Demonstrators outside Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

The long arm of the Council of Europe

On issues such as burqa bans, same sex marriages and human rights, the Council of Europe is making its presence increasingly felt. But this hitherto inconspicuous organisation, frequently confused with the EU, has an image problem.

Published on 29 June 2010 at 09:24
Demonstrators outside Council of Europe in Strasbourg.

Last week, news in the UK was typically replete with stories generated by the Council of Europe. On Tuesday, it voted unanimously to oppose any national bans on the burqa in EU countries, in a defiant stance against attempts by France and Spain to prohibit the religious headwear in public places. MPs from 47 European states that make up its parliamentary assembly said that a general ban on the burqa would deny women "who genuinely and freely desire to do so" the right to cover their face. The council added a call to Switzerland to repeal its general ban on the construction of minarets, which it described as "discriminatory".

On Thursday, a judgment from the European court of human rights decided that it could not guarantee any right to gay marriage. The case, brought by a same-sex couple in Austria, has caused particular controversy in the UK where the government intervened as a third party, concerned that if the couple won the case, it could place pressure on the UK to go beyond its current civil partnership regime and allow gay marriage.

On Friday, the press reported the council's move against mosquito devices, which emit painful high-frequency sounds audible only to children and young adults, and which are already used by up to 25% of UK councils. The council's parliamentary assembly called unanimously for a ban on the devices, describing them as "highly offensive".

The frequent missives and rulings from Strasbourg can have profound implications on UK law and policy. Yet despite this increasing relevance, for most people the Council of Europe remains shrouded in obscurity. Read full article in the Guardian...

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