FRA speaks at Croatian Ombudsman conference on democracy and human rights

On 11-12 May, FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty participated in a conference organised by the Croatian Ombuds Office entitled ‘Reclaiming human rights in Europe: how to enhance democratic space?’ The conference focused on three topics: counter-terrorism, freedom of expression, and living together.

In his keynote speech, Mr O’Flaherty laid out the key challenges to human rights in today’s Europe, before going on to discuss potential solutions. He pointed out that while human rights are at risk from the situation of refugees and other migrants, from the rising intolerance both on- and offline, from the situation of journalists whose freedom has been curtailed, and from restrictions to our data privacy through state surveillance, the problem is more profound.

“The very foundations of our human rights system are being questioned in an unprecedented way,” he said. “We must push back against those who seek to pit one community against the other, and who come with facile answers to the myriad complex issues at community level, at national level, regionally, and globally.”

Mr O’Flaherty made five proposals: stick to the law; demand full accountability before the law; base our claims on solid, empirical data, convince the general public that human rights are about them; and finally, have hope.

“We have to use human rights law more vigorously in Europe, and demand accountability under that law,” he said, adding: “We must do more to make clear that rights are not about 'the other', but about all of us.”

He closed his speech on an optimistic note, saying: “We need to look forward with hope - the challenges are great, but so too are the opportunities.”

On the second day of the conference, Mr O’Flaherty spoke on a panel devoted to the subject of freedom of expression. He took the opportunity to introduce participants to two recent FRA papers, one dedicated to violence and threats against journalists in the EU, and the other to the phenomenon of incitement to hatred in the media and political discourse.

The conference was opened and closed by Croatian Ombudswoman Lora Vidović. Other high-level speakers included the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, the Chair of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions, Beate Rudolf, the President of the International Ombudsman Institute, Peter Tyndall, and the Chair of Equinet, Evelyn Collins.