When it comes to migrants and their rights, Europe dropped the ball on human rights

The humanitarian crisis in Europe was largely discussed today(Tuesday) by current and former commissioners of the Human Rights Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France.

The panel discussion included former commissioner Nils Muiznieks. During the discussion, there was the collective admittance that there was an underestimation of the migration policy crisis as it was misjudged by the Council.

“We let the extreme right dominate the debate. The human rights point of view was not audible.” Muiznieks said.

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Dunja Mijatović, the current chief commissioner of the Council, assured everyone that going forward, there will be no taking a back seat when it comes to human rights, despite various challenged faced.

Mijatović called on the youth to fearlessly stand up against oppressive governments.

The Council, calling itself Europe’s “independent and impartial non-judicial institution”, was established in 1999.

Ahead of the event Timo Soini, Finland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, a founding supporter of the Council addressed to Parliamentarian Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE). He elaborated on the current deteriorating human rights situation in Europe.

Topics discussed by panellists included LGBTI rights, women and children rights, migrants issue, climate change and the inclusion of civil society.

Active participation of young people key

A former commissioner of the Council, who is now a member of the Swedish parliament, Thomas Hummerberg, called upon young people to mobilise for human rights. Álvaro Gil-Robles y Gil-Delgado, another former commissioner from Spain, also called on the youth to commit themselves and be a key element in the rearmament of Europe in values.

Alvaro Gil Robles underlined the importance of education in human rights, citizenship and the role of the media to promote values of human rights.

Robles added that young people who are in solidarity and act generously to protect human rights, need to be trained to become aware of the benefits of human rights.

Muižnieks, a Latvian-American human rights activist and political scientist, insisted on the importance of reaching out to young people. “When you torture people, for example, you help the recruitment of terrorists, you play into their hands,” Muižnieks argued.

Russia can be a Council member but must stick to values

Participant Igor Kalyapin, a human rights defender from Russia said called on the commissioner to help by telling leaders that human rights violations cannot be justified, at times with excuses such as traditional values.

After Kalyapin’s remarks, Hammarberg warned that Russia’s membership was crucial. He called on Moscow to stay in the Council without compromising human rights standards and to cooperate with mechanisms of the Council.

“Commissioners have not been active enough about economic and social rights. This is a burning issue nowadays that needs to be tackled,” said a critical Hummerberg.

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The Commission of Human Rights should not be politicised

Mijatovic mentioned the importance of listening to ordinary people and various institutions to protect human rights, but the Council cannot be politicised.

“The Commission could not work in all corners of Europe without NGOs, journalists, ombudsmen, human rights defenders. It would not be possible to do this either without my team and I want to mention them here,” Mijatovic pointed out.

She went further to say the Council remains an independent institution. She said this will ensure the voice of human rights continues to be heard and the voiceless are given voices to handle human rights violations.

Ombudswoman Lora Vidovic from Croatia, another panellist,  underscored the importance of cooperation of national human rights institutions with the Council. In Croatia, she said, “human rights defenders and structures they work with are denied access to information when it comes to concerns over migrants.

Women’s rights are human rights as well

Muiznieks said: “We need to continue to fight. I will put not only my foot down but also all my energy and experience in defence of human rights. LGBTI, women, children’s rights will be high on my agenda and key digital issues like artificial intelligence (AI).”

“I never experienced a nasty resistance when I raised gender equality. Yet, we saw progress, with the #IstanbulConvention. I heard from women activists across Europe that they felt marginalised, were attacked. Women’s rights are #HumanRights” former commissioner Muiznieks added.

The former Finnish minister Soini said: “Since 1999 there have been many positive developments for #HumanRights in Europe. The Council has played an important role in setting up standards, having a dialogue with states, monitoring the implementation of human rights.”

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