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summer session report, june 2016

REPORT FROM KARMELA BÉLINKI, ICJW DELEGATE TO THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE in STRASBOURG.

The summer session had two new features. One was the breaking of the news on Brexit, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the second was a new approach to the work of the NGOs of the COE.

There was a general feeling of shock and sadness, particularly among the Brits, but also concerning the future of Europe and the world. As Britain will lose its place in the hierarchy of the EU, the importance of the Council of Europe will increase as the remaining forum of direct ties to debate and decision making. Although the COE is not a decision making institution and does not deal with finances, there are already signs of its recommendations being regarded with more seriousness than before. And after all, what is not included in human rights? There is thus all the more reason for our organization to be part and parcel of it. International affairs are the core of the ICJW and international representation is what makes ICJW known all over the world in wider circles.

The second interesting feature was the changing working methods of the NGO body, due to new winds in its leadership. Anna Rurka, President of the NGO Council, with Anne-Marie Chavanon, Chairwoman of the Committee for Democracy, Social Cohesion and Global Challenges, had worked out a totally new concept and new, more modern working methods for the Committees. Instead of pouring out reports on working groups with sub-themes, two of the three Committees had sessions with a larger perspective and experts. A whole day was dedicated to ageing and health, which provided a compendium for further information, although nothing really revolutionary was expressed. 

The Education Committee had social inclusion through education as its theme with interesting speakers from i.a. Andorra. This wee country squeezed between France and Spain in the Pyrenees with 80 000 inhabitants and Catalan as its national language, has become the paramount country for tolerance and multiculturalism particularly in education. Thus four languages are taught in all schools. Well, tolerance and multi-cultural dialogue might just be easier in a country with 80 000 inhabitants than in one with 80 million…

The Human Rights Committee issued a declaration with the main emphasis on human rights defenders in Transnistria, a breakaway region in eastern Moldavia, one of many such regions in the aftermaths of the collapse of the communist regime in Eastern Europe.
Even the NGO Council had managed a morning session on the treatment of migrants, refugees and NGOs defending their rights. The most interesting input came from NGOs working in Greece and the revelation of conflicts between refugees receiving help and the residents in the very poor villages hosting them without any help.

Concerning Israel there were some positive events, very rare in tone. One was a project in Israeli hospitals with hospitalized children receiving individual education. There was an exhibition in the lobby of the Parliamentary Assembly.

Another positive exhibition will be shown in July in the same place with WIZO as its organizer, called the Olive Tree, about how Jews and Arabs in Afula in Israel have found common ground in artistic work around the theme of the olive tree.

Another interesting side event was Women and Religion, a panel with only men representing the main religions. The Jewish representative was a rabbi from Strasbourg with unexpectedly modern views on women. Cautiously he only referred to examples from the Tanach as models. The Muslim imam obviously belonged to the more moderate ones. All Christian representatives were more or less evasive, the Catholic and the Orthodox in particular. The Buddhists were represented by nuns with extensive knowledge and understanding.

It was a busy and inspiring working week in Strasbourg. It is to be hoped that this new trend will continue.