The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) is comprised of Members of Parliament from the Parliaments of each Member State.[i] It has 642 members, half of which act as substitutes. Member States may determine how they will choose their representatives, so long as they are members of the national parliament and fairly represent the various political parties within the country. Its powers extend only to the ability to investigate, recommend and advise. PACE is responsible for periodically reviewing each Member State by an in-country inspection, which culminates in a country report debated within the PACE plenary. PACE also has the power to adopt non-binding resolutions expressing institutional intent and used for the purpose of forming “customary international law”. PACE is governed by an executive body known as the Office of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Many issues relating to life, marriage and the family, and religious freedom are debated and discussed at PACE sessions. For example, PACE has passed resolutions denouncing euthanasia[ii] and religious persecution.[iii] It has also passed resolutions that are in favour of abortion.[iv]
In 2010, a report by Christine McCafferty, titled “Women’s access to lawful medical care: the problem of unregulated use of conscientious objection,” was proposed before PACE. However, after a concerted effort from pro-life Assembly members and a number of NGOs, the proposed resolution was completely reversed and instead became Resolution 1763, “The right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care.”[v]
Although the resolutions are “soft law” and in no way binding, they are increasingly being cited by the European Court of Human Rights.
Crucially, PACE is also responsible for the election of judges of the European Court of Human Rights. Three nominee judges are selected by the Member States and PACE is then tasked with voting for one of the three nominees. PACE can also reject all three nominees and ask for three new nominees from the Member States.
NGOs can engage with PACE in the same way that they would with their national parliaments – by working with the Assembly members on the resolutions and recommendations adopted, and by seeking to influence the outcome such documents. A directory of all the Assembly members is available on the PACE website.[vi]
[i] Parliamentary Assembly, http://www.assembly.coe.int.
[ii]Protecting human rights and dignity by taking into account previously expressed wishes of patients: Resolution 1859, Parliamentary Assembly, available athttp://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?link=/documents/Adoptedtext/ta12/eres1859.htm.
[iii] Resolution 1928: Safeguarding human rights in relation to religion and belief, and protecting religious communities from violence, Parliamentary Assembly (2013), available at http://www.assembly.coe.int/ASP/Doc/XrefViewPDF.asp?FileID=19695&Language=EN.
[iv]Resolution 1607: Access to safe and legal abortion in Europe,Parliamentary Assembly (2008),http://assembly.coe.int/main.asp?Link=/documents/adoptedtext/ta08/eres1607.htm.
[v] See Hilary White, Breakthrough: Pro-life Lobby Soundly Defeats EU Attack on Conscience in Dramatic Reversal, LifeSiteNews (Oct. 7, 2010), http://www.lifesitenews.com/news/breakthrough-pro-life-lobby-soundly-defeats-eu-attack-on-conscience-in-dram; Resolution 1763:The right to conscientious objection in lawful medical care, PARLIAMENTRAY ASSEMBLY (2013), available at http://assembly.coe.int/ASP/APFeaturesManager/defaultArtSiteView.asp?ID=950.
[vi] All members by alphabetical order, Parliamentary Assembly, http://www.assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/AssemblyList/MP-Alpha-EN.asp.
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