INGO Conference Council of Europe: Impressive, busy and somewhat overwhelming

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A side-event on “A Europe without torture: what is today’s reality?”, a discussion on the situation in Ukraine with the participation of NGOs from Ukraine, and a debate on “which democracy do we want?” were among the highlights of the session. The Conference of INGOs adopted texts on hate speech, the situation in Ukraine and human rights and religions. It took me awhile to write this report as I needed some time to put all the new information in a report which was not too long. I hope this report will give you more of an impression and if you would like to know more about UWE’s work at the Council of Europe: visit the Meet and Greet 2014 in Amsterdam. More information 2014 meet and greet uwe in amsterdam 1  .   

It was my first time in Strasbourg and I was impressed to talk and meet with representatives of over 100 International NGO’s. The first days were dedicated to the so called committees among which the Culture and education committee see http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/conf_educ_en.asp for the agenda.
The first meeting was a lively one with lots of discussions and presentations and a paper on religion and human rights which was later adopted by the full conference at the end of the week. http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/Articles/CONF_PLE_2014_APP1_HR_religions_en.asp The INGOs are “determined to safeguard, whatever happens, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe is launching an appeal to the men and women of Europe and to NGOs operating on the ground so that, together, everyone can take action at their own level and in their own setting to ensure continued respect for the equal dignity of all individuals and of the values connected with this inviolable principle.” Part of this concern is also the ever growing amount of so called Hate speech growing racism and intolerance in Europe, combating Hate speech will be part of the 2014-2016 program.
It will prepare a “Civil Society White Paper’ to combat hate speech and prepare a “Civil Society Forum”, together with the media and political parties, for the purposes of launching the White Paper and drawing up a Charter of good conduct for tackling hate speech more effectively. I participated also in a working group on Gender equality from the Dutch Gender Advisor Betty Doornenbal. Priority is still the signing of the Istanbul Convention to combat gender based violence. More info: http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/conf_tg_gen_en.asp.  Another important meeting was the working group Living Together in which UWE also participates.

Ukraine
Representatives Ukraine at INGO COEOne of the most impressive and sad occasions at the INGO conference were the statements of NGO’s of Ukraine stating the difficult circumstances and violence they live in. At the initiative of the Conference of INGOs, a group of civil society representatives from Ukraine participated in meetings at the Council of Europe end of January.

The NGOs met with the Secretary General, the Commissioner for Human Rights and participated in a hearing with the INGO Conference at which they reported their concerns regarding the current situation, in particular Human Rights violations. The Conference of INGOs adopted a Resolution urging Council of Europe bodies to monitor the ongoing situation and offered to be the platform to promote dialogue and civil society involvement to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine. Message of solidarity to civil society representatives in Ukraine.
Statement by Jean-Marie Heydt, President of the Conference of INGOs, Strasbourg , 20 February 2014
The Conference of INGOs is deeply shocked and appalled by the current turn of events in Kiev, specifically, the escalation in violence and the many unfortunate deaths that have occurred. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims. The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe once again expresses its solidarity with Ukrainian civil society at this difficult moment and calls for an inclusive dialogue and a peaceful and democratic solution to the current crisis. The Conference remains ready to offer its platform for involving national and international civil society actors in these efforts.
Personal observations
Although resolutions can’t negate the effects of violence and force as is shown in the case of Ukraine and Georgie The INGO Conference is an important tool to enhance democracy it advises the Council of Europe via the President of the INGOs Jean-Marie Heydt. It has three special programmes the Code of Good Conduct, the Dialoque Toolkit – you will be introduced to at the Bucharest Conference in September – and The Expert Council.
Especially the Expert Council which investigates and writes reports on the situation in countries on the participation of civil society is an impressive tool. Next year they will very likely investigate Turkey after investigating Russia and Azerbeidzjan! http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/expert_council_en.asp  Its work covers the 47 member countries of the Council of Europe and Belarus. It was created in January 2008 by the Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe with the aim of creating an enabling environment for NGOs through examining national NGO legislation and its implementation and provides advice on how to bring national law and practice into line with Council of Europe standards and European good practice.

The INGO Conference is a wonderful platform to meet lots of other representatives of INGO’s and find partners to create new actions and work towards our goals. I met representatives of the Catholic women, Teachers union, Jewish women etc. etc. and was able to make some contacts. The first few days of the conference are a preparation for the last day in which the voting takes place. As the UWE is on the Standing Committee we are part of a group that can help decide what should be the agenda of the conference. The Conference however decides.

New Vice President
A new candidate for Vice Presidency of the UWE (Vera has done this intensive work September 2014 over six years) to participate in the INGO of the Council of Europe needs to be fluent in English en preferably also speak French as some meetings are in French and not always translated into English. The documents of the INGO and the meetings can be found on the website of the Council of Europe http://www.coe.int/t/ngo/default_en.asp to find out more about the Committees look under structure where you will find the documentation.

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