Paper for participants of the CBSS NGO Forum in Lübeck 28-29 May 2001. - A documentation of this conference is not published up to now.


Thematic paper: Civil society


For a Baltic Sea region free of discrimination - Against social and political exclusion

By the Forum for Human Rights (Berlin)


One of the major fields of interest for NGOs in the Baltic sea Region is to discuss the issue of the participation of civil society in political and social life. NGOs in all countries around the Baltic sea face the same challenge of how a sound and structured participation and involvement of civil society into the political and social process may be achieved, even if there may be differences in the political surroundings and therefore different starting points and different routes to be travelled. The Baltic sea Region is offering a unique setting for the discussion of approaches on how to strengthen civil society and how to stimulate debate and participation on the national as well as the regional level. The participants of the Conference call on the member states of the Baltic baltic sea council to continue their support for participation of NGOs in the process of regional integration and to support initiatives aiming at deepening participation in the member states.

Participation is not only a matter of being involved in the political process, it also comprises social integration and the fight against social exclusion. The EU has declared the combat of social exclusion to be one of the issues on top of the political agenda in the coming years and it is therefore a major concern of NGOs not only to contribute to the European-wide discussion process on social exclusion, but also and foremost to embark themselves on measures which actively help to combat exclusion. Social exclusion can have many different faces in the states around the Baltic sea. However, unemployment is a major cause of poverty, which again is related to a lack of access to education or knowledge as well as to the lack of access to goods and services. Processes of social and political exclusion are mainly influenced be the individual political and social setting of the country concerned. However, there is a clear regional dimension to these questions. Growing economic and political interdependence in the Baltic sea Region can play a positive role in fighting political and social exclusion region-wide. The participants of the Conference call on the member states of the Baltic baltic sea council to make the realisation of all human rights - civil, political, economic, social and cultural - a top priority on their political agenda, in order to effectively combat political and social exclusion in the region.


Guaranteeing Minority Rights in the Region

All member states to the Baltic Baltic baltic sea council signed and partly ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (Council of Europe 1995). The States agree that it is not enough to only "respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity." The problem of the remarkable number of stateless persons, that arised with the process of the transformation of the former SU, has to be solved in some countries of the eastern see region to guarantee their civil rights and their social and political integration. We appeal to the member states of the Baltic baltic sea council to guarantee the effective participation of individuals belonging to minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.

Minorities live in all of the member states of the Baltic baltic sea council. The situation of these minorities differs significantly from state to state. There are political and historic reasons for these differences. The NGOs which participate at the NGO conference appeal to the State governments to actively realise the provisions of the Framework conventions for the Protection of National Minorities. The governments are asked to take concrete steps towards "encouraging a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote mutual respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and media." The administrative organs are asked to treat members of minorities with respect and without prejudice.


Protection of Human Rights - the Regional Dimension

World-wide people are fleeing their homes. In their countries of origin wars, political persecution or pogroms against minorities are taking place. They hope to escape from torture, rape, detention, and hunger. Others leave their home countries in expectation of a human survival in a foreign country.

Meanwhile, due to the national policies of the members of the European Union and the European planes to harmonise the asylum and refugee laws, the outer borders of the European Union have been shut down successfully. As a consequence, people seeking for security on their way to Western Europe are casted off the -Baltic sea-Region. The security institutions of the countries bordering the

Baltic sea deal with the refugee problem in the region only in the context of "organised criminality" and/or "illegal migration" (Baltic Baltic sea Task Force). The personal reasons of refugees escaping from their home countries are not considered. Instead of opening perspectives for refugees to seek asylum the police and authorities dealing with the protection of the borders in the transit and destination countries co-operate effectively by forcing refugees back, deporting and detaining them. The number of illegalised refugees in all of the countries bordering the Baltic baltic sea is growing continuously.

The participants of the conference call upon the countries of the Baltic Sea-Councils to guarantee a human reception of shelter-seekers in all countries bordering the Baltic sea; to support the migration of the refugees to their countries of destination and to follow consequently international agreements (such as the Geneva Convention of Refugees, the European Convention of Human Rights, the Convention against Torture and the Convention for the Rights of Children) when refugees enter a country and want to seek asylum. The NGOs which are active in the Baltic sea-Region will work together aiming on a more regular and fruitful exchange of information (Baltic sea-Network) to strengthen the space for freedom, right and security for refugees as well.

Trafficking in women is a growing and global phenomenon, a serious crime and a fundamental human rights violation. It involves such aspects as human rights protection, shelter and assistance for victims, fight against organised crime, prevention issues, migration policies and gender inequalities. Trafficking in women is a result of poverty and limited work opportunities, especially in states of the former socialist countries.

The member states of the Baltic sea council play an important role as target states, states of origin (Russia, Poland, Lithuania) and states of transit. Trafficked women are working in slave-like conditions across the Baltic sea States unable to leave the brothels.

The participants of the Conference call on the member states of the Baltic sea council to effectively combat trafficking in women both by improving law enforcement and concurrently developing and supporting victim protection. The NGOs in the Baltic sea Region will built up a co-operation at the inter-sectorial level and exchange of information (e.g. legal framework and situation of victims in the Baltic sea States) and experiences, to enable the interchange of know-how and fosters an environment of creative strategy development.


Strengthening Human Rights Instruments in the Region

With the creation of the position of a Commissioner on Democratic Development, the Council of the Baltic sea States has declared its commitment to the promotion of Human Rights in the region. All member states of the Council are state parties to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

However, there is a serious layback in the institutionalisation of the protection of economic and social Human Rights in the region. Four states have still not ratified the European Social Charter, which is the counterpart of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and only Sweden and Estonia have so far ratified the revised version of the European Social Charter. The NGOs present at the Conference see this as a violation of the principle of indivisibility of Human Rights and call on all member states of the Council to immediately ratify the revised version of the European Social Charter. The participants of the Conference ask the Council to commission a study on the actual situation of economic and social Human Rights in the Baltic sea area, including recommendations for strengthening these Human Rights through regional co-operation.

The European Union is playing an important role in the Baltic sea Region, which is illustrated by the membership of the European Commission in the Council of Baltic sea States. Enlargement of the EU and a strengthened Northern dimension means that an increasing number of people in the region are directly affected by EU policies. Therefore it is necessary to make European Union institutions accountable and to strengthen the Human Rights perspective in the EU. The participants of the Conference call on the governments represented in the Council to support the initiative of integrating the Charter of Fundamental Rights into the European Treaties and to support membership of the European Union in the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and in the Revised European Social Charter.



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