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Human Rights Comment

European states must respect Strasbourg Court’s orders to halt deportations

25/06/2010 Strasbourg

European states have deported persons to countries where they are at risk of torture or other ill-treatment, despite clear decisions by the European Court of Human Rights that this should not happen. This disrespect towards the Court and the rule of law has put the lives of individuals in serious...

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Atrocities in the past must be recognised, documented and learned from - but not distorted or misused for political purposes

22/03/2010 Strasbourg

Gross human rights violations in the past continue to affect relations in today’s Europe. In some cases the right lessons have been learned; genuine knowledge of history has facilitated understanding, tolerance and trust between individuals and peoples. However, some serious atrocities are denied...

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"Rulings anywhere that women must wear the burqa should be condemned - but banning such dresses here would be wrong" says Commissioner Hammarberg

08/03/2010 Strasbourg

Prohibition of the burqa and the niqab would not liberate oppressed women, but might instead lead to their further alienation in European societies. A general ban on such attires would constitute an ill-advised invasion of individual privacy. Depending on its precise terms, a prohibition also...

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European migration policies discriminate against Roma people

22/02/2010 Strasbourg

European governments are not giving Roma migrants the same treatment as others who are in similar need of protection. Roma migrants are returned by force to places where they are at risk of human rights violations. In Germany, Austria and “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, large numbers...

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The Strasbourg Court is a source of hope for many – its continued effective functioning must be guaranteed

08/02/2010 Strasbourg

The European Court of Human Rights has been overwhelmed by the response from ordinary people all over Europe. More than fifty thousand applications were received during 2009 and the number of pending cases is now well over one hundred thousand. These figures underline the need to reform the...

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Language rights of national minorities must be respected – their denial undermines human rights and causes inter-communal tensions

25/01/2010 Strasbourg

Language rights have become an issue of contention within several European countries, and as a consequence also between neighbouring states. While some governments take steps to strengthen the standing of the official language, national minorities are concerned that their linguistic rights are...

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Impunity for rape of women has to be stopped

11/01/2010 Strasbourg

Sexual assault crimes must be taken more seriously by governments and parliaments. The injuries inflicted by rape are deep and long-lasting, in many cases gravely hurting the physical and psychological integrity of the victims. Though these crimes are largely hidden and their precise scale is...

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Society has an obligation to support abandoned children and offer them a positive home environment – also when budget resources are limited

28/12/2009 Strasbourg

The notorious large-scale institutions for orphans and children with disabilities are being phased out, including in the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. This process of de-institutionalisation must continue, but it has to be pursued with care in the best interests of the...

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Human rights activists all over Europe are still learning from the example of Andrei Sakharov

14/12/2009 Strasbourg

Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov was a unique person of whom both Russia and Europe should be proud. He became a voice of moral conscience which could not be silenced even by the repressive machine of a super power. His principled messages inspired others and contributed to the non-violent,...

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Multiculturalism is an important dimension of our national identities

30/11/2009 Strasbourg

Europe today is not free from racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, anti-Gypsism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other phobias directed against others. Minorities are made targets of hate speech, violence and systematic discrimination, not least in the job market. Responsible politicians must take...

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Realising children’s rights requires more than rhetoric – systematic and concrete actions are now needed

16/11/2009 Strasbourg

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has become one of the most well-known and broadly supported international human rights treaties. Practically all the states in the world have ratified it and thereby legally bound themselves to implement its provisions. As a result, the situation of...

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Intelligence secrecy must not be used as an excuse to ignore or cover up human rights violations

02/11/2009 Strasbourg

Lessons are only now being learned from the breakdown of human rights which followed the US-led “war on terror” after September 2001. While more and more detailed and shocking information is gradually emerging about systematic torture, secret detentions and other serious human rights violations,...

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Climate change is causing an unprecedented, global human rights crisis – and must now be countered by co-ordinated, rights-based action

19/10/2009 Strasbourg

The daily lives of millions are already being affected by the effects of global warming: desertification, droughts, flooding or cyclones. Basic human rights - such as the right to life, health, food, water, shelter or property - are threatened. The ones who will suffer most are those who are...

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It is still necessary to act for the abolition of the death penalty

05/10/2009 Strasbourg

Step by step the death penalty is being abolished. Most countries of the world have now stopped using this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment: 94 states have decided on total abolition, 10 have abolished the penalty for all ordinary crimes and 35 others have not executed anyone for more than...

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Persons with mental disabilities should be assisted but not deprived of their individual human rights

21/09/2009 Strasbourg

Individuals with mental health or intellectual disabilities have been discriminated, stigmatised and repressed even in recent years. Their mere existence has been seen as a problem and they have sometimes been hidden away in remote institutions or in the backrooms of family homes. They have been...

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A neglected human rights crisis: persons with intellectual disabilities are still stigmatised and excluded

14/09/2009 Strasbourg

People with intellectual disabilities tend to be among the most marginalised. Even today their treatment is clearly inhuman in country after country, even in Europe. They have limited possibilities to make themselves heard and this has contributed to making their situation a hidden human rights...

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Flawed enforcement of court decisions undermines the trust in State justice

31/08/2009 Strasbourg

Court decisions in several European countries are often enforced only partly or with long delay - or sometimes not at all. This is one of the most frequent problems identified by the European Court of Human Rights (the Strasbourg Court). Flawed execution of final court decisions must be seen as a...

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Serious implementation of human rights standards requires that benchmarking indicators are defined

17/08/2009 Strasbourg

A gap still exists between the rights proclaimed in human rights treaties and the reality in member states. Closing this implementation gap is crucial for all human rights work today. It requires a systematic approach, including effective collection of relevant data and comprehensive planning...

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State budgets reveal whether the government is committed to human rights

03/08/2009 Strasbourg

The current economic crisis has made it particularly important to screen state budgets for their compliance with human rights. The allocation of resources will affect human rights protection - including gender equality, children’s rights and the situation of old or disabled persons, migrants and...

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Stop and searches on ethnic or religious grounds are not effective

20/07/2009 Strasbourg

Members of minorities are more often than others stopped by the police, asked for identity papers, questioned and searched. They are victims of “ethnic profiling”, a form of discrimination which is widespread in today’s Europe. Such methods clash with agreed human rights standards. They tend also...

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Many Roma in Europe are stateless and live outside social protection

06/07/2009 Strasbourg

There are Roma in a number of European countries who have no nationality. They face a double jeopardy - being stateless makes life even harder for those who are already stigmatized and facing a plethora of serious, discrimination-related problems. For those who happen to be migrants as well,...

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European countries should defend the International Criminal Court and request the US authorities to withdraw the idea of impunity for US nationals

22/06/2009 Strasbourg

The new administration in Washington has taken several encouraging steps to undo the damage to human rights protection caused by its predecessors. Torture is no longer accepted, the Guantanamo detention centre will be closed and secret interrogation prisons will no longer be used. Yet, another...

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International Organisations acting as quasi-governments should be held accountable

08/06/2009 Strasbourg

When international organisations exercise executive and legislative control as a surrogate state they must be bound by the same checks and balances as we require from a democratic government. Potential abuse of governmental power is combated in normal democracies by a separation of powers between...

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Governments should open up channels for civil society complaints against violations of social rights

25/05/2009 Strasbourg

The protection of social rights will be further tested during the current economic crisis. Like other human rights they are enshrined in treaties agreed by governments, one of them being the European Social Charter . The challenge is to ensure that these agreements are enforced in reality. This...

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The response to the crisis must include a shift towards more equality

11/05/2009 Strasbourg

Measures against the economic crisis should not only focus on restoring the banking system and encouraging investments and more spending. There is also an urgent need to protect vulnerable groups from injustice. To prevent a financial meltdown governments have used colossal amounts of tax payers’...

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Anti-Gypsyism continues to be a major human rights problem in Europe – governments must start taking serious action against both official and inter-personal discrimination of Roma

27/04/2009 Strasbourg

New pledges were made on International Roma Day to combat anti-Gypsyism. At the same time we received information that a group of Roma children, arrested in Kosice in eastern Slovakia, had been forced to strip and slap one another violently in the face in the police station where they were held....

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Racism: Europeans ought to be more self-critical and remain open to thorough and frank UN discussions

14/04/2009 Strasbourg

Europe is not a racism-free zone. An intensified struggle against xenophobia and intolerance is acutely needed in most European countries. Hate crimes must be stopped and action taken against discrimination in employment, education, housing, sport and other social contexts. All this requires an...

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Foreign policy should be based on a principled approach to human rights

30/03/2009 Strasbourg

Some governments take an active approach to human rights in their foreign policies. Others are more cautious or even oppose what they see as meddling into the internal affairs of others. My view is that European governments should also pursue the values enshrined in international treaties,...

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After the human rights breakdown during the 'war on terror', the damage must be assessed and corrective action taken

16/03/2009 Strasbourg

The Obama administration has banned torture during interrogation of terrorist suspects and declared that the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States of America can no longer use secret prisons in the United States or abroad. The detention camp in Guantánamo Bay will be closed within one...

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Think globally, act locally - for human rights

02/03/2009 Strasbourg

The struggle for human rights is also a local affair. Authorities at local or regional level take key decisions on education, housing, health care, social services and policing – areas extremely relevant for people’s human rights. These decision-makers should apply European and international...

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National parliaments can do more to promote human rights

16/02/2009 Strasbourg

The ideal parliamentarian is also a human rights defender. Elected representatives of national parliamentary bodies should give priority to the promotion of freedoms and the protection of justice. More concrete discussion is needed about how this particular responsibility can be exercised to...

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Children should not be treated as criminals

02/02/2009 Strasbourg

There is a disturbing trend in Europe today to lock up more children at an earlier age. The age of criminal responsibility is already very low in some countries, such as the United Kingdom. Suggestions to lower the age limit to 12 years old have recently been made in France, while a similar law...

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Europe must open its doors to Guantanamo Bay detainees cleared for release

19/01/2009 Strasbourg

The closure of the United States military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay seems at last in sight. President-elect Barack Obama has indicated that closing the camp is one of his priorities. But questions remain as to how this will be done. Europe should offer its help and accept a number of the...

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Discrimination against transgender persons must no longer be tolerated

05/01/2009 Strasbourg

During missions to member states of the Council of Europe, I have been reminded of the on-going discrimination many face on account of their gender identity1. Transgender persons encounter severe problems in their daily lives as their identity is met with insensitivity, prejudice or outright...

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More control is needed of police databases

15/12/2008 Strasbourg

Fighting crime, including international terrorism, requires the use of modern and effective methods of investigation. The use of fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles in our criminal justice systems is undeniable when determining innocence or guilt. But caution still needs to be taken...

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Arbitrary procedures for terrorist black-listing must now be changed

01/12/2008 Strasbourg

The ‘war on terror’ has gravely undermined previously agreed human rights standards. The counter-terrorism measures taken since 9/11 must now be thoroughly reviewed and changed, not only in the United States and other affected countries, but also in inter-governmental organisations. Innocent...

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In times of economic crisis it is particularly essential to ensure the protection of social rights

17/11/2008 Strasbourg

Enormous sums of tax payers’ money have been poured into the banking system in order to prevent a global financial meltdown. Ordinary people have been forced to pay for the reckless practices of a few. On top of this, there are already signs that it is the less wealthy who will suffer most from...

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Concrete and comprehensive action plans are needed to ensure implementation of human rights

03/11/2008 Strasbourg

The 1993 World Conference on Human Rights expressed concern about the gap between the agreed norms and the reality in a number of countries. It recommended that all governments should produce a national plan for the implementation of their human rights obligations. Fifteen years have passed since...

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Respect and rights-based action instead of charity for people with disabilities

20/10/2008 Strasbourg

There are more than 80 million persons with disabilities in Europe. Their rights are recognized in international human rights treaties, including the recent UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, these rights are still far from realized. Moving from rhetoric to...

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Human Rights education is a priority – more concrete action is needed

06/10/2008 Strasbourg

Human rights can only be realised if people are informed about their rights and know how to use them. Education about human rights is therefore central to the effective implementation of the agreed standards. While this was emphasised 60 years ago when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights...

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It is wrong to criminalize migration

29/09/2008 Strasbourg

I have observed with increasing concern a trend to criminalize the irregular entry and presence of migrants as part of a policy of ‘migration management’. Such a method of controlling international movement corrodes established international law principles. It also causes many human tragedies...

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Persons displaced during conflicts have the right to return

15/09/2008 Strasbourg

Armed conflict and inter-ethnic violence still force people to run from their homes and seek refuge in safer places. The outbreak of the war in South Ossetia this August 2008 has created a new wave of displaced persons, some of whom may have to wait a long time before being able to return home....

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Roma representatives must be welcomed into political decision-making

01/09/2008 Strasbourg

Roma populations are grossly under-represented in local and national assemblies and government administrations all over Europe. This is a serious shortcoming in our democracies, violates the right to political participation and perpetuates a situation of exclusion and marginalization of some ten...

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The shameful history of anti-Gypsyism is forgotten - and repeated

18/08/2008 Strasbourg

Only a few thousand Roma in Germany survived the Holocaust and the concentration camps. They faced enormous difficulties when trying to build up their lives again, having lost so many of their family members and relatives, and having had their properties destroyed or confiscated. Many of them had...

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Refugees must be able to reunite with their family members

04/08/2008 Strasbourg

A restrictive refugee policy in European countries has affected the possibilities of reunifying separated families. Governments have tried to limit the arrival of close relatives to those refugees who already reside in the country. The result is unnecessary human suffering in a number of cases...

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Hate crimes – the ugly face of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, Islamophobia and homophobia

21/07/2008 Strasbourg

Hate crimes are a daily reality all over the European continent. Credible recent reports show that people suffer violence because they are black, Jewish, Roma or Muslim or because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They give examples of how individuals have been physically attacked...

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Fighting terrorism – learn the lessons from Northern Ireland

11/07/2008 Strasbourg

In recent years Europe has been struck by the most vicious terrorist acts. We still remember with horror the attacks in Beslan, Istanbul, London, Madrid and several other cities. It is of the utmost importance that effective measures are taken to prevent such evil crimes in future. One of the...

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Corruption distorts the system of justice and damages poor people in particular

24/06/2008 Strasbourg

In several European countries there is a widespread belief that the judiciary is corrupt and that the courts tend to favour people with money and contacts. Though this perception may sometimes be exaggerated, it should be taken seriously. No system of justice is effective if not trusted by the...

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No one should have to be stateless in today’s Europe

09/06/2008 Strasbourg

Everyone has the right to a nationality. Also, no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his or her nationality or denied the right to change nationality. These rights are spelled out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – but still not respected in a number of countries, also in...

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Strong data protection rules are needed to prevent the emergence of a surveillance society

26/05/2008 Strasbourg

Surveillance technology is developing with breath-taking speed. This creates new instruments in the struggle against terrorism and organised crime, but also raises fundamental questions on the right to privacy for everyone. Individuals should be protected from intrusions into their private life...

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