CoE Secretary General proposes a mechanism to address reprisals against human rights defenders

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland has proposed to establish a mechanism to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders in his third annual report. HRHN acknowledges and welcomes this proposal.

HRHN has, on several occasions, called on the Council of Europe to adopt a fully-fledged mechanism to address intimidation and reprisals against those cooperating with the organisation. These cases of reprisals have touched human rights defenders, lawyers and victims. 

“This initiative of the Secretary General constitutes a positive signal showing that the Council of Europe values the engagement of civil society actors and lawyers in providing information to its institutions and in bringing cases to the Court. It is our hope that this mechanism to address reprisals will be put in place in the nearest future and that this will also represent an effective tool to discourage those States from targeting those brave activists cooperating with the Council of Europe.” says Florian Irminger, Head of Advocacy, HRHN. 

Among its proposed actions, the report recommends to “establish, under the authority of the Secretary General, a mechanism strengthening the protection of human rights defenders. The new mechanism will focus on reprisals against human rights defenders related to their interaction with the Council of Europe”.

It reinforces the idea by stating that “any sources that speak out regarding threats or harm to the public interest should not face reprisals for doing so and must be protected in law and in practice”. It adds, “such a mechanism should strengthen the capacity of the Council of Europe to respond to cases of reprisals against human rights defenders and better co-ordinate the remedial and preventive actions of the Organisation with regard to reprisals”. 

PACE also has raised its voice to push the Council of Europe to report on acts of intimidation on human rights defenders for their cooperation with its institutions and bodies. In January, PACE adopted a resolution on strengthening the protection and role of human rights defenders. MPs called on States to “refrain from any acts of intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, and in particular from physical attacks, arbitrary arrests, and judicial or administrative harassments.” 

The report of the Secretary General explores developments on the state of democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Europe in the last year. The report gives particular attention to the recent challenges faced by Europe, notably the terrorist attacks, the refugee crisis and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The report is divided in five main clusters: efficiency of judiciary, freedom of expression, democratic institutions, inclusive societies, and freedom of assembly and association where the issue of reprisals against human rights defenders is also detailed.

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