Priorities of the Georgian Presidency of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe

Georgia has selected four priorities for its Presidency: 1. Human Rights and Environmental Protection; 2. Civil Participation in Decision-Making; 3. Child Friendly Justice – Converging Experience on Restorative Justice in Europe; 4. Strengthening Democracy through Education, Culture and Youth Engagement.

1. Human Rights and Environmental Protection

The Georgian Presidency wishes to promote the interrelationship between human rights and environmental protection. It will work to promote awareness raising on the human rights implications of environmental problems, as well as the environmental implications of human rights problems. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) does not mention the environment and it is not specifically designed to provide general protection of the environment as such. However, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has interpreted the provisions of the ECHR in the context of environmental issues, in particular to protect individuals against the consequences of environmental harm. No less pertinently, the ECHR protects fundamental rights that are essential to effective protection of the environment. Legal protection from environmental harm is firmly tied to fundamental rights such as the right to life, the right to respect for private life and family life and the right to respect for one’s home.

The Georgian Presidency believes that the ECHR is an efficient instrument to be used more extensively by national authorities in member States as a tool for the protection of individuals and communities against environmental harm.

The Georgian Presidency also aims to strengthen environmental protection work in the Council of Europe through the existing programmes and treaties (e.g. the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats, the European Landscape Convention, etc.) in order to secure better human rights protection standards in member States. Since environmental degradation in our contemporary world can affect human rights negatively, the Council of Europe could be encouraged to further strengthen its work in the field of environmental protection in member States. The Georgian Presidency believes that securing more detailed standards of environmental protection in member States is one of the means for securing better protection of human rights under the ECHR, as well as for contributing to the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world.

This initiative will emphasise the added value of the Council of Europe by capitalising on its existing and unique mechanisms and conventions for the benefit of our citizens and quality of life.

The Georgian Presidency will hold an International High-Level Conference on Environmental Protection and Human Rights on 27 February 2020 in Strasbourg. It will also support the organisation by the European Court of Human Rights of an International Conference on Human Rights and Environmental Protection “Human Rights for the Planet” to be held in Strasbourg on 9 April 2020 [at the European Court of Human Rights].

2. Civil Participation in Decision-Making Process

Our representative democracies are increasingly confronted by new challenges: the decorrelation between citizens’ preferences and decisions taken by public authorities has been growing while electoral turnout has been decreasing and trust in public authorities is at an historic low. Populism and the appearance of large, grassroots movements and protests would tend to confirm a trend of disaffection for the governors by the governed.

The Georgian Presidency considers that increasing the level of input from civil society and from citizens to guide public decisions can be one way of combating these negative trends. This does not mean that representative democracy should be replaced, but simply complemented by more participatory democracy. Continued civil society and citizens’ engagement between elections is fundamental for the functioning of a truly democratic society and opens a society-wide dialogue on critical issues.

Civil participation, by citizens directly and through their NGOs, is not only the direct result of the rights enshrined in Articles 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of expression, assembly and association), but also a common value of European states and a way of governing which can better involve all stakeholders.

Georgia will highlight and promote the unique work of the Council of Europe, namely through some specific legal instruments: Additional Protocol to the European Charter of Local Self-Government on the right to participate in the affairs of a local authority (CETS No. 207); Guidelines for civil participation in political decision-making (adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 27 September 2017); Recommendation CM/Rec(2018)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the participation of citizens in local public life as well as the Revised Code of Good Practice for Civil Participation adopted by the Conference of INGOs in October 2019.

The Georgian Presidency will organise an international conference on civil participation in the decision-making process to identify useful and innovative experiences of successful engagement of civil society at local, regional and national level. The Conference will take place in Strasbourg on 6 March 2020 and will also mark the World NGO Day (28 February).

3. Child Friendly Justice – Converging Experience on Restorative Justice in Europe

Creation of a child-friendly justice system rooted into the principle of the best interest of children and their well-being is a top priority for the Government of Georgia as set out in the Human Rights Strategy of Georgia (2014-2020). It is being built and structured around the concept of “child-friendly justice” - a core element of the Council of Europe guidelines on child-friendly justice, referring to justice systems that are accessible, age appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child, respecting the rights of the child, including the rights to due process.  In the same context, the reform of the juvenile justice system in Georgia has restorative justice as one of its pillars laying a foundation for mediation, diversion, rehabilitation and resocialisation of juveniles in conflict with the law.

To achieve these objectives, in 2015 the Government of Georgia elaborated a Juvenile Justice Code, a milestone in developing and further consolidating a juvenile justice aspect of the human rights culture in Georgia.

Therefore, Georgia will hold a round table on Child Friendly Justice – Converging Experience on Restorative Justice in Europe, on 23 March in Strasbourg for Council of Europe member States with two main objectives.

Firstly, the conference will promote Council of Europe standards on child-friendly justice systems enshrined in different strategic documents of the Organisation. The Council of Europe’s Strategy for the Rights of the Child (2016-2021) highlights that member States will be supported in implementing the Council of Europe guidelines on child-friendly justice in terms of strengthening access to, treatment in and participation of children in civil, administrative and criminal justice proceedings.

Secondly, the conference will focus on sharing Georgia’s experience and achievements in the implementation of the Council of Europe guidelines on child-friendly justice as embodied in the Juvenile Justice Code of Georgia.

In the same spirit, the conference will support and encourage member States to discuss and review national experiences of national juvenile justice systems in the light of European and international standards for human rights protection of the child, to identify existing challenges and design more child-friendly policy solutions.

4. Strengthening Democracy through Education, Culture and Youth Engagement

The Georgian Presidency wishes to promote one of the core values of the Council of Europe – democracy – through education, culture and youth engagement, as they are closely interrelated and mutually supportive.

The Presidency shall continue supporting measures that contribute to building democratic and inclusive societies through the development of a culture of democracy, by promoting education for democratic citizenship, human rights education and youth participation as well as by engaging with young people in civil society as fundamental partners in the consolidation of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Education prepares learners for lifelong active democratic citizenship by providing them with the necessary competences (values, attitudes, skills, knowledge and critical understanding), thereby enabling democratic institutions and societies to function properly.

The Georgian Presidency shall promote quality and inclusive education that is free from discrimination, and provides a safe and secure learning environment, in which the rights of all are respected in line with the well-established case-law of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and as outlined in Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)7 on the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education as well as Recommendation CM/Rec(2012)13 on ensuring quality education. 
The Presidency of Georgia shall intensify the coordinating efforts of the Council of Europe towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly through contributing to SDG 4 Education, focusing its work on competences for democratic culture and language education.

In this effort, the Georgian Presidency shall promote the work of the Education Policy Advisers Network (EPAN), and will thus encourage integration of the Reference Framework of Competences for Democratic Culture (RFCDC) in the education systems of States Parties to the European Cultural Convention. This will go hand in hand with the implementation of the Council of Europe Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education, with a particular view to further strengthening the quality of education in this area.

Against this background, a meeting of the Education Policy Advisors’ Network (EPAN) entitled “Education for Democracy: Developing Practice for Democracy in Europe through Education” will be organised in Strasbourg on 7 April 2020 with the support of the Council of Europe.

The Presidency shall promote and contribute to the work of ongoing Joint Initiatives (ENIC-NARIC Networks) and Joint EU-CoE programmes running in the area of higher education contributing to the implementation of Lisbon Recognition Convention, where the Council of Europe is a partner organisation.  These activities aim, firstly to develop higher education and qualification standards in the Council of Europe non-European Union member States and assist with the implementation of the Bologna Process which aims at increasing compatibility between education systems and, secondly, to reinforce the democratic mission of higher education and strengthen integrity and combat corruption in higher education, based on the Council of Europe standards and practices.

The Presidency of Georgia shall support the Council of Europe’s efforts to promote cultural participation and the democratisation of culture, contribute to streamlining the cultural policies of the Council of Europe’s member States. The Presidency acknowledges the significance of culture and its relevance to consolidating democracy, and believes that culture genuinely wields a transformative power, capable of bringing social change and strengthening social cohesion.

In this context, the Georgian Presidency shall support existing programmes and mechanisms in the area of culture and heritage, including the Cultural Routes, the Faro Convention and Strategy 21 to the Intercultural Cities Programmes. The Presidency shall remain committed to celebrating the European Heritage Days, by supporting the organisation of different cultural events across Council of Europe member States.

The Presidency of Georgia shall support the Council of Europe youth sector and its interdependent and coherent instruments which allow for a maximum impact of the Youth for Democracy programme in shaping democracy - and human rights - spirited young Europeans. In particular, the Presidency shall promote the development of quality youth work practices in member States given their important role in supporting young people to realise their full potential as autonomous members of society. Youth work also provides crucial contribution to active citizenship by providing opportunities to acquire the knowledge, skills and attitudes for civic engagement and social action, as outlined in Recommendation CM/Rec(2017)4 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on youth work.

In conformity with the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on the legacy of the No Hate Speech Movement youth campaign, the Presidency of Georgia shall continue to support the efforts already made to respond to the prejudices and fears underlying such malevolent behaviour and the mobilisation of young people to speak up for human rights and democracy online.

With a view to strengthening democracy through youth work and youth engagement, the Presidency of Georgia will support the next generation of longer-term priorities and activities of the Council of Europe youth sector in the context of its new ten-year strategy.