms;
- electoral reforms
- regulations aimed at cleansing the state administration from incompetent, corrupted, and/or crime-related individuals.
- local self-government and decentralisation issues etc.
Citizens’ interests and needs should be the focus of every political decision-making process at different governance levels - this is the heart of democracy. Participatory processes allow exactly for that, they give citizens the possibility to take part in decision-making and they are the basis for effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. Council of Europe documents such as CM(2017) 83 Guidelines for civil participation in political decision making, CM/Rec (2018) 4 on the participation of citizens in the local public life and the Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the decision making process (2019) set important standards for member States how to effectively to engage citizens in political decision-making.
Council of Europe’s Division of Elections and Participatory Democracy supports member states to raise awareness and knowledge regarding international and European participatory standards and mechanisms and to build up capacities of public authorities, civil society and citizens to practically implement participatory mechanism for diverse areas as policy development, public space planning or municipal budgeting. Co-operation projects in Georgia and in Ukraine to strengthen participatory democracy on local level are ongoing, projects in Bosnia Herzegovina, Republic of Moldova and Morocco are in planning.
Various innovative tools to implement participatory processes, like CIVICLab, a methodology of participatory development, analysis and forecasting of decision options, the UChange game-based trainings on civil participation mechanisms for citizens and schoolchildren or the toolkit for the participation of young women and girls from disadvantaged groups in political and public decision-making processes at local level are available on the CoE website Participatory democracy (coe.int).
The online compendium BePART, jointly developed by DGII, CINGO and the Congress of Local Authorities provides a space for practitioners from civil society and public authorities to share good practice examples and structured information about civil participation initiatives implemented across Council of Europe member States.
Resolution 2397 (2021) “More participatory democracy to tackle climate change” adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly aims at enhancing the active involvement of citizens in, and thus a greater support for, public action to address the climate challenge. (SDGs 13 and 16.7)
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 Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe adopted three recommendations to member states, respectively on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe, on the development of the Ombudsman institution and on the development and strengthening of effective, pluralist and independent national human rights institutions.
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)and 2096 (2016)). In 2022, it also adopted a report on “The impact of the Covid-19 restrictions on civil society space and activities” (Resolution 2471 (2022) and Recommendation 2241 (2022)). It is now preparing a report on “The arbitrary detention of Vladimir Kara-Murza and the systematic persecution of anti-war protesters in the Russian Federation”.
During its January 2022 part-session, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2414(2022) and Recommendation 2218(2022) “The right to be heard: child participation, a foundation for democratic societies”.
In an exceptional statement on preventing and combating ultra-nationalistic and racist hate speech and violence in relation to confrontations and unresolved conflicts in Europe (2021), ECRI called upon all stakeholders, in particular those at the highest political level, to engage in confidence-building measures, possibly with the involvement of civil society, media and other relevant non-political actors (including, where appropriate, equality bodies and national human rights institutions) and to involve the youth to the greatest possible extent in the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies.
In response to the concerns about the state of democracy in Europe, highlighted by the Secretary General in her 2021 report in which she spoke of “a clear and worrying degree of democratic backsliding.”, the youth sector’s Democracy Here. Democracy Now. campaign in 2022 aims to develop young people’s role in the process of revitalising participatory democracy in the Council of Europe and restore mutual trust between young people and democratic institutions and processes. The campaign’s three key themes are: democracy and access to rights, meaningful youth participation and digitalisation.
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 (available in several languages).
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.
In view of the current war in Ukraine, the EU-CoE Youth Partnership has developed a webpage dedicated to the impact on and solidarity with young people and the youth sector in Ukraine, with papers, resources and a special podcast series. Some publications on youth work and young refugees have been translated into Ukrainian.
Congress Resolution 152 (2003) on the Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life stipulates in particular that participation is about “having the right, the means, the space and the opportunity, and where necessary, the support to participate in and influence decisions and engage in actions and activities so as to contribute to building a better society”.
Similarly, the Committee of Ministers recommendation CM/Rec(2006)14 on citizenship and participation of young people in public life, adopted in October 2006, states clearly the importance of youth participation in democracy and society, and has built concrete standards for the member states of the Council of Europe. The recommendation further recognises education for participation and the provision of opportunities for experiencing participation as prerequisites for the necessary ongoing improvement of democracy and does not allow for any restriction according to gender, ethnicity, religion, choice of lifestyle or social status, and concerns all young people.
Although nearly two decades have passed since both documents were adopted by the Council of Europe and their implementation has already begun, the Joint Council on Youth (CMJ) in 2022 recognised a need to intensify efforts and extend their implementation to all corners of the member states and the Council of Europe itself, in line with the statement in CM/Rec(2006)14 that "supporting young people’s participation is not restricted to asking their opinions but must include empowering them to be actively involved in a creative and productive manner".
Consequently, the CMJ will in 2023 develop clearer guidelines for the implementation of these important texts which would serve as a guiding reference to member states in strengthening youth participation in local, regional, and national contexts; as well as supporting youth organisations in accessing policies of the Council of Europe directly related to them.
The Council of Europe youth sector is governed by its unique co-management structure, the Joint Council on Youth, in which representatives of ministries responsible for youth (European Steering Committee for Youth (CDEJ)) and from youth civil society (Advisory Council on Youth (CCJ)) decide together on the programmes and policies for the sector. The Council of Europe is the only international organisation promoting this approach, which goes beyond simple consultation: it means youth participation in policymaking, participatory budgeting, and it creates ownership and commitment to shared goals. Young people co-decide on the activities that take place in the European Youth Centres in Strasbourg and Budapest as well as on the European Youth Foundation’s grants to youth-led projects.
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.
In 2021, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2393 (2021) and Recommendation 2210 (2021) on “Socio-economic inequalities in Europe: time to restore social trust by strengthening social rights” and Resolution 2410 (2021) and Recommendation 2216 (2021) on the “Best interests of the child and policies to ensure a work-life balance” . In 2022, Resolution 2415 (2022) and Recommendation 2219 (2022) on “Inaction on climate change – a violation of children's rights”, Resolution 2442 (2022) and Recommendation 2234 (2022) on “Eradicating extreme child poverty in Europe: an international obligation and a moral duty”, and Resolution 2467 (2022) and Recommendation 2239 (2022) on “The future of work is here: revisiting labour rights” were adopted by the Assembly. Reports on “Safeguarding democracy, rights and the environment in international trade”, “Health and social protection of undocumented workers or those in an irregular situation”, “Safeguarding future rights for future generations”, and “Addressing the social and economic effects of sanctions” are currently in preparation by the Committee.
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 have been 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 approach of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is based on three key principles: achieving SDGs is the shared responsibility of all levels of government; local and regional authorities must have the necessary competences and financial autonomy to achieve the goals in their respective areas; citizens must always remain at the heart of the action.
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 adopted the following texts in relation to SDG 16:
- RES471 (2021) - The role of local authorities with regard to the situation and rights of LGBTI people in Poland
- REC458 (2021) and RES470 (2021) - Protection of LGBTI people in the context of rising anti-LGBTI hate speech and discrimination: the role of local and regional authorities
- RES460 (2020) - A contemporary commentary by the Congress on the explanatory report to the European Charter of Local Self-Government
- RES451 (2019) - Congress resolution to endorse the Principles on the Protection and Promotion of the Ombudsman Institution (“The Venice Principles”)
- RES452 (2019) - Revised Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation in the Decision-making Process
- REC441 (2019) and RES453 (2019) - The use of languages by local and regional authorities
- REC435 (2019) and RES444 (2019) - The protection of whistleblowers: challenges and opportunities for local and regional government
- REC428 (2019) and RES441 (2019) - Fighting nepotism within local and regional authorities
- REC424 (2018) and RES435 (2018) - Transparency and open government
- REC423 (2018) and RES434 (2018) - Conflicts of interest at local and regional level
- RES433 (2018) - European Code of Conduct for all persons involved in local and regional governance
- RES430 (2018) - European Local Democracy Week (ELDW) : a new momentum
- RES427 (2018) - Promoting human rights at local and regional level
- REC419 (2018) - Voting rights at local level as an element of successful long-term integration of migrants and IDPs in Europe’s municipalities and regions
- REC405 (2017) and RES421 (2017) - Making public procurement transparent at local and regional levels
- REC398 (2017) and RES417 (2017) - Open data for better public services
- REC395 (2017) and RES412 (2017) - Recurring issues based on assessments resulting from Congress monitoring and election observation missions (reference period 2010-2016)
- Report CG32(2017) - Checklist for compliance with international standards and good practices preventing misuse of administrative resources during electoral processes at local and regional level
- RES401 (2016) - Preventing corruption and promoting public ethics at local and regional levels
- REC383 (2015) and RES393 (2015) - Conditions of office of elected representatives
- RES389 (2015) - New forms of local governance
- RES387 (2015) - Voting at 16 – Consequences on youth participation at local and regional level
- REC369 (2015) and RES378 (2015) - Electoral lists and voters residing de facto abroad
- REC364 (2014) and RES374 (2014) - The role of regional media as a tool for building participatory democracy
- RES368 (2014) - Strategy on the right of local authorities to be consulted by other levels of government
- REC332 (2012) and RES350 (2012) - Regional legislation and action to combat sexual exploitation and abuse of children
- REC327 (2012) and RES346 (2012) - Youth and democracy: the changing face of youth political engagement
- RES343 (2012) - Policy of the Council of Europe towards neighbouring regions: the role of the Congress
- REC325 (2012) and RES342 (2012) - The changes underway in the Arab countries – opportunities for local and regional democracy
- RES332 (2011) - Tools for democratic citizenship
- REC309 (2011) and RES327 (2011) - The office of Ombudsman and local and regional authorities
- REC307 (2011) and RES326 (2011) - Citizen participation at local and regional level in Europe
The following thematic activities of the Congress are particularly related to SDG 16:
- Human Rights
- Preventing corruption and promoting public Ethics
- Migration and integration
- European Local Democracy Week (ELDW)
Congress has issued the following SDG 16 relevant publications:
- Local voting rights for the integration of migrants and IDPs
- Conflicts of interest at local and regional levels
- Making public procurement transparent at local and regional levels
- Transparency and open government
- Administrative resources and fair elections
- European code of conduct for all persons involved in Local and Regional Governance
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:
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 adopted a report on ‘‘The continuing need to restore human rights and the rule of law in the North Caucasus region” (Resolution 2446 (2022) and Recommendation 2236 (2022)), and the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons has recently prepared a report on the “Humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan / Nagorno-Karabakh conflict” (Resolution 2391(2021)).
In Resolution 2464 (2022) “The impact of Brexit on human rights on the island of Ireland” based on a report by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy”, the Assembly calls on the United Kingdom to ensure that its withdrawal from the European Union does not result in any diminution of rights for the people of Northern Ireland, to refrain from unilateral actions, and to reaffirm its commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. Ireland and the United Kingdom should continue to make the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement an utmost priority, and authorities in Northern Ireland should refrain from using divisive and inflammatory rhetoric surrounding the Protocol (SDGs 16.3, 16.6, 16.7 and 16.10).
Based on a report prepared by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media, the Assembly adopted Resolution 2778 (2021) on Strengthening the role of young people in conflict resolution and political processes, calling for the full engagement of youth in the political processes and decision-making that affect them, to address global challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, human rights or the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) set for 2030.
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.
Within the Parliamentary Assembly, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights has always promoted the establishing of independent national Ombudspersons. For instance, in 2019, it 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 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.
The project was presented to member states in February 2021.
Counterfeit medical products are a danger to public health and their introduction in the market violates the right to life. They can cause irreparable harm to millions of unsuspecting consumers and patients via the legal supply chain and the internet and undermine public confidence in health-care systems.
To stop this, the first step is to criminalize the activities connected with the counterfeiting of medical products. This is the aim of the MEDICRIME Convention. Every country is vulnerable to the counterfeiting of medical products - regardless of how tightly it controls its borders and supply chain because of the fragmented nature of these crimes.
Despite other legal instruments, the MEDICRIME Convention may be considered as a tool which can solve some of the obstacles faced by competent authorities when tackling the counterfeiting of medical products. Without any check upon such activity via criminal enforcement, these products may find their way into the legal supply chain. The counterfeiting of medical products is a transnational crime which does not recognise boundaries therefore each new ratification strengthens the Convention's power to combat this scourge.
Many states, not only in Europe but also in Africa and Latin America, have decided to join this criminal-law instrument. The effective application of this Convention is supported by the MEDICRIME Committee of the Parties (CoP), serving as an international forum aiming to reach an agreement on how to deal with the counterfeiting of medical products and other similar crimes. The CoP is tasked not only with assessing the quality of the implementation of the Convention, but also with mapping the challenges to criminal justice in this field and possible solutions to address these challenges.
The HELP Course on Pharmaceutical crime and the MEDICRIME Convention provides, in a self-learning format, a condensed overview of the MEDICRIME Convention. This course is aimed at assisting legal professionals to appropriately address pharmaceutical crime. In particular, the course helps to understand what pharmaceutical crime is, how it is investigated, and what the MEDICRIME Convention is and how it works. The course is primarily intended for legal professionals (judges, prosecutors, lawyers and law-enforcement officials). It can also serve as a useful tool for policy makers, other civil servants and university students. The overall length of the course is 6 hours.
MEDICRIME CoP work in the context of COVID-19:
- Advice on the application of the MEDICRIME Convention in the context of COVID-19
- Advice on the application of the MEDICRIME Convention in the context of counterfeit COVID-19 vaccines.
- Feasibility study on the setting up of a 24/7 network
- NA-FAMED Gap Analysis Report
- The Council of Europe Convention on the Counterfeiting of Medical Products and Similar Crimes involving Threats to Public Health
The Council of Europe recognises the significance of accessing the documents of the past, the role of memory preserving institutions, primarily the archives, and the possibilities of access to archives, for which reason the Committee of Ministers adopted on 13 July 2000, Recommendation No. R (2000) 13 on a European policy on access to archives . This Recommendation was agreed upon on the basis that archives form an essential and irreplaceable part of cultural heritage and belongs to a series of instruments for fostering transparency and promoting confidence between peoples.
It formulates several principles, with a view to inspiring a policy of the member States on access to archives by adopting legislation or by bringing existing legislation into line with the principles set out in the Recommendation.
Within the Assembly, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights is currently preparing a report on “The right to freedom of information: ensuring access to historical documents”.
The Education Department’s work on history education makes a significant contribution to the Council of Europe’s efforts dedicated to the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies in line with SDG 16. It is devoted to strengthening forms of history education that are fact-based, inclusive and that familiarise learners with the existence of multiple perspectives on history and with the diversity of historical experiences that persons of different social backgrounds have made. Therefore, it contributes to the mutual understanding between countries and within societies, fostering peace and inclusiveness. Concretely, it does so via three programmes:
- The Intergovernmental Programme has a long tradition in the Council of Europe and has institutionalised a dialogue between the member States about history education that has allowed for standard-setting in history education through a number of recommendations on the teaching of history in Europe
- The Observatory on History Teaching in Europe, an enlarged partial agreement established in 2020, promotes history education that fosters reconciliation, and a culture of peace and non-violence by analysing how history curricula and teaching methods develop students’ appreciation of democracy, human rights, international cooperation and peace, helping them to contribute to a more just and inclusive society in the future, while escaping the pitfalls of sustaining divisions fueled by the manipulation of history . In its Resolution 2426(2022), the Parliamentary Assembly has reaffirmed the central role that history education plays in bringing people together and underlined the Observatory’s important contribution to the promotion of history teaching conducted in this spirit.
- The Transnational History Education and Co-operation Laboratory “HISTOLAB” is a new Council of Europe-European Union Joint Project that explores how innovative ways of teaching can strengthen history education’s capacities to build inclusive and peaceful societies in line with SDG 16 and the values of the Council of Europe. It does so through a number of activities, such as its annual European Innovation Days in History Education, its grant scheme for early career researchers in history (HISTOLAB Fellowship) and its digital hub (to be launched in March 2023).
Cultural property crimes are a danger to the preservation, legacy and sustainability of human culture. Each year, these crimes destroy thousands of artefacts, archaeological sites and monuments; they also cause irreparable damage to museums, galleries, public and private collections, as well as to religious buildings, thereby impoverishing humanity as a whole. To stop this phenomena and protect cultural property, the Council of Europe Convention on Offences relating to Cultural Property is the only international treaty specifically criminalizing the illicit trafficking, damage and destruction of cultural property.
The Convention, opened for signature in Nicosia, establishes a number of criminal offences, including theft; unlawful excavation, importation and exportation, illegal acquisition, placing on the market, falsification of documents and the destruction or damage of cultural property when committed intentionally.
The Nicosia Convention is open for signature to any country in the world and aims to foster international co-operation
Citizens’ trust in the integrity of democratic process is of crucial importance to ensure acceptance and resilience of democracy. Assembly Resolution 2390 (2021) “Transparency and regulation of donations to political parties and electoral campaigns from foreign donors” addresses growing concern with regard to the integrity of democratic decision making in light of recent reports about improper or illicit interference through financial contributions by foreign States or State-linked entities to political parties and electoral campaigns. The Assembly makes concrete proposals to address the deficiencies of existing regulations in this area.
Resolution 2371 (2021) “Urgent need for electoral reform in Belarus” expresses Assembly’s willingness and readiness to support a peaceful and democratic national political process in Belarus and calls for a comprehensive electoral reform, which would contribute to the long-term stability of the country. It identifies the major areas of concern which must be addressed so that the electoral system can become transparent, accountable and ultimately “credible”, and the Belarusian citizens can regain confidence in the electoral process.
Resolution 2453 (2022) “Review of the partnership for democracy in respect of the Parliament of the Kyrgyz Republic” and Resolution 2469 (2022) “Evaluation of the partnership for democracy in respect of the Parliament of Jordan” adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly on the basis of reports by the Committee on Political Affairs and Democracy contribute to strengthening national democratic institutions in Kyrgyzstan and Morocco (SDG 16.11).
Electoral systems are key tools of representative democracy and have a strong impact on the representativity, legitimacy of, and public confidence in, democratic institutions. The discrepancy between the political choices of constituents as expressed in elections and the resulting composition of elected institutions is a sign of democratic deficit. By casting doubts on the fairness of the electoral system, it undermines public trust and provides arguments for populists. Assembly Resolution 2332 (2020) “Setting minimum standards for electoral systems in order to offer the basis for free and fair elections” argues in favour of setting up minimum standards with which electoral systems must comply in order to be deemed as guaranteeing not only free elections but also fair results thereof.