A high-level panel and interactive debate on “The environment and human rights: the right to a safe, healthy and sustainable environment”, as well as a full day of debates on this topic, formed the centrepiece of the 2021 Autumn Session, which took place in Strasbourg from 27 to 30 September 2021 in a hybrid format.
No fewer than seven reports were debated, covering the Council of Europe’s action to anchor a “right to a healthy environment”, and how tackling climate change will require more participatory democracy, changes in criminal and civil liability, as well as a greater reliance on the rule of law. Other reports looked at combating inequalities in the right to a safe, healthy and clean environment, climate and migration, and how research policies can promote environmental protection.
The Assembly held urgent debates on the situation in Afghanistan, the increased migration pressure on the borders of Latvia, Lithuania and Poland with Belarus, and a new draft protocol to the Council of Europe’s Cybercrime Convention on enhanced co-operation and the disclosure of electronic evidence. A current affairs debate on “The Western Balkans between democratic challenges and European aspirations: what role for the Council of Europe?” was also held.
VIPs addressing the Assembly during session week included European Health and Food Safety Commissioner Stella Kyriakides and North Macedonia’s Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Nikola Dimitrov. Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjarto presented the Communication from the Committee of Ministers, while Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić held her usual Q&A session with members.
On Monday 27th the Assembly awarded the 2021 Václav Havel Human Rights Prize to Belarusian human rights activist Maria Kalesnikava. The 60,000-euro Prize honours individuals or NGOs from civil society who carry out outstanding work to uphold human rights in Europe or beyond.
The Assembly adopted also texts on the humanitarian consequences of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan / Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, restoring social trust by strengthening social rights, and strengthening the fight against so-called “honour” crimes. The Assembly also debated gender representation in its own ranks, as well as guidelines on the scope of the parliamentary immunities enjoyed by its members.
On the fringe of the session, there as be a special event on Thursday 30th as the Council of Europe welcomed “Little Amal”, a 3.5m-tall puppet of a nine-year-old girl who is walking 8000 km to raise awareness of the situation of child refugees. VIPs, parliamentarians and local schoolchildren interacted and exchanged gifts with her.