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Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States

Doc. 15205: collection of written amendments | Doc. 15205 | 27/01/2021 | Final version

Caption: AdoptedRejectedWithdrawnNo electronic votes

ADraft Resolution

1The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its Resolution 2226 (2018) and Recommendation 2134 (2018) “New restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States”, Resolution 2096 (2016) and Recommendation 2086 (2016) “How can inappropriate restrictions on NGO activities in Europe be prevented?”, its previous Resolutions 1660 (2009), 1891 (2012), 2095 (2016) and 2225 (2018) and Recommendations 2085 (2016) and 2133 (2018) on the situation of human rights defenders in Council of Europe member States, as well as its Resolutions 2300 (2019), 2060 (2015) and 1729 (2010) and Recommendations 2162 (2019), 2073 (2015) and 1916 (2010) on the protection of “whistle-blowers”.
2The Assembly recalls that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are a key component of an open and democratic civil society and make an essential contribution to the development and realisation of democracy, the rule of law and human rights. To ensure the proper functioning of civil society, the Council of Europe’s member States are required to ensure respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression embodied in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, the Convention); these rights are inextricably linked and may only be limited on grounds specified in the Convention.
3The Assembly also recalls that the Council of Europe has extensive experience of preparing guidelines on legislation relating to NGOs, notably in Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe and the Joint Guidelines on Freedom of Association of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) of 17 December 2014. It welcomes the adoption by the Committee of Ministers of Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)11 on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe and of its declaration on this subject adopted in Helsinki on 17 May 2019.
4More than two years after its Resolution 2226 (2018), the Assembly is concerned to note that the civil society space continues to shrink in several Council of Europe member States, particularly in the case of NGOs working in the field of human rights. The restrictive legislation and regulations previously criticised by various Council of Europe bodies, including the Venice Commission, the Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations and the Assembly itself, are still being applied, particularly in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey. Moreover, certain NGOs are the subject of smear campaigns and their activists suffer threats and reprisals.

27 January 2021

Tabled by Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY, Mr Yury OLEINIKOV, Ms Svetlana ZHUROVA, Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV, Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Votes: 32 in favor 60 against 12 abstentions

In the draft resolution, paragraph 4, delete the words “particularly in Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey.”

Explanatory note

The rapporteurs’s memorandum mentions examples of restrictions on NGO in a large group of countries, but the resolution only mentions 3 of them, making the text unbalanced.

5The Assembly is concerned that certain member States’ legislation imposing excessive reporting and public disclosure obligations on NGOs receiving funding from abroad, in order to stigmatise these organisations, has still not been repealed, despite the criticisms levelled at them by various Council of Europe bodies. It is particularly concerned that some other member States have produced draft laws that appear to be based on the aforementioned legislation. The Assembly reiterates, in this context, that the right to seek, secure and use financial and material resources is essential to the existence and operation of any association and an inherent part of the right to freedom of association, as emphasised in the Venice Commission’s report of March 2019 on the funding of associations. When they impose obligations on NGOs for the purpose of combating terrorism or money laundering or preventing foreign political influence, States must draw a clear distinction between “reporting obligations” and “public disclosure obligations” and ensure that any requirements regarding information and transparency are proportionate to the size of the association and the scope of its activities.
6Referring to its Resolution 2356 (2020) “Rights and obligations of NGOs assisting refugees and migrants in Europe”, the Assembly condemns the various attacks on NGOs assisting refugees and migrants and on their donors. It reiterates its concern about new regulations which make it more difficult for these NGOs to operate and criminalise certain of their members’ activities.
7Referring to its Resolution 2338 (2020) “Impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on human rights and the rule of law, the Assembly is concerned about the impact of restrictive measures adopted by Council of Europe member States during this period and highlights their deleterious effect on the functioning of civil society. It emphasises that even though, in accordance with the Convention, public health may constitute a legitimate purpose justifying restrictions on the rights to respect for private life (Article 8), freedom of expression (Article 10) and freedom of assembly and association (Article 11), any restrictions on the aforementioned rights must be “prescribed by law”, “necessary in a democratic society” and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.

27 January 2021

Tabled by Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY, Mr Yury OLEINIKOV, Ms Svetlana ZHUROVA, Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV, Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Votes: 72 in favor 24 against 16 abstentions

In the draft resolution, after paragraph 7, insert the following new paragraph:

"The Assembly supports the work of the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination in preparing the report on 'Preserving Europe’s linguistic, ethnic, cultural and national diversity' and urges support for NGOs working in the field of national minorities protection."

Explanatory note

Paragraphs 6 and 7 contains references to recently adopted by the Assembly resolutions. Another one is in the final stage of preparation, in the text of which there is support for NGO working in the field of national minority protection.

8Notwithstanding the above-mentioned negative developments, the Assembly is pleased to note that certain member States have amended their legislation concerning NGOs in line with the recommendations of various Council of Europe bodies. Moreover, the majority of member States have established an environment that is conducive to civil society activities and the authorities have taken steps to ensure that NGOs are financed in an equitable fashion and can participate more fully in the legislative process and public debate.
9The Assembly therefore urges all the member States to:
9.1comply with international legal standards with regard to the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression;
9.2fully implement Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)14 of the Committee of Ministers on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe and Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)11 on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe;
9.3fully and rapidly implement the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights concerning violations of NGOs’ right to freedom of association;
9.4repeal and/or amend legislation that interferes with NGOs’ ability to work freely and independently and ensure that such legislation conforms to international human rights instruments, in particular Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the Convention;
9.5refrain from enacting new legislation entailing unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on NGO activities; in this context, the Covid-19 pandemic should not be used to justify the imposing of such restrictions;
9.6where appropriate, make use of the expertise of the Council of Europe, and in particular of the Venice Commission and of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations and its Expert Council on NGO Law;
9.7ensure that NGOs can seek, secure and use financial and material resources of both domestic and foreign origin, without suffering discrimination or encountering unjustified obstacles, in line with the recommendations included in the Venice Commission “Report on the funding of associations”;
9.8ensure that NGOs enjoy effective legal protection, and in particular, in the event of a dispute with the authorities, that judicial scrutiny conforms to the safeguards inherent in the right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the Convention);
9.9ensure that NGOs are fully involved in consultations on new legislation concerning them as well as on other important subjects and in relevant public debates;
9.10ensure that civil society continues to benefit from its own space, particularly by refraining from all forms of harassment, whether judicial, administrative or fiscal, negative public statements and smear campaigns aimed at NGOs, and acts of intimidation against civil society activists.

BDraft Recommendation

1Referring to its Resolution … (2021) “Restrictions on NGO activities in Council of Europe member States”, the Parliamentary Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
1.1fully implement its decision on “the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe”, adopted at its 129th session, in Helsinki on 17 May 2019;
1.2call on the member States to implement its recommendations CM/Rec(2007)14 on the legal status of non-governmental organisations in Europe and CM/Rec(2018)11 on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space in Europe;
1.3take stock of the progress achieved in implementing these two recommendations;

27 January 2021

Tabled by Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY, Mr Yury OLEINIKOV, Ms Svetlana ZHUROVA, Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV, Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Votes: 29 in favor 65 against 15 abstentions

In the draft recommendation, after paragraph 1.3, insert the following new paragraph:

"prepare examples of best practice in relation to NGOs for action by Council of Europe member states;"

Explanatory note

The rapporteurs’s memorandum contains a section on countries' best practices in relation to NGOs. It is proposed to instruct the Committee of Ministers of the European Council to conduct an in-depth analysis and disseminate them among the member countries.

1.4organise regular exchanges of views with NGOs working in the field of human rights protection and facilitate these organisations’ access to information on the Council of Europe’s activities and to events that it organises;
1.5continue to strengthen the synergy between all the stakeholders concerned within the Council of Europe, in particular the Secretary General, the Commissioner for Human Rights, the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations, the Assembly and, where appropriate, relevant expert bodies, and establish a working group composed of representatives of these entities;
1.6give priority to judgments arising from systemic problems concerning NGO rights and freedoms embodied in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5, the Convention) when supervising the execution of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights;
1.7establish an alert mechanism for receiving warnings of possible new restrictions on the right of association and other NGO rights and freedoms embodied in the Convention in member States, and for assessing this information and responding accordingly;
1.8continue to promote European and international standards to protect the civil society space and exchange information on good practices in this area, particularly in co-operation with other international organisations such as the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union.

27 January 2021

Tabled by Mr Leonid SLUTSKIY, Mr Yury OLEINIKOV, Ms Svetlana ZHUROVA, Mr Leonid KALASHNIKOV, Mr Aleksandr BASHKIN

Votes: 22 in favor 80 against 9 abstentions

In the draft recommendation, paragraph 1.8, replace the words “the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the European Union”, with the following words:

“and the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe”

Explanatory note

Almost half of the member countries of the European Council are not the European Union members. On the other side, there are a number of other regional international organizations in Europe. Selecting only one seems to be incorrect.