Regional Consultation – Europe, September 2016

On 21 September 2016, OHCHR held regional consultation in Warsaw, in the context of a side event at the OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting side event on “Addressing the deteriorating situation of civil society actors and human rights defenders in Europe”. The key participants were human rights structures of regional partners in Europe, namely, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe (CoE); the latter was represented by the Commissioner for Human Rights and experts of the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE.

The event was also attended by a number of delegations of the OSCE participating States, human rights experts and civil society organizations. CoE Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks’ opening remarks were followed by statements by Vladlen Stefanov, Chief of OHCHR National Institutions and Regional Mechanisms Section; Katarzyna Jarosiewicz-Wargan, Deputy Director of the OSCE ODIHR; Yves Cruchten, CoE Deputy and Rapporteur on How to prevent inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities in Europe; Anna Rurka, President of the Conference of INGOs at the Council of Europe; and Hanna Machiñska, Director of the CoE Office in Warsaw.

The participants in the event discussed the overall situation of civil society and human rights defenders in Europe and Central Asia, noting with concern the shrinking space for human rights practitioners, who face increasing number of challenges and obstacles, such as regressive legislation, legal and administrative hurdles for funding and activities, smear campaign by media, reprisals, violent attacks, trials and imprisonment on bogus charges. The participants stressed that States should bear the primary responsibility for ensuring enabling space for human rights defenders and NGOs. They also highlighted the important role that human rights defenders and civil society organizations play in regional and international arena. The side-event / regional consultation proposed the following topics to be discussed at the upcoming workshop on “Enhancing cooperation between regional and international mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights”: The need to build trust between grass root NGOs, Governments and international organisations; abuse of issues of funding as a tool for smear campaign against NGOs ; and the need for advocacy for vulnerable groups and the general public.