Speech by Christos Giakoumopoulos
IV International conference "Human Rights Protection in Eurasia: Exchange of the Best Practices of Ombudspersons"
17 November 2020, Moscow
Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am honored by this opportunity to welcome you on behalf of the Council of Europe! Obviously, I would love to be in Moscow today, but we are all hostages of the sanitary restrictions on international travel.
At the outset, I would like to thank Ms Tatiana Moskalkova, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, for inviting the Council of Europe systematically to this annual event. Our standing participation to this forum shows how we value this collaboration. I am also glad to greet all other speakers and participants among whom I see politicians, statesmen and ombudspersons (1).
We have so many matters to deal with together on a day-to day basis and even more work ahead. And each time we meet, we have a lot of news to share and new initiatives to launch.
In year 2020 the whole world has been suddenly confronted with new challenges. While health professionals fight for lives on day-to-day basis, lawyers are considering other dimensions of this epidemiological crisis.
The Council of Europe is trying to address this matter through new projects. Our Secretary General accordingly launched an initiative for enhanced multilateral cooperation within the Council of Europe to learn lessons from the health crisis and to identify good practices from our member states with a focus on CoE mechanisms regulating the right to health, bioethics and fight against falsified medical products.
In this context, we also took note with interest of the initiative promoted by Ms Moskalkova on development of an international legal instrument for the protection of human rights in complex epidemiological situations. New challenges also require novel solutions and we are glad that the Ombudspersons stand with the Council of Europe in finding these.
Our Organisation has perhaps done more than any other to protect, promote and develop the ombudsman institutions across Europe.
The last two years have seen significant developments in this respect. An updated set of Pan-European guidance on the Ombudsman institution has been drawn and agreed upon by all our 47 member states.
The new Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers and the principles adopted by the Venice Commission ( “Venice Principles”) constitute a codification of the new European standards in the area. They have also been illustrated by a collection of good practices of all European ombudsman institutions.
I am most grateful to Tatiana Moskalkova for her support to translation and dissemination of the new standards to all ombudsman institutions of Russia and other Russian-speaking countries. I remember we agreed at our meeting in January in Strasbourg to make this publication available to the wide Russian-speaking ombudsman community.
I am therefore delighted to see this publication in your desks. It is still hot off the press. Its title speaks for itself: “Protection, promotion and development of the ombudsman institution”. I am looking forward to its further dissemination to our audience and far beyond, not least within the Eurasian Ombudsman Alliance.
We consider the Ombudsman institution as an integral part of the modern model of good governance. The good practices we have accumulated in this book demonstrate its input and added value. Some good practices come from the institution of the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, which finds itself in constant development.
The finalization of the Russian legal framework for regional ombudsmen in March 2020 is a good evidence of this development. The Law establishes uniform principles for the organization of the activities of regional commissioners for human rights in the Russian Federation, as well as the legal basis for their interaction with the administrative bodies and civil society. The Law has expanded and strengthened the functions of the regional human rights commissioners (2).
Another fruitful development is the enhanced cooperation of ombudsman institutions within the Eurasian Ombudsman Alliance. It enables, in particular, quicker resolution of problematic issues of citizens of their countries abroad within the Eurasian space.
I could go on listing good practices but will stop here and refer you to the new publication.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me remind you of the most important anniversary which we celebrated two weeks ago in Athens – that is the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. Needless to stress that the Convention is the backbone of the European legal space, the main legal achievement in Europe since WWII.
The 70 years of the Convention history confirms that the Convention system does not deal with abstract human-rights grievances but with concrete human rights complaints and aims at providing redress to victims of violations. National institutions play primary role in implementation of the Convention standards and in day-to-day protection of individuals.
We have been closely cooperating with the Russian authorities over the last years to resolve the legislative problems at the basis of the most frequent violations of the Convention and now see some tangible results.
Initiatives of the Russian Commissioner and her Office contributed to the improvement of detention conditions and of medical care in prisons, to the prevention of violence against women, to the removal of cages from courtrooms, to human rights education. All these set good examples of structural reforms ombudsman institutions could promote for prevention and better resolution of human rights grievances at the domestic level.
Accordingly, the 70-years Anniversary Declaration adopted by the Ministers in Athens two weeks ago specifically calls for enhanced role of the ombudsman institutions in the implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
I would like to conclude by also encouraging all ombudspersons who attend our event to fully exploit their potential, including “human rights diplomacy”, for better protection of people living in conflict areas, also known as “grey zones”.
It is common ground that all those people are entitled to all Convention rights and must enjoy effective remedies to protect them both domestically and internationally.
The European Court of Human Rights and other mechanisms of the Council of Europe must be able, therefore, to meaningfully operate on all such territories without any hindrance.
We also count on national human rights institutions, including ombudsman institutions, to find better ways of protecting human rights in grey zones. The European Network of National Human Rights Institutions issued a report in September highlighting possible ways forward. We consider it as an interesting source of inspiration for national human rights institutions.
The Council of Europe stands ready to support you in all your endeavours!
1. LIST MAY STILL CHANGE - TO BE CHECKED AT THE START OF THE MEETING: Ms. Michelle Bachelet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Andrey Klishas, Chair of the Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Building of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, Mr. Leonid Slutsky, Chairman of the Russian State Duma Committee on International Affairs, Mr. Mikhail Galperin, Representative of the Russian Federation in the European Court of Human Rights - Deputy Minister of Justice of Russia, Mr. Andreas I. Pottakis, The Greek Ombudsman, Mr. Sergei Baburkin, Commissioner for Human Rights in Yaroslavl Region; Mr. Arman Tatoyan, Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Armenia
2. E.g, including the filing of administrative claims for the protection of the rights, freedoms and lawful interests of other persons, an undefined circle of persons; proactive cooperation with national legislative body & etc.