The Council of Europe is one of the most important human rights organisations, comprising 47 member states from Portugal to Russia. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas met the recently elected Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Marija Burić, on 15 November. They discussed key challenges facing the institution, Russia’s full return to the body and Germany’s objectives for when it assumes the Presidency of the organisation next year.
An independent international organisation
The Council of Europe is not an EU institution, but an independent international organisation. It was founded in 1949 as the first post-war European organisation. All European territorial states, including Russia and Turkey, with the exception of Belarus and Kosovo, are members. The Council of Europe’s primary task is to protect human rights, the rule of law and democracy. Core elements for achieving this aim include the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights.
Germany’s Presidency of the Council of Europe
Germany will assume the Presidency of the Council of Europe in the second half of 2020. Its objective in this regard is to equip the organisation to face modern-day challenges and to make protective measures more effective. Germany will therefore focus on human rights in the approach to the digital transformation and artificial intelligence. Technological developments such as automated weapons systems, facial recognition and deep fakes are posing new challenges to the protection of human rights.
In some Council of Europe member states, the human rights situation is problematic. In Germany’s view, it is therefore all the more important that these member states remain in the organisation. Among other things, Germany would like to use its Presidency of the Council of Europe to resolve conflicts within the Council’s institutions.
Russia’s return to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
In June of this year, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reached a majority decision to reinstate Russia’s voting rights, which had been revoked following its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Germany had advocated Russia’s full return to the Council of Europe – with all rights and obligations, particularly with regard to the European Convention on Human Rights. Membership of the Council of Europe allows the 140 million people living in Russia to assert their rights before the European Court of Human Rights.
New sanctions mechanism
At the same time, the Council of Europe will develop a mechanism to sanction countries in line with the Statute if they are in breach of duty. The swift development of this mechanism is also a major priority for Germany’s Presidency.