Human rights: Anniversary in troubled times: Council of Europe turns 75

Human rights: Anniversary in troubled times: Council of Europe turns 75

The once proud Council of Europe is stricken on its anniversary: ​​crises everywhere you look – and members threatening to leave. But you shouldn’t write off the EU’s big sister just yet.

The first Chancellor Konrad Adenauer once described the Council of Europe as the “European conscience”. But 75 years after it was founded, the organization appears to be in a desolate state: several members are threatening to leave, human rights, which the Council of Europe monitors, are still under pressure – and what’s more, many people confuse the organization with the EU. How many more birthdays will the Council of Europe have?

In the shadow of the younger EU

Founded in 1949 as the first major European post-war organization, the Council of Europe is committed to protecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The 46 members include all EU countries, but also Great Britain and Turkey. He is therefore responsible for 680 million Europeans – from Greenland to Azerbaijan.

But since the EU has become more and more important, the importance of the Council of Europe is dwindling. It is too easy to confuse it with the European Council, which consists of the 27 heads of state and government of the EU, especially since both the EU and the Council of Europe use the same flag and the same anthem.

Lots of shaky candidates

The Ukraine war also heralded a turning point for the Council of Europe. Because of its war of aggression, Russia was expelled from the community. But other member states are also considered shaky candidates, and it is not entirely clear how firmly they actually stand with the Council of Europe. Serbia, for example, is threatening to leave if Kosovo becomes a member as planned. Azerbaijan’s delegation was banned from the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly for a year earlier this year because the country refused entry to election observers. For years, Turkey has not implemented important rulings by the Court of Human Rights (ECHR), which is part of the Council of Europe, and continues to imprison cultural promoter Osman Kavala, for example.

The Court’s rulings are also a thorn in the side for Great Britain, among other things because the judges prevented Great Britain from sending asylum seekers by plane to Rwanda in 2022 at the last minute. When adopting an asylum pact with Rwanda almost ten days ago, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that he would ignore interim injunctions from the ECHR in the future.

The Council of Europe should simply ignore threats to leave, says the head of the German delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Frank Schwabe: “If you have a team in the Bundesliga that plays with its hand instead of its foot, and if… The referee then blows his whistle and threatens to leave – then it’s not nice. But then it’s their decision. Nobody has to play with their hands.” If one were to be impressed by this and weaken the rules for everyone else because of an individual case, the substance of the organization would be lost, warns the SPD politician.

Limited options

The Council of Europe’s sharpest sword is and remains the Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It ensures compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which all members of the Council of Europe have signed. It guarantees important rights, such as the right to life, the prohibition of torture and freedom of expression. Anyone who feels their rights have been violated can sue the ECHR – the judge’s rulings are binding for the condemned countries. However, the court is chronically overloaded with over 50,000 new complaints per year.

Other than that, the options are limited. This is why the organization is often ridiculed as a paper tiger. Schwabe sees it differently: “The EU has economic opportunities, of course, the Council of Europe doesn’t have them. But the Council of Europe has guaranteed rights.” These included the right to send election observation missions or to go to prison unannounced.

Council of Europe as a source of inspiration

The Secretary General of Amnesty International in Germany, Julia Duchrow, says that without the Council of Europe’s institutional framework, many positive developments in Europe would not have happened – “for example, the liberalized abortion law in Ireland, prison reforms in Russia and Turkey and the strengthening the right to a family, also for refugees.”

The Council of Europe’s communications director, Daniel Höltgen, also emphasizes: “In Ukraine, Moldova and other EU candidates, the influence of the Council of Europe, for example through the recommendations of the Venice Commission and the Greco expert group against corruption, undisputedly leads to important constitutional reforms.” In addition, the Istanbul Convention, which classifies violence against women as a human rights violation, remains the “most important international treaty in the fight against domestic violence with concrete monitoring of the participating states.”

In addition, the damage register approved last year is seen as the first step towards possible compensation payments to war-torn Ukraine. The aim is to document the destruction in Ukraine so that Russia can be held accountable for it.

With a little confidence in the future

“The Council of Europe is now more important than ever given growing nationalist, racist and anti-feminist tendencies,” says Amnesty’s Duchrow. What is needed, however, is more political will from European states, especially in their bilateral relations. In addition, from Amnesty’s perspective, the Council of Europe should create fewer new institutions and instead improve the existing system and make it more efficient.

Despite everything, Schwabe remains confident: “It’s true: we have more and more countries that are moving away from the values. In principle, we won’t be able to stop it with the Council of Europe. But we can stand as long as we can. The situation will improve change again.

Source: Stern

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