O'Flaherty European Commissioner for Human Rights New Council – Novak…

Viennese international lawyer Novak wrote after his defeat: “Life goes on normally.”

Vienna-based international lawyer Manfred Nowak will not be the Council of Europe's new human rights commissioner. The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly elected Ireland's Michael O'Flaherty to the prestigious post in a second round of voting on Wednesday evening. He won against Novak and former Bulgarian Europe Minister Meklena Kuneva and is trailing Bosnian Dunja Mijadovic.

O'Flaherty, the former director of the EU's fundamental rights body in Vienna, won the majority of votes in Tuesday's first round. But he missed the required absolute majority, necessitating another round of voting. In Wednesday's voting, a simple majority was enough for the election. According to unofficial reports, Novak again finished in third and last place, just as he did on Tuesday.

Novak appeared calm in his first reaction to the ABA news agency. “Life goes on as usual,” the 73-year-old said. The election result was “a bit predictable” and he noted the influence of political considerations. Bulgarian former European minister Kuneva may have done better, as many MPs wanted to avoid an all-male appointment to the three most important posts in the body of states, given the imminent departure of Council of Europe Secretary General Marija Pejinovic Burich. On the other hand, that doesn't explain O'Flaherty's success, Novak added.

“I want to stress that I take full responsibility for the poor performance,” Novak insisted. In this context, he emphasized the “great support” of the Austrian Foreign Ministry and the Council of Europe representation in Strasbourg. All six Austrian members of the Council of Europe, from five parliamentary parties, backed Novak in a rare unanimity.

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Too much of an Austrian?

Nowak's disadvantage is that Volker Turk, an Austrian, is already the UN human rights commissioner. Novak declined to speculate on the matter, but said he was asked about it at the hearing. “An argument that has come up time and again” is that two of the highest positions in international human rights protection should not be occupied by Austrians.

Novak also received support for his application from Justice Minister Alma Zadik (Greens) and Ukrainian friends Nobel laureate Oleksandra Matvydchuk. He stated in his application that he has “dedicated his entire professional life to human rights”. A lawyer from Styrian Salzkammergut who founded the Vienna Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Human Rights, served as UN Special Rapporteur against Torture and UN Special Rapporteur on Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was also a judge.

Ahead of the election, he named Russian aggression in Ukraine and its consequences as his “number one priority.” On the other hand, the country that was expelled from the Council of Europe after the attack on Ukraine in violation of international law should be brought back into the “concert of Europe”. He wanted to campaign for Europe to once again take a “pioneering role” in the field of human rights, for example by creating the human right to a healthy and sustainable environment.

He will take office in April

The tasks of the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe include dialogue with governments and visits to Council of Europe member states, making recommendations and raising awareness and developing and improving national human rights frameworks. He will take office on April 1, 2024. Mijadović's successor was elected for a six-year term until 2030. The Council of Europe was established in 1949 to protect democracy, human rights and the rule of law. The country's organization, based in Strasbourg, is independent from the European Union. It includes 46 European countries.

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Meanwhile, SPÖ Spokesperson for Foreign Policy and Council of Europe Member of Parliament Petra Bayr was unanimously elected head of the committee for selecting judges at the European Court of Human Rights, as announced by the SPÖ. Each member state of the Council of Europe has a judge at the Strasbourg court, and candidates are interviewed by the panel, which will be chaired by Baer for the next two years. Their qualifications are then discussed and a proposal is submitted for election to the Parliamentary Assembly, which appoints the judges for nine years. (APA)

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