“Last year thousands of people died who should not have died, primarily in the Mediterranean Sea and in eastern Ukraine. They should not have died in a Europe that prides itself on being a space where the rule of law and democracy prevails, on a continent that claims to have drawn lessons from its own bloody and violent history,” said today Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, while presenting his annual activity report 2014.
The Commissioner highlighted the dire situation of migrants who continue to die in the Mediterranean Sea in the attempted to reach Europe after having fled conflicts, persecution and poverty. “While the official tally of deaths at sea exceeded 3 000 in 2014, in the first months of 2015 more than 1,600 have already drowned. These were preventable deaths. From October 2013 until October 2014 Italy’s Mare Nostrum search and rescue operation demonstrated that with political will and financial commitment tens of thousands of lives could be saved.”
2014 was also dominated by events in and around Ukraine. “The politics and geopolitics of the conflict in eastern Ukraine have often overshadowed a grave humanitarian crisis. The most vulnerable - including civilians living near the line of conflict, those who have been displaced, children, the elderly and those with disabilities – have suffered enormously.”
The report also stresses the grave deterioration of the human rights situation in Azerbaijan. “Starting in the summer and continuing into 2015, the Azerbaijani authorities prosecuted and detained many of the country’s most prominent human rights defenders. While some were charged with violating onerous NGO legislation which makes human rights work well-nigh impossible, others were subject to charges of a whole array of serious offenses, such as espionage, weapons or drug-related offenses, or hooliganism, all of which defied credibility.”
The Commissioner also underscored that pressure against NGOs and the media grew in many Council of Europe member states. “Journalists and NGO activists came under several different kinds of pressure: physical attacks, intimidation, judicial harassment and abuse of financial levers. This has quite serious implications for the long-term, as NGOs and the media play an extremely important role in safeguarding human rights. We need to take strong measures to ensure the viability of both independent media and NGOs, lest we wake up one day with no reporters or NGOs exposing corruption, abuses of power and human rights violations.”