The Council of Europe: guardian of human rights
On 18 November 2022, a delegation of the European Seniors’ Union undertook a study visit to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. Mr. Patrick Penninckx, Head of the Information Society Department, welcomed our delegates. Mr Penninckx introduced the institutional structure, decision-making processes and relations with other institutions of the Council of Europe. The agenda further included an exchange on the role of the European Court of Human Rights in monitoring respect for human and civil rights and freedom, the role of the Secretariat of the Steering Committee for Human Rights on the promotion of the human rights of older persons, the activities of the Media and Internet Division on freedom of expression and information in the digital age and related challenges, and the activities of the Division of Cooperation on Freedom of Expression on the impact of the war in Ukraine on the Council of Europe.
He paid particular attention to the work of Catherine Lalumiere, Secretary General of the Council of Europe from 1989 to 1994, who opened the door to the 11 new member states from the Easter European Countries. Speaking about the added value of the COE, Mr. Penninckx underlined the triangular methodology of the organization. First, the organization that is assisting its member states in the form of Projects and Programmes; Second, it sets standards, e.g., recommendations and conventions; third, it exercises the monitoring function by launching special surveys and mechanisms.
The exchange further continued with Ms. Ellen Penninckx, lawyer of the European Court of Human Rights, who explained the role of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR or ECtHR) in monitoring respect for human and civil rights and freedom. It was argued that since its establishment in 1959, the role of the ECHR has evolved significantly and proved to be the most influential international human rights court in the world. It was noted that currently the European Union is negotiating its accession to the ECHR. Essentially, the EU’s accession to the ECHR will mean that the EU is subjected to the same rules and the same system of international oversight on human rights as its 27 member states and the 20 other Council of Europe members.
The agenda further included a conversation with Mrs. Patricia ÖTVÖS, adviser of the European Commissioner for Human Rights, who spoke about the role of the Commissioner for Human Rights. The post was established at the Conference of the Heads of state in Strasbourg in 1999, which gave new impetus to human rights protection. At present, Dunja Mijatović was elected Commissioner for Human Rights in January 2018 by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly and took up her position on 1 April 2018. She is the fourth Commissioner, succeeding Nils Muižnieks (2012-2018), Thomas Hammarberg (2006-2012) and Alvaro Gil-Robles (1999-2006).
The meeting continued with a fruitful discussion with Mr. Shahin Abbasov, Programme Manager, Cooperation on Freedom of Expression Division, who elaborated on the impact of the ongoing war in Ukraine on the work of the Council of Europe. It was mentioned that on 16 March 2022, the Committee of Ministers decided under Article 8 that the Russian Federation would cease to be a member of the Council of Europe forthwith due to its illegal and unprovoked war in Ukraine. As a result, the Russian Federation will no longer participate in the work of the Steering Committee for Human Rights or any of its subordinate bodies.
Finally, with Ms. Artemiza Chisca, Head of the Media and Internet Division, the members of the Presidency reflected on the work of the Council of Europe on freedom of expression and information in the digital age. It was highlighted that the right to freedom of expression and information constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society. Ms. Chisca pointed out that the Media and Internet division of the Council of Europe is a reference point within the broad area of the work accomplished by different Council of Europe bodies. The division also ensures the work of the Steering Committee on Media and Information Society.
The speakers extensively referred to the significance of publication of the ESU President Ms. An Hermans Digital Era, Also my Era! The representatives of the Council of Europe welcomed the activities of the ESU and and expressed its readiness to further follow up the study visit in view of considering an active collaboration with the ESU for the promotion of the rights of older persons in the EU member states and beyond.