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Image: PACE Must Act: Protect human rights defenders, prevent NGO restrictions

PACE Must Act: Protect human rights defenders, prevent NGO restrictions

PACE must address the shrinking space for civil society. It must adopt resolutions to strengthen the protection and role of human rights defenders, and to prevent restrictions on NGO activities, in an increasingly worrying environment in many Council of Europe countries, especially Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation. These were the conclusions of discussions at the NGO side event on 27 January.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

“I cannot accept that so many remain in prison and Europe doesn’t react strongly… The reason Azerbaijan continues the crackdown is that nobody, including the Council of Europe, takes any serious action," stated Emin Huseynov, Institute for Reporters Freedom and Safety (IRFS), speaking at an event organised by a group of NGOs at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, sponsored by MPs Mailis Reps (Estonia) and Yves Cruchten (Luxembourg).  

"Since 2012, the situation has deteriorated in Russia… The activities of HRDs and NGOs are now considered political activities, and even if they do not receive foreign support they end up on the list of foreign agents and are constantly victims of harassment. It would be great to see a Council of Europe reaction on this," commented Konstantin Baranov, International Youth Human Rights Movement, also speaking at the event.

The Assembly now has an opportunity to act, by adopting two draft resolutions on 28 January 2016. Together, these resolutions address reprisals against human rights defenders cooperating with the Council of Europe and impunity for actors targeting civil society, and call for measures to end restrictions on NGOs and the misuse of restrictive legislation to criminalise the work of human rights defenders. 

Rapporteur Mailis Reps, author of the draft resolution Strengthening the Protection and Role of Human Rights Defenders, at the event stated: "Too many human rights defenders are paying a high price for their work and their fate should receive much greater attention from the Council of Europe’s institutions and member states."

Rapporteur Yves Cruchten, author of the draft resolution Preventing Inappropriate Restrictions on NGO Activities, further stated: "When a member of a parliament decides to join PACE, this MP makes a pledge to human rights. We need to speak up and not let our governments make deals that disregard human rights." 

HRHN has been in Strasbourg this week raising the cases of human rights abuses in Azerbaijan and repression in Russia, as well as the deteriorating situation of rule of law in Poland. In a report prepared on Azerbaijan for the session, HRHN documents what criminalisation of the work of human rights defenders looks like, analysing the cases of the many leading civil society figures that are behind bars.

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