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Human rights in Europe is getting worse says Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg


Human rights in Europe is getting worse says Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg


Chris Burns: “The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, wraps up his six year term at the end of this month and he’s going out with a bang not a whimper. The former head of Amnesty International, he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 on behalf of Amnesty says the human rights situation in Europe is getting worse not better.

“It’s your chance now to ask questions to Mr Hammarberg, who is joining us from Luxembourg. Mr Hammarberg, wrapping up your six year term, how does it feel and the fact that things are worse and not better after six years…”

Thomas Hammarberg: “I think that I am a bit disappointed there is no ground for complacency in Europe about our human rights performance. One reason of course is the economic crisis, which has undermined the social rights for quite a number of people as a consequence of the austerity budgets but also I feel that the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in New York on the 11th of September 2001 has not had a good effect on the respect for human rights. People have been arrested and tortured even when there was no real proof that they had been involved in the planning of this terrorist attack. And torture, of course, should be absolutely forbidden.”

Chris Burns: “Well, lets take a look at how the situation is now and get some questions from some of our viewers. Lets take a look at our first question now.”

Gabriela, Czech Republic: “I’m Roma from the Czech Republic. I work for the Ergo Network, a Roma organisation based in Brussels. I know about the the Roma programme that the Council of Europe is organising and I would really like to know how you would motivate the municipalities – those who are against the Roma -to implement this programme? Thank you.”

Chris Burns: “Mr Hammarberg, Gabriela agrees with you. Things are not getting better, what do thing about what she says?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “I think Roma is one group in Europe which has suffered from the economic crisis and the growth of extremist groups who attack the Roma both verbally but also in some violent attacks, that’s a very serious problem. I think that the questioner is right, that much of the reform has to be done on a local level. And there are some attempts to do that from the European Union and the Council of Europe but more needs to be done in order to secure that people can live together on a local level. We have been very disappointed that there have been statements by politicians, in several countries in Europe, which has increased the prejudices against the Roma.”

Chris Burns: “And addressing an issue like that is difficult from the European level to treacle down to the local level, let’s look at another question regarding the same issue.”

Florin, Brussels: “I’m a community worker based in St Georges, Brussels. If somebody really wants to do something to help the Roma people there needs to be a public policy of positive discrimination in every EU member state. We should be considered as European Roma. This problem needs solving and I hope you will be able to find some way to do this…

Chris Burns:“Well there’s a rather concrete suggestion of positive discrimination, what’s you’re opinion on that Mr Hammarberg?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “I think there is a need for positive discrimination to catch up on the disadvantages, which has struck on the Roma population in Europe. I agree that this is also a European problem, it’s a local problem, it’s a national problem and it’s a European problem. And politicians on all these levels must work towards a situation where Roma would be fully integrated and accepted in our societies, which they are not today. The main point there is to put an end to anti-gypsy prejudices against the Roma and there I feel that the politicians have a very important role, which they have not lived up to, so far in my opinion.”

Chris Burns: “I suppose education is also probably a factor in that. Let’s go on to a wider question about the situation in general, another question here.”

Ronifen. Bulgaria: “In several Non-Governmental organizations it was announced in the beginning of 2012 that there is a human rights crisis in the EU. How will European Institutions guarantee human rights in the EU?”

Chris Burns: “That’s almost a bit of an accusatory question there saying that the European institutions are falling down on the job here. He says there is a crisis, in a sense agreeing with you but also accusing you at the same time, no?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “Yes, but of course the decisions by the European institutions depend very much on whether they have support from the national governments, who are members of these institutions and I think that both the Council of Europe and its institutions, the court for Human Rights there and the EU structures and for that matter also the OECD have done contributions in order to improve the situation when it comes to human rights in the countries but there hasn’t been enough support [advice] given by these European institutions on a national level.”

Chris Burns: “Do you think maybe it is because there aren’t enough teeth, that some of these institutions don’t have a stick to wield, is that the problem?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “That’s one of the problems but those who would give the teeth or the stick is the national governments. So the responsibility goes back to them and to the parliaments in those countries and in the end to the voters in those countries.”

Chris Burns: “Mr Hammarberg, we have a written question here, let’s take a look at that. And that is from Portugal and it says ‘What does Europe think about Chechnya and the war in the Caucasus?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “There’s still problems in the northern Caucasus in Chechnya but also in the northern republics, there is a use of counter terrorists methods there, which unfortunately victimises the ordinary population and totally innocent people and that has to stop. In Chechnya there are still several thousand people who have disappeared and are probably in masked graves, which have not been opened so far. There have been more than 150 judgements in the European Courts for human rights on Chechen cases asking for thorough investigation into what happened some ten years ago during the height of the war there and we still feel that there hasn’t been a sufficiently positive response from the Russian authorities to these judgements.”

Chris Burns: “Exactly, what hope do you have now that there is a new president…the old president…new president, in power?”

Thomas Hammarberg: “With the election now there is another opportunity to bring these cases to the leadership in Russian and to remind them that there is an absolute need for them to do something to the past crimes in Chechnya.”

Chris Burns: “Ok, now I think we move to our last question now, lets take a look…”

Toussaint, Brussels: “I am a director of a service to help those in living on the streets. The question I ask myself in regards to human rights concerns children. In Brussels, the capital of Europe, there are currently young immigrant children who are here without their parents and for some incomprehensible reason are unable to find accommodation. Despite Belguim being a signatory to Children’s Rights International, there is currently nothing in place to help children sleeping rough. What is the Council of Europe going to do about it?”

Chris Burns: “I imagine that that is happening on a daily basis in the capital of Europe Mr Hammarberg and you yourself were the head of Save the Children in Sweden, so I’m sure you can speak from experience…”

Thomas Hammarberg: “Yes, of course the rights of the child is a major pre-occupation and we have also in Europe problems when it comes to that. State children is also a symptom of deeper problems, often going back to the families. Many of those who are on the street have come from other countries. Migrant children are particularly vulnerable in our societies and frankly we have a growing child poverty in several European countries partly as a consequence of the economic countries. There is a need for the politicians both in the European institutions and on a national level to be more energetic and more focused when it comes to protecting the rights of every child.

Chris Burns: “A work very much in progress. Mr Hammarberg thank you very much. Thanks for joining us from Luxembourg. So you see, you ask the questions and I’m here to make sure you get the answers on i-talk here from the European parliament in Brussels, I’m Chris Burns sitting in for Alex Taylor, see you again soon.

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