Mme. Maritchu RALL gave this talk during Study Day. Translation by Hugo Castelli Eyre
PRESENTATION OF THE CONFERENCE OF INGOS
OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
on the occasion of the 26th Conference of the European Network Church on the Move
Saturday 27th may 2017,
Centre culturel St Thomas,2 rue de la Carpe Haute , F 67 000 Strasbourg
Maritchu RALL (CECIF)
European Centre of the International Council of Women
Member of the OFFICE of the Conference of INGOS
Rapporteur of the Human Rights Committee
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In the name of Anna RURKA, President of the Conference of INGOS of the Council of Europe, I have the pleasure of welcoming you here, in Strasbourg, capital of Human Rights and of the European parliamentary institutions. I wholeheartedly welcome those of you who come from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Austria !
My talk is about :
- The role of the INGOS, International Non Governmental Organizations in the Council of Europe
- The functions and the purpose of the Conference of INGOS and its entities
- The participation of civil society and its instruments
I. THE PLACE OF THE INGOS IN THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe is the first European organization that has sought from the start to closely associate Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with its work. The nature and methods of their participation developed within the Strasbourg organization are original from all points of view.
The Council of Europe has granted the NGOs a real status that allows them to participate actively in the development of the legal instruments of the Council of Europe : Conventions, charters, European agreements, etc... This arrangement distinguishes the Council of Europe from the other European organizations, especially the European Union which lacks the legal instruments to allow an institutionalised participation of NGOs in its work. NGOs can thus acquire an important role and take an active part in the intergovernmental work of the European organization. In the history of the Council of Europe, the role of the NGOs in Strasbourg is being progressively reinforced and their means of participation multiplied and diversified.
The process of institutionalisation has been characterized by the adoption of legal documents that aim to control the place and input of the Conference of INGOS in the work of the Council of Europe. For this reason , I will name three of them :
the Resolution at the Committee of Ministers (2003)8 that has put an end to the Consultative Status
The Resolution of the Committee of Ministers (2005)47 in which the Conference of INGOS acquired the status of participant in the intergovernmental committees of the Council of Europe on the same level as the other institutions of the Council of Europe, namely the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional European Authorities.
The Resolution of the Committee of Ministers (2016)3, which revised Resolution (2003)8, to redefine with greater transparency the criteria for the obtention or refusal of the participative status and to confirm the structural role of the Conference of INGOS in the Council of Europe.
In 2003, the Committee of Ministers decided to create a new status : the Participative Status. It is granted to the NGOs that are « particularly representative in their specific field[s] ».
This Participative Status grants effectively to the NGOs a true right of codecision in the statutory organs of the organization. They can sit on steering committees with ministerial representatives in the experts committees, in the committees of the Parliamentary Assembly and in the committees of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. This is a first major step at European and international level : No other international organization has introduced a comparable status for NGOs.
The Participative Status recognises the role of NGOs in the development of the policies of the Council of Europe and strengthens both their possibilities of participation in the work programme of the organization and the coordination of the activities of the Council of Europe with the various associations in the member States.
The place of the NGOs in the Council of Europe can be analysed in retracing the evolution of their status from 1952 to the present day and in demonstrating, thanks to several examples, how they influence the development of cooperation within the Council of Europe. The example of the Council of Europe shows that a close relationship with NGOs can be mutually beneficial. The NGOs are associated with the implementation of European construction and can provide their expertise.
The Conference of INGOS is one of the 4 pillars of the Council of Europe with the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The NGOs represent civil society in all its plurality.
It currently comprises 320 NGOs of greater Europe !
II. What is the role and mission of the Conference of INGOS ? What are its bodies ?
The Conference of INGOS has the mission of facilitating the work of the INGOS within the Council of Europe and defending the indivisibility of Human Rights, Rule of Law and Democracy. The Conference is composed both of specialised advocacy organizations to defend particular groups but also INGOS that represent the different trades (lawyers, teachers, social workers, ...).
The Conference of INGOS meets twice a year : in January and June. The Conference has a Bureau of 9 members and a Permanent Committee. These are its decision-making bodies.
The work of the Conference is organized in three thematic committees :
Human Rights, Education and Culture, and Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges.
In these three committees, there are groups working on specific matters, different side events are organized and representatives from the different bodies of the Council of Europe are invited to the debates.
The plenary meetings of the Conference are a platform for dialoguing with the institutions of the Council of Europe and for exchanges between the members.
The Conference facilitates the participation of the INGOS in the work of the other components of the "Quadrilogue" of the Council of Europe and invites the development of contributions issuing from the INGOS or their Committees and ensures they are transmitted to the other bodies of the Council of Europe.
The Conference of the INGOS in its plenary sessions proposes political guidelines and action programmes for their adoption. It adopts certain positions on fundamental questions and addresses them by means of Recommendations or Resolutions, to the other bodies of the Council of Europe, to other international or national organizations and also to the media.
It also creates written communications on the activities and achievements of the Council of Europe;
A few words on the Permament Committee, the real executive board. It has a role of consultations and proposals for the Conference of the INGOS but also for contacts and representation. It encourages the participation of all the INGOS in the activities of the other bodies and ensures the dissemination of their work. It ensures the coordination between the Conference of INGOS and its Committees and also respect for the major guidelines defined by the Conference and transversal groups.
I will briefly mention the work carried out by the 3 thematic committees that have allowed the drafting of the Activity Plan for 2015-2018
1) The Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges Committee
The Committee concentrates on Democracy, Dialogue and the protection of Human Rights in the developments in the territories and societies of Europe and the Mediterranean. It acts to take into account Human Rights in migration exchanges and in the consequences of climatic challenges.
We all know that migratory movements raise in our countries, without exception, unreasonable fears that prepare the grounds for extremist parties. The Committee has been engaged since January 2014, following the Lampedusa drama of contributing to find a solution to the two ends of the chain.
This committee also follows the recommendations and resolutions of the Istanbul Convention, concerning preventing and fighting against violence to women.
In 2016, the Committee centred its work on three themes :
Migrations and the appeal for dialogue in the welcoming countries
New challenges of public health and Human Rights aligned with the demographic transition (the challenge of public health represented by ageing in good health)
Citizen participation at all levels of governance
6 Working Groups fuel the work of the Committee (the Participation of Women and Men in Political Democratic Processes, Climate and Human Rights, Europe Mediterranean, Social Cohesion and Shared Territories, European Citizenship and Inclusive Societies)
2) The Education and Culture Committee
The Committee concentrates on strengthening the fundamental values of the Council of Europe, namely : Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law in the perspective of a « better living together ».
Education is committed to a major challenge for the future : To enable the coexistence of expressions of cultural diversity with the promotion of dialogue to encourage a peaceful society. This itinerary passes through several stages which lead to the discovery of multi-culturalism in the context of life itself, overcoming the bias of existence and shared work, creating a democratic citizenship by understanding others in a truly inclusive society.
This Committee focusses its priorities on the activity plan of the Conference of INGOS, namely,
The fight agains radicalisation and extremism leading to terrorism
The fight against discrimination and violence facing vulnerable groups and individuals, and
An active citizenship in an inclusive society
With respect to these priorities, Committee will publish, in June 2017, a vademecum. This vademecum will support the INGOS in their work on the ground, encouraging them to initiate concrete actions, debates with the general public, civil society, and political decision makers, with the object of promoting the development of lasting and inclusive democratic societies.
4 working groups feed the work of this committee (the Teacher in Interaction with his/her Environment, Education with Digital Media, the Teaching of History, the Transformation of Cultures and Living Together)
3) the Human Rights Committee
Finally, many NGOs are particularly active in the Council of Europe in terms of Human Rights. As the Strasbourg organization developed, NGOs have become a real ally of the European Court of Human Rights by controlling the implementation of the Convention and by advancing the level of protection in Human Rights. Since the installation of the Court in 1958, it is thanks to the NGOs that the bodies for the protection of Human Rights have begun to be recognised by the public.
From all sides, Human Rights are encountering difficulties, whether from the point of view of the legitimacy of their universal nature, or with respect to the ''demands'' of the financial economy. The Human Rights Committee, conscious of how this shift of concepts is translated dramatically in many areas, channels its activities in many varied directions but which all converge in the prima facie of Human Rights.
The Committee has concentrated its efforts throughout the year 2016 on the
1) The protection of their rights
for the defenders of Human Rights in the Ukraine, in the Moldave Republic, in Azerbaïdjan, in the Russian Federation, in Poland and in Hungary. Their situation causes concern. A recommendation will presented next June.
The situation in Turkey is equally unfavourable for Civil Society : exchanges with the heads of Turkish INGOS have permitted trust-based acquaintances and confidence in being able to maintain longterm relationships.
The Bioethics Intergovernmental Committee of the Council of Europe has alerted the Committee on these challenges and the Committee participates regularly in this work
2) Discriminations are often insidious especially when they affect women.
3) Participation in decision making processes
in the Human Rights Steering Committee, which I remind you is an intergovernmental body, the regular participation of the Committee is considered as an important activity in the decision making processes.
7 working groups fuel the work of the Committee (Handicapped Persons, Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Fight against Hate Speech, Human Rights Defenders, Human Rights, Codevelopment & Migrations)
Additionally, two working groups have been recently created :
one for "the Protection of Hhildren" due to the deterioration of social services and migratory flows which place children in great vulnerability and
the other on "Digital Media" which is both a support for emancipation and a vector of exclusion and discrimination.
III. The participation of Civil Society and its instruments
The INGOS of the Conference have created the instruments adapted for their activities. These instruments allow them to mitigate and respond to the growing disenchantment of our fellow citizens in democratic life by abstentions and manifest lack of interest in the elections ! The INGOS of the Conference have created instruments adapted to their activities.
a) The Code of good practice for Civil Society participation in decision making processes
Created in 2009, the good practice Code for Civil Society participation in the decision-making process aims to facilitate the civilian participation of NGOs in political decisions at local, regional and national levels.
It is important to underline the 4 principles for a constructive relationship :
Empowerment and Transparency
When combined, these conditions allow enabling a constructive relationship based on mutual understanding between NGOs and public authorities !
b) The Dialogue Toolkit
It improves dialogue and consultation especially for questions relating to social cohesion, Human Rights, governance, diversity with the objective of developing and implementing solutions founded on a multistakeholder approach !
The accumulation of unresolved problems with respect to diversity and immigration over recent years has led to a greater level of Human Rights violations in European countries.
To take care of this situation and mitigate its negative effects, this practical guide enables discussions where they are most needed. Its objective is to supply an instrument to facilitate dialogue.
Finally, I would like to mention :
c) The Expert Council on NGO Law
ci) This is an initiative conducted by NGOs for NGOs of all the member States of the Council of Europe and Belarus.
This Council of experts has the objective of contributing to the creation of a favourable environment to NGOs in the whole of Europe by examining national legislations relating to NGOs and its implementation and promotion of the respect for the standards of the Council of Europe and European good practice in this matter. It must be remembered that liberty of association is guaranteed by Article 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends
There are still many more things to say about the Council of Europe, NGOs and Civil Society. I have tried to speak to you from my heart based on my own experience of my responsibilities in NGOs, for over 20 years.
Finally, allow me to quote the Chinese philosopher LAO TSE (4th century BC)
"Where there's a will, there's a way !"
This is the spirit that drives us in the Council of Europe in the defence and promotion of Human Rights and Democracy.
Thank you for listening.
TAKE NOTE ADDITIONALLY
The content of the Guiding Principles for civil participation in political decision taking that are currently being drawn up in the European Committee for Democracy and Governance of the Council of Europe and which will be presented after their adoption, is so important. The Conference of INGOS is taking an active part in the preparation of these guidelines and impatiently awaits your final decision. Since we want the Council of Europe to adopt a pioneer innovating document, encouraging the NGOs to participate with you in the construction of Democracy in each country. The desire for committment will come when the final result will be on the level of a fully inclusive and participative policy which will reduce the gap and establish dialogue and the exchange of expertise between the political elite and the rest of the population.
The European Committee on Democracy and Goverrnenance (CDDG) is the intergovernmental committee of the Council of Europe charged with questions relating to democratic governance.
This is a forum in which senior officials meet to exhange information, viewpoints and good practice relating to territorial reforms, the democractic participation of citizens in public affairs, the modernisation of public administration, dialogue and the relationships between the different levels of government, public finances and transnational cooperation.
I HAVE ADDED A SUPPLEMENT ON REVISION
I would like now to discuss the political aspects of the approach of our President in different countries for a greater visibility and a better promotion of the Conference of the INGOS. In fact, in 2016, in her Action Plan 2015-2018 she has initiated visits in several countries, specifically
In Poland (Warsaw) in June
The Conference of the INGOS made an official visit to Warsaw on 1st and 2nd June 2016. In the course of this visit, the Council of Europe delegation met representatives of non governmental organizations active in the fields of Human Rights, social matters and the development of civil society. Particular attention was granted to policies in the fight against discrimination and the situation of the non governmental organizations that defend the rights of minorities.
In Rumania (Bucharest) in September:
with the help of the Permanent Representation of Rumania to the Council of Europe, with the object of planning the meetings with representatives of the different ministries and the Parliament.
The meetings with the NGOs were thematically organised : At the first meeting, NGOs active in the Democracy sector, volunteer service and equality policies were invited ; in the second, NGOs specialised in childrens' rights, social services, handicapped persons. In all, the delegation was able to exchange information with more than 40 NGOs. The NGOs expressed the lack of consideration on the part of the authorities, that their contributions were not taken into account, and they received no response from public authorities. Draft bills are not published in a visible manner and are difficult to find on the internet sites of the different ministries or parliamentary committees.
With respect to participation at local level, the NGOs observed that the needs for expression are greater than the opportunities. The projects presented for consultation are, they declared, secretive and corrupt. The rules qualifying public consultations are not clear.
In Germany (Berlin) in October
The information visit took plance on 25th and 26th October 2016 in Berlin1.
It is clear the the balance of power is unequal between the large umbrella organizations and the small NGOs and citizen initiatives that feel sometimes excluded. The umbrella organizations have the tendency to practice a closed shop system and keep a distance from the other groups of civil society. The financing of new organizations is also problematic. The interests of the established service organizations are protected and the oldest/largest institutions often have the upper hand.
In view of the above, we recommend the German authorities to ensure a better balance between large and small NGOs with respect to their influence in the political decision making process.
In Hungary (Budapest) in November
We have observed and welcomed several positive initiative, especially with respect to the current process of simplyfing the registration of new NGOs. We also commended the Round Table on Human Rights and its thematic working groups under the responsbility of the Ministry of Justice which in fact represents the main organ of policy dialogue between the authorities and the NGOs.