Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe (May 2014)

Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in Europe (May 2014)

A new report was released by the Secretary General of the  Council of Europe, presenting an analysis of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe, based on the  most recent findings of the Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms and bodies.

Structured into 6 major parts, the report addresses issues related to respect for physical integrity and human dignity, justice and the rule of law, democracy, social rights, non discrimination and equality , also bringing into discussion how the Council Of Europe deals with unresolved and conflict zones.

In the report’s preface, the Secretary General, Thorbjørn Jagland, argues that human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Europe face an unprecedented crisis, since the end of the Cold War, as serious violations – including corruption, immunity from prosecution, impunity, human trafficking, racism, hate speech and discrimination – are on the rise throughout the continent.

The document  lists a large number of concrete and worrying challenges to human rights, democracy and the rule of law and also recommends actions to meet them.

Among the most serious challenges are: Ethnic discrimination/national minorities (in 39 Member States), Conditions of detention, including overcrowding in prisons (30 member States), Corruption (26 member States), Ill-treatment by law enforcement officers (23 member States), Social exclusion and discrimination of Roma (23 member States, Set-up and functioning of the judiciary (20 member States), Shortcomings in migrants’ and asylum seekers’ rights (20 member States), Excessive length of proceedings (11 member States), Trafficking in human beings (11 member States) as well as lack of freedom of expression and media freedom (8 member States).

The 72-page report also outlines that no European country is  without human rights problems, and that Europe is not divided into countries which have such problems and those which do not. It may, on the other hand, be divided between those which acknowledge their challenges, and are ready to co-operate with the Council of Europe in addressing them, and those which do not.

It has also been argued in the report that disregard for Council of Europe standards ultimately reflects a lack of political will, which allows core European values – human rights, rule of law and democracy – to be compromised in favour of other priorities such as economic growth, stability, or even short-term electoral considerations.

For political reasons, the Council of Europe standards and monitoring mechanisms are not applied in certain geographical areas, particularly those affected by so-called “frozen conflicts”.

Death Penalty

The Council of Europe member States form a death penalty-free region. On the European continent, only Belarus persists in applying this practice.


Although trafficking for sexual exploitation remains predominant, the reports show an increase in cases of trafficking for labour exploitation. Other types of exploitation, such as forced begging and forced criminality, also appear to be on the rise, and they require an adequate response from member States.

Migrants and Asylum seekers

Main challenges unjustified, excessive or inadequate detention of migrants and lack of basic protection for migrants who are not detained.

The judiciary system in  Europe

Certain actions by member States have undermined public trust in the court system. In some member States, public prosecutors exercise powers that are too broad and lack transparency.

An improved gender balance within the judiciary will contribute to public confidence in the court system and its representation of society. While the percentages for judiciaries in all member States show a relative balance, we see a much lower proportion of women judges in the higher courts, particularly in supreme courts.

Whilst four supreme courts show an exception to this trend, with a higher proportion of women judges than in first-instance courts, two such courts are over 90% male.

Social rights

Freedom of expression, information, internet freedom, elections and electoral participation, austerity policies were negatively influenced by the economic crisis.

The increasing influence of political parties with extreme-right agendas challenges the principles of democracy.

Non-discrimination and equality

While national policies and action plans for Roma inclusion exist in most member States, they do not always receive sufficient funding or include measures to combat anti-Gypsyism.

Gender equality

Violence against women is the most pronounced expression of gender inequality and remains perhaps the most widespread human rights violation in Europe. It carries devastating consequences for women, society and the economy. Important gaps persist in all areas, including prevention, protection, prosecution and co-ordinated policies. Member States only criminalise one of the nine forms of violence against women.

Sexual orientation and Gender Identity, Children’s rights, Other forms of discrimination and intolerance

Religion is increasingly used as a pretext for discrimination on other grounds. The policing of migration flows has resulted in discussions that fuel the xenophobic debate.

The full report provides a through description of the aforementioned trends in Europe and is available for consultation here.

Photo: Wikipedia Commons

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