EWL News

International NGO Conference of the Council of Europe

[Strasbourg, 20 February 2014] Marion Minis of the Nederlandse Vrouwen Raad attended the INGOs conference of the Council of Europe (January 29-30, 2014).

On the Istanbul Convention, Human Rights & Democracy
Representatives of many European NGOs travelled to Strasbourg (France) to meet at the annual sessions of the INGOs conference of the Council of Europe (CoE, 1948), which took place at the end of January. I attended several days as I wanted to learn more about CoE., especially as we as EWL members campaigned hard for the ‘Istanbul Convention’, an initiative of the Council of Europe to end Violence against Women.

Although this important treaty was adopted by Council of Europe in Spring 2011, still less than the acquired 10 member states ratified this document. However, CoE parliamentarian mr. Jose Mendes Bota was most content with the results from the joint EWL/CoE campaign on the Istanbul Convention, which is also known as the CAHVIO convention.

Gender Equality Expert &Task Force
While EWL focusses on women’s rights, Council of Europe focusses on human rights, of which gender equality is an aspect. The CoE INGO conference has an elected Gender Equality Expert (GEE), ms. Betty Doornenbal. The GEE and her team work horizontally between the 4 pillars of Council of Europe to come to results:

  • 1. Ministers of states,
  • 2. Parliamentarians,
  • 3. Local & Regional Authorities,
  • 4. INGOs

Ms. Doornenbal sees the ratification of the ‘Istanbul Convention’ as her main target. Once this document is ratified by at least 10 member states - hopefully in 2014 - she will concentrate on the process of monitoring. Furthermore, the INGO conference has an active ‘Task Force on Gender Equality’ - I was invited to their meeting -, facilitated by ms. Anje Wiersinga, which consists of dedicated women & men who currently work on the theme ‘gender based violence as a political weapon in the Arab region’. They plan to organize an side event on this subject in June, during the next round of meetings.

A point of concern comes from an expert who works with victims of trafficking in Germany. She sees a trend towards younger women (girls) entering into prostitution as ‘the market’ requests for younger girls a.o. because they are ‘free from (sexual transmittable) diseases’.

Democracy & the role of civil society
Expert Council on NGO Law, mr. Cyril Ritchie, elaborated on the important role of civil society, which is essential to democracy as it offers citizens a tool for involvement and participation into governmental processes. CoE currently focusses its activities on states such as Azerbeidsjan, Bulgaria, Turkey and Hungary, and tries to create and expand an environment which is supportive to NGOs, and for this reason tries to create a dialogue with governments concerned. CoE also works in non member states on invitation, a.o. Morocco.

Ukraine & Syria
A group of representatives of civil society from Ukraine informed the conference on current political and social developments in their country, which was impressive. Afterwards the conference adopted a resolution on the situation in Ukraine to support the democratic process and the INGO actors.

While the INGOs conference was on its way, parliamentarians of the Council of Europe presented statements on Syria, asking for a.o. more humanitarian aid to support citizens. Some months ago a delegation of Council of Europe’s INGO conference travelled to a.o. Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to visit camps which shelter refugees from Syria. Based on this they presented the conference some recommendations. Furthermore, issues related to human rights and Democracy were discussed a.o. ‘religions and human rights’ and the (difficult) position of so called ‘whistle blowers’. Other issues that arose: the position of unrecognised states, and forced migration as a result of e.g. climate changes. All in all, many aspects of human rights are covered.

CoE currently counts 47 European and non EU-states - e.g. Ukraine, Russia, Switzerland and Norway -, of which 28 are members of the European Union (EU). Observers are a.o. Canada, Holy See (Vatican), Mexico and Japan. All CoE member states have signed up to the ‘European Convention on Human Rights’, a treaty designed to protect human rights, democracy and the rule of law. EU is preparing to sign the ‘European Convention on Human Rights’, creating a common European legal space for over 820 million citizens. Which is good news!

Marion Minis
The Netherlands

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EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

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