Human rights: Summit in Reykjavik: self-discovery trip for the Council of Europe?

Human rights: Summit in Reykjavik: self-discovery trip for the Council of Europe?

Several heads of state and government meet in Reykjavik for one of the rare summits of the Council of Europe. It has been ailing since Russia was kicked out – and could lose more members.

For only the fourth time in the Council of Europe’s more than 70-year history, the heads of state and government are meeting today and tomorrow for a summit.

The guest list is tough: Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), French President Emmanuel Macron, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, but also EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and many more want to see human rights and more support in Reykjavik, Iceland speak for Ukraine.

The first summit in almost 20 years should be the starting point for a reorientation of the Council of Europe, it was said in advance. A Council of Europe 2.0 seems urgently needed because the organization has an image problem. Hardly anyone knows the institution, which has nothing to do with the EU.

Organization on shaky ground

The Council of Europe was founded in 1949 as one of the first political organizations in Europe. 46 countries belong to it, including all 27 member states of the EU, but also Great Britain, Turkey, Ukraine and Azerbaijan. The core concerns are the promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

In the end, however, the organization was on rather shaky ground. Russia was excluded last year because of the war of aggression against Ukraine.

The summit is now also intended to signal unity, because there are other shaky candidates whose steadfastness to the Council of Europe is not certain – which is mainly due to the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). This belongs to the Council of Europe. For example, it can fine member countries if they do not respect the human rights convention.

Relations with the member country Turkey have therefore become increasingly conflicted in recent years. The government under Recep Tayyip Erdogan has significantly expanded its influence on the judiciary in recent years and imprisoned many of its critics. She often criticized ECtHR judgments as foreign and unlawful influence.

The Strasbourg institution has initiated infringement proceedings against Turkey because of the non-implementation of judgments and the associated violations of human rights. But Erdogan could be history by the end of the month. His challenger in the runoff election for the presidency on May 28, Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the social democratic party CHP, promises change. He wants to make the country’s judiciary independent again. That also means adhering to the judgments of the ECtHR, he said before the election. But it seems more likely that after 20 years Erdogan will not happen overnight.

Britain critical of ECtHR judgments

Great Britain also has its difficulties with the judgments of the ECtHR. The anger of the conservative British government was sparked by the fact that the European Court of Human Rights banned a deportation flight with illegally entered migrants in 2022 at the last second. Brexit hardliners in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Tory party are now demanding that the democratically elected British government and not “unelected European judges” be allowed to make the final decision. Such a passage is planned in the controversial asylum law that is currently going through parliament.

The right-wing Tory wing has repeatedly demanded that Great Britain should simply withdraw from the human rights convention if Strasbourg does not agree to compromises. A British “Bill of Rights”, which should give the Supreme Court in London the final say on human rights issues and ensure that injunctions from the ECtHR are no longer binding in Great Britain, has been stopped for the time being. Justice Minister Dominic Raab had to resign over allegations of bullying.

Under these circumstances, one of the topics at the two-day summit will be the independence of the judiciary and a renewed commitment by the member states to the human rights convention. But the focus is also on better support for Ukraine. The most important point will be the planned damage register. This is intended to document the war damage in Ukraine so that Russia can be held accountable.

Source: Stern

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