This was a week when the human face of human rights was writ large at the Council of Europe.
With frank and moving detail, Soraya Post, Deputy Chair of the European Roma and Travellers Forum (ERTF), told of the forced sterilisation of her mother, her “shame” at being the only girl of Roma origin in her class and how these experiences shape her work as a human rights activist.
It was heart-breaking stuff, as was Post’s pessimistic response to the idea that the arc of history always bends towards progress.
Post was at the Council of Europe to take part in the ERTF’s annual assembly, which featured delegates from across Europe and a key note speech from the Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks.
Sadly, it was a meeting of minds, with the commissioner confirming that Roma people face devastating obstacles to social and economic inclusion and respect of their human rights, with “no sign of improvement.”
Muižnieks was particularly prominent this week. On Wednesday, he gave evidence at the European Court of Human Rights, which held a Grand Chamber hearing to examine the case of a Roma teenager with a severe learning disability and the HIV virus, who died whilst under the care of a Romanian psychiatric hospital.
“Effective equality for persons with disabilities requires removing the barriers that prevent them from accessing courts to claim their human rights,” the commissioner said.
Few would disagree.
There was similar accord for the celebrations which marked the 60th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The British Institute of Human Rights proved to be cheer-leader-in-chief throughout the day on 3 September, mobilising online and offline support for the rights which offer protection to some 800 million Europeans. Such was the impact of the BIHR’s sterling efforts that #ECHR60 trended on Twitter.
There was probably much cheering too in the household of Gülizar Tuncer Güneş last Tuesday. She complained to the court that the fact that Turkish law allowed married men but not married women to use only their own surname after marriage amounted to discrimination based on sex. Human rights judges agreed, declaring a violation of Article 14 in conjunction with Article 8 and awarding Güneş EUR 1,500 (non-pecuniary damage) and EUR 3,030 (costs and expenses).
The issue excited much activity online, as did the publication of an anti-torture committee report on Ukraine, with its examination of the “situation” of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the entry into force in Russia of the Council of Europe’s data protection treaty.
“What would it mean for online users?” Sophie Kwasny, Head of the Data Protection Unit, was asked in a revealing podcast interview about the ‘Convention for the protection of individuals with regard to Automatic Processing of Personal Data,’ better known as Convention 108.
Kwasny answered that compliance with the treaty would mean the creation of “an independent authority which enforces the law and makes sure that the protection of the law is effective.”
Three cheers for that … and for the exchange on the religious dimension of intercultural dialogue, which took place in Armenia and the attention now being given to a Parliamentary Assembly warning from 2011 about the potential risks of pre-natal sex selection.
This week, the assembly announced its programme for next month’s session, whilst over at the court, many will be interested in the 10 September Grand Chamber hearing about the impossibility under Czech law to give birth at home with the assistance of a health professional.
For more information on the Council of Europe’s activities for next week, please click here.