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The Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial non-judicial institution established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in CoE member states. The Commissioner is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly from three candidates recommended by the Committee of Ministers, and serves a non-renewable term of six years. The Commissioner cooperates with a broad range of human rights institutions and mechanisms, including the United Nations and its specialised offices, the European Union, the OSCE, leading human rights NGOs, universities and think-tanks. The Commissioner also has the right to intervene in the proceedings of the European Court of Human Rights (the ‘Court’), either through written submission or participating in hearings.
The Commissioner encourages reform measures through:
- Country visits to monitor and evaluate human rights situations in member states, including talking to national authorities, civil society and ordinary people,
- Thematic work via advice, reports, opinions and issue papers, and
- Awareness raising via seminars, public events and permanent dialogues with various institutions.
The Commissioner for Human Rights is responsible for (CoE Resolution (99) 50):
- Promoting education in and awareness of human rights in member states
- Contributing to the promotion of the effective observance and full enjoyment of human rights in member states
- Providing advice and information on the protection of human rights and prevention of human rights violations
- Facilitating the activities of national ombudsmen or human rights institutions
- Identifying possible shortcomings in the law, practice and implementation of member States concerning human rights
- Reporting on and responding to the Committee of Ministers and/or the Parliamentary Assembly on complying with human rights standards
- Cooperating with other international institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights
Want more? You can read the mandate of the Commissioner for Human Rights and learn more about their work
How does it help tackle violence against women?
Third Party Interventions
The Commissioner can take part in proceedings of the Court (Article 36, European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), either of his own initiative, or at the invitation of the President of the Court. Whilst the Commissioner cannot comment on the merits of the case, she/he can make observations to the Court in relation to broader thematic or country mandates under her/his mandate and participate in the Court’s hearings. This power has not yet been exercised in relation to violence against women, however the Commissioner has intervened on issues that are relevant to eliminating it. For example, the Commissioner has given extensive submissions to the Court on states’ systemic failures and abuses in cases relating to human rights defenders, and on cases of discrimination of people with disabilities.
Want more? You can read more about third party interventions, and their full texts
Human Rights Comments
The Commissioner regularly writes human rights comments, raising awareness on human rights issues within the CoE. These comments often relate to the right of women and girls.
For example, calling for better protection for migrant and refugee women and girls the Commissioner wrote:
…it is crucial to prioritise women, children and survivors’ of sexual and gender-based violence in family reunification procedures, as well as in relocation and resettlement schemes. Doing so would reduce incentives for these women and girls to move on by dangerous irregular means and reduce their exposure to sexual and gender-based violence.
And for women’s rights defenders:
I also encourage member states to develop national guidelines and other measures to support and protect human rights defenders and to integrate a gender perspective in this work. It is time to put an end to impunity for violations that human rights defenders face because of their work. Expressions of support from the government and state institutions for the work of women’s rights defenders are of great importance and should also extend to the effective inclusion of women’s rights defenders in official consultations on relevant issues.
Want More? Remove obstacles to the work of women’s human rights defenders (2015)
The Commissioner takes regular visits to report on the human rights situation in CoE member states. These visits and reports regularly include a focus on gender-based violence.
From 4-6 June 2012, the Commissioner visited Austria. During the course of the visit, the Commissioner met senior government ministers, national human rights bodies, civil society representatives and spoke to asylum seekers at a reception centre and spoke to elderly patients at a hospital/care centre. In his final report, the Commissioner relayed the concerns of civil society and NGOs, related to protection of migrant women from harmful practices. Urging authorities to take action, the report read:
Measures have been taken to address harmful practices, such as forced marriage and female genital mutilation. However, NGOs active in the field report that implementation is hampered by a lack of information reaching migrant women which would enable them to make use of their rights. Furthermore, language and financial requirements appear to create another barrier for migrant women to claim a separate residence permit in case of spousal abuse.
…The Commissioner urges the authorities to take into account the vulnerability of migrant women and ensure that legislative measures already taken reach this group
As part of the Commissioner’s work, she/he may also organise events related to thematic human rights issues of particular concern. Over the 6th and 7th July 2015, the Office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights organised a ‘Women’s rights and gender equality in Europe’ roundtable in Vilnius. The roundtable gathered human rights defenders from over 20 countries of the CoE area who carry out prominent work in the field of women’s rights and gender equality. Discussions were aimed at helping the Commissioner and his Office to further develop their work on women’s rights and gender equality and to support human rights defenders, in particular those in a difficult situation.
Council of Europe
Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights
67075 Strasbourg Cedex
Tel. +33 (0)3 88 41 34 21 | Fax. +33 (0)3 90 21 50 53