Council of Europe – Urban violence needs to be addressed respecting fundamental rights and involving local authorities

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Lisbon, Portugal, 24 October 2014 – “It is essential to tackle the root causes of urban violence and not limit actions to the symptoms. In combating urban violence human rights should be protected.” In his message the Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks, summarised key ideas of the International Conference on Urban Violence of the Council of Europe and encouraged participants to approach the maintenance of public order in terms of human rights protection.

Niels Munznieks

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The International Conference on Urban Violence organised by the Council of Europe together with the Ministry of Justice of Portugal on 23 – 24 October 2014 in Lisbon, was a follow-up of the 31st Council of Europe Conference of Ministers of Justice (Vienna, September 2012), during which they had expressed their concern about “the rise of intensive and at times unexpected outbreaks of collective violence in some major urban areas in Europe”. While recognising that this violence may be linked to the severe economic and social crisis currently being faced by many European countries, the ministers also underlined “the rapid development and broad availability of Internet-based communication technologies such as social networks and instant messaging, and the fact that persons participating in acts of urban violence often use modern telecommunication technologies in the preparation of and during such acts”.

Participants in the Lisbon conference discussed ways of preventing urban violence with a particular emphasis on new communication and information technologies, including their potential for anticipating and preventing violence, gathering evidence and ensuring accountability of instigators and perpetrators of violence.

The conference brought together the Council of Europe’s Committee on crime Problems (CDPC), in which all 47 member states are represented, as well as law enforcement authorities, academics, telecommunications providers and Internet service providers. As in 2012, the European Forum was one of a few NGOs who had been invited.

The participation of Efus reminded national delegates of the role local and regional authorities can play in addressing urban violence. Efus presented insights on its recent activities linked with collective violence, such as the European projects on street violence, safer drinking scenes, violence at sports events, radicalisation and  police-population relations, as well as the project on the use of technologies. Presenting this diversity of phenomena linked to urban violence also allowed to emphasise the need for a thorough understanding of a given situation in order to draw effective policies that can tackle problems at their roots. New communication and information technologies (NCIT) play an important role in creating (and observing) situations that lead to urban violence. They are also used to manage public order in real time. However, focusing exclusively on the role of technologies presents the risk of missing the potential of long term prevention policies.

Although the main theme of the conference was the challenge that NCIT pose to justice and law enforcement, the conference addressed broader issues through the experiences and case studies presented by participants and academic experts from all over Europe. In its conclusions, the conference also stressed the social dimension of the prevention of urban violence. It underlined the need for dialogue and cooperation among stakeholders from different backgrounds and highlighted the central role played by  local authorities.

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The full  text of the conference conclusions as well as most contributions can be found on the conference website:www.coe.int/lisbon2014.