Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Council of Europe’

An Historic Moment for the Kurds?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 14th February, 2015

Thousands of Kurds from across Europe gathered in Strasbourg this afternoon for a rally by the city’s stadium. As one of their foreign guests I gave the following short speech in English, simultaneously translated into Kurdish:

image We are gathered here under the Strasbourg sun at what I believe may be an historic moment in the long struggle for Kurdish cultural and political rights in Turkey. Yesterday, a petition with more than 10 million signatures, calling for the release from prison of PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, was delivered to the Council of Europe in this city. It was a remarkable tribute to the determination of the Kurds and to the growing solidarity from people across Europe.
Tomorrow, 15 February, in Ankara, the HDP and AKP are due to publish the framework of an agreement for a settlement of the Kurdish question and to declare their intention to move towards making Turkey a genuinely democratic republic, with a new constitution. If this does indeed happen it will mark a giant stride forward.
Of course, we cannot take success for granted. There have been so many disappointments as well as hopes regarding Kurdish rights. At times it has seemed that the government in Ankara was taking one step forward and then one step back. But an agreement is possible, with sufficient good faith on all sides.
I know that from the experience of my own country, Britain, where decades of
political strife and violence in Northern Ireland were largely laid to rest by the courageous Good Friday Agreement, which integrated the IRA and its political arm Sinn Fein into the mainstream, with an agreed ceasefire, power-sharing and the release from prison of militants. So it can be done.
Finally, I would like to send two messages to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Firstly, Mr President, please carry forward measures to ensure that Turkey’s Kurds enjoy full cultural and political rights in the future. And secondly, Mr President, please release Abdullah Ocalan so that he can sit at the negotiating table with all the dignity of a free man.

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Why the ECHR Matters

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 10th June, 2013

European Court of Human RightsECHRThe European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its associated Court in Strasbourg is a favourite Aunt Sally of right-wing Conservative MPs and Britain’s tabloid Press (which these days, alas, includes the broadsheet Daily Telegraph), but unjustly so. The Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as it is more formally known, has since its drafting in 1950 and later adoption by the Council or Europe done a huge amount of useful work in promoting the Rule of Law throughout Europe (including Eastern Europe, Russia and Turkey; only the dictatorship of Belarus is outside the fold), as well as providing individuals who feel their rights have been violated by their own State to seek redress. Despite the fact that the Court is a separate institution from the European Union it still gets tarred with the Brussels brush by virulent Europhobes, who seem to believe that the United Kingdom has completely abandoned its national sovereignty to foreigners — not that many of these anti-Europeans seem particularly worried about the fact that US influence is far more marked in various aspects of British public and foreign policy, not to mention our culture. Two things have been like juicy bones to these frothing xenophobic hounds. First, the Court’s ruling that it was wrong for the UK to deprive all prisoners of their rights to vote, no matter how short their sentence or trivial their offence. Theresa May could easily have got round that issue by accepting that prisoners with a sentence of less than six months should still retain their vote, but others not — a compromise that would have satisfied Strasbourg. The other even more famous ECHR “outrage”, of course, relates to the prolonged delay in the expulsion of the vile Islamist extremist Abu Qatada because there has not been up till now a credible assurance from his home country, Jordan, that evidence that might be used against him in any trial in Amman would not have been obtained by torture. Now I, like almost everyone in this country, long to see the back of Abu Qatada, who has milked the system here, including claiming benefits. But we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater by saying, oh well, as he is so wicked it does not matter if witnesses against him have been tortured. When we accept that, then we surrender our commitment to human rights (as the last Labour government alas did, with respect to extraordinary rendition). Moreover, it is utter nonsense for Theresa May to float the idea — seized on by relish by some of her backbench MPs and the right-wing Press — that Britain could temporarily withdraw from ECHR so it can expel Abu Qatada, then reapply once he is out of the way. Anyone who knows anything about International Law and diplomacy knows that is shamelessly playing to the gallery while undermining the very foundations of our credibility as a nation. What is really lacking, I believe, is a concerted campaign in Britain to champion what the ECHR actually achieves, in which politicians, NGOs and the enlightened media should participate. It is not just the future of our involvement with the Strasbourg Court that is at stake but our values as well.

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Reforming the ECHR

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd February, 2012

The 47-nation Council of Europe is little known and much misunderstood, particularly in Britain, where the populist media is in a state of permanent warfare with anything ‘European’. As I hope most readers of this blog already know, the CofE is a completely separate body from the European Union and embraces all of the countries of wider Europe, from Iceland to Azerbaijan and Russia, with the single exception of wayward Belarus. It has its own parliamentary assembly, which meets in Strasbourg, but this is not directly elected by European citizens, unlike the European Parliament, and it has almost no power. But the CofE does much useful work, for example in protecting media freedom, the rights of minorities (notably the Roma in recent years) and promoting transparent democracy. Of course, the main reason the institution gets into the British newspapers at the moment is because of the associated European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). This has come under a lot of fire recently in Britain, including from Prime Minister David Cameron, who in turn was strongly criticised by London’s LibDem MEP Baroness (Sarah) Ludford last night, at a seminar on Issues around Reform of the European Court of Human Rights, held at Europe House in Westminster. Mr Cameron likened the ECHR to a small claims court, highlighting how some of the thousands of cases that are sent to the ECHR for consideration each year are of an essentially trivial nature. Certainly, there are far too many of them, which has resulted in a horrendous backlog. Moreover, the British Conservatives in general tend to oppose the idea that the ECHR should have the right to ‘interfere’ in or ‘overturn’ the decisions of British Courts, for example relating to prisoners’ rights to vote and the non-deportation of Jordanian extremist Abu Qatada. But as the QC and leading human rights lawyer Lord Lester pointed out eloquently last night, much of the press coverage of the ECHR in Britain is simply wrong. However, both he and Sarah Ludford and the third speaker Daniel Holtgen, Director Communications at the CofE, acknowledged that the institution is in need of reform. Indeed, the parametres for this may well be set at an upcoming CofE gathering in Brighton. The CofE should probably try to do less but better. And when the EU signs up to the ECHR, as is planned, there will need to be some readjustments to avoid duplication. But it would be helpful in the meantime if British politicians and journalists who should know better stop slagging it off and misrepresenting it. Human rights and democracy are the cornerstones of the European world view, and the CofE is the right forum in which to work for their enhancement.

Link: http://coe.int

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Scrutinising Belarus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012

Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.

http://libg.co.uk and www.belarusdigest.com

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Strasbourg’s Chilly Charms

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 24th January, 2009

european-parliament       It must be 30 years since I was last in Strasbourg, though if I get elected to the European Parliament in June, I’ll be coming here pretty often. The city has the ‘best of both worlds’, in terms of its glorious Germanic half-timbered architecture and its scrumptious French food; the delicatessens are to die for. I’ve always found the Cathedral rather sinister, but Strasbourg is an immensely civilised place in which to live and work. It has acquired some very sleek trams with panoramic windows since my last visit. 

Tomorrow, I will be attending the Executive of the Liberal International (postponed from Bangkok last month, when Thailand was at the height of its troubles) and an associated conference, at which Liberal members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly will be well represented. Strasbourg is an ideal location for the Council of Europe, given the city’s fluctuating history between Germany and France. But for all its many charms (chilly at this time of the year), I think the French are wrong to insist that it should remain the main venue of the European Parliament. That situation, alas, is enshrined in the EU treaties, which means it cannot be altered without unanimous agreement by EU member states. That is something France is unlikely to agree to in the short term, despite the scandalous waste of money spent shuttling people and material between Brussels and Strasbourg and the latter’s relative inaccessibility. But that won’t stop me and countless others campaigning for a single seat for the European Parliament, in Brussels. People who agree should consider signing the online petition accessible through the link below.

Link: http://www.oneseat.eu/

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