Council of Europe (CoE) - European Human Rights Court - founding fathers (1949)

Council of Europe (CoE) - European Human Rights Court - founding fathers (1949)
French National Assembly head Edouard Herriot and British Foreign minister Ernest Bevin surrounded by Italian, Luxembourg and other delegates at the first meeting of Council of Europe's Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg, August 1949 (AFP Photo)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)

EU founding fathers signed 'blank' Treaty of Rome (1957)
The Treaty of Rome was signed in the Palazzo dei Conservatori, one of the Renaissance palaces that line the Michelangelo-designed Capitoline Square in the Italian capital

Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'

Shuttered: EU ditches summit 'family photo'
EU leaders pose for a family photo during the European Summit at the EU headquarters in Brussels on June 28, 2016 (AFP Photo/JOHN THYS)

Merkel says fall of Wall proves 'dreams can come true'

“ … Here is another one. A change in what Human nature will allow for government. "Careful, Kryon, don't talk about politics. You'll get in trouble." I won't get in trouble. I'm going to tell you to watch for leadership that cares about you. "You mean politics is going to change?" It already has. It's beginning. Watch for it. You're going to see a total phase-out of old energy dictatorships eventually. The potential is that you're going to see that before 2013. They're going to fall over, you know, because the energy of the population will not sustain an old energy leader ..."
"Update on Current Events" – Jul 23, 2011 (Kryon channelled by Lee Carroll) - (Subjects: The Humanization of God, Gaia, Shift of Human Consciousness, 2012, Benevolent Design, Financial Institutes (Recession, System to Change ...), Water Cycle (Heat up, Mini Ice Ace, Oceans, Fish, Earthquakes ..), Nuclear Power Revealed, Geothermal Power, Hydro Power, Drinking Water from Seawater, No need for Oil as Much, Middle East in Peace, Persia/Iran Uprising, Muhammad, Israel, DNA, Two Dictators to fall soon, Africa, China, (Old) Souls, Species to go, Whales to Humans, Global Unity,..... etc.)
(Subjects: Who/What is Kryon ?, Egypt Uprising, Iran/Persia Uprising, Peace in Middle East without Israel actively involved, Muhammad, "Conceptual" Youth Revolution, "Conceptual" Managed Business, Internet, Social Media, News Media, Google, Bankers, Global Unity,..... etc.)

"The Recalibration of Awareness – Apr 20/21, 2012 (Kryon channeled by Lee Carroll) (Subjects: Old Energy, Recalibration Lectures, God / Creator, Religions/Spiritual systems (Catholic Church, Priests/Nun’s, Worship, John Paul Pope, Women in the Church otherwise church will go, Current Pope won’t do it), Middle East, Jews, Governments will change (Internet, Media, Democracies, Dictators, North Korea, Nations voted at once), Integrity (Businesses, Tobacco Companies, Bankers/ Financial Institutes, Pharmaceutical company to collapse), Illuminati (Started in Greece, with Shipping, Financial markets, Stock markets, Pharmaceutical money (fund to build Africa, to develop)), Shift of Human Consciousness, (Old) Souls, Women, Masters to/already come back, Global Unity.... etc.) - (Text version)

… The Shift in Human Nature

You're starting to see integrity change. Awareness recalibrates integrity, and the Human Being who would sit there and take advantage of another Human Being in an old energy would never do it in a new energy. The reason? It will become intuitive, so this is a shift in Human Nature as well, for in the past you have assumed that people take advantage of people first and integrity comes later. That's just ordinary Human nature.

In the past, Human nature expressed within governments worked like this: If you were stronger than the other one, you simply conquered them. If you were strong, it was an invitation to conquer. If you were weak, it was an invitation to be conquered. No one even thought about it. It was the way of things. The bigger you could have your armies, the better they would do when you sent them out to conquer. That's not how you think today. Did you notice?

Any country that thinks this way today will not survive, for humanity has discovered that the world goes far better by putting things together instead of tearing them apart. The new energy puts the weak and strong together in ways that make sense and that have integrity. Take a look at what happened to some of the businesses in this great land (USA). Up to 30 years ago, when you started realizing some of them didn't have integrity, you eliminated them. What happened to the tobacco companies when you realized they were knowingly addicting your children? Today, they still sell their products to less-aware countries, but that will also change.

What did you do a few years ago when you realized that your bankers were actually selling you homes that they knew you couldn't pay for later? They were walking away, smiling greedily, not thinking about the heartbreak that was to follow when a life's dream would be lost. Dear American, you are in a recession. However, this is like when you prune a tree and cut back the branches. When the tree grows back, you've got control and the branches will grow bigger and stronger than they were before, without the greed factor. Then, if you don't like the way it grows back, you'll prune it again! I tell you this because awareness is now in control of big money. It's right before your eyes, what you're doing. But fear often rules. …

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Swiss vote to tighten gun laws, safeguard EU relations

Yahoo – AFP, Nina LARSON, May 19, 2019

Final results showed that Swiss voters overwhelmingly supported reforming their gun
laws, with 63.7 percent casting their ballot in favour (AFP Photo/STEFAN WERMUTH)

Geneva (AFP) - The Swiss voted Sunday to toughen their gun laws and bring them in line with EU legislation, heeding warnings that rejecting the change could have threatened relations with the bloc.

Final results showed that voters overwhelmingly supported reforming Swiss gun laws, with a full 63.7 percent casting their ballot in favour.

A majority of voters in all but one of Switzerland's 26 cantons backed the reform, with the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland the only outlier.

A demand from the neighbouring European Union that the Swiss toughen their gun laws prompted a rare national debate over firearm ownership in the wealthy Alpine nation, which has a deeply-rooted gun culture.

While the government cautioned that the new legislation was crucial to the non-EU country maintaining its treaties with the bloc, the proposal sparked a fierce pushback from the gun lobby and shooting enthusiasts, who gathered enough signatures to trigger a vote under Switzerland's famous direct democratic system.

Brussels changed its own weapons laws two years ago following a wave of deadly terrorist attacks across Europe, slapping bans on certain types of semi-automatic firearms.

While not an EU member, Switzerland is bound to the bloc through an array of intricately connected bilateral agreements.

Bern had cautioned that a "No" vote would lead to Switzerland's exclusion from the visa-free Schengen travel region and also the Dublin accords regulating Europe's asylum-seeking process.

Shooting enthusiasts have gathered enough support to trigger a vote on
new gun laws under Switzerland's famous direct democratic system
(AFP Photo/Fabrice COFFRINI)

This would have far-reaching consequences for security, asylum and even tourism, and would cost the country "several billion Swiss francs each year," it said.

Liberties 'eroded'

The shooting enthusiasts behind Sunday's referendum had insisted the government warnings were "exaggerated".

The campaign charged that law change amounts to an "EU dictate" that reins in Swiss sovereignty and would "erase the right to own weapons" in Switzerland.

The ProTell gun lobby voiced concern at the consequences of Sunday's referendum, in which some 43 percent of eligible voters participated.

"Today, our liberties have been eroded," ProTell President Jean-Luc Addor told RTS, also insisting that the reform would "obviously not avoid a single terrorist attack".

The populist, rightwing Swiss People's Party (SVP) -- the only party to oppose the reform -- meanwhile cautioned that bowing to an "EU dictate" would have consequences.

"We acknowledge that there is a certain need to remain within Schengen and Dublin, but we cannot accept just anything to do so," SVP vice president Celine Amaudru told the ATS news agency, cautioning that the EU going forward "will be able to dictate what it wants" by playing to Swiss fears of being left out.

It is difficult to know exactly how many firearms are in circulation in Switzerland, since guns are registered regionally and there is no national registry.

The strong gun culture in Switzerland is partially tied to its tradition of national defence 
service, as most Swiss men undergo obligatory military service (AFP Photo/STEFAN 

'Exceptional authorisation'

But according to a 2017 report by the Small Arms Survey, the country boasts the world's 16th highest rate of gun ownership, with some 2.3 million firearms in civilian hands -- nearly three for every 10 inhabitants.

The strong gun culture in Switzerland is partially tied to its tradition of national defence service, as most Swiss men undergo obligatory military service between the ages of 18 and 30. They are allowed to keep their assigned weapon when they are done.

Under the new gun law, which has already been approved by legislators, semi-automatic weapons with high-capacity magazines will be listed as "banned".

Collectors and sports shooters could still purchase such weapons, but would need to jump through more hoops to obtain an "exceptional authorisation".

Another issue put to a national referendum Sunday -- a government proposal to overhaul the country's corporate tax system and pump more cash into its pension system -- also won overwhelming support.

A full 66.4 percent of voters, and all 26 cantons, supported that reform, according to the final results.

Netherlands mulls host city for Eurovision 2020

France24 – AFP, 19 May 2019

Netherlands' Duncan Laurence beat 25 other Eurovision finalists with his stirring
power ballad "Arcade" (AFP)

The Hague (AFP) - Several Dutch cities threw their hat in the ring Sunday to host Eurovision 2020 after the Netherlands won this year's glitzy song contest with a stirring power ballad about heartache.

Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Maastricht have all volunteered to organise the famously kitsch event, which draws millions of viewers with its extravagant performances and over-the-top stage sets.

Bookies' favourite Duncan Laurence handed his home country its first victory in 44 years when he beat 25 other finalists at the latest edition held in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

The 25-year-old, who came out as bisexual in 2016 and has used his new high profile to advocate more tolerance, wooed audiences with his ballad "Arcade" about a romantic breakup.

Italy finished second and Russia third in the results that combined votes from juries from participating countries as well as viewers at home.

'Proud' monarchs

"We are proud of Duncan Lawrence who has conquered Europe with musical class... and is bringing Eurovision home next year," Dutch King Willem-Alexander and his wife Queen Maxima said in a tweet shortly after the winner was announced.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte joined the chorus of praise, hailing the performance as "sublime and powerful".

Relatively unknown before being chosen to represent his country, Laurence was visibly moved by his success.

"My dream has come true, it really has come true," he told journalists following his victory -- the Netherlands' first since 1975.

More than 5.3 million Dutch viewers watched the live show, according to Dutch broadcaster Avrotros.

The largely European competition, which gifted the Swedish supergroup ABBA to the world, dates back to the 1950s.

Over the years, it has widened to include channels subscribing to the European Broadcasting Union, and now spreads as far as Australia.

While Eurovision organisers take care to note that the event is meant to be non-political, it is frequently punctured by some controversy.

The Tel Aviv edition was no exception. Two backup dancers for Madonna appeared on stage wearing Israeli and Palestinian flags on their backs.

Icelandic group Hatari meanwhile displayed scarfs with Palestinian flags when results were being announced.

Israel won the right to host the extravaganza thanks to last year's victory by Israeli singer Netta Barzilai, who opened the show on Saturday night.

Related Article:

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Humiliating exit for Austrian far-right's 'Mr Clean'

Yahoo – AFP, Jastinder KHERA, May 18, 2019

After years of efforts to clean up the image of Austria's far-right, Heinz-Christian
Strache (L) quit Saturday over what he termed a "stupid, irresponsible mistake"

Vienna (AFP) - Heinz-Christian Strache, the man who successfully steered Austria's far-right back into government after years in opposition, has himself been brought down by an explosive corruption scandal.

The 49-year-old was forced to quit Saturday after German media published hidden-camera footage -- of unknown provenance -- showing him meeting the purported niece of a Russian oligarch over a boozy dinner in a luxury villa on the resort island of Ibiza.

After years of efforts to clean up the image of his Freedom Party (FPOe), founded after World War II by former Nazis, Strache has now been disgraced by what he termed a "stupid, irresponsible mistake".

In the recordings, Strache is seen promising public contracts in return for campaign help and suggesting he could help bring about staff changes in Austria's largest-circulation tabloid, the Krone Zeitung, as well as the part-privatisation of public broadcaster ORF.

For many observers, the scene seemed to confirm the stereotypes of the party that Strache had worked so hard to bury: too ready to engage in dubious practices, too close to Russia, and contemptuous of the free media.

'Mature' figure

It almost certainly marks the humiliating end of a political career which had come a long way in the three decades since Strache was detained by German police at a torch-lit protest by a group aping the Hitler Youth.

When the former dental technician, brought up single-handedly by his mother in a lower-middle-class area of Vienna, took over the FPOe in 2005 aged 35, the movement was a mess.

Joerg Haider, its controversial but magnetic leader from 1986-2000, had broken off to form his own party, the movement torn apart by its last spell in government in the early 2000s.

But "HC", his striking blue eyes matching the party colours, restored its fortunes and in elections in 2017, the FPOe won 26 percent -- double the score of the Alternative for Germany a month earlier.

This gave Strache, cutting a mature figure in new glasses, a ticket to enter talks to form a coalition with Sebastian Kurz's conservative People's Party (OeVP).

When the FPOe last entered government in 2000 under Haider, there was uproar in Europe.

This time, the reaction was more muted, with Europe more inured to populists and the FPOe seen as having moderated.

Stream of controversy

Indeed, early in Strache's leadership, FPOe posters screamed "Daham statt Islam" ("Home not Islam") but over the years they became less shrill and more subtle.

In the 2017 campaign, the main messages were "fairness" -- an elastic term encompassing everything from lower taxes to scrapping benefits for immigrants -- and opposition to "Islamisation".

Strache also moved to clean up the party's image by suspending members for anti-Semitic behaviour.

However, since the party's entry into government, it has been dogged by a steady succession of controversies.

Strache himself was forced to apologise last year to one of ORF's most prominent newscasters, Armin Wolf, after sharing a Facebook post accusing the journalist of spreading "lies" and "fake news".

Other revelations pointed to extremist sympathies in the party's base, including links to the Identitarian Movement Austria.

The appointment of the FPOe's Herbert Kickl as interior minister also sparked fears among Austria's Western partners over whether information could be leaked to Moscow.

Observers say the manner in which Strache has been brought down will raise questions over the FPOe's future and to what extent his efforts to detoxify the party have been permanently damaged.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

EU fines five major banks 1 bn euros for currency collusion

Yahoo – AFP, May 16, 2019

.With collusion between traders, clients may not have gotten the best rates (AFP
Photo/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

Brussels (AFP) - The EU's powerful anti-trust authority on Thursday fined five major banks -- including Barclays and Citigroup -- more than a billion euros for collusion in the massive foreign exchange currency market.

The European Commission sanctioned Barclays, the Royal Bank of Scotland, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Japan's MUFG Bank a total of 1.07 billion euros ($1.2 billion) after finding that traders colluded to fix exchange rates using electronic chat rooms, a statement said.

The commission said Swiss giant UBS received no fine as it revealed the collusion to the authorities.

"These cartel decisions send a clear message that the commission will not tolerate collusive behaviour in any sector of the financial markets," said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

"The behaviour of these banks undermined the integrity of the sector at the expense of the European economy and consumers," she added.

The decision involves two cases of forex manipulation, with the first known as "Essex Express 'n the Jimmy" because all the traders (except Jimmy) lived in the county to the east of London, the commission said.

The other one was called "Three-way banana split", though the EU's executive arm did not explain why.

"Some of the traders created the chat rooms and then invited one another to join, based on their trading activities and personal affinities, creating closed circles of trust," the commission explained.

The collusion took place between 2007 and 2013, roughly the years of the financial crisis and has been sanctioned by other authorities, including the US.

Except Japan's MUFG, the banks cooperated with the commission and in return received lighter fines than the EU's maximum amount.

"We are pleased to resolve this historical matter, which relates to the conduct of one former employee. We have since made significant control improvements," said a spokesperson for JPMorgan.

Several of the banks, including Barclays, had already provisioned for the fines in earlier filings.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dutch court won’t send back British drugs trafficker, citing prison conditions

DutchNews, May 10, 2019


Dutch judges have refused to extradite a British drugs smuggler to the UK because of their concerns about the state of a British jail. 

The man, who had been living in Spain, was the subject of a European arrest warrant issued in Liverpool in 2017 on charges of trafficking heroin and cocaine, and was picked up in the Netherlands. 

The court in Amsterdam said in its ruling it would suspend the extradition pending further information about the prison in Liverpool, which, according to a 2017 report, had some of the ‘most disturbing conditions’ ever seen by prison inspectors. 

This, the court said, led to its decision to suspend the extradition because there is a ‘real risk’ the man would be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment if returned to the UK. 

The British prisons ministry said in a statement to the court: ‘We do not accept that conditions anywhere in our prisons amount to inhuman or degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 ECHR.’ 

In addition, the statement said that major improvements had been made to conditions at the prison, and two others cited in the report in Bedford and Birmingham. 

In 2017, a Dutch court has refused to extradite eight suspects facing drugs charges in Belgium to the Belgian authorities, saying it needed more information about prison conditions there. 

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture said a month before the case was heard that conditions in Belgium’s prisons were the worst it had seen in Europe, particularly in terms of overcrowding.

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Pope changes Church law to make reporting sex abuse obligatory

Yahoo – AFP, Ella IDE, 9 May 2019

Pope Francis has been forced to respond to a global scandal over paedophilia in the church

Pope Francis on Thursday passed a landmark new measure to oblige those who know about sex abuse in the Catholic Church to report it to their superiors, in a move which could bring countless new cases to light.

Every diocese in the world will now be obliged to have a system for the reporting of abuse, under a new law published by the Vatican following a global clerical paedophilia scandal.

But the requirement will not apply to secrets revealed to priests in the confessional.

It is time to learn from the "bitter lessons of the past", Francis said in the text of the legal decree, which comes into effect on June 1.

It follows a series of clerical assault cases in countries ranging from Australia to Chile, Germany and the US.

The "Motu Proprio", a legal document issued under the pope's personal authority, declares that anyone who has knowledge of abuse, or suspects it, is "obliged to report (it) promptly" to the Church, using "easily accessible systems".

Under the new measure, every diocese around the world is obliged by June 2020 to create a system for the reporting of sexual abuse by clerics, the use of child pornography and cover-ups of abuse.

The law could see the Vatican inundated with reports of abuse or cover-ups, as it applies retroactively, meaning those who know about old cases are obliged to flag them up as well.

'Bring predators to justice'

The impact "likely will be felt most intensely outside the West, since places such as the US, Canada and some parts of Western Europe (though, ironically, not the pope's backyard in Italy), already have fairly robust reporting systems," said Vatican expert John Allen, on the online religious newspaper Crux Now.

The law only applies within the Church and has no force to oblige individuals to report abuse to civil authorities.

"The Motu Proprio shows Pope Francis expects swift and comprehensive progress," commented Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, head of the Bishops' Conference in the United States, where thousands have people have reported abuse.

It will "empower the Church everywhere to bring predators to justice, no matter what rank they hold," he said.

The US-based Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said "mandated reporting is a good thing" but added in a statement that "we would have been far more impressed if this new law required church officials to report to police and prosecutors".

The document focuses particularly on the sexual or psychological abuse of children and vulnerable adults, but also targets sexual abuse and violence resulting from an abuse of authority -- such as the exploitation of nuns by priests.

Pope Francis admitting publicly in February that priests have used nuns as "sexual slaves" -- and may still be doing so.

'Exhaustive in scope'

"The new norms... are exhaustive in scope, applying in some way to every ordained or vowed member of the 1.3 billion-person church," Vatican watcher Joshua McElwee wrote in the National Catholic Reporter.

That raises the question as to how realistic it is for the Vatican to promise a response to reports within 30 days, particularly considering there are scores of cases currently backlogged, Allen said.

Victims' groups have long called for Francis to put in place concrete measures to tackle clerical child abuse, but they want more, including the immediate dismissal of any cleric found guilty of even a single act of abuse, or of covering it up.

They also want all abusers or suspected abusers to be reported to police, and any abuse-related files handed over to them.

Some have called for priests who hear of abuse during confessions to be forced to report it. The new law stops short of that.

Catholics believe that within the confessional the penitent is talking to God, and everything in the confession is secret. A priest who reveals such secrets is automatically expelled from the Church.

Pope Francis has been forced to respond to a global scandal over paedophilia in the church.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Royal baby announcement breaks with tradition

Yahoo – AFP, Dario THUBURN, May 6, 2019

In a modern twist, the royal birth was also announced on Instagram, from
the royal couple's official account (AFP Photo/HO)

London (AFP) - Tradition-defying royal couple Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, broke with custom yet again on Monday with the announcement of the birth of their first child.

News of the birth was released on Instagram -- a first in royal history -- in a post on their @sussexroyal account with the couple's crest and the simple phrase: "It's a BOY!"

The post received more than 750,000 likes in under an hour.

The account was only launched in April, breaking a world record by reaching a million followers in under six hours.

Harry has battled to protect his privacy for years.

The 34-year-old's relationship with the media has been fraught ever since the death of his mother Diana in a car crash in Paris 1997 while being chased by paparazzi.

The couple had made it clear last month that they wanted the birth kept private -- in contrast to Harry's brother Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

Their three children were all delivered in the private wing of St Mary's Hospital in London and shown off to the world's media and royal fans a short time later.

Instead, the new baby will only be seen later this week to a media pool that will share the images worldwide.

Wish to 'celebrate privately'

"Their Royal Highnesses have taken a personal decision to keep the plans around the arrival of their baby private," Buckingham Palace said in a statement in April.

"The Duke and Duchess look forward to sharing the exciting news with everyone once they have had an opportunity to celebrate privately as a new family," it said.

The circumstances of Monday's announcement demonstrated the couple's wish to retain their privacy as much as possible.

Royal officials announced on Monday afternoon that Meghan had gone into labour in the early hours of that morning.

Only half an hour later, a royal statement announced that Meghan had in fact given birth at 5:26am (0426 GMT).

George and Sir John

The announcement was followed up by a video statement by a beaming Harry, standing in front of a stable in Windsor -- a town outside London where the couple now live on the grounds of its famous castle.

The names of two black horses behind him were clearly visible -- George and Sir John, prompting some media to speculate the child's name might be John, who would be cousin to William and Kate's first son George.

"This little thing is absolutely to die for. So I am just over the moon," Harry said, calling the birth "the most amazing experience I can ever possibly imagine".

Harry said the announcement of the name was the "next bit".

"I think we will be seeing you guys in probably two days' time as planned as a family to be able to share it with you guys and so everyone can see the baby," he said.

Neither Harry nor royal officials specified where the birth took place -- at their residence at Frogmore Cottage or in a nearby hospital.

Some British media earlier reported that the couple wanted a home birth, which would re-connect with older tradition.

Queen Elizabeth had all four of her children, including Harry's father Prince Charles, in a royal palace.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Council of Europe turns 70 amid Russia crisis

Yahoo – AFP, Marie JULIEN, May 5, 2019

Open day to mark the Council of Europe's 70th anniversary (AFP Photo/

Strasbourg (France) (AFP) - The Council of Europe, a pan-continental rights watchdog, on Sunday marked its 70th anniversary at a time of mounting populism and a standoff with Russia as well as doubts over its own role in the modern world.

"I didn't know about it at all, this is really completely new to me," admitted Zeinila, an 18-year-old student who was visiting the building hosting the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, in northeastern France, during an open day to mark its anniversary.

The 70-year-old body suffers from being often confused with the European Union Council. But its 47-nation membership stretches far beyond the EU's reaches to include the likes of Russia, Turkey, Switzerland, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Britain's World War II leader Winston Churchill was the first to suggest the creation the creation of such a body back in 1942, at the height of the war, when he expressed the hope that "the European family may act unitedly as one under a Council of Europe".

The rights body was created through the treaty of London in May 1949. There were 10 initial signatories; Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom,

Their stated mission was to defend human rights, democracy and the rule of law, through international conventions and treaties.

"The main success is that Europe today (the 47 member states) is a totally death penalty-free zone," Council of Europe Secretary General, Norwegian Thorbjorn Jagland told AFP.

"If a member state wants to introduce the death penalty, it would have to leave immediately CoE within the session. These three articles -- no death penalty, no torture, no forced labour -- have in a way constituted the new civilised Europe," he added.

Man of Peace: Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland meeting
Pope Francis at the Vatican in January (AFP Photo/Handout)

Human rights court

Perhaps better known than the council itself is its judical arm, the European Human Rights Court, which is itself celebrating its 60th birthday.

It is a tribunal of final resort for those who feel their fundamental rights are being denied by a member state.

Strasbourg -- a French city close to the German border -- was originally chosen to house the Council of Europe as a symbol of post-war Franco-German reconciliation.

Germany joined the council in 1950, a year after it was created.

From the Thirty Years War that began the 17th century to the mass destruction of the Second World War, the Alsatian city had been the focus of conflict and division.

Now it is home to an organisation striving to bring harmony, safeguard the rule of law and to protect human rights.

The rights court was also set up in Strasbourg.

"We have in a way constituted the new civilised Europe after World War II" with the European Convention on Human RIghts (ECHR) going "much further than the universal declaration of human rights," said Jagland.

On Monday he will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, before France assumes the council's rotating presidency in Mid-May.

French National Assembly head Edouard Herriot and British Foreign minister Ernest 
Bevin surrounded by Italian, Luxembourg and other delegates at the first meeting of 
Council of Europe's Consultative Assembly in Strasbourg, August 1949 (AFP Photo)

June, a crucial month

The host nation picks up the baton at a difficult time for the European Council.

For years it has been in dispute with member Russia, which could reach the point of no return in June, notably with the election of Jagland's successor.

After Moscow's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, the council's Parliamentary Assembly deprived the Russian delegation of its voting and other rights.

In retaliation, Russia suspended its annual 33-million-euro ($37-million) payment to the Strasbourg-based council -- about seven percent of the body's total budget -- and has not participated in sessions of the council's Parliamentary Assembly.

The assembly brings together 324 men and women from the parliaments of the Council of Europe's 47 member states.

Moscow is threatening to quit altogether if its rights within the Council of Europe are not restored in time for it to participate in the election of the new secretary general.

"The immediate consequence will be that we will get a new dividing line in Europe with most of European population living on one side and they have the right to go to the European court," Jagland told AFP.

The "Ruxit" scenario -- a Russian exit of the Council -- remains a possibility. But the secretary general expressed optimism, speaking of "very good discussions" which give him hope of emerging from the crisis and into the next 70 years.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Secretive 'hero' blogger rips into Kremlin, one click at a time

Yahoo – AFP, Anna SMOLCHENKO, May 4, 2019

Alexander Gorbunov, the man behind the StalinGulag blog, has emerged as one
 of President Vladimir Putin's sharpest critics (AFP Photo/Alexander NEMENOV)

Moscow (AFP) - He is wheelchair-bound and has limited use of his hands but Alexander Gorbunov, the author of hugely popular social media accounts in Russia, has emerged as one of President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics.

Diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy and using his right index finger to type, the 27-year-old author of StalinGulag skewers the "hypocrisy" of Putin's system and the everyday injustices ordinary Russians face.

Known for his dry wit and generous use of profanities, StalinGulag has built a near 1.5 million strong army of followers on Twitter and Telegram, with a total media outreach believed to include several million more.

For years the StalinGulag author's identity remained one of Russia's best-kept secrets but Gorbunov blew his cover after authorities began harrassing his 65-year-old mother and 80-year-old father last week.

Gorbunov, an intelligent, soft-spoken man with a goatee, said he and his wife have been on tenterhooks.

"They can easily arrest and put in prison anyone," Gorbunov told AFP in an interview, saying that even a short stint in jail could kill him.

"They don't care."

In an increasing crackdown on dissent, Putin in March signed laws that allow courts to fine and briefly jail people for showing disrespect towards the authorities and to block media for publishing "fake news".

Alexander Gorbunov, now known as a top Russian opposition blogger StalinGulag, 
has a sharp wit and no illusions about his illness and his own future (AFP Photo/
Alexander NEMENOV)

'Damn hero'

Gorbunov, who is a successful self-taught financial trader by day, dreads publicity but this week revealed his identity to BBC and later spoke to AFP after gun-toting police inspected his parents' home in the North Caucasus city of Makhachkala.

His relatives in Moscow have also been intimidated, he says.

"If the authorities are afraid of what I write they are worthless," he said.

Gorbunov's story has stunned Russia.

"This person is a damn hero," said screenwriter Andrew Ryvkin, while author Denis Bilunov called Gorbunov "the person of the year."

In a show of solidarity, Pavel Durov, the self-exiled founder of the Telegram messenger app, verified the StalinGulag account and offered his author help in moving abroad.

Gorbunov said he was heartened by the outpouring of support from Russians who have flooded him with offers of help and money. He has chalked up some 40,000 new followers over the past week.

The blogger insisted he was neither a hero nor an opposition activist. He said he merely puts in writing his thoughts on everything from Russia's foreign policy blunders to the excessive lifestyle of Putin's inner circle.

"What's happening in the country is terrible," Gorbunov said. "Injstice is what angers me the most."

In a 2018 post, he issued a dark warning to his readers.

"Really scary times are coming," he said, urging Russians to look out for each other. "This is the reality and not everyone will get out alive."

Gorbunov lives with his partner of seven years in a comfortable Moscow apartment, employs two drivers and a live-in aide and enjoys an active social life.

He does not want to reveal his income but says he forks out around 400,000 rubles ($6,145) every month just to cover his rent and pay his helpers.

Alexander Gorbunov, the man behind the StalinGulag blog, does not believe he 
will see a change of leadership in his lifetime (AFP Photo/Alexey NIKOLSKY)

He refuses to take any medication, saying his condition is incurable and he had no illusions about his future.

"I don't want to turn my life into a silly battle," he said. "It's a battle I am going to lose."

'Not an optimist'

A lawyer by training, he works more than 10 hours a day, sometimes waking up at night if the market moves. He writes posts for his StalinGulag accounts when the mood strikes him and he needs a short break from work.

He appears to take some of his inspiration from his favourite book, "Journey to the End of the Night" by French novelist Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

The 1932 World War I classic filled with profanities expresses disgust with the hypocrisy of society and laments the misery of human existence.

Gorbunov is fiercely protective of his wife who sometimes holds his hand as he speaks to AFP and helps him drink from a cup. They met seven years ago but refuse to reveal details about their relationship.

His story has generated huge media interest in Russia but Gorbunov hopes the buzz will soon subside. He wants to get on with his life, watch the last season of Game of Thrones and keep trading and writing his blogs.

He travels sometimes but has never been to Europe.

Not that he plans to leave Russia, even though life for people with disabilies here is a relentless daily struggle, saying he wants to be together with his loved ones.

For all his dark humour and keen intelligence, Gorbunov refuses to make any predictions about the future of the country -- or his own.

He has a feeling however that he will not see a change of leadership in his lifetime.

"I am not an optimist in this sense."

Friday, May 3, 2019

Main UK parties suffer Brexit battering in local elections

Yahoo – AFP, Robin MILLARD, May 3, 2019

The results of the local elections in England do not bode well for the two main
parties (AFP Photo/Paul ELLIS)

London (AFP) - Britain's two main parties suffered a drubbing Friday in English local elections, with Prime Minister Theresa May's governing Conservatives bearing the brunt of voter frustration over the prolonged Brexit deadlock.

May's Conservatives lost control of several local authorities and well over a thousand seats, performing far worse than even the gloomiest predictions.

But the main opposition Labour Party also lost ground, with voters instead turning to smaller parties and independents in Thursday's polls.

"There was a simple message from yesterday's elections to both us and the Labour Party: just get on and deliver Brexit," May said.

Britain's bitterly-divided MPs have been unable to agree on a divorce deal with the EU, with the two main parties in talks on breaking the impasse that have produced little fruit so far.

"This is a difficult time for our party and these election results are a symptom of that," May told the Welsh Conservative Conference, having faced down a heckler calling for her to quit.

Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservatives lost control of several local 
authorities (AFP Photo/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

The results raise the pressure on May and Labour counterpart Jeremy Corbyn to strike a deal and avoid having to hold European Parliament elections on May 23, where they face being wiped out by Nigel Farage's Brexit Party, which did not compete in Thursday's vote.

Corbyn said that he was "very sorry" for the party's losses, adding there was now "a huge impetus" for the talks to succeed.

May later said that her government and Labour were locked in "constructive talks".

After voting in June 2016 to leave the European Union, Britain was meant to depart on March 29 this year. However, its exit date has been postponed until October 31 due to the wrangling.

'Plague on both houses'

With a handful of results still to be declared, the Tories had lost over 1,200 seats, while Labour had lost 81.

Labour was expected to pick up seats as voters typically give the sitting government a kicking in such elections.

The main winners in local British elections were both pro-EU parties, the centrist 
Liberal Democrats and the left-wing Greens (AFP Photo/Paul ELLIS)

It will also be concerned about losing seats in its traditional heartlands, which voted heavily to leave the EU and which it would need to win in order to beat the Tories in a general election.

The party's Brexit position is described by some commentators as constructive ambiguity.

It is also losing support over the issue of anti-Semitism, which flared again this week when it emerged leader Corbyn had written the foreword to a book containing what the party called "offensive references".

If results were replicated nationwide, pollster John Curtice calculated that both the Conservatives and Labour would each get only 28 percent of the total vote, saying the days of two-party domination "may be over".

The centrist Liberal Democrats and left-wing Greens -- both anti-Brexit -- were the big winners, along with independent candidates.

Voters went to the polls in mainly rural and suburban areas of England, with more than 8,000 seats up for grabs.

Britain's MPs have been unable to agree on a divorce deal struck with 

All 11 local authorities in Northern Ireland were also contested among the province's own parties.

"The key message from the voters to the Conservatives and Labour is 'a plague on both of your houses'," Curtice told the BBC.

They lost votes most heavily in the wards where they were strongest, he noted.

'No confidence'

The council elections decide who sets local tax rates and runs community services but are often swayed by the national picture.

The Greens appear to have been boosted by the recent climate protests in London, which brought environmental issues to the front-pages.

Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable said voters "no longer have confidence in the Conservatives, but they are also refusing to reward Labour while the party prevaricates on the big issue of the day."

The problems for the two main parties could worsen at the European elections when they will also face two newly-formed forces: the Brexit Party -- which leads in the opinion polls -- and pro-EU centrists Change UK.

Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin told BBC radio that if the centre-right party "doesn't mend its ways pretty quickly, the Conservative Party is going to be toast".