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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

More determination is needed to make human rights real

More determination is needed to make human rights real

Strasbourg, 26/1/2012 – “Europe must move with more determination from rhetoric to enforcement of human rights standards” stated the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, when presenting today the last annual report of his mandate.

The report identifies fields in which stronger political action is required. One concern is the justice system which is dysfunctional in several member states. “Corruption, political interference and lack of resources erode the independence and credibility of the judiciary. Strengthening the rule of law is essential to rebuild public confidence in the justice system.”

The Commissioner also regrets the increased pressure on the media, which hamper their independence and pluralism. “In a number of European states media freedom is undermined through criminalisation of defamation; law-induced censorship; intimidation, harassment and even murder of journalists. These factors have a detrimental effect on our democracies.”

Persons with disabilities remain largely excluded from key sectors of life, including access to adequate and humane health care, decent work and housing, public places, transportation, quality education and sometimes even civil rights, such as the right to vote. “The needs of persons with disabilities are still given low priority in state and municipality budgets. More recognition, protection and social inclusion should be ensured for them.”

Roma people still live in abject misery and suffer alienation in many European countries. “Urgent measures must be taken to ensure more humane housing conditions for Roma families, access to quality education and foster social inclusion. It is crucial to guarantee that all Roma, in particular children, have personal identity documents and are no longer treated as stateless. It is imperative to put an end to the wide-spread anti-Gypsyism, to which some politicians have also contributed.”

Marginalisation and stigmatisation deeply impinge on the everyday life of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in some countries. “It is particularly important that opinion makers address these prejudices and take the lead in fighting discrimination against LGBT persons.”

The Commissioner observes that attitudes towards asylum-seekers and migrants have gradually become more negative. “Political leaders have all too often preferred to follow – rather than lead – public opinions, thus feeding xenophobic movements. Europe should adopt a more humane migration policy and asylum procedures based on human rights principles.”

Despite some progress in awareness and legal protection, discrimination against women persists in employment, education and political participation. Violence against women and children remains a scourge in Europe. “Taboos, ignorance and machismo still surround the issue of domestic violence, contributing to its persistence.”

Finally, the Commissioner stresses that the living conditions of older persons are a major concern. “The elderly have suffered, more than others, by the recent economic crisis and austerity budgets. I have seen signs of deep old-age poverty in several countries. A deeper discussion on the rights of older people is needed.”

Commissioner Hammarberg’s six-year mandate comes to an end next March 31. The newly elected Commissioner, Nils Muižnieks, will take up his functions on April 1.

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