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Council of Europe Should Address Human Rights Violations by Judges and Prosecutors in Member States

26 April 2017

Human rights defenders suffer large-scale legal harassment, arbitrary indictments and convictions by judiciary and prosecution authorities in countries such as Azerbaijan and Russia. The Consultative Councils of Judges and Prosecutors of the Council of Europe should pay serious attention to this aspect of the work of these authorities, which is contrary to professional standards.

The Netherlands Helsinki Committee, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Human Rights House Foundation presented this call on 25 April 2017, during the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The organisations issued a commentary┬áto the 2016 report “Challenges for judicial independence and impartiality in the member states of the Council of Europe” by the Consultative Council of European Judges (CCJE) and the Consultative Council of European Prosecutors (CCPE).

The CCJE-CCPE joint report was issued in 2016 following a request by Council of Europe Secretary General Jagland, in which concerns were expressed about “member states not guaranteeing sufficient standards of impartiality and independence” and “the need to comprehend the full scale and nature of the problem”. However, the civil society organisations noted that the Councils failed to report a prominent and alarming trend of political instrumentalisation of the judiciary and the prosecutors by the executive, which constitutes a major challenge to judicial impartiality in member states.

During the dedicated side event in Strasbourg, prominent speakers from Azerbaijan and Russia highlighted how judges and prosecutors abuse their powers to silence government critics, in systematic violation of professional standards. Anar Mammadli, Head of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre, shared his first-hand experience as a subject to a trumped-up criminal conviction in Azerbaijan. Konstantin Baranov of the International Youth Human Rights Movement described how the broad powers of the Prosecutor’s Office in Russia were used in a massive nationwide campaign of extraordinary inspections and administrative harassment of critical NGOs. Sergey Golubok, a top human rights lawyer from Russia, underlined the Soviet legacy looming over justice systems of the two countries, and the urgency for judges to break away from the centuries-long tradition of “serving the sovereign”, and to give central place to the rule of law and respect of human rights standards.

The civil society representatives pointed to the potential role for the CCJE and the CCPE as unique bodies in the continent’s leading human rights organisation in promoting measures to maintain judicial standards and prevent politically-motivated prosecutions in Council of Europe member states.

The panel asserted that intergovernmental organisations such as the Council of Europe and their bodies such as the CCPE and the CCJE are being increasingly held accountable in the court of public opinion for countering devaluation of human rights and ethical standards across Europe.

Read more about the work of the NHC and partners to enhance esprit de corps among prosecutors and judges at www.defendersORviolators.info