Speech at the 3rd International "Human Rights Protection in Eurasia: Exchange of Best Practices Among Ombudspersons" (anglais uniquement)
Moscou, mardi 17 décembre 2019

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you to today to address this high-level conference. And would like to begin, as did the Secretary General of the Council of Europe just before me, by congratulating Ms Tatiana Moskalkova, Human Rights Commissioner of Russia, for this excellent initiative.

Nowadays, when multilateralism is increasingly challenged, we need international platforms such as this one to facilitate discussions among experts and practitioners. I am therefore particularly glad to represent the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on this occasion.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We here today have travelled to Moscow from different corners of our Continent because we share the same aim, that is to promote human rights and to ensure their effective implementation for each and every individual within our jurisdictions.

Yet we know that human rights are facing major challenges today, at both domestic and international levels.

Growing inequalities within and among societies, discrimination on various grounds, a certain "regression" of democracy and fundamental rights against a background of growing populist, nationalistic and authoritarian trends, "politicisation" of fundamental human rights issues – these are just a few of the threats that human rights are facing today.

How can these challenges be effectively addressed?

To enrich our discussions, let me share with you two ideas relating specifically to the harmonisation of human rights norms and to their effective implementation at national level.

Ladies and gentlemen,

A year ago, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Drawing inspiration from this Universal Declaration, the Council of Europe member states drafted the European Convention on Human Rights, the 70th anniversary of which we will celebrate in 2020. The Convention is at the heart of what is known today as the European Convention System – a set of legally binding and uniform standards of human rights protection in 47 member states, protecting the rights of 830 million individuals. Respect of Member States’ compliance with the Convention is guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights, which all individuals within our jurisdictions can access in case of violation of their rights. In addition, there is an array of independent monitoring and advisory bodies that supervise compliance with other conventions of the Council of Europe.

Of course, the European Convention System is not the only human rights protection mechanism worldwide. But it is the oldest and largest on our Continent. It is also often referred to as the most effective in terms of numbers of people who benefit from it every day and in terms of the highest compliance rates that international law has ever seen. Therefore, it can serve as a reference for harmonising protection standards in a wider context.

This is all the more true because some of our member states participate in other regional co-operation and integration mechanisms. Being bound by their obligations under the European Convention System, they promote its standards beyond the Council of Europe and thus contribute to the harmonisation of human rights protection among different jurisdictions.

You are no doubt aware that the European Union has already resumed the process of accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. This is a major project which will help increase legal coherence on the Continent. I wholeheartedly welcome the reopening of negotiations that should bring a new momentum to our relations with the European Union.

At the same time, I am confident that synergies could be sought with other organisations, including within the Euro-Asian space, especially because some of our member states participate in various regional co-operation mechanisms on the Continent. Indeed, by applying the Convention in the context of Eurasian integration processes, they would extend its relevance and outreach beyond Europe. I hope that the Eurasian Alliance of Ombudsmen, which I see as one of useful regional platforms for peer-to-peer exchange of experience in the area of human rights protection, could also bring its contribution to this process.

This morning, we will have an opportunity to discuss the interconnection between human rights and integration processes and I look forward to hearing your views on this important issue.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to turn to the second issue – effectiveness and national implementation of human rights, as well as the role that Ombudspersons play in this process.

One of the strengths of the European Convention System is the recognition of the principle of shared responsibility of member States for the implementation of the Convention. At domestic level, shared responsibility means a concerted effort by all actors – governments, parliaments, national human rights institutions and civil society – to translate human rights into policies, laws and legal guarantees.

As Ombudspersons, you play a crucial role in this process, being at the forefront of human rights work on a daily basis.

Your task is clearly not an easy one. In recent years, we have seen a dangerous trend of attempts to weaken Ombudspersons’ institutions through challenges of their independence and effectiveness.

Traditionally, parliaments enjoy a special relationship with Ombudspersons. Therefore, as a Parliamentarian and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly, I would like to join the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in expressing our full support for your work.

That is why our Organisation has just updated a comprehensive set of common standards that guide the establishment and operation of Ombudsperson institutions in Europe and beyond. The new set of standards includes the so-called "Venice Principles" adopted by the European Commission for Democracy through Law – better known as the Venice Commission – and the new Recommendation of the Committee of Ministers to Member States on the development of the Ombudsperson institution. Both texts have been elaborated in cooperation with the United Nations and the International Ombudsman Institute. I trust that this consolidated package of modern standards will further support your activities in your respective countries and your international co-operation at the regional and global level.

The Parliamentary Assembly has endorsed the Venice principles and recommended all its member and partner parliaments (which include Morocco, Jordan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Palestine) to fully implement them in practice. We are of course ready to provide expertise to facilitate this process and I am sure that our discussions today will contribute to further promoting the updated standards which the Secretary General and I have just mentioned.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have already spoken for some time, but I cannot conclude my address without mentioning an important and urgent human rights issue which concerns us all.

Equality between women and men is one of the fundamental democratic principles: without equality, societies cannot develop in the best possible way, because it is inconceivable, in a healthy and solid democracy, to exclude half of that society from decision-making processes and from the opportunity to fully exercise their capacities.

Inequality is expressed in a variety of ways, and sexism, harassment and violence against women are clearly the most subtle of these forms.

There are many ways to combat this scourge and many of our member states – including our hosts, the Russian Federation - are currently developing policies and legislation in this field. I would be more than happy to discuss this issue later today in my bilateral meetings, especially with High Commissioner Moskalkova, as I know your personal commitment to find an appropriate solution to this problem. Please, be assured that the Council of Europe stands ready to share with you its expertise on the best European practices in this area.

At this stage, allow me to mention a concrete initiative that the Parliamentary Assembly launched a year ago. Our hash-tag campaign #NotInMyParliament aims at raising awareness of the negative impact on everyone – women and men alike - of sexism and harassment, to publicly condemn it and to encourage action to end it. This campaign was designed specifically for the parliamentary context and, during the past 12 months, we have organised many public meetings and symbolic events in different national parliaments, as well as at the Council of Europe headquarters.

Today, I would like to encourage you to take this campaign home and to replicate it – it is our initiative, but we claim no copyright!

Please feel free to adapt it and to develop it further, for example #NotInMyCity, #NotInMyOffice, #NotInMyTownhall…

I hope that our joint efforts will contribute to eliminating sexism, harassment and violence against women within our Continent and globally.

Thank you very much for your attention and I am looking forward to fruitful and inspiring discussions.