Freedom of expression ends where violence begins

In his speech today to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland addressed the crisis in Ukraine, freedom of expression and the fight against terrorism.

He advocated for a balanced approach to the freedom of expression, saying that “the only way to defend freedom of expression is to be open about its limitations. Racism and incitement to violence is unlawful.” He recalled the use of Nazi propaganda and cartoons to “dehumanize” Jews in the late 1930’s. Member states could use the rich case law of the European Court of Human Rights to guide them in setting out the boundaries of freedom of expression.

Mr Jagland also addressed the crisis in Ukraine, saying that “ceasefires will only hold when a political horizon is in sight”. He reaffirmed the role of the Council of Europe in providing support for democratic and constitutional reforms in Ukraine. Regarding Russia, he highlighted the need to support the development of civil society. Branding NGOs as “foreign agents has no place in the 21st Century,” he said. As long as NGOs are transparent about their financial sources, they should be considered “free agents” of democracy.

The Secretary General called for a decisive, international response to the threat of terrorism “In Europe we are all only as secure as our least secure state. There must be no gaps. No legal loopholes for terrorists to exploit.” He confirmed the Council of Europe is currently drafting an additional Protocol to its Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism aimed at criminalising the recruitment, training, preparation and travel for the purpose of committing terrorist acts.

Mr Jagland announced the publication of his Second Annual Report on the State of Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Europe which will focus on “A Shared Responsibility for Democratic Security”.

“It will assess how well Europe’s nations can guarantee security for their citizens through their commitment to democratic norms,” he said.