NGO Council of Europe Report (October 15-16, 2020)

The first part of the Autumn session of the Council of Europe Conference of INGOs (International NGOs) was held entirely online. (The second part will take place from December 15-16, 2020.)

Anna Rurka, President of the INGOs welcomed the speakers of the different sessions and the 400 virtual participants.

In such unprecedented circumstances, Mrs. M.Pejcinovic Buric, Prime Minister of Croatia and Secretary General of the Council of Europe emphasized rules for civil society to ensure democracy by defending Human Rights with new working tools. The objective: to build a stronger Europe with a more efficient civil society and Council of Europe. She presented a document, based on information and experience from different groups, highlighting the increase of domestic violence, for women and children, and other health issues. She invited all governments to find solutions to tackle problems in many fields.

She insisted that today equality between women and men is a crucial subject because the pandemic creates an even bigger gap in our society at all levels. Therefore, more than ever, it is urgent to ratify the Istanbul Convention, as soon as possible. Mrs. Buric proposed a 4-year framework to reform priorities, mentioning the protection from environment crimes.

Miguel Cabral, vice-chair of the NGO Human Rights Committee, submitted a draft recommendation to combat drug abuse and illicit trafficking in drugs in partnership with the Pompidou group (an intergovernmental body established in 1971).  Its current core mission is to contribute to the development of multidisciplinary, innovative, effective drug policies in its member states. The proposal was accepted by the majority.

Another draft recommendation was introduced by Anna Rurka, on behalf of the Conference of INGOs, on the role of civil society in safeguarding human rights, democracy and the rule of law in these pandemic times. Even though Covid-19 weakens NGOs, there is also strong mobilization from civil society against poverty. This was approved by the majority.

The 2019 Annual Activity Report of the INGO Conference was marked by many celebrations and debates on the occasion of the Council of Europe’s 70th anniversary. In April 2019 the INGO Conference adopted the Resolution “The Future of the Council of Europe: civil society’s commitment”.

Seventy years after its foundation in 1949, the Council of Europe is the European continent’s leading human rights organization. The 47member states have come together to agree on common standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. The 830 million people living in this common legal space have an ultimate right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. This is unprecedented in European history and a achievement to be celebrated!

Different topics of the three NGO thematic committees were discussed:

Human Rights: children’s rights and poverty; displaced people and unaccompanied children; a sanitary crisis and worsening conditions for migrants and refugees.

Gender Equality: Anne Nègre, who heads the Equality committee confirmed that the situation of women is critical today because of a return to a patriarchal society. During the pandemic, there is a huge increase in physical and intellectual violence against women. She introduced a draft recommendation in support of the Istanbul Convention (preventing and combating violence against women, including domestic violence) insisting on P for prevention, P for protection, P for politics and P for punishment.

Education and Culture: the problem of individual freedom was raised. What actions should the INGOs take during this current health crisis with its heavy toll in human lives and the destruction of civil liberties? We acknowledge a surge of violence and persecuted feelings. The impact of the pandemic has emphasized racism and antisemitism, lack of resources, austerity and social inequality in education, health (at home and in hospitals). The pandemic created a call for technological and digital tools to be able to communicate but the respect for private data in not totally protected.

The second morning was devoted to the political situation in Belarus and the changing role of civil society during and after the presidential elections. Belarus is running away from warnings from the human rights mechanism.

The afternoon reviewed the access to social and medico-social services for all: springboard out of poverty. Concern was expressed that people living in poverty should have full access to social rights. Social workers, national, local and regional representatives, INGOs and members of civil society shared their experiences.

For Gabriella Battaini-Dragoni, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, national authorities are obliged to react and provide help to people and projects.

Submitted by Liliane Seidman
ICJW Representative to the Council of Europe, Strasbourg
24 November 2020