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Thursday, 30 September 2010

Can Culture Project Help Fight Against Anti-Roma Discrimination?

Logo of the Council of EuropeImage via Wikipedia
Culture and heritage enthusiasts will gather at the Council of Europe for the official launch of the 'Roma Routes' project.

On 7 October, they will join Roma representatives from the United Kingdom, Germany, Greece, Romania and Slovenia to discuss efforts to showcase Roma culture.

A CoE spokesman said: "Engagement through heritage is a non-confrontational and attractive method of communication, which allows Roma culture to be seen and understood, away from the tensions of policing, housing etc.

"Roma have the opportunity to communicate with knowledge and confidence through a range of cultural media including song, dance, artefacts, family history, food and customs."

Over the next 2 years, the project will feature a month of celebrations in Slovenia, lectures and music in Germany, a commemoration for the Roma who died in the holocaust and a summer camp for Roma and non Roma young people in Romania.

Roma artists will perform in Athens and there will also be opportunities for roma cultural experts to contribute to the curriculum in Romanian schools and to act as guides in Greek museums.

The spokesman added: "This is a platform from which the Roma Route of Culture and Heritage can be developed and links can be pursued with partners across Europe interested in furthering this process."

More information

Podcast: Romaphobia 2010

Launch Of Expert Group On Multicultural Europe

Joschka Fischer, former German Foreign Minister, will chair a Group of 'Eminent Persons' including, among others, Javier Solana and Emma Bonino with the mandate to find answers to the current threats from intolerance and discrimination in Europe.

Launching the initiative in Brussels today, Thorbjørn Jagland explained that the new challenges to security and stability in Europe appeared not to be between but inside the states. In the press-conference, Joschka Fischer said that living together in a multicultural, multireligious society will be key to preserving and developing the European model.

The group will conclude its work with recommendations to the Council of Europe at a Ministerial conference to be held in Istanbul in May 2011. The initiative is part of the Turkish Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers (November 2010 - May 2011).

The Group In Full

News Article: The End Of Multi-Culturalism?

Interview: Irmela Mensah-Schramm

Roma in Europe: Time for states to move from words to action and eliminate systemic discrimination

“Roma and Travellers continue to be subject to racism and pervasive discrimination across all social sectors in many European countries. It is high time to act to reverse this situation” said the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, at the Seminar on Roma rights organised today by the ABF-Workers’ Educational Association in Stockholm.

“Europe cannot be proud. It is a continent where forced sterilisation of Roma women was a state-backed policy in certain countries at least until 1990 and where segregation of Roma children in schools still persists. Progress in tackling poverty among Roma and enhancing their socio-economic status is either non existent or slow. (more)

Podcast: Romaphobia

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Europe Sets Date For Roma Meeting

Council of Europe Palais de l'Europe aerial vi...Image via Wikipedia
A high level meeting of government officials to discuss issues related to the rights and obligations of Europe's Roma communities is scheduled for Strasbourg on 20 October.

Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland's initiative followed his discussions on 17 September with French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche. (more ...)

Within the Council of Europe, the necessary legal framework exits to combat the discrimination and social inequality faced by many of the 10 and 12 million Roma who live in the organisation’s 47 member states.

Recommendations from the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers have highlighted the obligations of member states to Roma people with regard to health, housing and education.

Since 1995, the Committee of Experts on Roma and Travellers (MG-S-ROM) has advised governments and international authorities to take appropriate action against intolerance and to prevent social exclusion.

Roma victims of discrimination can seek redress through the provisions of the European Social Charter.

It lays down fundamental rights (related to housing, health, education, employment, social and legal protection and non discrimination), which States Parties have undertaken to secure to nationals of the States Parties (43 out of the 47 member states).

In addition, no one (i.e. including nationals of non Council of Europe member states, persons in an irregular situation, undocumented persons and thus also Roma and Travellers falling within these categories) may be deprived of the rights under the Charter which are linked to life and dignity (e.g. urgent medical assistance should be granted to everyone; no one may be evicted, not even from an illegally occupied site, without respecting the dignity of the persons concerned and without alternative accommodation being made available; everyone has a right to shelter; everyone has a right to procedural safeguards in the event of expulsion, etc).

Violations found by the European Committee on Social Rights with specific regard to the rights of Roma, Sinti and/or Travellers concern Articles 11, 13, 16, 17, 19, 30 and 31.

Fourteen countries, parties to the European Charter For Regional Or Minority Languages, have opted to protect the Romani language.

The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities is a legally binding multilateral accord which offers minimum safeguards to groups within the respective territories of the Parties.

Thirty-nine states are party to the Convention and most of them grant protection under the Convention to Roma people.

The Commissioner for Human Rights offers advice on matters affecting Roma communities, whilst the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI) recommends to the member State governments to:

- take measures to ensure that justice is fully and promptly done in cases of violations of fundamental rights of Roma and that no degree of impunity is tolerated as regards crimes committed against Roma;

- enact comprehensive legislation covering discrimination by public authorities and private persons and to provide legal aid to Roma victims;

- encourage Roma participation in decision-making processes, an active role for their organisations and dialogue with the police and local authorities;

- encourage awareness-raising among media professionals and provide training to teachers and all those involved in the administration of justice;

- ensure equal access to education for Roma children and to combat all forms of school segregation; and

- ensure that questions relating to “travelling” within a country, in particular regulations concerning residence and town planning, are solved in a way which does not hinder the way of life of the persons concerned.

ECRI has also recommended improvements on Roma concerns such as cultural identity and data collection, the conduct of law enforcement officials and access to public places, personal documents, social welfare and other services.

As with other Europeans, Roma who feel unjustly treated may also turn to the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights.

The Court’s case-law underlines the importance of Articles 2, 3 , 5 and 13 in offering protection to Roma people and others.

Article 14 and Article 1 of Protocol No. 12 prohibit discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status , the former with respect to any right guaranteed by the ECHR, the latter with respect also to any other right set forth in national law.

Other examples of discrimination amounting to a violation of Article 14 include: differences of treatment by a Court on account of the accused’s Roma origin (in connection with Article 6 – Right to a fair trial) ; the refusal to grant a pension to a Roma widow because marriage under Roma rites was held to be void of civil effects after having recognised the couple as a family under any other perspective (in connection with Article 1 of Protocol no. 1 – Protection of property) ; ineligibility of Roma people in elections (in connection with Article 3 of Protocol No. 3 – Right to free elections, also found to be a violation of Article 1 of Protocol No. 12).

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Hurrah For Switzerland But When Will Europe Reach 40% Gender Balance In Politics?

Userpage icon for supporting gender equality.Image via Wikipedia
In another boost to gender equality in the Council of Europe region, election results in Switzerland have delivered a government with a female majority.

The country joins Finland, Norway and Spain among CoE nations with a female-dominated government. Switzerland is second only to Finland, which boasts 12 women (63%) out of 19 ministers.

In 2009, the Council of Europe reported on the success of governments in achieving balanced participation between women and men in political and public decision-making.

The 'Parity Democracy – a far cry from reality,' study revealed the results of the first and second rounds of monitoring of Council of Europe Recommendation Rec(2003)3 on balanced participation of women and men in political and public decision-making.

The recommendation defined balanced participation as a minimum representation of 40% of both sexes in all decision-making bodies in political or public life in the 47 member states.

More information

Podcast : Are Men Now The Victims?

Video: 21st Century Women- New Century, Old Problems

Route of Roma Culture and Heritage

“It is incredible that after centuries of living in Europe, so little is known about Roma people and their culture.”

The words of a Council of Europe spokesman go some way to understanding the ambitions that lie at the heart of the Route of Roma Culture and Heritage.

The project aims to increase knowledge about Roma history, culture, values and lifestyle and to encourage greater respect and a move away from some common stereotypes about Roma people.

Read More

Interview: Pierdomenico Baccalario - journalist, scriptwriter and author (Italy)

As it often happens to me, I cannot exactly remember when it happened.

I can clearly remember I was walking. Neither did I know in which country, nor where I hailed from.

I did not even know who I was. 

I arrived at a long hedge, with a gate. The gate was opened, some children were on guard. I could not see what was behind the hedge. 

I asked the children and they said: ''This is the Realm of Ideas.''
''Realm of Ideas?'' answered I, astonished. They stood aside and invited me to get in.

''Don’t you ask me anything?'' said I, grumpily.

''What kind of guards are you? You do not know who I am, where I am from, or what I am doing here.''

The guardians-children then burst out laughing. 

''Do you really think that would make a difference?'' they asked, leading me the way over the hedge.

I do support the Council of Europe, I do SPEAK OUT against discrimination.

With these words, the best-selling Italian children's author Pierdomenico Baccalario, gave his support to the Council of Europe's campaign against discrimination.


Pierdomenico Baccalario was born in Acqui Terme, Piedmonte, in the north of Italy in March. 1974.

He writes screenplays and adventure and fantasy books for children. His 11 books have been translated into more than 18 languages.

In 1998 he won the ‘Il battello a vapore’ award for his book ‘La Strada Del Guerriero’ (The Road Warrior).

Monday, 27 September 2010

Disabilities: Europe Must Do Better

Governments across Europe need to do more for disabled people, a meeting of disabilities experts will learn today.

They will review the mid-term results of the Council of Europe’s Disability Action Plan 2006-2015, at a behind closed doors two-day meeting in Strasbourg.

The intergovernmental human rights organisation acknowledges the progress made by its 47 member states in improving education, job training, employment and accessibility for disabled people since the plan was launched four years ago.

But it claims member states have been less successful in promoting greater political participation and community living of disabled people and in meeting the specific needs of particular groups that may face “double discrimination.”

The Council of Europe now wants governments to pay greater attention to women, children and migrants or refugees with disabilities, the elderly and sufferers of mental illness.

Member states are also encouraged to advance the “mainstreaming” and political participation of people with disabilities before the mandate of the action plan.

More Information

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Warning On Local Government Cutbacks

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Government plans for reducing public debt should not “lay the groundwork for future bigger, social crises,” the Council of Europe has warned.

The organisation will unveil research from its 47 member states outlining the impact of the global recession and the scale of the financial difficulties now facing local administrations at a Strasbourg conference of European experts on 11-12 October.

“Every local government system in Europe is experiencing some financial downturn,” said a spokesman for the inter-governmental human rights agency.

“The current strain on local government is not a temporary blip. Longer term measures to cope with fiscal pressure and to make the most of lower resources have to be considered.

“The next few years will be a crucial time as national and sub-national governments search for measures which not only strengthen their recovery from the crisis but also help steer clear of the dangers of insolvency.

“Fiscal solutions to the current crisis need to ensure that the avoidance of current fiscal catastrophes does not simply lay the groundwork for future, perhaps bigger, social crises.”

The British government has already signalled its intention to impose widespread spending cuts. This has raised concerns that budgets for public transport schemes and policing in London, for example, could be hit by as much as 25 per cent.

Other European governments could follow the United Kingdom’s example, increasing further the financial pressure on their local authorities.

The Council of Europe's research underlines the struggles of municipal controllers to meet the higher costs of servicing debt.

In Serbia, the cost of the local government debt service rose by 26 per cent in 2009.

Elsewhere in Europe, the reduced availability of bank loans and fiscal austerity measures squeezed capital expenditure. Local taxes on property sales have fallen sharply in France and Bulgaria, according to the Council of Europe’s research.

Rising unemployment and business failures have hit local administrations’ share of personal income taxation and reduced the municipal take from taxes on business profits and turnover in Germany, the Czech Republic, Finland, Poland, Portugal and Hungary.

The Council of Europe reports that local governments could respond to the financial crisis through better property tax collection, improvements in accountability and auditing and “efficiency gains.”

The organisation’s local government experts predict that “the longer term period of recovery will probably demand increases in local taxes and charges” across the region.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Sparks Fly In TV Roma Debate

Tempers flared when French MEP Michèle Striffler locked horns in a television debate with Stephanos Stavros of the European Commission Against Racism And Intolerance (ECRI).

The discussion programme on France's treatment of Roma, organised during the September session of the EU Parliament, featured some frank exchanges on how best to integrate Roma communities in Europe.

Watch the video

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Will UK Prisoners Win Right To Take Part In Elections?

Deputy Prime Minister Nick CleggImage by The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr
Prison reformers hope new signals from the upper reaches of the British Government may lead to the removal of the ban on prisoners taking part in elections.

The Guardian newspaper claims that the British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has given his backing to "enfranchising prisoners."

It also reports that the UK government should abide by a 2005 European Court of Human Righhts ruling that the ban was unlawful.

Follow the link to the Hirst v. the United Kingdom judgement which sparked the debate.

Court Rules On 'Dangerous Liasons' German Complaints

Rulings have been made in two complaints before the European Court of Human Rights (Obst v. Germany and Schüth v. Germany ).

Obst v. Germany (application no. 425/03)
Schüth v. Germany (application no. 1620/03)

No violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life)

of the European Convention on Human Rights in the case of Obst

Violation of Article 8 in the case of Schüth

Principal facts

Both cases concerned the applicants’ dismissal from a Church for engaging in an extra-marital relationship. The Court for the first time addressed the dismissal of Church employees on grounds of conduct falling within the sphere of their private lives.

The applicant in the first case is Michael Obst, a German national who was born in 1959 and lives in Neu-Anspach. He grew up in the Mormon faith and married in 1980 in accordance with Mormon rites. After holding various positions within the Mormon Church, he was appointed to the post of director of public relations for Europe in 1986. In early December 1993, Mr Obst addressed his pastor, confiding to him that his marriage had been deteriorating for years and that he had had an affair with another woman. Following the pastor’s advice, Mr Obst addressed his superior about the issue, who informed him of his dismissal without notice a few days later. Mr Obst was subsequently excommunicated by way of an internal disciplinary procedure.

Mr Obst brought proceedings before the Frankfurt Labour Court, which by judgment of January 1995 declared the dismissal void. The labour court of appeal initially upheld the judgment, but the Federal Labour Court quashed it and remitted the case, observing that by his conduct Mr Obst had not honoured the obligations arising from provisions in his work contract. It further referred to a leading judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court of 4 June 1985 concerning the lawfulness of the dismissal of Church employees after a violation of their loyalty obligations.

Following this judgment, Church employers had the right to govern their affairs in an autonomous manner, while at the same time labour courts were bound by the principles of the Church employers’ religious and moral precepts only to the extent that they did not conflict with the fundamental principles of the legal order of the State. According to the Federal Labour Court, the requirements of the Mormon Church regarding marital fidelity did not conflict with the fundamental principles of the legal order, because marriage was also of pre-eminent importance under the German Basic Law.

The dismissal had been necessary for the Church to keep its credibility, which was under threat in view of Mr Obst’s responsibilities as director of public relations for Europe. The Church had moreover not been obliged to give an advance warning, as given his long career with the Church, Mr Obst must have been aware of the severity of his misconduct. Following the remittal, the labour court of appeal overturned the first-instance judgment in January 1998.

Mr Obst’s further appeal to the Federal Labour Court was to no avail. In June 2002, the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed his constitutional complaint with reference to its leading judgment of 4 June 1985.

The applicant in the second case is Bernhard Schüth, a German national, born in 1957, who lives in Essen. He had been the organist and choirmaster in the Catholic parish of St Lambert in Essen since the mid-1980s, when he separated from his wife in 1994. From 1995 on he lived with his new partner. After his children had spoken in kindergarten about the fact that their father was going to have another child, the dean of the parish held a meeting with Mr Schüth in July 1997. A few days later, the parish informed him of his dismissal as of April 1998, on the grounds that he had violated the basic regulations of the Catholic Church on employment with the Church. In particular, by engaging in an extra-marital relationship with another woman who expected a child from him, he had not only committed adultery but was also guilty of bigamy.

Mr Schüth brought proceedings before the Essen Labour Court, which in a judgment of December 1997 declared the dismissal void. The labour court of appeal initially upheld the judgment, but the Federal Labour Court quashed it and remitted the case, finding that the labour court of appeal should have heard the dean of the parish to establish whether he had tried to induce Mr Schüth to end his extra-marital relationship. As in the case of Mr Obst, the Federal Labour Court referred to the leading judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court and pointed out that the requirements of the Catholic Church concerning marital fidelity did not conflict with the fundamental principles of the legal order.

Following the remittal, the labour court of appeal overturned the first-instance judgment in February 2000, finding that given Mr Schüth’s determined stance to uphold his new relationship, the dean had rightly been able to assume that an advance warning would have been superfluous. The court held that the parish could not continue employing him as organist without losing all credibility, as his activity was closely connected to the Church’s mission.

Mr Schüth’s further appeal to the Federal Labour Court was to no avail. In July 2002, the Federal Constitutional Court dismissed his constitutional complaint with reference to its leading judgment of 4 June 1985.

Relying on Article 8, both Mr Obst and Mr Schüth complained of the refusal of the courts to overturn their dismissal.

Decision of the Court

In both cases, the Court had to examine whether the balance struck by the German labour courts, between the applicants’ right to respect for their private life under Article 8 on the one hand and the Convention rights of the Catholic and the Mormon Church on the other, had afforded the applicants sufficient protection. The Court reiterated that the autonomy of religious communities was protected against undue interference by the State under Article 9 (freedom of religion) read in the light of Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association).

By putting in place a system of labour courts and a constitutional court having jurisdiction to review the former courts’ decisions, Germany had in principle complied with its positive obligations towards litigants in the area of employment law. The applicants had been able to bring their cases before a labour court with jurisdiction to determine whether the dismissal had been lawful under State labour law while having regard to ecclesiastical labour law. In both cases, the Federal Labour Court had found that the requirements of the Mormon Church and the Catholic Church, respectively, regarding marital fidelity did not conflict with the fundamental principles of the legal order.

As regards Mr Obst, the Court observed that the German labour courts had taken account of all the relevant factors and undertaken a careful and thorough balancing exercise regarding the interests involved. They had pointed out that the Mormon Church had only been able to base Mr Obst’s dismissal on his adultery because he had informed the Church of it by his own initiative. According to the German courts’ findings, his dismissal amounted to a necessary measure aimed at preserving the Church’s credibility, having regard in particular to the nature of his post. The courts had explained why the Church had not been obliged to inflict a less severe penalty, such as a warning, and they had underlined that the injury suffered by Mr Obst as a result of his dismissal was limited, having regard among other things to his relatively young age.

The fact that, after a thorough balancing exercise, the German courts had given more weight to the interests of the Mormon Church than to those of Mr Obst, did not itself raise an issue under the Convention. The conclusion that Mr Obst had not been subject to unacceptable obligations was reasonable, given that, having grown up in the Mormon Church, he had been or should have been aware when signing the employment contract of the importance of marital fidelity for his employer and of the incompatibility of his extra-marital relationship with the increased duties of loyalty he had contracted towards the Church as director for Europe of the public relations department.

As regards Mr Schüth, in contrast, the Court observed that the labour court of appeal had confined itself to stating that while his functions as organist and choirmaster did not fall within the group of employees who in case of serious misconduct had to be dismissed, namely those working in counselling, in catechesis or in a leading position, his functions were nonetheless so closely connected to the Catholic Church’s proclamatory mission that the parish could not continue employing him without losing all credibility. That court had not examined this argument any further but appeared to have simply reproduced the opinion of the Church employer on this point.

The labour courts had moreover made no mention of Mr Schüth’s de facto family life or of the legal protection afforded to it. The interests of the Church employer had thus not been balanced against Mr Schüth’s right to respect for his private and family life, but only against his interest in keeping his post. A more detailed examination would have been required when weighing the competing rights and interests at stake.

While the Court accepted that in signing the employment contract, Mr Schüth had entered into a duty of loyalty towards the Catholic Church which limited his right to respect for his private life to a certain degree, his signature on the contract could not be interpreted as an unequivocal undertaking to live a life of abstinence in the event of separation or divorce. The German labour courts had given only marginal consideration to the fact that Mr Schüth’s case had not received media coverage and that, after 14 years of service for the parish, he did not appear to have challenged the position of the Catholic Church.

The fact that an employee who had been dismissed by a Church employer had only limited opportunities of finding another job was of particular importance. This was all the more so where the dismissed employee had special qualifications that made it difficult, or even impossible, to find a new job outside the Church, as was the case with Mr Schüth, who now worked part-time in a Protestant parish. In that connection the Court noted that the rules of the Protestant Church relating to Church musicians stipulated that non-members of the Protestant Church might only be employed in exceptional cases and solely in the context of an additional job.

The Court found that the German labour courts had failed to weigh Mr Schüth’s rights against those of the Church employer in a manner compatible with the Convention.

The Court unanimously concluded that there had been no violation of Article 8 in Mr Obst’s case and that there had been a violation of Article 8 in Mr Schüth’s case.

The Court held that the question of the application of Article 41 (just satisfaction) in Mr Schüth’s case was not ready for decision and would be decided at a later stage. The parties have three months from the delivery of the judgment to reach an agreement in this respect.

Working For The Education Of Roma Children

For more than 40 years, the Council of Europe has been active in encouraging access to education for Roma children.

It organised, in 1983, the first training seminar for teachers working with Roma children. Read More

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

September Podcast: Is This What Men Really Think About Women And Feminism?

In September’s Brain Candy podcast, the relationship between men and women is again under the microscope.

As the Council of Europe prepares for the 2011 launch of a new treaty to combat violence against women, gender expert Anne-Marie Faradji, explains what Europe stands to gain from the organisation's new convention.

The issues of domestic violence, feminism, divorce, child custody and the prevalence of false rape allegations are discussed by a range of speakers with differing viewpoints.

Ian Kelly of UK Men’s Aid offers an uncompromising analysis of women’s “hold” over law-makers and the destructive impact of feminism, views challenged sharply by Alison Clarke, founder of Women’s Views On News.




Monday, 20 September 2010

Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland Meets Ban Ki-Moon In New York

Secretary General Jagland thanked his UN counterpart for accepting the invitation to visit the Council of Europe on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The United Nations Secretary General expressed a very keen interest and support for the work of the Council of Europe in the area of human rights. He welcomed the prospects of an early EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights.

He also welcomed the very close cooperation between the two organisations and thanked Thorbjørn Jagland for his participation in the debate on the Millenium Development goals which takes place on Monday 20 September.

The meeting illustrates the ever-closer relationship between the two bodies, which is to reinforced further by the opening of Council of Europe offices in Geneva and Vienna, where several UN agencies have their seats.

 More Information