The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published today her annual activity report covering 2019. The report provides an overall picture of the main problems, challenges and opportunities that European countries are facing in the field of human rights.
“The image I get from my work is of a Europe circling a roundabout, uncertain about its direction and the human rights obligations which member states voluntarily agreed upon,” says the Commissioner, adding that the current COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating long-standing problems and emphasising the weaknesses of Europe’s human rights protection system.
In her report, she highlighted five topics that are particular causes for concern. These include the growing political and societal acceptance of racism; the disregard of the human rights of migrants and refugees; the threats to women’s rights; the repression of dissent; and the erosion of judicial independence.
“Anti Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Gypsyism have reached alarming levels”, says Commissioner Mijatović. “Incidents of desecration of cemeteries, assaults on people wearing religious symbols, and attacks on places of the cult have recurred in several European countries. Hate speech and crimes against Roma also remained widespread”.
Another widespread concern is the lack of progress in attaining gender equality.
“Progress is slow in bridging the gender pay gap, addressing discrimination at work and tackling women’s underrepresentation in political decision-making. Women are also still confronted with various obstacles preventing their full access to sexual and reproductive health and rights and an endless stream of sexist hate speech. What has already been achieved in terms of gender equality is threatened by discourse and initiatives from some ultra-conservative groups aimed at relegating women to traditional roles, in contradiction with human rights standards.”
Freedom of speech is also under attack and is the right to protest.
“Several peaceful demonstrators have been seriously injured through the disproportionate use of force by the police”, says Commissioner Mijatović.
“Human rights defenders and journalists continued to work in hostile environments in a growing number of European countries. Legislation has been misused to detain and prosecute them, while public discourse by some political leaders has legitimised smear campaigns, threats and intimidation”.
The controversial “anti-defamation” package passed by Albanian parliament was also mentioned. Jourova had previously criticised the laws, saying they weren’t in line with European standards.