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Strasbourg, 5 June 2015 – “The current systems of oversight of national security services in Europe remain largely ineffective. Revelations over the last years about security operations which have violated human rights should have prompted reforms in this field, but progress has been disappointingly slow. European countries must now ensure more democratic and effective oversight of what their security services do and avoid future operations leading to new human rights violations,” said today Nils Muižnieks, Commissioner for Human Rights, while presenting a report on this topic.

The report intends to provide guidance to strengthen human rights protection in the field of security services. It sets forth a number of measures necessary for making national oversight systems more effective and the security services accountable and fully compliant with human rights standards.  “Security service activities impact a variety of human rights, including the right to life, to personal liberty and security, and the prohibition of torture or inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment. They also impinge on the right to privacy and family life, as well as the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, and fair trial. It is therefore crucial that security services uphold the rule of law and human rights in undertaking their tasks.”

Council of Europe member states have taken diverse approaches to oversight, which include parliamentary committees, independent oversight bodies, institutions with broader jurisdictions such as ombudspersons, data commissioners and judicial bodies. However, none abides fully to internationally established norms. Drawing upon international and European standards and national practices, the paper sets out the most significant objectives and overriding principles that can enable more effective oversight of security services. “It is necessary to keep oversight democratic, primarily through the involvement of parliaments. It is also crucial to ensure prior authorisation of the most intrusive measures, including surveillance, and to establish a body able to issue legally binding decisions over complaints by individuals affected by security activities, as well as to access all intelligence-related information,” said the Commissioner.

“Security services exist to protect our democracies. Their work is fundamental to ensure that we all can live in security. This paper intends to show how their activities can be best sustained by policies which ensure their lawfulness and accountability. Ensuring that security agencies operate under independent scrutiny and judicial review does not reduce their effectiveness. On the contrary, governments would increase their credibility among the public and weaken support for anti-democratic causes if they show as much resolve in safeguarding human rights as in fighting terrorism.”

The executive summary and the Commissioner’s recommendations are also available in French and German. Translations into Turkish and Russian are under way.

To read more about the Commissioner's work on counter-terrorism and human rights, please visit this page.