The Council of Europe promotes co-operation between European states in the areas of human rights, the rule of law, legal standards, democratic development and cultural co-operation. Founded in 1949, it has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens.
The Council is entirely separate from the EU, and has no power to make binding laws. However, Council of Europe member states commit themselves to common standards through conventions, most notably the European Convention on Human Rights.
The European Convention on Human Rights protects the freedom of expression:
ARTICLE 10: Freedom of expression
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.
2. The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages protects linguistic rights:
ARTICLE 7: Objectives and principles
1. In respect of regional or minority languages, within the territories in which such languages are used and according to the situation of each language, the Parties shall base their policies, legislation and practice on the following objectives and principles:
a. the recognition of the regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth;
b. the respect of the geographical area of each regional or minority language in order to ensure that existing or new administrative divisions do not constitute an obstacle to the promotion of the regional or minority language in question;
c. the need for resolute action to promote regional or minority languages in order to safeguard them;
d. the facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of regional or minority languages, in speech and writing, in public and private life;
e. the maintenance and development of links, in the fields covered by this Charter, between groups using a regional or minority language and other groups in the State employing a language used in identical or similar form, as well as the establishment of cultural relations with other groups in the State using different languages;
f. the provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of regional or minority languages at all appropriate stages;
g. the provision of facilities enabling non-speakers of a regional or minority language living in the area where it is used to learn it if they so desire;
h. the promotion of study and research on regional or minority languages at universities or equivalent institutions;
i. the promotion of appropriate types of transnational exchanges, in the fields covered by this Charter, for regional or minority languages used in identical or similar form in two or more States.
2. The Parties undertake to eliminate, if they have not yet done so, any unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger the maintenance or development of it.
PEN at the Council of Europe
The Council of Europe has been involved in the promotion of digital freedom, a central issue for PEN International. The Council of Ministers has prepared a recommendation on the protection and promotion of the universality, integrity and openness of the Internet; a declaration on Internet governance principles; and a strategy on Internet Governance for 2012-2015.
PEN International recently worked with the Council of Europe on the issue of tackling online hate speech whilst defending digital freedom, the focus of a Council of Europe conference in November 2012. Read more about the conference here.
PEN has previously joined with the Council of Europe to speak out about threats to freedom of speech online, such as in this statement to mark World Press Freedom Day:
“When freedom of expression cannot be exercised fully by media professionals or by writers, the freedom of each of us, of every citizen, is endangered. Our rights to receive information and to freely form and to hold views and opinions are limited. Our right to informed participation is eroded. Ultimately, democracy is compromised.”
To read more about PEN’s work on Digital Freedom click here.