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Abuse of an anti-terrorism law in Spain spotlighted at the UN in Geneva and the OSCE in Warsaw

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Over the last few days, the abuse of a law against terrorism was spotlighted both at the UN in Geneva and at the annual human rights conference of the OSCE/ ODIHR in Warsaw – writes Willy Fautré , director of Human Rights Without Frontiers

At the 42nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, a spokesperson of Human Rights Without Frontiers made an oral statement highlighting the case of such an abuse suffered by the Kokorev family (Vladimir Kokorev and his wife, both in their sixties, and their 33-year old son).

Vladimir Kokorev

Vladimir Kokorev

A Spanish judge put them in a lengthy pre-trial detention, combined with no access to their case file (a regime called “secreto de sumario”), and particularly harsh prison conditions reserved for terrorists, terrorism suspects and violent criminals. Under Spanish law, this system of extreme surveillance is known as Ficheros de Internos de Especial Seguimiento, level 5 or FIES 5.

All three family members, who never used or incited violence, were imprisoned in late 2015 on a vaguely worded suspicion of money-laundering. Two of them were detained until late 2017 and one until early 2018. No formal charges were brought forward because there was no evidence that the Kokorev family had handled illicitly generated money.

Towards the end of these two years of imprisonment, their detention was extended for a further two years, despite the absence of a formal charge and evidence of a predicate crime. However, after a number of Members of the European Parliament held a round table in Brussels to denounce the misuse of the FIES system, the extension of their pre-trial detention by two more years was changed to territorial confinement. This measure restricts the family to Gran Canaria and requires them to report weekly to the local court.

As the Kokorev case demonstrates, the FIES system seems to be implemented in an indiscriminate and inconsistent manner without proper supervision and control mechanisms.

This case was part of the campaign of Human Rights Without Frontiers against the controversial FIES system which for many years has been criticized by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, Spanish MPs and MEPs as well as by human rights organizations.

At the UN in Geneva, Human Rights Without Frontiers recommended that Spain

  • reform the FIES system by publicly outlining specific criteria for each status from FIES 1 to 5 and clarifying a chain of command and decision-making process for the placement of prisoners under each of the FIES statuses;
  • improve detention conditions in both prisons in Gran Canaria, including an increase in the number of staff at both facilities;
  • review the implementation of the Directive 2012/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council from 22 May 2012 regarding the right to information in criminal proceedings to ensure that the secreto de sumario regime does not compromise the rights of the detainees, in particular that no evidence or reasoning on which pretrial detention is grounded is withheld from them.

At the OSCE conference in Geneva, Human Rights Without Frontiers recommended that Spain

  • repeal the law on incommunicado detention;
  • cease holding detainees without formal charges;
  • make much more extensive use of alternatives to prison detention;
  • stop applying the FIES classification for non-dangerous inmates;
  • abolish the secreto de sumario regime;
  • put an end to pre-trial detention as a means of punishment;
  • respect the presumption of innocence;
  • respect the special diligence obligation;

Human Rights Without Frontiers also encouraged Spain to comply with the recommendations of the United Nations and the Council of Europe. The Brussels-based NGO concluded by calling upon the OSCE/ODIHR to include this issue in their collaboration program with the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

 

 

EU

AI rules: What the European Parliament wants

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Find out how MEPs are shaping EU artificial intelligence legislation in order to boost innovation while ensuring safety and protecting civil liberties.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a major part of the digital transformation. Indeed, it is hard to imagine life without the use of AI in many goods and services, and it is set to bring more changes to the workplace, business, finance, health, security, farming and other fields. AI will also be crucial for the EU's green deal and the COVID-19 recovery.

The EU is currently preparing its first set of rules to manage the opportunities and threats of AI, focusing on building trust in AI, including managing its potential impact on individuals, society and the economy. The new rules also aim to provide an environment in which European researchers, developers and businesses can thrive. The European Commission wants to boost private and public investment in AI technologies to €20 billion per year.

Infographic with facts and figures about artificial intelligence such the number of AI patent applications and the number of jobs that could be created by 2025AI patent applications

Parliament's work on AI legislation

Ahead of a Commission proposal on AI, expected in early 2021, the Parliament has set up a special committee to analyze the impact of artificial intelligence on the EU economy. "Europe needs to develop AI that is trustworthy, eliminates biases and discrimination, and serves the common good, while ensuring business and industry thrive and generate economic prosperity," said the new committee chairman Dragoș Tudorache.

On 20 October 2020, Parliament adopted three reports outlining how the EU can best regulate AI while boosting innovation, ethical standards and trust in technology.

One of the reports focuses on how to ensure safety, transparency and accountability, prevent bias and discrimination, foster social and environmental responsibility, and ensure respect for fundamental rights. "The citizen is at the centre of this proposal," said author of the report Ibán García del Blanco (S&D, Spain).

Axel Voss (EPP, Germany) authored Parliament’s report on a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence. He explains the aim is to protect Europeans while also providing businesses with the legal certainty necessary to encourage innovation. "We're not pushing for revolution. There should be uniform rules for businesses, and existing law should be taken into account," he said.

Regarding intellectual property rights, Parliament stressed the importance of an effective system for further AI development, including the issue of patents and new creative processes. Among the issues to be resolved is the intellectual property ownership of something entirely developed by AI, said report author Stéphane Séjourné (Renew, France).

Parliament is working on a number of other issues related to AI, including:

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2021 Commission work programme: From strategy to delivery

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The Commission has adopted its 2021 work programme, designed to make Europe healthier, fairer and more prosperous, while accelerating its long-term transformation into a greener economy, fit for the digital age. It contains new legislative initiatives across all six headline ambitions of President von der Leyen's Political Guidelines and follows her first State of the Union Speech. While delivering on the priorities set out in this work programme, the Commission will continue to put all its efforts into managing the crisis, and into making Europe's economies and societies more resilient.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said: “Our utmost priority will continue being to save lives and livelihoods threatened by the coronavirus pandemic. We have already achieved a lot. But Europe is not out of the woods yet and the second wave is hitting hard across Europe. We must remain vigilant and step up, all of us. The European Commission will continue its efforts to secure a future vaccine for Europeans and to help our economies recover, through the green and digital transition.”

Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said: “Whilst ensuring Europe can manage the pandemic and its devastating impact, we also continue to draw lessons from the crisis. Therefore, the priorities set out in this work programme will not only help deliver Europe's recovery but also our long-term resilience – through future-proof solutions across all policy areas. For that, we will make the best use of strategic foresight as well as our better law-making principles – evidence-based and transparent, efficient and fit for the future.”

Delivering on EU priorities

The 2021 Commission work programme sees a shift from strategy to delivery across all six political priorities. It confirms the Commission's resolve to lead the twin green and digital transition – an unparalleled opportunity to move out of the fragility of the crisis and create a new vitality for the Union.

  1. A European Green Deal

To achieve a climate-neutral Europe by 2050, the Commission will table a Fit for 55 package to reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030. This will cover wide-ranging policy areas – from renewables to energy efficiency first, energy performance of buildings, as well as land use, energy taxation, effort sharing and emissions trading. A Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism will help reduce the risk of carbon leakage and ensure a level-playing field by encouraging EU partners to raise their climate ambition. In addition, the Commission will propose measures to implement Europe's circular economy action plan, the EU biodiversity strategy and the farm to fork strategy.

  1. A Europe fit for the digital age

To make this Europe's digital decade, the Commission will put forward a road map of clearly defined 2030 digital targets, related to connectivity, skills and digital public services. The focus will be on the right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data and cybersecurity. The Commission will legislate in areas covering safety, liability, fundamental rights and data aspects of artificial intelligence. In the same spirit, it will propose a European e-ID. Initiatives will also include an update of the new industrial strategy for Europe, to take into account the impacts of the coronavirus, as well as a legislative proposal to improve the working conditions of platform workers.

  1. An economy that works for people

To ensure that the health and economic crisis does not turn into a social crisis, the Commission will put forward an ambitious action plan to implement fully the European Pillar of Social Rights, making sure that no one is left behind in Europe's recovery. The Commission will also come forward with a new European child guarantee, ensuring access to basic services like health and education for all children. To support our economies and strengthen the Economic and Monetary Union, it will revise the framework for handling EU bank failures, take measures to boost cross-border investment in the EU, and step up the fight against money laundering.

  1. A stronger Europe in the world

The Commission will ensure that Europe plays its vital role in this fragile world, including by leading the global response to secure a safe and accessible vaccine for all. It will propose a Joint Communication on strengthening the EU's contribution to a rules‑based multilateralism, a renewed partnership with our Southern Neighbourhood and a Communication on the Arctic. A new strategic approach to support disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of ex-combatants will also be presented. A Communication on the EU's humanitarian aid will explore new ways of working with our partners and other donors.

  1. Promoting our European way of life

In the face of COVID-19, the Commission will propose to build a stronger European Health Union, notably by strengthening the role of existing agencies and establishing a new agency for biomedical advanced research and development. To preserve and improve its functioning, a new strategy for the future of Schengen will be tabled. The new pact on migration and asylum will be followed up with a number of proposed measures on legal migration, including a ‘talent and skills' package. Other elements include an action plan against migrant smuggling, as well as a sustainable voluntary return and reintegration strategy. The Commission will continue to strengthen the Security Union, addressing terrorism, organised crime and hybrid threats. It will also present a comprehensive strategy on combating antisemitism.

  1. A new push for European democracy

To build a union of equality, the Commission will present new strategies on rights of the child and for persons with disabilities, as well as a proposal to combat gender-based violence. It will also propose to extend the list of euro-crimes to include all forms of hate crime and hate speech. The Commission will propose clearer rules on the financing of European political parties and take action to protect journalists and civil society against abusive litigation. A long-term vision for rural areas will propose actions to harness the full potential of these regions.

Given the long-term and transformative nature of the initiatives planned, it is more important than ever to legislate in the most impactful way and with the future in mind. The upcoming Communication on Better Regulation will renew this emphasis. It will focus on simplification and burden reduction, notably by introducing a ‘one-in-one-out' approach. The Fit for Future Platform will support the Commission in this ambition, particularly needed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. To deliver on the ground, the Commission will also step up its outreach, with the Conference on the Future of Europe playing a central role.

A full list of the 44 new policy objectives under the six headline ambitions are set out in Annex 1 of the 2021 work programme.

Next steps

The Commission's 2021 work programme is the result of close co-operation with the European Parliament, member states and the EU consultative bodies. The Commission will now start discussions with the Parliament and Council to establish a list of joint priorities on which co-legislators agree to take swift action.

Background

Every year, the Commission adopts a work programme setting out the list of actions it will take in the coming twelve months. The work programme informs the public and the co-legislators of our political commitments to present new initiatives, withdraw pending proposals and review existing EU legislation. It does not cover the ongoing work of the Commission to implement its role as Guardian of the Treaties and enforce existing legislation or the regular initiatives that the Commission adopts every year.

The 2021 Commission work programme is closely linked to the recovery plan for Europe, with the NextGenerationEU recovery instrument and a reinforced EU budget for 2021-2027. The Recovery and Resilience Facility will channel an unprecedented €672.5 billion of grants and loans in the crucial first year of recovery. Meanwhile, Member States are drawing up recovery and resilience plans that set out reforms and investments aligned with the EU green and digital policy objectives: with a minimum 37% of green transition expenditure, and a minimum 20% related to digital. To repay the funds raised under NextGenerationEU, the Commission will put forward proposals for new own resources starting with a revised Emission Trading System, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism and a digital levy.

More information

2021 Commission work programme, annexes and factsheets

Adjusted 2020 Commission work programme

Recovery plan for Europe

A European Green Deal

Shaping Europe's digital future

 

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coronavirus

UK plans COVID-19 'challenge' trials that deliberately infect volunteers

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Britain will help to fund trials using a manufactured COVID-19 virus to deliberately infect young healthy volunteers with the hope of accelerating the development of vaccines against it, write  and Paul Sandle in London, with additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva.

The government said on Tuesday (20 October) it will invest £33.6 million ($43.5m) in the so-called “human challenge” trials in partnership with Imperial College London, laboratory and trial services company hVIVO and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.

If approved by regulators and an ethics committee, the studies will start in January with results expected by May 2021, the government said.

Using controlled doses of virus, the aim of the research team  will initially be to discover the smallest amount of virus it takes to cause COVID-19 infection in small groups of healthy young people, aged between 18 and 30, who are  at the lowest risk of harm, the scientists leading the studies said in a briefing.

Up to 90 volunteers could be involved at the initial stages, they said, and virus to be used will be manufactured in labs at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Chris Chiu, an Imperial College scientist on the team, said the experiments would rapidly increase understanding of COVID-19 and the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes it, as well as accelerating development of potential new treatments and vaccines.

Critics of human challenge trials say deliberately infecting someone with a potentially deadly disease for which there is currently no effective treatment is unethical.

Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the trials would be carefully controlled and marked an important next step in building understanding of the virus and accelerating vaccine development.

Chiu said the plan for initial studies - which are aimed at assessing how much virus it takes to infect someone with COVID-19 - is to immediately treat volunteers with the Gilead antiviral drug remdesivir as soon as they are infected.

He said that while studies have show remdesivir has little or no effect on severe COVID-19 cases, his team has a “strong belief” that it will be an effective treatment if given in the very earliest stages of infection.

A spokeswoman for the World Health Organization said that there are “very important ethical considerations” when approaching such human challenge trials.

“What is critical is that if people are considering this, it must be overseen by an ethics committee and the volunteers must have full consent. And they must select the volunteers in order to minimise their risk,” she told reporters in Geneva.

Chiu said his team’s “number one priority is the safety of the volunteers”.

“No study is completely risk free, but (we) will be working hard to ensure we make the risks as low as we possibly can,” he said.

Britain’s hVIVO, a unit of pharmaceutical services company Open Orphan, said last week it was carrying out preliminary work for the trials.

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