Sitemap

More...

Mariko Kaneko, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan

Strengthening Mutual Ties Between Japan and Serbia

The already excellent bilateral relations between Japan...

Etienne Thobois, Paris 2024 CEO

Organising the Olympics is Truly a Team Sport

Paris 2024 aims to make the Games...

H.E. Pierre Cochard, French Ambassador to Serbia

Fraternity Through Sport

As part of the Olympic tradition, France,...

Marko Đurić, Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs

Bilateral Rising

The U.S. has continuity of policy on...

EU and Serbia Sign Memorandum on Strategic Partnership for Sustainable Raw Materials

In a significant step towards enhancing cooperation in sustainable raw materials, battery production, and electric vehicles, the European Union...

Biden Ends Re-Election Bid, Backs Harris as Democratic Nominee

President Joe Biden has ended his re-election campaign, endorsing Vice President Kamala Harris to succeed him, after many Democrats...

Andrej Plenković Re-Elected as HDZ Leader with Overwhelming Majority

Andrej Plenković has secured another term as the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), winning 84,786 votes in...

Serbia and Egypt Sign Landmark Free Trade Agreement

In a significant move to bolster economic ties, Serbia and Egypt have signed a Free Trade Agreement along with...

United States Adds $18 Million In New Funds To Development Partnership With Serbia

Today, the United States Government, through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), announced an additional $18 million...

Janos Babity, Head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade

75 Years of Promoting Human Rights

Recent reports from Council of Europe bodies confirm a mixed picture when it comes to the state of human rights in Europe. While many member states have made commendable strides in protecting civil liberties and ensuring judicial independence, there are still significant concerns and a sense of democratic backsliding ~ Janos Babity

Kosovo’s application to join the Council of Europe is now being considered by the 46 member states represented in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe and we can’t say when a decision on that issue could be made, says the new head of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, speaking in this interview for CorD Magazine. Janos Babity says that, during his time in Serbia, he will be dedicated to raising standards when it comes to the protection of fundamental rights for all citizens. He adds that he will also pay special attention to exploring ways of reflecting on the synergies between human rights and environmental protection.

The Council of Europe is this year celebrating its 75th anniversary. Looking at that history, what would you say have been the Council’s greatest achievements since it was founded?

— Founded in 1949 as the first postwar inter-governmental political organisation in Europe focusing on human rights, the Council has played a pivotal role in shaping a united and stable Europe by promoting these values.

One of the Council’s most significant accomplishments is the European Convention on Human Rights, adopted in 1950. This groundbreaking treaty, which entered into force in 1953, laid the foundation for the European Court of Human Rights, which has since dealt with over a million applications and delivered over 25,000 judgements and decisions, protecting the rights and freedoms of millions of Europeans in the process.

Another cornerstone achievement is the establishment of the European Social Charter in 1961, which ensures social and economic rights, including the right to work, education, health, housing, social protection and welfare. Through its Venice Commission, established in 1990, the Council has provided member states with critical legal advice on constitutional matters, supporting democratic reforms and the rule of law.

Concerns remain regarding media freedom and equal campaign opportunities, which are vital for a healthy democratic environment

Since 1955, the European Cultural Convention has encouraged cross-border collaborations in education, culture and heritage, enriching the cultural diversity of Europe. Moreover, the Council of Europe has been a leader in combating corruption and organised crime. The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO), established in 1999, has been pivotal in promoting transparency and integrity across Europe, contributing significantly to the fight against corruption.

Through other conventions and specialised bodies, the Council of Europe has also been protecting the rights of persons belonging to national minorities, promoting regional and minority languages, rights of women, children, Roma and Travellers and LGBTI persons, as well as countering hate speech and discrimination.

Viewed from the perspective of the Council of Europe, how would you rate Europe today, according to the criteria of human rights, democracy and the rule of law? Are economic, health and geopolitical crises resulting in those values being pushed to the backburner?

Amid the number of economic, social and geopolitical challenges Europe faces today, we see that human rights, democracy and the rule of law appear to be under attack in many parts of our continent. Recent reports from the Council of Europe bodies confirm a mixed picture of the state of human rights in Europe. While many member states have made commendable strides in protecting civil liberties and ensuring judicial independence, there are significant concerns and a sense of democratic backsliding.

Democracy in Europe also faces challenges. The 2024 annual report of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe on the state of democracy, human rights and the rule of law highlights both progress and setbacks. Electoral processes in many countries continue to function effectively, reflecting the robust democratic traditions in place. However, significant threats are posed by the rise of populist movements and the erosion of democratic norms in certain areas. Stronger commitment is needed from member states to increase the level of implementation of the judgements of the European Court and recommendations by various expert bodies of the Council of Europe.

Recent and ongoing crises have indeed placed immense strain on these values. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, led to emergency measures that curtailed civil liberties in some cases. The Council has been vigilant in ensuring that such measures remain proportionate and temporary. Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, has consistently highlighted the severe impact of geopolitical challenges and Russia’s war against Ukraine on Europe’s stability, as well as on the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Our Organisation acknowledges the profound suffering of the Ukrainian people and the broader implications of the military aggression on regional security and global stability, and seeks to mobilise all the instruments available to ensure Russia’s full accountability for human rights violations and to provide compensation to the victims.

Despite economic, health and geopolitical crises, the values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law continue to guide the Organisation’s member states. The Council’s work is crucial to ensuring these principles are not put on the backburner, but remain at the forefront of European policy and action.

The history of the Council of Europe also includes discussion over whether the Council lost its place with the formation of the European Union and, later, with the formation of the OSCE. How would you respond to that claim?

The establishment and the evolution of the European Union (EU) and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has not overshadowed the Council of Europe, but rather complemented its mission. The Council of Europe has a clear mandate focused on human rights, democracy and the rule of law. Unlike the EU, which places a greater emphasis on economic integration and political union, the Council’s broad membership of 46 countries allows it to address human rights issues across the continent, beyond the EU’s borders. The OSCE, with its focus on security and conflict prevention, also intersects with the Council’s work.

In recent years, cooperation between these organisations has only strengthened Europe’s capacity to address complex challenges. We highly value our cooperation with the EU and the OSCE and will continue to work together for the promotion of the values in which we all believe.

You have been in Serbia since this February. What have you defined as the priorities of your mandate?

— My commitments revolve around the Council of Europe’s values and role: strengthening human rights, democracy and the rule of law in Serbia.

Amid the number of economic, social and geopolitical challenges Europe faces today, we see that human rights, democracy and the rule of law appear to be under attack in many parts of our continent

I am firmly dedicated, together with the team of the Council of Europe Office in Belgrade, to supporting Serbia’s efforts to align with European standards and ensure the protection of fundamental rights for all its citizens. With reference to the fourth Summit of the Council of Europe held in Reykjavík last year, special attention will be given to the rights of children and the participation of youth in decision-making processes. We are also exploring ways of reflecting on the synergies between human rights and environmental protection.

In recent years, the Council of Europe Office in Serbia has supported reforms of democratic institutions, especially the judiciary. At the same time, we can still hear assessments that this pillar of power is still not free of the pressures of the executive power, despite the reform process and the amending of the Constitution. In which direction will further cooperation between the Council of Europe and the authorities in Serbia develop regarding the judiciary?

— Over the course of 20 years, the Council of Europe has been a steadfast ally to Serbia in reforming its democratic institutions, particularly the judiciary. Looking ahead, the Council of Europe’s cooperation with Serbian authorities will intensify, focusing on fortifying the judicial system against undue influence and ensuring adherence to European standards. We are conducting programmes that seek to increase the capacities of legal professionals by adopting the democratic standards and procedures that are already being practiced in other members states. The Serbian Ministry of Justice and the High Court of Serbia are our strong allies, and we look forward to cooperating with them in the future. Moreover, the Council’s GRECO (Group of States against Corruption) continues to monitor Serbia’s progress in combating corruption within the judiciary. This oversight is crucial to building public trust and ensuring that judicial decisions are free from external interference.

The Council of Europe will also enhance its engagement with civil society organisations in Serbia, empowering them to act as watchdogs and advocate for judicial independence. This multifaceted approach aims to create a resilient judicial system able to withstand political pressures and deliver justice impartially.

Council of Europe representatives were actively involved in the work of the election observer mission that monitored Serbia’s national elections in December 2023. You witnessed the local elections in early June. From that point of view, what would you say about the state of parliamentary democracy in Serbia?

— Members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe were part of the international observation mission during Serbia’s national elections in December 2023. This observation provides an evaluation of the entire electoral process in Serbia, thoroughly presented in the PACE election observation report.

The joint observation mission, including the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, acknowledged that the elections offered voters a choice between political alternatives, and that freedoms of expression and assembly were generally respected. Concerns remain regarding media freedom and equal campaign opportunities, which are vital for a healthy democratic environment. The implementation of the recommendations of the ODIHR and Venice Commission remains on the agenda. Despite these challenges, the Council of Europe remains committed to supporting Serbia’s democratic institutions. Continued collaboration will focus on enhancing electoral integrity, strengthening judicial independence and ensuring that democratic norms are fully upheld.

The beginning of your mandate in Serbia was marked by a discussion about Kosovo’s request to become a member of the Council of Europe, which Belgrade opposes. Since that request was not added to the agenda of the meeting of the Committee of Ministers in May, could you explain the further procedure related to the request of the authorities in Pristina?

— The procedure will involve further deliberations of the 46 member states represented in the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. We don’t know at this stage when a decision may be taken. It is not in my mandate to discuss accession issues, so I will not comment further.