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[04/11/08] After a two-day round table with human rights activists from all parts of Europe, Commissioner Hammarberg, stated that "human rights defenders should be seen as key partners in governmental endeavours to promote and protect the rights of individuals".

"Such defenders are carrying out very valuable work to raise awareness among the population about human rights" said the Commissioner. "They point at gaps and deficiencies in the national policies and protection systems and they can also assist authorities in addressing these and finding solutions."

During the round table, human rights activists and journalists from all over Europe have shared with the Commissioner their experiences of obstacles and problems in their daily work of promoting human rights for everyone in their respective countries.

"I am concerned about the many methods used to impede the work of human rights defenders" he continued. "I have received reports about outright threats to their lives, legal or administrative harassments and conditioning state funding to not issuing public reports. I am deeply worried about instances of pressure from officials and other individuals to silence or dissuade applicants or their legal representatives from bringing cases to the European Court of Human Rights."

The 2008 Declaration on Council of Europe action to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities reinforced the mandate of the Commissioner and his possibilities of promoting a conducive working environment, including raising individual cases with Governments, in close cooperation with the United Nations Special Rapporteur and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. The Declaration designated the Commissioner as the main regional mechanism to strengthen the protection of human rights defenders and their activities.

"Human rights defenders work on a wide range of issues. We must ensure that their work is not only protected, but supported by both national authorities and international organizations" he concluded.

 In their Declaration adopted at the end of the round table, human rights defenders called upon Council of Europe member States to enhance the support to the Commissioner's work.

*Azerbaijan was represented at the roundtable by Azeri human rights defenders Shahin Abbasov, Arzu Abdullayev, Eldar Zeynalov and Emin Huseynov (Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety Director).

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4/11/08 We fifty-five human right defenders from different parts of the European continent met in a roundtable organized by the Commissioner for Human Rights on 3-4 November 2008 at the headquarters of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. We shared with him our concerns and the obstacles we face on a daily basis in our work in defending the human rights of other persons in our countries.

We welcome the opportunity provided by the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights to interact and create an effective network of human rights defenders throughout Europe, based on solidarity, good communication and the capacity to react rapidly in urgent situation in defense of each other’s rights.

We strongly support the Commissioner’s efforts and we call upon him to strengthen and expand his activities in support of us and our work. We call upon member states of the Council of Europe to support him politically and financially in this endeavor, which is at the heart of his mandate.

More resources are needed to allow the Commissioner to effectively promote an enabling and conducive environment in which all human rights standards of the Council of Europe are respected and a reality in Europe.

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Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)
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Eric Chenoweth and Irena Lasota, Directors