State of human rights in Europe: the need to eradicate impunity
- Parliamentary Assembly
debate on 24 June 2009 (22nd Sitting) (see Doc. 11934, report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human
Rights, rapporteur: Mrs Däubler-Gmelin; and Doc. 11964, opinion of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women
and Men, rapporteur: Mrs Čurdová). Text
adopted by the Assembly on 24 June 2009 (22nd Sitting).
See also Recommendation
1 The Parliamentary
Assembly insists that all perpetrators of serious human rights violations
must be held to account for their actions.
This shall also apply to the instigators and organisers of
such crimes, as recently affirmed by the Assembly in Resolution 1645 (2009)
with respect to the Gongadze case.
3 The Assembly further recalls that it is internationally recognised,
since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials held in the wake of the Second
World War, that the excuse of simply following orders or instructions
from one’s superiors is not valid for cases of serious human rights
4 Consequently, the European Court of Human Rights (the Court),
in cases concerning the killings of refugees at the Berlin Wall,
upheld condemnations both of the German Democratic Republic politburo members
responsible for the orders to shoot and of the border guards who
executed those orders.
Impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations
occurs in member and observer states of the Council of Europe, in
different shapes and forms.
most serious cases involve widespread abuses committed by the security
forces in conflict situations. The cases of the Court concerning
the conflicts and/or the fight against terrorism in Northern Ireland,
south-eastern Turkey and the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation,
which have found widespread violations of Article 2 (right to life)
of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention – ETS
No. 5) in the form of, inter alia,
indiscriminate use of force, enforced disappearance, torture or
inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners provide shocking examples
of such abuses in Europe. The Court has frequently found that the
investigation into such abuses was plainly insufficient.
5.2 The Assembly’s reports on renditions and secret detentions
have provided numerous indications of serious human rights violations
– including torture, abductions and detentions – committed in the context
of the so-called “war on terror” by or with the participation, consent
or acquiescence of officials of Council of Europe member states
on their territory and elsewhere. Yet, in many states, the authorities have
failed to ensure that independent, impartial and effective investigations
are conducted, and that those responsible are brought to justice.
5.3 Insufficient investigations are also the cause of impunity
in cases in which state agents are suspected of having ordered or
otherwise instigated or covered up crimes committed by non-state agents.
This may be the case regarding numerous killings of journalists
and human rights activists by “unknown perpetrators”.
Crimes such as the reckless or negligent killing or ill-treatment
of detainees by rogue members of the security forces are often not
properly investigated and prosecuted because of a culture of ill-conceived
solidarity among colleagues. The Court has repeatedly been obliged
to find violations of the Convention in the face of the complete
passivity or exaggerated leniency of the law-enforcement authorities
and the courts faced with such cases. In this context, the Assembly
recalls its Resolution 1742
on the human rights of members of the armed forces in
which it deplores the unacceptable tolerance in the militaries of
many countries of “hazing” practices that grossly violate human
dignity and sometimes even the right to life of young soldiers.
Other types of crimes, though definitely committed by
non-state actors, without any involvement of the authorities, need
to be addressed as impunity issues because of the passive or overly
lenient attitude of the members of the law-enforcement bodies dealing
with these cases, motivated by a disregard for women’s fundamental
human rights, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, homophobia,
sexism or other forms of intolerance.
5.5.1 Violence against women and girls – including domestic
violence, rape, forced marriages, so-called “honour crimes” and
female genital mutilation – are often not prosecuted with the required
severity, if they are prosecuted at all, because of a general disregard
for women’s fundamental human rights and a lack of gender equality,
as well as because of sexist attitudes that can be found among the
police, prosecutors or judges, or because of archaic cultural attitudes
that place the “honour” of the family above the right to individual
liberty, bodily integrity or even the right to life.
5.5.2 Violence against foreigners or even just foreign-looking
people on grounds of racism and xenophobia is on the rise in many
member states, exacerbated by the current economic crisis. Police
officers either fail to intervene to protect victims or even participate
themselves in acts of aggression, intimidation and denigration.
5.5.3 The Roma population in many European countries is particularly
victimised by such unacceptable behaviour.
5.5.4 The spectre of anti-Semitism has shown its ugly face again
in a number of countries, including in a novel form that has been
on the increase since the recent aggravation of the conflict in
the Middle East and consists in extremists expressing their hatred
for Israel through violence against the local Jewish population.
5.5.5 Violence motivated by homophobia is also all too often
tolerated or even encouraged by complacent or homophobic members
of the law-enforcement bodies and the judiciary.
5.5.6 Corruption, both in the public and in the private sectors,
is widespread and remains largely unpunished; it undermines the
rule of law and presents a serious risk for the prosperity of our
countries and their democratic institutions.
5.6 Last but not least, international actors such as members
of the military participating in peacekeeping operations are even
less accountable for their actions than their colleagues acting
in their own countries due to the lack of access of victims of possible
violations to national or international legal remedies.
6 The Assembly considers the fight against the impunity of perpetrators
of serious human rights violations as a priority for the Council
of Europe and all national and international law-enforcement bodies.
Impunity must be eradicated both as a matter of individual justice
and as a deterrent to future human rights violations.
7 The Assembly commends the European Court of Human Rights for
the extensive case law it has developed on impunity, in particular
by imposing on member states the positive obligation to investigate
serious human rights violations and to hold their perpetrators to
The full and speedy execution of the Court’s judgments in
cases of impunity is the key to fighting this scourge in Council
of Europe member states.
the Court has found a failure to investigate effectively, the execution
of the judgment cannot be limited to the payment of the pecuniary
compensation fixed by the Court. Proper investigations must still
be carried out and general measures taken to address the underlying
causes of the violation.
8.2 The Assembly and its members in their national parliaments
have an important role to play in securing the speedy execution
of the Court’s judgments.
8.3 The Assembly commends the Committee of Ministers for having
consistently noted that there is a continuing obligation to conduct
effective investigations inasmuch as procedural violations of Article 2 of
the Convention have been found by the Court. The application of
these same rules to all states, without double standards, is of
8.4 The timely communication by the Court to the states concerned
of applications alleging a failure to investigate sends an important
message to the competent authorities giving them the opportunity
to carry out investigative acts before evidence is irretrievably
The Assembly therefore urges all member and observer states
to make the fight against impunity a priority, by:
9.1 clearly stating at the highest
political level that serious human rights violations committed,
aided or abetted by state agents will not be tolerated in any circumstances;
9.2 ensuring that state secrecy and immunities do not prevent
effective, independent and impartial investigations into serious
human rights violations – including in relation to secret detentions
and unlawful interstate transfers of individuals that have taken
place in and throughout Europe – and that those responsible are
held to account;
9.3 granting their law-enforcement bodies the resources they
need in order to effectively investigate human rights violations
committed by non-state actors including through ex officio prosecution;
9.4 stamping out unacceptable prejudices and cultural attitudes
among members of the law-enforcement bodies leading to widespread
impunity of violence against women, so-called “honour crimes”, and
crimes motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, Islamophobia,
homophobia, sexism or other forms of intolerance;
9.5 by developing initial and in-service training modules
for staff of the security services, judges and prosecutors, centring
on care for victims of human rights violations and on measures to
combat prejudice and stereotypes;
9.6 implementing the Assembly’s earlier resolutions and recommendations
covering various impunity issues.
10 The Assembly urges the Committee of Ministers to speed up
and intensify its work on elaborating guidelines on the fight against
impunity, drawing from the case law of the European Court of Human
Rights, from its own work on the execution of judgments, the pertinent
resolutions and recommendations of the Assembly and the work of
the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as from the work of
the United Nations and relevant non-governmental organisations on
11 The Assembly also invites the European Court of Human Rights
to continue making the fight against impunity a priority.
12 The Assembly calls on the parliaments of the member and observer
states of the Council of Europe, as well as their individual members,
to take a leading role in the fight against impunity by ensuring
that appropriate laws are on their countries’ statute books, monitoring
their implementation and using their closeness to the electorate,
and thus their capacity for awareness raising and leadership, to
change the underlying attitudes in society which make impunity for
crimes and human rights violations possible in the first place.
13 The Assembly resolves to examine the advisability of establishing
an independent European committee to investigate serious allegations
of gross and systematic violations of human rights.