Rolling Back Democracy: The Council of Europe and the OSCE-April 23, 2010 | by Mark Thompson, OSI Blog

At last week's Council of Europe conference "Safeguards for Free Media: Promoting Effective Guarantees for Freedom of Expression in the South Caucasus, Moldova and Ukraine" (download a pdf event program from the CoE website), the timidity of Council officials was much in evidence.

As a multilateral organization of 47 states dedicated to establishing human rights standards, sometimes called "the conscience of Europe," the Council's modus operandi is bound to be discreet. Yet skilled officials have achieved progress even in adverse circumstances. They know the CoE is most effective when it links with civil society organizations, in pursuit of concrete reforms. Local activists can act as megaphones for soft-speaking Council staff. No other organization has done more to build triangular contacts between NGOs, member-state governments, and European institutions.

But the CoE needs something else as well: clear support from influential third-party states. Working with the OSCE in Croatia in the late 1990s, I saw European Union and US ambassadors reinforce the CoE's excellent critique of local media laws, shrinking the government's wiggle room almost to zero. On delicate questions of public policy, endorsement by strong bilateral players is indispensable. Read further

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