This is the third annual report of the Secretary General on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Europe. The report assesses the extent to which the Council of Europe’s 47 member states are able to make the five building blocks of democratic security a reality:
► efficient and independent judiciaries;
► free media and freedom of expression;
► freedom of assembly and a vibrant civil society;
► legitimate democratic institutions;
► inclusive societies.
We will focus here on the fifth block ‘inclusive societies’.
Inclusive Societies – Non-Discrimination
The right to non-discrimination is well established in international human rights law. Indeed, the very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. The principles of equality and non-discrimination go hand in hand; they are important in order for everyone to have equal opportunities in all areas of life, including education, employment, housing, health care and access to goods and services. These fundamental principles are at the heart of inclusive societies and an essential component of democratic citizenship.
Discrimination on grounds of race, ethnic origin, colour, citizenship, language, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity is a matter of particular concern and it is essential to focus again on the quality and effectiveness of anti-discrimination measures.
As highlighted in the 2015 report, the quality of anti-discrimination measures depends on effective national legislation prohibiting and punishing discriminatory acts and on the existence of wellfunctioning mechanisms, such as independent specialised bodies, to promote and enforce the right to non-discrimination.
National legislation on equality and non-discrimination cannot be complete without the ratification and effective implementation of Protocol No. 12 to the Convention. This provides for a general prohibition of discrimination on any ground and subjects contracting parties to the scrutiny of the Court.
Other minimum standards for national legislation to combat racism and racial discrimination are set out in ECRI General Policy Recommendation No. 7. This covers provisions in all branches of the law – constitutional, civil, administrative and criminal. This integrated approach allows the problems to be addressed in an exhaustive, consistent and complementary manner.
Democratic citizenship depends on everyone being free, in law and in practice, to participate in and contribute to society. Non-discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity has become a major focus of the Council of Europe in recent years.
- National specialised bodies’ powers include assistance to victims of discrimination, the ability to investigate, the right to initiate and participate in court proceedings, monitoring legislation and advice to legislative and executive authorities and awareness raising.
- National specialised bodies are independent and have the freedom to appoint their own staff and to manage their resources.
A general rise in racism and intolerance has been observed in our member states. ECRI has noted that while many member states have comprehensive antidiscrimination legislation, significant gaps continue to exist. A number of countries, including Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Poland, San Marino, Slovenia, the Russian Federation and Turkey, lack an independent body with competence to deal with discrimination in both the public and the private sectors. Moreover, where there is a specialised body to combat discrimination, it is often dysfunctional or lacks independence, authority, sufficient resources or even a clear mandate.
Read the Report here, with more information on Non-Discrimination and other areas of human rights, state of democracy and rule of law.