January Session of The Conference of INGOs of the Council of Europe 27-30 January 2014 in Strasbourg.
The Conference of INGOs is recognised as an institution of the Council of Europe. Andante – together with 400 INGOs – is a full right member of the Conference which meets officially twice a year during the ordinary sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. At this year’s meeting in January, Andante’s permanent representative, Marie-Louise van Wijk-van de Ven, together with the chair, Mary McHugh, and board member, Mette Bruusgaard, represented Andante.
The main committees of the Conference (Education and Culture Committee, Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges Committee and Human Rights Committee) all presented work and results since the last meeting. Between sessions representatives met in work groups with themes such as: Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Education to new technologies, Living Together, History Teaching and Relations with the European Union.
Between other programmes participants were invited to attend side-events on “A Europe without torture” and antisemitism. The Parliamentary Assembly which was debating the situation in Syria and smaller groups of the Parliamentary Network focusing on “Sexual exploitation of girls” were open
The Conference of INGOs adopted texts on hate speech, the situation in Ukraine and human rights and religions.
On the background of growing racism and intolerance in Europe, the Human Rights Committee felt that civil society must play a role in tackling this problem since hate speech can have harmful consequences for democracy, social cohesion and human dignity. For this reason they decided to include the fight against hate speech in their 2014-2016 programme – with the aim to prepare a “Civil Society White Paper to combat hate speech” as well as a “Civil Society forum” together with the media and political parties in order to draw up a Charter of good conduct for tackling hate speech more effectively.
The situation in Ukraine:
At the initiative of the Conference of INGOs, a group of civil society representatives from Ukraine participated in several meetings at the Council of Europe both at the Conference of INGOs and with the Secretary General and the Commissioner for Human Rights. Great concern was reported regarding the current situation, in particular in terms of Human Rights violations. The Conference of INGOs adopted a Resolution urging Council of Europe bodies to monitor the ongoing situation and offered to be the platform to promote dialogue and civil society involvement to help resolve the crisis in Ukraine.
Human Rights and religions:
Recognising that violence is infecting community life, and certain religious groups are contributing to the problems even though the religions themselves promote peace, the Conference of INGOs proposed avenues of approach and action for members and leaders of religions and made as well an appeal to “all European NGOs and each and every citizen of Europe, whatever their family background, whatever organisation they belong to and whatever their status, beliefs, professional or other responsibilities” to be guided by the five key principles, namely
1) freedom of conscience,
3) mutual autonomy and separation of the state and religious institutions,
4) state neutrality in relation to religions and belief systems,
5) education in intercultural dialogue, with due regard for its religious and philosophical dimension.
CINGO meeting 29/01
The Christian INGOs have formed a small, informal network that meets one evening during the Strasbourg sessions and otherwise keep in touch on the net.
The theme of this meeting was “La réciprocité” (Reciprocity) which is an important theme in regard to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue. It is a concept that deals with spiritual rather than political aspects of human interaction – where people recognize “the other” not as part of a labelled entity, but as a person like themselves. As Christians we are obliged to treat each and everyone as human beings. Instead of asking: “If we are not for ourselves, then who is?”, we should say: “If we are for ourselves, then who are we?”