Rik Daems elected PACE President
Rik Daems (Belgium, ALDE) has been elected President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).
Succeeding Liliane Maury Pasquier (Switzerland, SOC), he becomes PACE’s 33rd President and the third Belgian representative since 1949 after the Assembly’s founding father, Paul-Henri Spaak (1949-1951), and Fernand Dehousse (1956-9). Only one candidate was in the running.
In his opening speech the newly-elected President urged the Assembly to focus on values rather than national interests. “Interests divide, but values unite," he said. “We are sent by our national parliaments, but I doubt we are sent here only to support our national interests. We all signed the European Convention on Human Rights and we are here to defend human rights, the rule of law and democracy,” he underlined. “We may be a Council of Europe, but we are also a Council of Europeans. Being equal doesn’t mean we are all the same, but to cherish and uphold the same values. This is what ‘unity in diversity’ means, this is what the Council of Europe is all about.”
The President said the connection between human rights and the environment would also be a priority for him - he called for a new protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights on climate change. He will be asking the Committee of Ministers to follow a previous PACE recommendation and start work on this soon. Another priority will be gender equality and the Istanbul Convention.
Finally, the new President announced that he would work hard to encourage the three branches of the Council of Europe – the Assembly, the Committee of Ministers and the Secretary General - to work together in the form of a “trialogue”, with the aim of strengthening the impact of the organisation’s work. “It takes two to tango - but it takes three to dance!"
“We need politics by results, we need to make an impact on the daily lives of our 830 million citizens,” he concluded, announcing that he would like to visit all 47 member States to make PACE’s work better known in national parliaments. "I'll be a full-time President!" he told the members.
PACE Georgia monitors welcome adoption of Constitutional amendments by the Georgian Parliament
Strasbourg, 29.06.2020 - The co-rapporteurs of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) for the monitoring of Georgia, Titus Corlatean (Romania, SOC) and Claude Kern (France, ALDE), have welcomed the adoption today by the Georgian Parliament of the Constitutional amendments to implement the new election system for the 2020 elections that was agreed between the ruling majority and opposition in March this year, with the support of international mediators.
“The Assembly has consistently called for the introduction of a proportional election system in Georgia. That will now be the case as from the 2024 elections. In addition, as a result of the adoption of these Constitutional amendments, the system for the next elections in 2020 will now also be far more proportional than was previously the case, which potentially could allow for a more pluralist and representative parliament. We strongly welcome this,” said the co-rapporteurs.
At the same time, the co-rapporteurs regretted that the political agreement had not resulted in a less tense and polarised political environment. “We call on all sides to seek co-operation over confrontation and to constructively pursue the implementation of the remainder of the 8 March political agreement. In addition, we call on all stakeholders to refrain from any statements and actions that could increase tensions and polarisation or otherwise negatively affect the environment needed for the conduct of genuinely democratic elections.”
“As we have said, the political agreement, and the election system resulting from it, offer a window of opportunity to Georgia. We implore all stakeholders to fully take that opportunity in the best interest of Georgia,” emphasised the co-rapporteurs.
The co-rapporteurs intend to visit the country in November with a view to finalising their report on Georgia, which they will present to the Assembly during its January 2021 part-session.
Preventing COVID-19: Council of Europe supports prison systems in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and North Macedonia
In response to the emergency of COVID-19 pandemic and to the need of providing urgent support to inmates and prison staff, in the context of its cooperation programmes, the Council of Europe has donated protective materials to five member States: Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
In Georgia, donations included 6,500 masks, 2,500 face shields and 500 litres of sanitizer and antiseptic liquid, 20 pulse oximeters; 5,000 disposable plastic shoe covers; and 3,000 medical disposable headcovers.
A total of 13,760 masks; 2,500 facial shields; 1,240 litters of disinfectant/sanitizer for hands and surfaces; 84,000 gloves; 99 infrared thermometers; 2 oxygen generators; 5 portable saturometers; 10 bactericide lamps; 50 medical uniforms; 100 protective glasses, 20 pulse oximeters; 3,000 head covers; 5,000 shoe covers were delivered to prison administrations in the mentioned countries. 850 pieces of disinfectants and 5,000 gloves are also under way of delivery in North Macedonia, and additional items are expected to be purchased in Montenegro and Azerbaijan until end of June 2020.
These donations aim at supporting the commitment of the Council of Europe member States and their national prison administrations to adhere to the CPT statement of principles for the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty (see the statement also in Georgian here), in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The donations were delivered following requests from the Ministries of Justice and prison administrations within the framework of the cooperation activities implemented by the Criminal Law Cooperation Unit, Action against Crime Department, Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law.
The donation to Georgia was possible in the framework of the project Enhancement of Human Rights and Health-Care Support to Penitentiary System (financed through CoE Action Plan for Georgia 2016-2019).
Stop jailing journalists: Turkey and Azerbaijan must uphold Council of Europe standards
Stefan Schennach (Austria, SOC), General Rapporteur on media freedom and the safety of journalists for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), has today expressed concern over the detention of journalists, an appalling phenomenon which has been observed for many years especially in Turkey and in Azerbaijan.
The PACE recent report on “Threats to media freedom and journalists’ security in Europe” observes that Turkey is the country which has the highest number of imprisoned journalists, at present 95 according to the Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists. “Journalists are placed in arbitrary pre-trial arrest and detention, and are held for months, sometimes for years, before their cases come to court. Such detentions are the result of politicised targeting of journalists for their critical reporting; they are an obvious violation of freedom of expression and of journalists’ right to liberty and security”, said Mr Schennach.
Moreover, in the context of the current pandemic crisis, detention in penitentiaries constitutes an unjustified risk to health, and even to life. A recent bill proposes that approximately one third of 300,000 Turkish detainees be released, but it excludes those detained for terrorism-related offences, and therefore the majority of the 95 journalists in detention, as they are charged with or convicted of terrorism-related offences, although with no solid justification.
As for Azerbaijan – where there are currently 10 journalists in detention – several journalists are arrested on the ground of fabricated accusations. Elchin Mammad, editor in chief of the Yukselish Namine newspaper, was arrested on 30 March 2020 “for having stolen jewellery”. Since 2015, he has repeatedly been under judicial or police investigations, interrogations, house and office searches. Today, if convicted he faces up to seven years in prison.
Another Azerbaijani journalist and blogger with Kanal24 Internet TV, Ibrahim Vazirov, was arrested on 13 April 2020, days after police had demanded he delete online reports about the social and economic impact of Covid-19. In previous weeks, the journalist had been producing video reports critical of the government’s quarantine measures. A similar case happened to Mirsahib Rahiloglu, a journalist with the Reportyor.info, who had published interviews with citizens expressing frustration at the lack of financial support during the lockdown. He was arrested for “violating lockdown rules” and detained for 30 days. Natig Izbatov, a journalist with online news outlet 7gun.az, was arrested as he was filming interviews with people about the economic effects of the lockdown. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail for violating lockdown rules, despite having official documents which gave him permission to work as a journalist. Moreover, he was allegedly assaulted at the police station, his telephone had been searched and footage and recordings deleted.
“The current situation in Turkey and Azerbaijan is unacceptable. In both these member States, freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, has been violated for several years. Therefore, I call on both Turkey and Azerbaijan to urgently stop these attacks on journalists, in order to uphold the standards established by the Council of Europe and stick to the values promoted by our Organisation,” the General Rapporteur concluded.
Greece takes over the Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers
Strasbourg, 15.05.2020 – Greece today took over the chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe from Georgia during a video-conference meeting with representatives of the 47 member states of the Organisation.
The Georgian Foreign Minister, David Zalkaliani, presented the stocktaking of his country's presidency. The Greek Minister with responsibility for Foreign/European Affairs, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, outlined the priorities of the Greek Chairmanship for the next six months.
Given the current context, Greece has chosen to focus its chairmanship on the protection of public health and responses to the health crisis, while at the same time ensuring respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Other priorities include the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, along with the protection of vulnerable children and the rights of the younger generations in the fields of digital education, the environment and social issues.
On 4 November, Athens will host the session of the Committee of Ministers bringing together the 47 Foreign Ministers, and the ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights. Germany will then succeed Greece as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Organisation.
Greece to take over from Georgia Chairmanship of CoE Committee of Ministers
The Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe will officially be transferred from Georgia to Greece today. The chairmanship will be passed at the meeting of the CoE committee of ministers in Strasbourg.
According to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the meeting will be opened by Irakli Giviashvili, Permanent Representative of Georgia to the Council of Europe.
Georgia’s Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani will deliver a speech and sum up the achievements and results of Georgia’s Presidency, will review the measures taken in terms of the implementation of the priorities of Georgia’s chairmanship and the cultural program.
The meeting will also be addressed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the President of the European Court of Human Rights, the Commissioner for Human Rights and the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
After Davit Zalkaliani’s speech, the Ambassador of Georgia will hand over the symbolic key of the chairmanship to the Permanent Representative of Greece to the Council of Europe.
The Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe was transferred from France to Georgia during a meeting held in Strasbourg, the Organisation’s headquarters, on November 27 of 2019. The priorities of the Georgian Chairmanship included human rights and environmental protection, the participation of civil society in decision-making, child-friendly justice, and education, culture and youth engagement in strengthening democracy.