Contribution of the Conference of European Churches (CEC) to the European Ministerial Conference on Human Rights

Contribution of the Conference of European Churches (CEC)
to the European Ministerial Conference on Human Rights
(Rome 3-4 November 2000)

The NGOs with consultative status with the Council of Europe are very appreciative of the opportunity given them to present comments on the two “Preliminary Drafts of Resolutions no. 1 and 2” set out in the document CDDH-GR(00)8 of 23 May 2000.

In this context the Church and Society Commission of CEC is pleased to present its point of view which is based on ethical considerations and a firm commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights.

What is CEC?

Created in 1959, this regional ecumenical organisation brings together 126 Churches – Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Old Catholic, Orthodox, Pentecostalist and Reformed – and 25 associated organisations – covering, in particular, aid and social work, education and youth – in every country of the European continent, including countries wishing to join the Council of Europe such as Armenia (for further information, please see the Annex).

Comments on the Two Preliminary Draft Resolutions and on the Draft Declaration

The Church and Society Commission of CEC strongly supports the contents of the three documents as they are currently formulated. It wishes to submit a number of comments, first general and then more specific.

A.   General Comments

Resolution No. 2

Chapter II on the death penalty
For a long time, the Churches have strongly pleaded for its abolition. With others, they have sought – and still seek, where that proves necessary – to bring about a positive development in public attitudes among populations often hesitant or even hostile to abolition.

With their prison chaplains (who are nowadays also organised on the European level) they assure a double function of moral support and vigilance with regard to human rights.

Chapter III: equality and non-discrimination
The very strong commitment of the Churches in this field – against racism, anti-Semitism and intolerance – does not need to be demonstrated. The massive and sustained support of international ecumenical organisations in the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa is still remembered.

In Europe, the World Council of Churches (at the global level), CEC and the Churches Commission for Migrants in Europe (CCME) very closely co-ordinate their efforts to strengthen respect for and promotion of the rights of foreign people and populations on the Continent, displaced or migrant, refugees or asylum seekers.

CCME moreover has a long history of effective co-operation with the CDDH.

Further, CEC has a strong long-term commitment to raising awareness of the extremely difficult and unjust situations to which numerous women are exposed and the diverse forms of exploitation of which they are victims, including in the home and in churches.

Chapter IV: technological developments
Having made strong contributions on bioethics since 1994, CEC has since 1997 participated actively (and to the general satisfaction of national delegations) as an observer in the work of the Steering Committee on Bioethics (CDBI) of the Council of Europe.

This participation has resulted in the presentation of written comments on subjects such as:

  1. theological bases for ethical positions;
  2. the status and protection of the human embryo;
  3. medically assisted procreation – 20 years after;
  4. animal and human cloning;
  5. patenting of human genetic material;
  6. comments on the transplantation of organs;
  7. comments on medical research.

Comments in preparation:

  1. comments on xenotransplantation;
  2. predictive medicine;
  3. ageing of the population;
  4. genetically modified foods and organisms;
  5. therapeutic uses of cloning and embryonic stem cells.

Chapter V: civil society
Present even in the smallest villages, the Churches are – and can be still more so – decisive partners for the Council of Europe, in particular capable of promoting dialogue and understanding in society through their public words and their numerous educational, cultural, social and humanitarian activities.

The ambition of CEC and its member churches is to diffuse a “culture of human rights” and mutual respect through European societies and ensure that it is deeply rooted, to identify and consolidate common values for the whole Continent, to work for the primacy of ethics of which the aim is, according to the philosopher Paul Ricouer, “a good life, with and for others, in just institutions” and to act so that the strength of law prevails over the “law of the strongest“.

Declaration

Clearly, the Church and Society Commission is interested in the development of the draft EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. In this context, it has several times stressed the need to preserve a coherent and effective system of human rights protection throughout Europe. No provision of the future Charter should be capable of opening the way to a lesser degree of protection than that assured by the European Convention of Human Rights and its case law. The EU Charter must in no way introduce uncertainty about the unicity of the system of human rights protection. The risk of developing a double system of human rights which could lead to the relativisation of their universality must be scrupulously avoided as must a conflict between the Courts of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. For that, the best solution seems to us to be an amendment of the Treaty of the European Union to allow the Union to adhere to the European Human Rights Convention itself, the Convention remaining the benchmark for human rights throughout Europe.

B. Specific Comments

Resolution No. 1

Chapter II: increasing the effectiveness of the European Court of Human Rights
1.1  We suggest that the Ministerial Conference invites the Committee of Ministers to recommend to the Member States of the Council of Europe that the decisions of the Court are published in an appropriate way and distributed widely among the judges and national administrators of each Member State, for example in their regular documents and bulletins.

This could contribute to reducing in the middle- to long-term the currently growing number of cases submitted to the Court and, by doing so, improving its effectiveness.

1.2  In the same spirit, we suggest a possible amendment to the European Convention of Human Rights, particularly to article 27, which would allow an even more rapid procedure and simple in certain cases which are less difficult to rule on, dealing for example with the length of procedures or formal defects in documents …

Chapter III: mechanism of supervising the decisions of the Court
To contribute to the most effective implementation of the Court’s decisions, we suggest that the Member States of the Council of Europe could be invited by the Committee of Ministers to present a report to the Secretary General on legal changes undertaken at national level following a Court decision. The Secretary General could be authorised and requested to give this information the widest possible public distribution.

Chapter IV: social rights
The Member States which have not yet done so should be explicitly encouraged to sign and ratify the European Social Charter and more particularly the Revised Social Charter.

Conclusion

In the hope that these brief comments will contribute to the promotion of human rights in Europe, we send our warmest best wishes for the success and influence of the Ministerial Conference to be held at Rome on 3-4 November 2000 on the 50th Anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Keith Jenkins, Director of the Church and Society Commission, Associate General Secretary of the Conference of European Churches.

Annexe: Supplementary Information on CEC

The Church and Society Commission of CEC is charged with developing co-operation with the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the United Nations and the institutions of the European Union. Its task is double:

  1. to inform the Churches on the development of European integration and co-operation, identifying the most relevant and urgent questions;
  2. to present to the European organisations and institutions the detailed opinions of the Churches on major societal questions: human rights; bioethics and biotechnology; information society; development co-operation, social, economic, environmental, cultural and educational questions; questions of peace and security; middle- to long-term vision of the future of the European continent; relationship between religion, ethnicity and conflict …

To do this, it bases its work on numerous contributions of each Member Church, but also on the work of its own international and multi-disciplinary expert groups – ethicists, lawyers, researchers, doctors, human rights practitioners …

These groups include:

  1. a working group on human rights and religious freedom;
  2. a group on bioethics and biotechnology.

The interest in and relevance of the contribution presented led to the predecessor of the Church and Society Commission of CEC, and subsequently CEC itself, being given observer status in the CDBI (Steering Committee on Bioethics) in 1997. CEC also features on the list of NGOs authorised to present collective demands with regard to the European Social Charter.

CEC works in synergy with other church organisations at the global level as well as with church agencies engaged in mutual aid and project financing: humanitarian and charitable aid, development projects in Europe and other world regions, conflict prevention activities, mediation and reconciliation, education and training, the role of mediating between religious organisations and governments on the preparation of new laws on religious liberty ….

Currently, CEC is developing a medium-term project aiming to co-ordinate the activities of Churches and their NGOs – in close collaboration with the churches on the spot – on mediation, reconciliation and reconstruction in the South Eastern Europe region on a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural basis.

The project includes:

  1. reconstructing of buildings with strong symbolic connotations;
  2. training of local people to work on peace and non-violent conflict resolution;
  3. learning multi-cultural and inter-religious co-operation.

CEC has initiated numerous projects for human rights awareness raising and training as well as activities aiming to open up ways of solving difficult problems such as:

  1. the situation of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities;
  2. the protection of Sinti and Roma;
  3. clarification of relations between states and religious organisations/Churches;
  4. inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, especially with Islam.

For years, CEC has been very actively involved in many sectors, activities and campaigns of the Council of Europe. It has also contributed very strongly with other NGOs in the Council of Europe to the visibility and influence of the actions of the Council, thanks to the spread and considerable potential of its Member Churches and partners as well as its many contacts in the different bodies of the Council of Europe: Secretariat General, Parliamentary Assembly, Permanent Representations, Court, CPLRE, and, of course, in the recognised NGO structures.

Addresses of Secretariats responsible for human rights:

    • Rüdiger NOLL, Church and Society Commission, CEC
      150, route de Ferney, BP 2100
      CH – 1211 Genève 2
      Tel: +41 22 791 61 11
      Fax: +41 22 791 62 27
      e-mail: rud@wcc-coe.org
  • Richard FISCHER, Church and Society Commission, CEC
    8, rue du Fossé des Treize
    F – 67000 Strasbourg
    Tel;: +33 3 88 15 27 60
    Fax: +33 3 88 15 27 61
    e-mail: eccs@media-net.fr

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