In 2019, the People’s Advocate of Albania monitored 31 public demonstrations organised by various entities, including opposition political parties, civil society, students, and citizens. Some of these resulted in physical confrontations. Through working groups, the NHRI monitored the situation on the ground and immediately verified cases of alleged rights violations committed by state authorities.
The law no. 91/2019 concerning audio-visual media banned media and journalists from physically attending meetings of Albania’s Parliamentary Committee. Following requests from journalists, the People’s Advocate of Albania monitored discussions between parliamentary representatives and journalists concerning the changes in the latter group’s participation. The NHRI also followed recommendations from other interest groups and international partners. The new proposal to amend the law was compared to other European regulations, and minor changes were made in relation to the use of mobile phones and video recording.
The Human Ombudsman of Slovenia addressed a detailed inquiry to the Ministry of the Interior regarding the procedures the police followed when establishing some protesters’ identities during protests in Ljubljana on 19 June 2020. The justifications provided by the police for the identification of 69 individuals were in view of the Ombudsman so general that they could, most likely, be attributed to all the protesters, who numbered around 7,000. The Ombudsman, therefore, recommended that police always conduct identification procedures according to applicable laws and regulations.
The Ombudsman of the Republic of Bulgaria is monitoring the execution of the final European Court of Human Rights judgments in the case of Bozhkov v. Bulgaria. The case relates to the violation of the right to the freedom of expression of journalists (art. 10 ECHR) due to the fact that he reported about alleged corrupt practices. Related to the above, the Ombudsman issued a statement and invited state authorities to address a gap in whistleblower protection and ensure the timely and effective transposition of the EU Whistleblower Directive.
The Greek National Commission for Human Rights (GNCHR) closely monitors the execution of European Court of Human Rights judgments, including those related to human rights defenders. In August 2018, the GNCHR submitted to the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers its Recommendations under Rule 9(2) with regard to the immediate full compliance of the Greek government with the landmark Court judgment Chowdury and Others v. Greece (known as the “Manolada case”). Two years later, in June 2020, it made an additional Communication on the assessment of the level of compliance of the Greek State with the GNCHR’s recommendations on the Chowdury judgment.
In another emblematic case for the protection of human rights, the Racist Violence Recording Network (RVRN) – an initiative of the Commission and UNHCR in Greece – activated the same procedure under Rule 9(2), in December 2020, by submitting a communication for the supervision of the execution of judgments and the terms of friendly settlements, relating to the case of Sakir v. Greece.
In 2019, the Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina received numerous complaints from individuals concerning alleged violations of the right to peaceful assembly. These were prompted by the alleged excessive use of force by law enforcement agencies at public gatherings. In 2020, the Ombudsman published a Special Report on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly. This looked at the overall situation concerning freedom of assembly and listed challenges that law enforcement agencies and organisers of public gatherings face during said gatherings. The report analysed relevant domestic and international regulations and collected information through questionnaires filled out by civil society organisations and ministries. The NHRI shared the recommendations with state authorities, organisers of public gatherings and civil society organisations in order to improve the relevant legislation.
The Slovak National Centre for Human Rights has mapped experiences of threats, intimidation, harassment and restrictions of rights faced by human rights defenders and civil society in the field of environment protection. The research aimed to find out whether cases of harassment occur, and, if they do, what their nature is and whether they are reported to public authorities. The information was collected via questionnaires which asked respondents to detail their experiences. The NHRI collected 11 cases considered by respondents as a threat, harassment, or intimidation. Harassment of and slander against individuals or their families were most common. Additionally, threats and the use of administrative procedures as a form of harassment (e.g. complaints, criminal reports) were prevalent. In most cases, human rights defenders sought to defend themselves by legal means and addressed existing public authorities. However, human rights defenders perceived the options available to defend their rights as very limited.
In its report to the UN Committee against Torture, the Federal Institute for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights criticised the use of the concepts of “radicalism” and “radicalisation” by Belgian authorities to preventatively manage the threat of terrorism. It highlighted the increasing tendency to use vague and ill-defined concepts to justify a variety of actions. These include bans on working in certain sensitive areas, refusal to grant Belgian nationality, the closure of establishments by local authorities, refusing to issue a Belgian passport or travel document, revoking residence permits, and expelling foreigners from Belgian territory.
In its opinion on Climate Emergency and Human Rights from May 2021, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights dedicated a paragraph to human rights defenders involved in the fight against climate change and the protection of the environment. It stressed the importance of providing a safe and enabling environment for human rights defenders to operate freely and without any restrictions. Based on the first report issued by the Observatoire des libertés associatives, the NHRI noted that human rights defenders in France – especially those working to protect the environment – find their activities are hindered. Obstacles to human rights defenders and civil society in France can take many forms. For example, they can be resource-related, judicial, administrative, police-related, or physical. In this regard, the Commission addressed the public authorities with two recommendations.
The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission recommended the State to consult with children and disabled people on the General Scheme of the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill: this was to ensure a child and disability rights perspective to the legislation. The Commission has repeatedly highlighted concerns around the involvement of disabled people in decision-making processes. This was particularly notable during the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislation and policies with significant implications for disabled people were adopted, even though they were not meaningfully engaged. The Commission has stressed the importance of closely consulting and involving disabled people and Disabled Persons Organisations in legislative and policy decision-making processes in line with Article 4.3 of the UNCRPD and General Comment 7 on the participation of persons with disabilities. To ensure meaningful participation, the Commission has called on the State to actively support the further development and involvement of Disabled Persons Organisations. It can do so by providing sustainable core funding, capacity building, and training.
The Public Defender (Ombudsman) of Georgia submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Batumi City Court regarding the internal and social media code of conduct of Adjara TV. The code restricted the freedom of expression of company employees. The NHRI analysed the cases of four employees and established that their dismissal or move to another position contravened Georgia’s Labour Code and Adjara TV’s internal labour regulations. The Public Defender recommended that the Adjara TV director restore the rights of the employees. As this was not done, the NHRI asked the Prosecutor General to launch an investigation. The Public Defender also contacted both the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media in relation to the case.
During a human rights film festival in December 2021, the Ombudswoman of Croatia organised a public consultation with civil society organisations. This was done to gain insight into challenges faced by human rights defenders and to identify key challenges in human rights protection. For its 2021 Annual Report to the Parliament, the NHRI sent out a public call inviting civil society to send data and insights, while specific questions were asked about key challenges to their work. The input from these consultations are reflected in the Ombudswoman’s Annual Report for 2021 and fed into Croatia’s Universal Periodic Review process.
The People’s Advocate of the Republic of Moldova closely monitors threats to the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, while publishing public statements to support human rights defenders and prevent polarisation within society. In one case, a politician verbally threatened media actors and civil society representatives criticising his political activities and position. In response, the NHRI issued a statement condemning his discourse. This was supported by OHCHR and major human rights organisations in the country. The NHRI also reacted promptly in 2018 when a mayor expressed threatening statements to journalists and in 2020 when government officials attacked the press. It issued statements calling on the national authorities and the General Prosecutor’s Office to investigate.
In June 2021, the Irish government announced a review of its Equality Acts. To support and encourage civil society groups and individuals to engage in the review process, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the civil society organisation, FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), have launched a joint project called Equality ACTion.
The Protector of Citizens of the Republic of Serbia has completed the technical development of a unique platform for registering and tracking harassment and attacks experienced by journalists and others working in the media. Once operational and running, the platform will, help ensure faster and more efficient responses from the competent authorities in the reported cases of violations of media freedom and freedom of expression. It will also provide a broader and more comprehensive overview of the challenges faced by journalists and contribute to enhanced public confidence in state institutions. In 2021, the platform was presented to the Government Working Group for the Safety and Protection of Journalists established in 2020.
In 2020 and 2021, journalists investigating organised crime and paramilitarism in Northern Ireland received death threats. For example, journalist Patricia Devlin received online threats, including towards her young son and graffiti featuring the crosshair of a gun next to her name. In September 2021, her complaint that the Police Service had failed to investigate the complaints or provide protection was upheld. In April 2021, a Belfast Telegraph photographer was attacked whilst covering unrest in Belfast.
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC) recommended that limitations of journalists’ freedom of expression must be human rights compliant. Information allegedly linking state agents to non-human rights compliant conduct should not be withheld and HRDs should not face intimidation or reprisals for disclosing such information. The NIHRC insisted that the right to a fair trial and effective remedy for journalists are fulfilled. Additionally, it recommends that journalists have effective protection to report on issues of public importance.
At the end of 2020, a young person was murdered by a state police employee. This caused nationwide protests lasting several days that demanded the responsible person be brought to justice. The People’s Advocate of Albania launched an investigation into police conduct when arresting journalists during these protests. Media reports documented several media actors being taken to police premises. The NHRI recommended that the police analyse the cases in terms of what constitutes lawful conduct of police officers when escorting individuals. It also recommended that the police guarantee the media’s right to cover protests; train police officers to improve their conduct towards media actors; avoid violating the rights of escorted persons; and establish special rules concerning the treatment of media actors. The police have followed up on the recommendations with concrete measures and actions addressing them.