On 26 January 2022, a coalition of 14 civil society organisations started a new international initiative, the Campaign to Uphold Rights in Europe (CURE). The campaign was launched in Strasbourg, the seat of the Council of Europe, the inter-governmental organisation specifically dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, rule of law and democracy and uniting 47 member states from across the European continent.
The overall goal of the CURE is to make the Council of Europe strong and effective in fulfilling its statutory role of protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, upholding the rule of law and genuine democracy. The campaign’s founding Manifesto raises the alarm over the increasing challenge to this role.
‘Today, member states systematically fail to act jointly on key issues, including in addressing major human rights and rule of law violations by their peers, due to a lack of political will or prevalence of other political considerations, as well as differences and disagreements between them. Therefore, the impact of the Council of Europe […] on serious and systemic violations remains very limited. This negative pattern leaves victims of violations unprotected and induces impunity and recurring violations,’ reads the Manifesto.
Gunnar Ekeløve-Slydal, Deputy Secretary General of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee and member of the newly elected Steering Committee of the CURE, stated in his opening remarks:
‘A strong and effective Council of Europe which can ensure European unity based on democracy, human rights and rule of law is of vital concern for over 800 million people living in the member states. It should be a dynamic, well-resourced and transparent organisation, well known and accessible to the public. Our priority areas of work include strengthening the European Convention system, including by addressing systematic non-implementation of European Court of Human Rights judgements, neglecting its interim measures and a lack of effective Committee of Ministers’ response to non-implementation. Another important task is to increase the ability of the Council of Europe to address human rights violations in conflict-affected areas.’
Yuri Dzhibladze, the campaign team’s leading expert from Russia, outlined two other priority areas for the CURE – ensuring strong follow-up to decisions, resolutions and reports of various CoE bodies and securing a wider meaningful participation of civil society in the CoE work.
‘There is no lack of monitoring procedures and reports in the Council of Europe. The problem is the lack of implementation by member states of the recommendations contained therein. Too often, very fine reports, resolutions, decisions and recommendations, such as opinions of the Venice Commission or the Committee for the Prevention of Torture reports are neglected. To push for better implementation, much stronger action by statutory organs of the Council and member states is needed.’ He explained further: ‘In contrast with the Council of Europe itself being at the forefront among other inter- governmental organisations in developing and promoting new progressive human rights and democracy standards, the organisation’s framework for cooperation with civil society looks quite conservative, compared to the UN and the OSCE. We look forward to working with member states on the so-called Helsinki process. This should improve civil society access to meetings of Council of Europe bodies, draft documents, agendas of meetings and Council premises.’
The CURE campaign launch was attended by more than 50 representatives of civil society organisations, diplomats, members of the Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), the Council’s Secretariat, CoE Conference of International NGOs (CINGO), academic experts and the media. Many of them endorsed the campaign.
‘This iniative is extremely important. The time has come to push for more respect to the Council of Europe at the level of individual member states, and my colleagues and I will do our best to support the CURE as much as possible,’ said Thomas Hammarberg, currently PACE member and CoE Commissioner for Human Rights (2006-2012).
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The EU-Russia Civil Society Forum was established in 2011 by non-governmental organisations as a permanent common platform. At the moment, 192 NGOs from Russia and the European Union are members or supporters of the Forum. It aims at development of cooperation of civil society organisations from Russia and EU and greater participation of NGOs in the EU-Russia dialogue. The Forum has been actively involved, inter alia, in the questions of facilitation of visa regime, development of civic participation, protection of the environment and human rights, dealing with history and civic education.