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Effective Human Rights Protection at the forefront in Europe: New Cooperation Agreement between the Council of Europe and the European Commission PDF Imprimer Envoyer
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Lundi, 26 Mai 2014 17:02

Me Evelyn Deskas (Athens, Greece)

Photo Evelyn finalDeeper collaboration for the safeguard of human rights is deemed a top priority by European Institutions and international organizations. On April 1st 2014, the European Commission and the 47-nation Council of Europe signed a Statement of Intent establishing a new basis for cooperation in the EU Enlargement and Neighbourhood Regions for the period 2014-2020. According to the new cooperation agreement, the two organizations have agreed to a deeper collaboration in setting out strategies for a more result-oriented framework and effective protection of human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the EU enlargement and neighbourhood regions based on the Council of Europe's binding international conventions, assistance programmes and monitoring bodies. The Statement of Intent was signed in Brussels by EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle, and the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland.

Specifically the Statement of Intent provides that cooperation in the region should focus on the following areas: a) Human rights, with the possible following sub-themes (non-exhaustive): i) strengthening human rights institutions; ii) prevention of torture, including improved treatment and rehabilitation of prisoners and detainees; iii) freedom of expression, media freedom and internet governance; iv) protection of children from sexual exploitation and abuse; b) Rule of Law, with the possible following sub-themes (non-exhaustive): i) efficient and independent judiciary; ii) anti-corruption and fight against financial and economic crimes; iii) improve cooperation against cybercrime; c) Democracy, with the possible following sub-themes (non-exhaustive): i) continued assistance to drafting of new constitutions and organic laws deriving from new constitutions (Venice Commission); ii) promote integration of human rights issues in national educational systems and increase capacities in democratic citizenship and human rights education; iii) promote democratic capacities of young people.

In the spirit of the new cooperation agreement the Council of Europe is also implementing the HELP Programme (Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals) which assists member States of the Council of Europe in integrating the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) at the national level – as interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights – fully into the national curricula of training institutions for the professional training of lawyers, judges and prosecutors in conformity with the Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2004) 4, the 2010 Interlaken Declaration and the 2012 Brighton Declaration. This is achieved by training and educating judges, lawyers and prosecutors in all 47 member states so as to enhance their capacity in applying the ECHR in their daily work. In Athens, Greece a Conference and kick-off meeting for the distance learning course on anti-discrimination issues for Greek lawyers took place at the premises of the Athens Bar Association on 16-17 December 2013. The event was organized in the framework of the HELP Programme by the Council of Europe in collaboration with the Athens Bar Association and provided legal professionals with a unique opportunity to discuss human rights issues at length for the purposes of maintaining compliance with Article 14 of the European Convention on the national level.

The above initiatives, among others, as well as related reports, recommendations, agreements, declarations and conventions adopted by the Council of Europe in the field of human rights are a testament to the Council's pioneering role in ensuring full and effective protection of human rights on a pan-European scale. European citizens are living through the deepest economic recession since the Second World War with unemployment at record high levels and budget cuts in child and family benefits, health care and education exerting serious strains on millions of families, children and young persons. Austerity measures, as imposed by international lenders and governments, are undermining human rights which have lead to abuses and violations across Europe. In the current European context the role of international organizations such as that of the Council of Europe is crucial in countering the adverse effects of the economic crisis on human rights. The report released on 16 April 2013 by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muiznieks, following his visit to Greece from 28 January to 1 February 2013, stresses that budgetary policies enforced through austerity measures in countries such as Greece have come to the expense of basic human rights such as the right of citizens to employment, health care, education, civil and political rights and freedom of expression. The report emphasizes the need for governments to put human rights back on the agenda and for international lenders to incorporate human rights considerations into their assistance programs.

In recognizing that the effective safeguard of human rights requires targeted courses of action adapted to the economic context of European societies the Council of Europe is marking success in making the leap from the symbolic dimension of human rights instruments to the practical dimension of effectively protecting human rights. In this regard, the new cooperation agreement and the HELP Programme are strategically serving to build a more effective framework for the enforcement of judgments and decisions of the European Court of Human Rights at the national level, to reduce the number of complaints of human rights abuses and violations filed and to foster the enforcement of the European Social Charter which entrenches economic rights. According to the issue paper published by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in November 2013 and titled "Safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis" prepared by Nicolas Lusiani, Senior Researcher at the Center for Economic and Social Rights and Ignacio Saiz, Executive Director "economic policy is not exempt from the duty of member states to implement human rights norms and procedural principles. As embodied in international human rights law, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are not expendable in times of economic hardship, but are essential to a sustained and inclusive recovery".

The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights proposes a number of recommendations such as engaging and empowering national human rights structures in response to the economic crisis, promoting equality and combating discrimination and racism, conducting systematic human rights and equality impact assessments of social and economic policies and budgets, regulating the financial sector in the interest of human rights and guaranteeing the right to decent work.

In light of the economic, political and social context currently facing European societies the issue of effective human rights protection will most likely remain at the forefront in the years to come posing a direct challenge on international organizations, national human rights structures, national governments and European institutions. All actors involved share a stake in cooperating effectively to ensure optimal results for the prevalence of democracy and the rule of law throughout Europe's nations, failing which, human rights protection is bound to plunge into deep hibernation.

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