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Ten key takeaways from the European Parliament election for Germany and Europe

Article by Dr Ed Turner

June 17, 2024

Ten key takeaways from the European Parliament election for Germany and Europe

Some aspects of Sunday’s European Parliament election results were expected (a victory for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), declining support for the Greens, some strengthening of the far right), but others were a surprise.[1] Here are ten key takeaways:


  1. The far right did not make a huge breakthrough, but Europe’s centre of gravity has shifted rightwards. A quick glance at seats won and lost by each of the major European political groups would give the impression of relatively little shift, beyond a decline in the number of Green and Liberal MEPs. Claims of a lurch to the far right would be over-stated, but amongst those MEPs who are not members of a group, there are a good many right-wingers (for instance, the Alternative for Germany is in that category having been kicked out of the ID group which includes Marine Le Pen’s National Rally).[2] Both the ECR group (European Conservatives and Reformists Group – originally co-founded by the UK’s Tories, now home amongst others to Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy and Spanish Vox) and the EPP have been veering to the right.


  1. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is likely to be re-elected by groups in the political centre, but the margins will be tight. It would be anticipated that, as last time, she would receive support from the three groups clustered around the political centre (S&D – Socialists & Democrats, Renew Europe and EPP), and that they have been holding off full endorsement to strengthen their negotiating position for other top jobs. However, in total they have 403 MEPs out of 720 so there is limited room for manoeuvre and in this secret ballot discipline often wanes – in 2019, von der Leyen should have got 444 votes but managed just 383.[3]


  1. Those hoping for a progressive shift on climate and migration from the European Union (EU) are likely to be disappointed. We should not over-state the impact of relatively small shifts in the European Parliament upon substantive policy – it is just one part (albeit an important one) of the EU’s legislative process. However, the rightward shift referred to above also meshes with some tougher positioning in key member states that will also play into the EU’s legislative process. For months, Olaf Scholz in Germany has been talking a tough game on migration, the CDU (Christian Democratic Union – likely to lead the next German government) has embraced a migration plan akin to the UK’s proposals to send asylum seekers to Rwanda and leave them there even if claims are successful. There is also a nervousness from centre-left to centre-right across Europe about green policies fuelling far-right support, especially if they have adverse economic impacts (with Macron calling for a “regulatory break” to help industry).[4]


  1. Political polarisation and fragmentation are in evidence across Europe. We see polarisation (and particularly divisions between mainstream parties and far-right or populist challengers) in many countries across Europe, including those such as Portugal and Germany which had been assumed to be resistant to it. Mainstream parties also see a declining share of the vote. To take just Germany, France and Spain, and comparing these European elections to those in 1994, we see the proportion of votes going to the two main parties of the left and the right has fallen drastically in the first two cases, and even in Spain, where the moderate right regained much ground, the share was well below that 30 years previously:



  1. Macron’s gamble and Scholz’ defeat will really undermine EU leadership (with implications for the UK). Following the elections and Emmanuel Macron’s decision to call early parliamentary elections, French politics has been plunged into chaos.[5] Any outcome that does not involve the highly unlikely scenario of success for Macron allies will leave him further weakened in authority, distracted and potentially constrained where parliamentary or government agreement is required (including in the Council of the European Union). Scholz, whose rapport with Macron has been patchy at best, will also face further friction and erosion of authority. All in all, Franco-German leadership of the EU feels an unlikely prospect for the coming years. For the UK, which may struggle to gain bandwidth in Brussels for any changes to its relationship with the EU, this is not helpful.


  1. There was a stark contrast in German voting behaviour between those in eastern and western Germany, over 34 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The map showing winning candidates in the European elections in Germany is truly remarkable and has drawn much comment.[6] With just a handful of exceptions (in Berlin, adjacent Potsdam, and the cities of Jena, Weimar and Erfurt, each of which has a university), the AfD (Alternative for Germany) topped the poll across eastern German counties and cities. It failed to do so in a single equivalent area in the west. There is much debate over what drives the distinctive voting behaviour in the east. Explanations range from greater affinity towards Russia and rejection of Germany’s western alignment (something uniting both the AfD and the left-populist BSW (Sahra Wagenknecht Alliance) is their rejection of support for Ukraine), to the relative lack of ethnic diversity there compared to the west and fear of “the other”, through to being “left behind”, with more highly-educated sections of the population having moved away, leaving those with lower skill levels and salaries behind, and poor infrastructure. Yet these latter factors also apply in some parts of the west, where there is a lower propensity to vote for the AfD.


  1. Germany’s far right is established and state elections in eastern Germany in the autumn will prove a major challenge to mainstream parties. In September, three eastern states (Thuringia, Saxony and Brandenburg) will vote and on current evidence, in each of them there is a good chance of the AfD topping the poll. The party has not been on the journey away from extremism that Le Pen and Meloni have been, it is regarded as potentially extremist by Germany’s secret services, and mainstream parties will therefore try to keep it out of government.[7] However, doing so may require unwieldly, misaligned multi-party coalitions, which could increase the AfD’s ability to claim it is being persecuted. The numbers may force the CDU to choose between ditching a ban on co-operation with the far right and one on co-operation with the far left, likely to fuel internal debates about whether to tag to the right or stick to the Merkelian centre ground.


  1. Age differences in voting behaviour in Germany were stark and should give mainstream parties real cause for concern.[8] The moderate left (SPD) and right (CDU/CSU) together got 59% of votes of over 60s, but just 26% of those of under 25s. Amongst younger voters, minor parties including Volt (pro-European, centre-left) and a satirical party did well, but so too did the AfD (which came second amongst under 25s). Green support imploded amongst under 25s, with just 11% compared to 34% in 2019.


  1. Different attitudes to the war in Ukraine are playing out in Germany and are affecting mainstream parties. While the majority of Germans still support the country’s backing for Ukraine in the conflict (68% want to see western nations do more, or at least maintain current levels of support), there is a substantial minority (28%) that want to see it do less, and that figure is substantially higher in eastern Germany (45%), fuelling (and possibly fuelled by) support for the AfD and BSW.[9] The SPD, rather awkwardly, chose the slogan “Secure peace, vote SPD”, in a clumsy acknowledgement of discontent with German support for Ukraine, and Scholz has given an impression of wavering (for instance declining to send Taurus missiles).[10] The CDU/CSU is apparently steadfast in its support for Ukraine but has begun to criticise benefit entitlements of Ukrainian refugees.[11]


  1. Germany’s ruling coalition finds itself gripped by a vicious circle and the process of budget negotiation, overshadowed by constitutional constraints on borrowing, will make it worse. The three-party “traffic light” coalition of SPD, liberal FDP and Greens is well-practiced in losing mid-term state elections. Following defeat, party figures take to the airwaves to demand their party sharpens its profile within the coalition. This makes governing harder, and creates an impression of strife and disarray (23% of Germans declare themselves satisfied with the government, and 10% are satisfied with the way coalition partners treat each other).[12] The parties have fundamental disagreements over budget policy anyway (with SPD and Greens at odds with the economically liberal FDP), while a constitutional court verdict in 2023 drastically reduced room for manoeuvre without breaching the “debt brake” in the country’s Basic Law, making negotiations harder still.[13] All coalition parties will want to avoid new elections that a collapse of the government would likely entail, but finding agreement on proposals for 2025 by July, in this context, will be immensely difficult.


All in all, it is a pretty bleak outlook for Germany, and one which points to difficult times ahead for the EU.


[1] European Elections 2024, 2024 European election results, European Parliament,

[2] Ibid

[3] BBC News, Von der Leyen elected EU Commission head after MEPs vote, July 2019,

[4] Tagesschau, “We need to deport faster”, October 2023,; CDU, Policy Programme, see:; Paul Messad and Euractiv France, Macron calls for ‘regulatory break’ in EU green laws to help industry, Euractiv, May 2023,

[5] Laurent Geslin, The Brief – France’s political scene in chaos, Euractiv, June 2024,

[6] Tagesspiegel, Map of Germany for the 2024 European elections, All results by districts and federal states, see:

[7] Ed Turner and Julian Hoerner, Far-right AfD makes unprecedented election gains in west Germany, worrying national government, The Conversation, October 2023,

[8] Tagesschau, Who did younger and older people vote for?, June 2024,

[9] Forschungsgruppe, Politbarometer June I 2024,

[10] Tagesschau, The SPD is committed to peace – but which kind?, May 2024,; Joshua Posaner, Germany’s Scholz says sending Taurus missiles to Ukraine is ‘out of the question’, POLITICO, March 2024,

[11] Focus online, CDU woman warns of “citizen’s allowance trap”: Only in one country do Ukrainian refugees get more money than in Germany, May 2024,

[12] Tagesschau, Ensuring peace is crucial in EU elections, May 2024,

[13] Professor Mark Hallerberg, The debt brake and Germany’s international competitiveness, UK in Changing Europe, November 2023,

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    Challenges Ahead: How the results of the European Parliamentary elections could shape Europe’s future

    Article by David Harley

    May 30, 2024

    Challenges Ahead: How the results of the European Parliamentary elections could shape Europe’s future

    This year’s European elections are like no other. The political map of Europe is being redrawn with populist and authoritarian parties expected to gain ground in most member states. As we enter the final stretch, a record turnout is predicted to go to the polls on 6-9 June across the 27 countries, and the European Parliament is attracting unprecedented levels of media attention.


    In a projection heavy with symbolism, the polls indicate that the national parties of the President of France and the Chancellor of Germany may each suffer heavy defeats. The prevailing uncertainty about the European Union’s (EU) future direction reflects both internal instability and the gravity and complexity of external events. The centre is still just about holding.


    The pace and scale of change in the EU’s integration in recent decades has been remarkable, and until now seemingly unstoppable. Twenty years ago, on May 1st 2004, the EU celebrated its enlargement in Phoenix Park in Dublin under the Irish Presidency.[1] The flags of the ten new member states were solemnly raised, a choir sang the Ode to Joy with gusto, and Nobel Prize-winner Seamus Heaney recited a poem he had written specially for the occasion, which included these lines:


    “So on a day when newcomers appear,

    Let it be a homecoming and let us speak

    The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,

    Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare.”


    How things have changed over those twenty years. The context and the mood today could hardly be more different, with a savage war raging on the European continent and on the frontiers of the EU. Four EU member states (Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania) share a common border with Ukraine, and five others with Russia (Poland plus Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Sweden and Finland). The Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has said that Europe has entered a ‘pre-war era’.


    These external threats are coupled with internal factors of political disunity and discord. In a recent interview with The Economist, President Macron warned that Europe faces imminent danger and that “things can fall apart very rapidly”.[2] The list is long of the existential challenges facing Europe where firm and rapid action is required: security and defence, boosting the EU’s economy and competitiveness, immigration, climate change, trade policy, energy dependence, digital regulation and AI, and its future geostrategic relations with the US and China. The majority to emerge from the European elections will have profound consequences for all these policy areas.


    Making predictions about elections is a mug’s game at the best of times, but more than ever when 27 countries are involved. Nevertheless, the majority of polls and commentators have estimated that as many as 25% of the newly elected MEPs may be members of far-right parties at national level. Let us look at the likely consequences of such a result, both inside and outside the European Parliament.


    Internally, the EPP (European People’s Party, centre-right) is expected to form the largest group, and as such will either seek to maintain the existing pro-EU alliance with the Socialists, Liberals and Greens, or will attempt to construct new alliances, in particular with the eurosceptic and anti-federalist ECR (European Conservatives and Reformists) Group.


    A broad coalition is essential for two reasons: to ensure the necessary majority for Parliament’s adoption of EU legislation, and more immediately to vote on the appointment of the next President of the Commission (or on a second term for incumbent Ursula von der Leyen if she is proposed by the European Council). Failure to secure a majority in Parliament on this issue would provoke a serious institutional crisis.


    The S&D (Socialists and Democrats) Group – most probably the second largest – has stated that it will oppose any alliance between the EPP and ‘the far-right’. The Renew (Liberal) and Green Groups, both of which also oppose any deals with the far-right, are expected to lose Members, and Renew could be replaced as the third largest group by either the ECR or by the ID (Identity and Democracy) Group, where France’s Marine Le Pen’s party sits, among others.


    The above projections, if confirmed, would suggest that the traditional majority alliance between centre-right and centre-left could be replaced in the new parliament by an EPP-led more right-wing coalition. Another possible scenario could be a more fluid system of shifting alliances, depending on the particular issues to be voted on in plenary session.


    However, it is conceivable that the numerical increase in the size of the right-wing and far-right groups may not be matched by a corresponding increase in their political influence. Past experience has shown that Members from far-right parties often prefer to use the Parliament as a platform for their personal views, rather than focussing on the core parliamentary business of shaping EU legislation through the specialised committees. Furthermore, the two right-wing or far-right groups – and their respective leaders – have a long history of feuding among themselves, which if continued in the next Parliament could further limit their effectiveness.


    Indeed, the particular work culture of the European Parliament, with its emphasis on compromise and consensus between nationalities and political affiliations, may also be a factor in reducing the influence of the eurosceptic and far-right groupings in the new Parliament.


    To further complicate the situation, there has also been talk in Brussels of a realignment of right-wing forces and the formation of a new political group. Not to forget the 50 or more newly elected Members who will start their term of office as non-attached and some of whom may well end up in the ECR or ID Groups. Rarely has US President Lyndon Johnson’s celebrated aphorism seemed more relevant: “The iron law of politics is that successful politicians must learn how to count.”


    All will eventually become clear, hopefully in the period between the announcement of the election results on 9th June and the constituent session in the week of 15th July. The newly constituted political groups will meet and deliberate during this time. In parallel, an informal meeting of EU leaders is due to take place on 17th June, and the full European Council will meet on 27-28th June, inter alia to decide on the leaders’ choice of the next Commission President.


    Externally, this move to the right, if reflected in the results of the European elections and the changed balance of power within the European Parliament, will inevitably have consequences at two different but related levels – for the other EU institutions, particularly the Commission, and nationally.


    It is unclear at this stage precisely where a majority might lie in the new Parliament to secure von der Leyen’s desired second term. Other candidates may emerge. The proposals to be made by the member states’ governments for the other Commissioner posts may also be affected, as could certain key EU policies such as combating climate change, the EU budget, and financial and military support for Ukraine.


    The results could also have significant political implications at national level. In the case of France, for example, if Le Pen’s Rassemblement National achieves a much higher score than Macron’s list Besoin d’Europe, she will be well placed for the presidential election in 2027. Similarly, if the German CDU wins the most seats in Germany, as currently seems likely, this would give them a useful boost for the next federal election in autumn 2025.


    We await with some trepidation the outcome of this historic and hard-fought election, and its effect on Europe’s political landscape. Whatever the results, the EU institutions and the governments of the member states must listen carefully to the message sent by the voters and act accordingly, in the general interest. Europe’s future hangs in the balance.


    [1] New members: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.

    [2] Emmanuel Macron, Emmanuel Macron in his own words (English), The Economist, May 2024,

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      Georgia’s new law on “transparency of foreign influence” and its incompatibility with international human rights standards

      Article by Mariam Uberi

      May 22, 2024

      Georgia’s new law on “transparency of foreign influence” and its incompatibility with international human rights standards

      On 18th May the President of Georgia, Salome Zurabishvili, vetoed the Law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. The President concluded that “it is impossible to improve this law” since it is “anti-constitutional, anti-Georgian, anti-European and anti-democratic.” The President affirmed that there was no alternative to withdrawing this law. In her motivated corrections, she proposed to terminate the law as rapidly as possible after its enactment and therefore amended the last article of the passed law (Article 11, para. 2) to read: “This Law shall be in force during one day from its publication.” According to the Constitutional provisions, the President’s motivated remarks can be overturned.[1]


      On 14th May, the Georgian Government finally adopted its controversial draft legislation “on the transparency of foreign influence” into law. It compels civil society organisations receiving foreign funding to register as an “organisation carrying out in the interests of a foreign power”. This was the second attempt to introduce such legislation, in the face of significant public protests.


      In comparison to the first draft law proposed by the Georgian ruling party – Georgian Dream – in 2023, this new version changed “agents of foreign influence” to “organisations pursuing the interest of a foreign power”. A parliamentary hearing was conducted. The original draft law mandated civil society and media outlets receiving more than 20 per cent of their income “directly or indirectly from the agents of foreign influence” to register as “organisations pursuing the interest of a foreign power”. This may include money, as well as other assets in kind (movable or immovable assets).


      There have been massive ongoing protests in reaction to the legislative proposals, and in response to the law’s adoption. The Georgian authorities have repeatedly resorted to the use of unlawful force against peaceful protesters and have failed to prevent violence by groups of unidentified men.[2] The Government has not shied away from using disproportionate force against protesters, resulting in cases of “shocking” violence and intimidation, as well as the ambushing and beating of members of the opposition party and public defenders.[3] The Government authorities have intensified crackdowns on civil society through threatening phone calls and posters containing insults. Protestors who actively participated in protests were summoned to the Interior Ministry for questioning. In sum, it seems that most public institutions, including the police, state security services, special investigation service, personal data protection service and the ruling party, all have been implicated in orchestrating massive repressions. This has been facilitated by unlawful interference into protesters’ personal lives by targeting them at their homes and through their phones. Finally, no investigation has been opened into the unidentified men who ambushed protesters.


      Prior to proposing the controversial bill, Georgia’s ruling party proposed a discriminatory constitutional bill that, among other restrictions, bans any public expression of opinion or public gatherings that could be regarded as “promoting same-sex relationships”.[4]


      The Law on Agents of Foreign Influence

      In the law, the “agents of foreign influence” are organisations, entities found under foreign laws and individuals, who are not citizens of Georgia. According to the law, upon its adoption, foreign-funded organisations would have two months to register themselves as “organisations pursuing the interests of a foreign power” and submit annual financial declarations on funds received from foreign sources. Failure to register would be an administrative offence, punishable by fines of up to 25,000 GEL (approximately 8,700 EUR). The law also authorises the Ministry of Justice to conduct “thorough investigations” of the registered organisations to ensure their respect of the laws. According to the final version of the law, designated officials from the Ministry of Justice will have the right to request any personal data from individuals, including confidential information such as details about their sexual life, philosophical or other beliefs, political views, membership in trade unions, etc. The law requires all individuals, bodies, organisations, and institutions from whom the authorised representative of the Ministry of Justice requests this information to provide all available data. Failure to provide the requested information will result in a fine of 5,000 Lari (approximately 1,820 EUR). Appealing the fine will not create exemption from the obligation of paying and might incur a further fine. Finally, the new sanction is additional and does not replace already established fines of ten, 20 and 25 thousand Lari.[5]


      The objective of Georgia’s Government is to increase the transparency of the financing of associations and curb foreign influences. The current law however seeks to control, rather than enable, access to funding. An explanatory note to the law maintains that it does not violate Georgia’s constitution, aspiration to join the European Union (EU) and that it is in line with international obligations. It is poignant, however, that the law has been adopted ahead of Parliamentary elections, and follows other patterns aimed at silencing human rights organisations and media outlets in Georgia. Most importantly, the EU has maintained that the Georgian Government was taking inspiration from similarly controversial legislation, primarily – Russia’s 2012 ‘Foreign Agents Law’ – which intentionally labels and discriminates against civil organisations.[6] In recent years, legislation similar to Russia’s law has been gaining traction in neighbouring countries. In April 2024, Kyrgyzstan’s President signed a law on “foreign representatives” obliging non-profit organisations, including media outlets, to designate themselves as “foreign representatives”, and submit regular financial reports and audits.[7]


      Parallels to the US Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

      The Georgian law defines a “foreign agent” as any non-commercial legal person, which receives more than 20 per cent of its funding from a “foreign power”. Meanwhile, FARA defines a “foreign agent” to be any person who is under the control, or acts at the direction of, a foreign power. The definition in the Georgian law of a “foreign nexus”, which could ensnare organisations who accept 20 per cent of financial support or other gifts, is not aligned to FARA. The US law requires the foreign power or “principal” to have a degree of control over the possible foreign agent. That being said, FARA requires evidence of a principal-agent relationship between the “foreign agent” and its “foreign principal” implying a high level of dependence and control between the domestic association and its foreign donor. By contrast, a Georgian NGO receiving 20 per cent of their funds from abroad is sufficient evidence for the NGO to be considered a “foreign agent”. Therefore the approach of drawing parallels to FARA is deeply flawed, as the US law is targeted not at civil society, but at professional lobbyists. FARA’s main purpose is to regulate political players acting on behalf of governments, which is the opposite of what NGOs do.[8]


      Finally, the Georgian law, unlike FARA, does not provide exemptions for any persons or activities; such as Georgian organisations that receive funding from allies of Georgia; humanitarian aid organisations; Georgian scientific, academic and artistic organisations; media organisations; and nonprofit entities with foreign funding representing clients in Georgian courts.[9]


      There are already concerns that FARA can violate freedom of expression and association, principles that are embedded at the core of the US Constitution. Given its vagueness, there are those that argue that FARA could have a “chilling effect” on political speech, thus implicating First Amendment concerns.[10] These are concerns even more relevant in the case of the Georgian law.


      Pressing Social Need

      Georgia is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and has an obligation to recognise the protection of opinions and the freedom of expression and right to assembly protected under the European ECHR. Its case law suggests that Georgia’s law would not be able to withstand the scrutiny of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The ECtHR maintains that it is the right of a citizen to form a “legal entity in order to act collectively” in a field of mutual interest. It is one of the most important aspects of the right to freedom of association, without which the right would be deprived of any meaning.


      According to international human rights law, Georgian authorities have an obligation to protect its institutions and citizens from association that might hinder them. However, exceptions to the rule of freedom of association should be strictly limited and only compelling reasons can justify restrictions on that freedom, with any interference corresponding to a “pressing social need”.[11] The ECtHR also recognised the role of the NGOs as a “public watchdog” warranting similar protection as that of the press. The ECtHR has recognised that civil society makes an important contribution to the discussion of public affairs. The manner in which “the public watchdog” carries out their activities may have a significant impact on the proper functioning of a democratic society. It is the state’s obligation therefore to enable NGOs to draw attention to matters of public interest.[12] However, if legislative amendments impose new requirements on previously existing organisations, they need to be justified as “necessary in a democratic society”.[13]


      In its new law, the Georgian Government chose to adopt a “stigmatising term,” i.e. a term with a negative connotation that bears a striking resemblance to “foreign agent”. It introduces a concept of an agency, in which control by the donor over the recipient is automatically implied rather than established on a case-by-case basis.[14] This presumption is irrefutable since any evidence of operational independence of the grantee from the donor is legally irrelevant for the designation of the “organisation carrying foreign influence”. The mere fact that money is received from “foreign sources” is sufficient. There is no need to show proof that the organisation had been acting in the interest of foreign sources, therefore attaching the label of an “organisation that carries out foreign influence” that received funds from foreign entities is “unjustified” and “prejudicial”.[15]


      Contrary to what Georgia’s Government presume the objective of increasing the transparency of the financing of associations, can not justify the introduction of legislation based on a presumption and applied indiscriminately – that any financial support paid by a non-national natural or legal person, and any civil society organisation receiving such financial support, would automatically harm the State’s political and economic interests and the ability of its institutions to operate free from interference.[16]


      Strikingly, the law does not distinguish between various forms of “funding and other movable and immovable property,” this could entail different activities, for instance, a purchase of a computer by an NGO from an international company. On another note, in newly suggested amendments, the law does not specify whether a ‘person’ required to provide necessary information during the monitoring should work for the given organisation or is somewhat associated with it. This also violates the “principle of legal certainty,” which recognises that ill-defined laws are open to arbitrary application and abuse. The vagueness of these offences increases the risk that they may be applied in a manner that is contrary to the principle of international law, implying “no crime without law”.[17] The laws concerned must be accessible and sufficiently precise to allow members of a society to decide how to regulate their conduct (foreseeability) and may not impose “unfettered or sweeping discretion” on those who enforce them.[18]


      Moreover, the “burdensome requirements” which have the effect of inhibiting an organisation’s activities may lead to an interference with the right to freedom of association.[19] According to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, registration authorities should be independent from the Government. It follows that reporting obligations should be “simple, uniform and predictable”.[20] Therefore, organs in charge of registration and supervision should carry out inspections only during ordinary business hours, with adequate advance notice; and that powers should not be used arbitrarily and for the harassment or intimidation of organisations.[21] Finally, authorities gaining access to one’s personal information undermines Georgia’s own national law and the Constitution.[22] By the same token, it would violate the stringent proportionality test imposed by the ECHR.[23]



      The law also has a strong deterrent, and stigmatising effect, on NGOs’ operations. The label negatively colours civil society working to uphold respect for human rights, the rule of law and human development for the benefit of Georgian society and its democratic system.[24] Moreover, in the example of Russia, the ECtHR established that the creation of such a new status severely restricted the ability of civil organisations to continue their activities owing to the negative attitude of their target groups and the legislative restrictions. In the case of Georgia, the new status will hinder NGOs ability to participate in public life and engage in activities that they had been carrying out prior to the creation of this new category of “organisations carrying foreign influence”. In their explanatory note, the Georgian authorities have not been able to provide “relevant and sufficient” reasons for creating that new category. There is no suggestion that these measures further the declared goal of increasing transparency. The creation of this new status as defined in domestic law will not justify the test implying “necessary in a democratic society”.[25] The Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression submitted that freedom of association encompassed the right of NGOs to access financial resources, and without such resources, civil society would not be able to enjoy freedom of association.[26] Moreover the right to receive and use resources from foreign sources was recognised and protected in international law. Poignantly, these restrictions have had a disproportionate impact on civil society organisations advancing the rights of marginalised groups, including women and LGBTI persons, which are often highly dependent on foreign funds to support their activities.


      Severity of Penalty vs Proportionality

      The nature and severity of the penalties imposed are important factors to be considered when assessing the proportionality of the law’s interference with an NGO’s activities and that of media outlets. The penalty should not amount to a form of censorship or undermine civil society’s important contribution to the administration of public affairs.[27] By the same token, the penalty should not hamper NGOs in performing their task as independent monitors and “public watchdogs”. However, the current financial sanctions imposed by the law seem disproportionately high. In its previous case law, the ECtHR used the monthly salary, set and reviewed by the state’s federal agency, to put the financial impact of sanctions into perspective.[28] The average salary for a Georgian NGO staffer varies from 2,380 to 4,500 Gel (approximately 800 to 1,500 EUR), therefore a 25,000 Gel fine (approximately 8,418 EUR) is approximately equivalent to one to three years’ subsistence income. According to the court, any limitation must further be “necessary in a democratic society”.[29] To meet the condition of necessity to impose such a restrictive law, authorities must demonstrate that the measure can truly be effective in pursuing the legitimate aim and be the least intrusive means among those which might achieve the desired objective. It is then followed that the sanctions of such magnitude will trigger heightened scrutiny of the law’s proportionality.[30]


      Impact of Georgia’s new law and its implications

      Contrary to what has been suggested by the Georgian Parliament this law is not similar to FARA, and it violates Georgia’s political, national and international legal obligations. The law fails to demonstrate that the measure can truly be effective in pursuing a legitimate aim and be the least intrusive means among those which might achieve the desired objective. The restrictions and barriers imposed by the law will directly affect the communities that civil society organisations serve. This will include aid organisations and institutions working to improve education and health. Restriction on foreign funding for civil society organisations will have a chilling effect on Georgian civil society, dissuading many such organisations from seeking these kinds of funds or forcing them to simply close. Amidst the homophobic rhetoric perpetrated by the ruling party, LGBTI organisations would be among the first organisations subjected to closer scrutiny and fines under the law, draining their limited resources. On a political level, it is incompatible in spirit with EU values and democratic principles and is in breach of at least two steps contained in the EU Commission’s recommendation on Georgia’s candidate status.[31] Overall, the adoption of the law signals a derailment of Georgia’s aspirations towards EU membership embedded in its own constitution and commitments to human rights guaranteed by the ECHR.[32] Finally, if the legislation goes forward, the EU will likely aim to sanction all members of the Georgian Parliament who voted in favour of it and will call to make all financial assistance to Georgia conditional on eliminating this law from the Georgian legal order.[33]


      On 21st May the Venice Commission issued an urgent opinion on the Georgian law on Transparency of Foreign Influence. It in its strongest terms, it recommended revoking the law since it will have an adverse impact on the freedoms of association and expression, right to privacy and rights to prohibition of discrimination. It went on to conclude that none of the threefold conditions encompassed by the ECHR or the Constitution of Georgia in relation to any of these rights, including legality, legitimacy and the necessity/proportionality test, were being met.[34]


      Photo credit: Medea Gugeshashvili. It was taken on 2 May 2024, showing the protests outside the Georgian Parliament.


      Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


      [1] See Article 64 of the Constitution of Georgia.

      [2] Amnesty International Public Statement, Georgia: Authorities must stop using unlawful force against peaceful protesters and ensure accountability, Amnesty International, May 2024,

      [3] Ibid.

      [4] Amnesty International, Georgia: Halt legislative assault on LGBTI rights, March 2024,,individuals%20are%20increasingly%20under%20assault.

      [5] JAM News, The “foreign agents” bill in Georgia will also apply to individuals, May 2024,

      [6] European Parliament, Motion for a resolution on the attempts to reintroduce a foreign agent law in Georgia and its restrictions on civil society,B9-0248/2024, April, 2024,

      [7] Article 19, Georgia: New attempts to introduce a ‘foreign agent’ law threaten freedom of expression, April 2024,

      [8] Samuel Rebo, FARA in focus: What can Russia’s foreign agent law tell us about America’s?, Journal of National Security Law and Policy, Vol. 12: 277, February 2022,

      [9], US FARA versus Georgian Foreign Agents Law: Three Major Differences, April 2024,

      [10] Rebo, p. 321.

      [11] Sidiropoulos and Others v. Greece,10 July 1998, para 40, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑IV, see:[%22001-58205%22]

      [12] Magyar Helsinki Bizottság v. Hungary [GC], no. 18030/11, paras 166-67, 8 November 2016, see:[%22001-167828%22]

      [13] Moscow Branch of the Salvation Army, application no (72881/01) paras 73-77, see:[%22001-77249%22]

      [14] EccoDefence and others v. Russia, App. nos. 9988/13 and 60 others. para 136.,14 June 202, see:[%22001-217751%22]

      [15] Ibid.

      [16] Commission v. Hungary (Transparency of associations), C‑78/18, EU:C:2020:476) at EccoDefence and others v. Russia. para 46.

      [17] UN Mandates of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. OL USA (27 October, 2023). p.8.

      [18] Pakdemirli v. Turkey, no. 35839/97, para 59, 22 February 2005, see:[%22001-124320%22]

      [19] Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi v. Turkey and Jehovah’s Witnesses of Moscow v. Russia,1920/13 para 71-72,26 April 2016, see:[%22001-162211%22]

      [20] EccoDefence and others v. Russia, App. nos. 9988/13 and 60 others, para 150.

      [21] Ibid. para 150.

      [22] The Law on Personal Data Protection states that for the processing of personal data to be legal, it must meet the requirements of the law which provides for appropriate security measures for handling the data and should not infringe on the citizen’s rights enshrined in that law. See Article 15 which provides for the inviolability of private and family life, private space, and communications by containing a provision to disclose private data from the specially protected category. Article 22 on freedom of association: by enforcing self-stigmatisation and creating conditions for restricting the activities and eventually abolishing the organisations it applies to, and Article 11: The law is discriminatory to a specific segment of organisations without sufficient legal justification.

      [23] Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

      [24] Ibid. para 139.

      [25] EccoDefence and others v. Russia, App. nos. 9988/13 and 60 others. para 118.

      [26] UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Access to resources Report of the, Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Distr. General 10 May 2022. pp.8-10.

      [27] EccoDefence and others v. Russia, App. nos. 9988/13 and 60 others. paras 179-181,14 June 2022.

      [28] Tolmachev v. Russia, no. 42182/11, para 54, 2 June 2020, see:

      [29] EccoDefence and others v. Russia, App. nos. 9988/13 and 60 others. para 188.

      [30] Ibid.

      [31] European Parliament, Motion for a resolution on the attempts to reintroduce a foreign agent law in Georgia and its restrictions on civil society,B9-0248/2024, April, 2024,

      [32] Article 78 of the Constitution. The constitutional bodies should take all measures within their powers to ensure the full integration of Georgia into the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisations.

      [33] European Parliament, Motion for a resolution on the attempts to reintroduce a foreign agent law in Georgia and its restrictions on civil society,B9-0248/2024, April, 2024,

      [34] Venice Commission, CDL-PI(2024)013-e, Georgia – Urgent Opinion on the Law of Georgia on Transparency of Foreign Influence, Council of Europe, May 2024,

        Related Articles

        Soft power lessons from Russia’s war: How to overcome polarisation and strengthen liberal democracy

        Article by Dr Leila Alieva

        May 16, 2024

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        Soft power lessons from Russia’s war: How to overcome polarisation and strengthen liberal democracy

        Summary: The lessons which the international community have drawn thus far from Russia’s aggression against Ukraine have been dominated by the necessity of measures in the military sphere. However, the war has also exposed weaknesses in the soft power field – such as polarisation along political and geographic boundaries – as well as illuminated the role of exclusion, the underestimation of societies’ potential reform, and the domination of neopatriarchy in contemporary politics and international relations.


        Dr Leila Alieva, an Affiliate of REES, Oxford School for Global and Area Studies (OSGA), shares her analysis of these themes, based on her research and lived experience.


        Read the author’s in depth article here.


        Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

          Related Articles

          Expert Briefing: Priorities for international support to Ukraine, as Russia’s war rages into its third year

          Article by Alice Copland

          May 9, 2024

          Download PDF
          Expert Briefing: Priorities for international support to Ukraine, as Russia’s war rages into its third year

          In March 2024, the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC), together with the APPG on Ukraine, and with support from the University of Birmingham, convened an off-the-record roundtable meeting in Parliament to discuss the ongoing situation on the ground in Ukraine and, as Russia’s war entered its third year, priorities for ongoing international support.


          The discussion was chaired by Susan Coughtrie, Director of the Foreign Policy Centre. The conversation was led by a panel of experts who shared their unique insights. These included: David H Dunn, Professor of International Politics at the University of Birmingham; Rachael Cox, Head of Policy at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) (who updated on the humanitarian situation only); Elly Nott, CEO and Co-Founder of the David Nott Foundation; Tanya Mulesa, Director at Justice & Accountability for Ukraine (JAFUA); Tom Keatinge, founding Director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies (CFCS) at RUSI; and Olga Tokariuk, Chatham House OSUN Academy Fellow in the Ukraine Forum.


          The panel discussed Ukraine’s ongoing humanitarian, political and military needs. Experts also reflected on the impact of the international community’s response to Russia’s full-scale invasion and explored how this could shift in the future, particularly with US elections looming and engagement with the Global South still often overlooked. The panellists examined future prospects for the conflict, for the long-term reconstruction of Ukraine and legal accountability for Russia.


          The international community, including the United Kingdom, has underlined its commitment to supporting Ukraine for ‘as long as it takes’. Participating experts shared that this thinking should shift to guaranteeing support for Ukraine for as ‘short as it takes’, emphasising a commitment to supporting Ukraine to win the war as quickly as possible, rather than simply to survive. Parliamentarians and staffers were able to hear these insights directly and engage in discussion on how the UK could shape its future approach.


          Key takeaways emerged from the conversation and are summarised in the following sections below:

          1. Humanitarian need in Ukraine remains critical;
          2. The future response of the international community is unclear, but will have implications for Ukraine and globally;
          3. Countries must invest in Ukraine to protect its and their own security and interests, however ongoing support is not guaranteed;
          4. As the war continues the long-term challenges of conflict are coming into closer view; and
          5. Developing a shared mechanism for holding Russia legally and financially accountable for its illegal invasion of Ukraine is crucial.


          Download the full summary of the briefing here.

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            The Transatlantic Partnership: Looking ahead on the impacts of trade

            Article by Dr Andrew Gawthorpe

            May 7, 2024

            The Transatlantic Partnership: Looking ahead on the impacts of trade

            Over the past decade, international trade has become an increasingly contentious political issue in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Departing from a postwar consensus in favour of liberalising trade, both countries have embraced a more ambiguous and complex attitude towards the issue. Neither country has embraced outright protectionism, but both have sought to manage and redirect trade and investment flows. By doing so, they have moved away from an approach to trade which focuses on maximising economic growth and towards one which involves a blend of political and national security considerations.


            As both countries approach their next national elections, it is time to take stock of these trends and to consider how they might develop further in the coming years. As a struggle is underway to rewrite the rules of the international economy in regions like the Indo-Pacific, choices taken in Washington and London will have far-reaching impact. At stake are the standards of living, environmental protections, and labour rules affecting billions of people around the world.


            The new trade policy

            For different reasons, both the UK and the US have moved away from a pure emphasis on economic efficiency in their recent trade policy.


            Although supporters often claimed that Brexit was a free trade measure designed to increase the UK’s economic opportunities abroad, its main practical effect has been to make trade between the UK and its largest export market more difficult. This negative effect on trade with the European Union was supposed to be offset by the UK’s ability to negotiate its own free trade agreements with third countries. The results of this were uncertain at the time of Brexit and have mostly proved to be disappointing since. This has particularly been so in the case of a US-UK trade agreement, which many supporters of Brexit touted as a major goal. In effect, Brexit has meant sacrificing a measure of future economic growth in order to “take back control” of other policy areas from Brussels.[1]


            Over roughly the same period, the US has also backed away from its past support for a liberalising trade agenda. President Trump famously started a trade war with China and pulled out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping free trade agreement covering much of the Pacific rim. But his successor President Biden has proven to be sceptical of trade as well, imposing new economic sanctions on China, declining to rejoin the TPP, and announcing that expanding market access is no longer a priority of US trade policy.


            The result has been the emergence of a new and powerful protectionist coalition in American politics. On one side, it comprises economic nationalists, China hawks, and members of Trump’s Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, who see trade as weakening the American economy and destroying its manufacturing base. The other side consists firstly of economic progressives who see free trade deals as enriching corporations at the expense of American workers, and secondly of Democrats concerned about winning votes in key industrial Midwestern swing states.


            This protectionist coalition reached its ascendancy at precisely the wrong moment for the UK, which since 2016 has been seeking a US-UK trade deal. There has been little to no appetite in Washington for expanding the access that the two countries have to the other’s market, which is the key goal of British policymakers. Limited talks over harmonising regulations and addressing other barriers to trade fizzled out late last year amid concerns among Democrats that even appearing to consider a substantive new trade agreement would harm them in November’s election.[2] Even if there were a political appetite for a deal, long-running disagreements over agricultural standards would make one hard to achieve.


            These political dynamics – both the ascendancy of a protectionist coalition in the United States and the specific barriers to a US-UK agreement – are not likely to improve even after this year’s elections. It is possible that, with the election behind it, a second Biden administration might return to talks on a limited agreement dealing mostly with regulation, but talks on expanding market access are unlikely. Trump, meanwhile, is campaigning on increasingly draconian trade policies, including a flat 10% tariff on all imports.[3] His advisors are also reportedly debating whether to purposefully devalue the dollar, which would make British exports to the United States less competitive.[4] These policies could significantly harm US-UK trade and foreclose the possibility of any constructive new agreement.


            A whole world of trade

            Even with US-UK trade arrangements appearing uncertain, both the UK and the United States are involved in setting and influencing the rules of the international economy further afield.


            As it has moved away from traditional free trade agreements, the Biden administration has not completely lacked a trade policy. It has focused instead on more narrow negotiations which have sought to address non-tariff barriers, but also to persuade partners to raise their environmental and labour standards. Its most notable attempt came in the form of the Indo Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), an agreement covering 12 nations containing 2.6 billion people and over a third of the global economy.[5]


            Although these headline figures sound impressive, the results of IPEF have been limited. Last year, the cooperating nations reached minor agreements on coordinating supply chains and sharing knowledge related to the green energy transition. But the Biden administration walked away from the portion of the agreement related to environmental and labour standards, believing that the other IPEF states – which include India, Japan, and Vietnam – were not willing to do enough to satisfy American opinion.[6]


            The travails of IPEF revealed the limits of the Biden administration’s approach. Without offering its partners increased access to the US market, the administration gave them little incentive to raise their environmental and labour standards, which would in turn make their products less competitive internationally. But this means that the United States has lost the opportunity to have a strong voice in determining the economic future of the region. This points to there being a strong chance that the initiative will pass to China, which sits at the centre of a growing economic bloc called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) – and which does little to raise environmental protections or standards for workers.[7]


            The UK has taken a different approach. In recent years, it has signed several new bilateral free trade agreements in the region – with New Zealand and Australia – and joined the successor to the TPP, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). The UK Government has not taken a formal position on IPEF, but the UK may try to join it in the future.[8] Although the benefits to the British economy are small, these moves have signalled that the UK remains interested in new trade agreements and wants to play an increased geopolitical role in the region. This looks likely to remain the case regardless of the outcome of the next UK general election.


            The most contentious international economic issue faced by the two countries in the coming years is likely to be relations with China. Trump has signalled that he is looking to engage in extremely harsh economic policies against China if elected. In this case, the UK will likely find itself caught uncomfortably between Washington and more dovish European countries who want to maintain economic ties with Beijing. Particularly if Trump also engages in new trade measures against European countries – as he did in his first term – it will be extremely difficult for the UK to pursue a liberalising agenda. Instead, the world is likely to be consumed by a new round of trade wars.


            More harmonious relations can be expected between a second Biden administration and a government led by the Labour Party, which has voiced support for the “new overseas investment and regulatory partnerships” which are at the centre of the Biden administration’s approach.[9] Ultimately, however, UK policymakers who want to pursue an agenda of liberalisation and integration will be at the mercy of sentiment in Washington. The UK economy is simply not big enough for London to drive the process itself.


            A difficult future

            Both the UK and the US have identified the Indo-Pacific as a region which is key to the future of global politics and economics. But political reservations in Washington are currently holding both countries back from playing a decisive role in setting the economic rules of the region. The UK’s enthusiasm is not matched by its heft, whereas America’s heft goes to waste without enthusiasm to match.


            By working together, the two countries could offer a positive, optimistic vision of the international economy – one which prioritises raising environmental and labour standards as well as boosting economic growth. The aftermath of this year’s elections in both countries will be a critical test of whether this is possible, or whether familiar barriers and animosities will lead to another wave of protectionism.


            Andrew Gawthorpe is an expert on US foreign policy and politics at Leiden University and the creator of America Explained, a podcast and newsletter. He was formerly a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, a teaching fellow at the UK Defence Academy, and a civil servant in the Cabinet Office.


            [1] Jonathan Portes, The Impact Of Brexit On The UK Economy: Reviewing The Evidence, VOX EU, July 2023,

            [2] Politico, Biden Quietly Shelves Trade Pact With UK Before 2024 Elections, December 2023,

            [3] Katie Lobosco, Trump Wants More Tariffs. His Earlier Trade Wars Cost Americans $230 Billion To Date, CNN, March 2024,

            [4] Gavin Bade, Trump Trade Advisors Plot Dollar Devaluation, Politico, April 2024,

            [5] World Economics, Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), May 2024,

            [6] Gavin Bade, RIP ‘Worker-Centered Trade’: Biden’s Global Economic Agenda Stalls, Politico, January 2024,

            [7] Andrew Gawthorpe, Biden’s Trade Policy Is Missing One Thing: Partners, World Politics Review, March 2024,

            [8] Foreign Affairs Committee, Tilting Horizons: The Integrated Review And The Indo-Pacific – Government Response To The Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2022–23, UK Parliament, March 2024,

            [9] David Lammy, The Case for Progressive Realism: Why Britain Must Chart A New Global Course, Foreign Affairs, April 2024, See also David Lammy, Britain Reconnected: A Foreign Policy For Security And Prosperity At Home (London, 2023), p. 24.

              Related Articles

              How international law can reverse the global assault on free speech: A review of a new expert guide

              Article by William Horsley

              March 19, 2024

              How international law can reverse the global assault on free speech: A review of a new expert guide

              The global struggle to protect free speech has reached a new fever pitch. The power of news media to act as a safeguard against tyranny has been critically undermined as the world’s autocracies have grown to outnumber the democracies. The Economist says a global gag on free speech has tightened thanks to “the new censors”.[1] Technology has brought new opportunities to suppress truthful communications, and the coarsening of language has poisoned the well of public debate, affecting us all.


              Recognising those dangers, 200 leading international lawyers and civil society figures gathered in London in January at the launch of a remarkable initiative aimed to turn back the tide by harnessing the law in the service of free speech. Renowned human rights lawyer Amal Clooney and Lord Neuberger, former President of the UK Supreme Court, have marshalled some of the world’s most authoritative jurists. Their joint publication Freedom of Speech in International Law (OUP) seeks to codify the universal rights to freedom of expression in a single substantial volume for the first time.[2]


              The book charts the chilling decline in protections for speech in multiple jurisdictions. It also it aims to provide a useable roadmap for governments to comply with the minimum standards in law that they have signed up to. The endeavour is inspired by the belief that the impressive body of international human rights laws that has been developed since 1945 – although much scorned and often flouted – can yet be used by “courts and newsrooms” around the world to win this Manichean contest.


              Lord Neuberger sounded a personal alarm, telling the meeting he had never before been so keenly aware of the importance and the fragility of international law. When Slobodan Milošević was found guilty of war crimes at the tribunal in The Hague in 1999, he had thought that victory for justice would usher in a new “era of accountability”. Now instead he saw signs of an “age of impunity and apathy”, and declared it to be imperative to halt the slide towards “unreason” or even fascism.


              Amal Clooney is the project’s moving spirit. In Gaza, journalists are “our eyes and ears”, Clooney said, but more than 70 had been killed in “the deadliest month ever recorded” for journalists in any conflict. In India the authorities’ widespread use of sedition and terrorism laws sends journalists and human rights defenders to jail for years even before a conviction. In the Philippines the Nobel prize-winning journalist Maria Ressa still faces a possible six years in jail after a “false” libel conviction in a corruption case.[3] And in Thailand thousands of citizens have been prosecuted for criticising the King, an offence which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail.


              Western states’ legal provisions that criminalise speech attract equally blunt criticism. Amal Clooney singled out the failure of the USA and the UK to recognise public interest as a defence against harsh anti-terrorism laws, meaning that prosecutions in both jurisdictions can lead to long jail sentences and those laws have a wider “chilling effect” on free speech. Lord Neuberger acknowledged his own embarrassment that not so long ago British judges had backed the use of secret super-injunctions to curtail free speech on important public issues.


              The authors – seven in all – focus on four categories of laws which they say are being weaponised to silence the press and independent voices: laws regulating political speech, false speech, hate speech, and speech related to official secrets and national security. They recount how new legislative tools are being used by states to quash dissent – not only familiar ones like sedition, treason and criminal defamation laws but increasingly terrorism, ‘false news’ and other vague laws that autocrats use to protect themselves against unflattering press. Hong Kong, for example, has revived sedition laws which have lain dormant for decades with devastating consequences for publisher Jimmy Lai and a host of other critical voices.


              The building blocks of free speech protection

              The postwar framework of international human rights, explicitly aimed at preventing a repeat of the Holocaust and carnage of World War Two war, accorded seminal importance to the rights of freedom of expression and opinion from the start. In 1948 the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 19 of the UDHR proclaimed that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes “the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.


              A slate of legitimate restrictions on freedom of expression were also identified, in particular with regard to the rights of others, national security, public order, and public health; but enforcement of those restrictions is permissible only if provided for by law, necessary in democratic society, and proportionate. In 1976 the right to free speech was first made legally binding through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which has been ratified by 173 states.


              Clooney, Neuberger and the other co-authors set out with meticulous clarity and in granular detail how, despite setbacks, the jurisprudence arising from the various international and regional treaties shows broad convergence on key issues. Among them are the principles that restrictions on free speech must be tightly drawn and not vague or overbroad; that freedom of opinion may never be curtailed; and that imprisonment is never an appropriate penalty for speech unless it also involves more serious harms such as incitement to violence.


              International bodies also broadly agree on the importance of protecting the press. The UN Human Rights Committee, interpreting the ICCPR’s provisions on freedoms of opinion and expression in its 2011 guidance to state authorities, says that “a free, uncensored and unhindered press is essential in any society”;[4] and that the press merits certain particular protections because of its role in enabling and promoting open public debate, without which an informed and engaged citizenry cannot exist. The European Court of Human Rights has strongly endorsed the vital “public watchdog role” of the press, which is accorded the broadest scope of protection in its case law, including with respect to the protection of journalists’ confidential sources.


              Yet in reality, Amal Clooney says, states have often imposed the harshest possible penalties on journalists to block or curtail their work to keep the public informed. In particular, states weaponise their legal systems by allowing “baseless lawsuits against journalists” that are often prohibitively expensive to defend against. In 2023, the UK Government faced a blizzard of criticism when it was revealed that the government gave permission for sanctioned Russian warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin to sue the founder of Bellingcat, Eliot Higgins, the man who had exposed Prigozhin’s crimes as head of the Wagner group.


              South African lawyer and academic Dr Dario Milo co-authored the book’s chapter on insulting speech. He called for states to act decisively to end “lawfare”, the widespread and cynical use of vexatious or abusive lawsuits or legal threats by the rich and powerful to harass and silence journalists and activists who report on matters of public interest. The numbers involved are extraordinary. In a 2023 survey of around 500 media workers in over 100 countries, half of the respondents reported that they or their media were facing legal threats.[5] The authors call for legal protections against abuse, including provisions for the early dismissal of frivolous cases, placing the burden proof on the plaintiff, and awarding full legal costs to defendants who are cleared.


              Misuses and law and the “undoing” of vital protections

              The book draws on exhaustive research data to show how devastating the real-world consequences of misuses of the law can be. Between 2014 and 2020 over 9000 people were imprisoned in Turkey for insulting President Erdogan. Before she was murdered, Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia faced more than 40 libel claims, many of them from politicians or public officials. As many as 160 states still have criminal defamation laws on their books; and the global census of jailed journalist by the Committee to Protect Journalists found that 320 journalists – close to an all-time record number – were imprisoned as of December 2023.


              Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, governments have enacted a raft of new misinformation laws in the past decade, especially related to speech on the internet. At least 18 states passed legislation against ‘fake information’ or ‘online misinformation’. Many of them apply criminal penalties and have extraterritorial reach. In Hungary, for example, a conviction can lead to a five year prison term. In many cases the institutions of the state – the judiciary, military or the government – have applied those laws to protect their own reputations in ways which, the authors insist, violates international legal standards. Among the book’s standout recommendations is that “false” speech should not be liable to penalties unless real-world harms result from it.


              The ubiquity of the Internet in people’s lives has landed private companies with a hornet’s nest of responsibilities to take quasi-judicial decisions by the minute about words and images are allowed on their Platforms. The authors propose as a general rule that those companies should recognise international human rights standards as “a floor, not a ceiling, of speech protection”. The scale of the task is extraordinary: Facebook/Meta’s removal of hateful material rose tenfold in two years up to 2020, while TikTok alone removed more than 100 million videos in the first half of that year


              Big technology and social media companies face fierce criticism from all sides, but this examination of their record shows that leading players have committed to ensuring that their policies are consistent with human rights standards. Meta’s Oversight Board of independent experts is tasked with determining “what to take down, what to leave up and why’. Its task includes holding the company to account to live up to its pledge to comply with international human rights standards.


              A systemic obstacle to a uniform global code of practice lies in the uneven or contradictory principles enshrined in the major sources of standards on free speech and human rights. Twitter (now known as ‘X’) claims to ground its values in both the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the European Convention, which are “two very different bodies of law”. Meta’s Oversight Board, however, has said it would not apply the First Amendment as it does not govern the conduct of private companies.


              The field of allowable speech online is fiercely contested. The less than satisfactory conclusion reached here is that there is as yet “no single principle for resolving conflicts of interpretation, nor a hierarchy or avenue of appeal”. A future Research report focusing on Internet shutdowns is promised by members of the same team of legal experts.[6]


              International law: a launchpad for recovering the lost ground of free speech?

              The authors also point to important legal and institutional reforms that have recently been launched but which must gather wider political traction and public support if they are to have a decisive impact. The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, for example, has issued a strong Recommendation to its 46 member states on countering SLAPPs (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). Regional human rights courts in Africa and the Americas have delivered landmark judgements – for example, directing state authorities to decriminalise defamation and to honour their obligations to give emergency protection to journalists who face imminent threats of violence. The past decade has seen the birth of some major initiatives in which governments are working in tandem with dynamic civil society and stakeholder organisations as never before.


              Amal Clooney, David Neuberger and Darius Milo are members of the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom.[7] The panel is an independent advisory body of the Media Freedom Coalition established by the UK and Canada in 2019.[8] The Coalition now comprises 50 countries, which have made a public commitment to promote and protect a vibrant, free, and independent media. Such innovations reflect the encouraging fact that the stifling of free speech and independent media and its pernicious impact on standards of democratic behaviour have risen sharply up the international policy agenda, often driven by dynamic civil society organisations. The 46 member states of the Council of Europe recently began an unprecedented Europe-wide Journalists matter campaign which will go on until 2027, aimed at improving thsafety of journalists, protecting media freedom, and raising wider public awareness of the necessary part journalists play in safeguarding democratic and pluralistic societies.[9]


              There is also a message for academics here. Engaged academics are committed to advancing the implementation of the UN Action Plan on the Safety of journalists and the Issue of Impunity through collaborative research with local actors in order to develop policies which can strengthen protections and safeguard journalists’ rights.[10] Yet the authors observe that many scholars focus somewhat narrowly on one jurisdiction or type of speech, such as defamation, without demonstrating connections between those findings and the wider picture. The explicit aim of the new publication is to effect change by spurring governments, big tech companies and other duty-bearers to enforce the international standards that exist to protect free speech.


              Strikingly, the international law experts assert that Article 19 of the ICCPR has achieved the status of “customary international law”, after decades in which the legal standards for protecting freedom of expression have been fought over and refined through a host of decisions in international and domestic courts, The International Court of Justice has already accepted that it has done so. If that were to be generally accepted, then states like China, Myanmar and Saudi Arabia, which have not ratified any of the relevant treaties, can be bound by same rules as the countries that have ratified them.


              Clooney, Neuberger and their colleagues recognise that it will be a hard slog to embed meaningful reforms and truly hold states accountable. Many are convinced the death in February of Alexei Navalny, like those of Anna Politkovskaya, Jamal Khashoggi, Daphne Caruana Galizia and other charismatic critics of authoritarian rulers, amounts to state-sanctioned murder. Each one of those iconic cases also speaks to the close connection between the fight for free speech and the demand for political freedoms.


              The authors of this book have lucidly articulated the goal of preventing autocratic regimes and overzealous prosecutors from manipulating the law to silence journalists and protect themselves. As they show only too well, some habitual state practices are “wildly at odds” with what is written in international treaties. But they make a powerful case that international law is not just the best instrument we have to undo the stifling of free speech. It is the only one.



              William Horsley is co-founder and international director of the Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM) at the University of Sheffield and a former BBC foreign correspondent in Europe and Asia. He is the author of the Safety of Journalists Guidebooks published by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and his work for the Association of European Journalists was instrumental in the establishment in 2015 of the Council of Europe’s digital Platform for the Safety of Journalists, a Europe-wide monitoring and response system to counter threats to media freedom and the safety of journalists. He is a member of the UK Advisory Board of RSF (Reporters Without Borders).


              Photo supplied by: IBA Human Rights Institute.


              [1] The Economist, The global gag on free speech is tightening, August 2019,

              [2] Ms Amal Clooney and Lord David Neuberger, Freedom of Speech in International Law, Oxford University Press, January 2024,

              [3] Committee to Protect Journalists, Hold The Line Coalition welcomes acquittal of Maria Ressa and Rappler, calls for dropping of remaining cases, September 2023,

              [4] United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, CCPR/C/GC/34, September 2011,

              [5] The Foundation, New research exposes global trends in legal attacks facing journalists, Thomas Reuters Foundation, April 2023,

              [6] High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom – Our Reports, Research Reports on International Standards, International Bar Association,

              [7] International Bar Association, High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom, see:

              [8] Media Freedom Coalition, see:

              [9] Council of Europe, Journalists Matter: Council of Europe Campaign for the Safety of Journalists, see:

              [10] UNESCO, UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity,

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                Op-Ed: Can The UK’s Professions Stop Butlering to the World?

                Article by Alex Jacobs

                March 6, 2024

                Op-Ed: Can The UK’s Professions Stop Butlering to the World?

                A lively event in parliament this week discussed how Britain’s PR industry could stop ‘butlering to the world’: serving kleptocrats and some of the most corrupt people around.[1]


                As the chair Liam Byrne MP noted, this ‘professional enabling’ is an integral part of Britain’s immense dirty money problem, which sees us in the super league of global economic crime.


                Participants from PR, journalism and civil society discussed what was going wrong and how it could be stopped. But is something more needed to help Britain’s professions kick the butlering habit and the huge fees it generates?


                PR and kleptocracy: a new report

                The event marked the launch of an excellent new report: What’s the Risk? PR & Communication Agencies and Kleptocracy.[2] (Disclosure: it was funded by the Joffe Trust and published by the Foreign Policy Centre (FPC).)


                It was hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Corruption & Responsible Tax and the FPC in partnership with Curzon PR, The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism.


                The report shines a light on how British PR firms have helped kleptocratic regimes, and others involved in grand corruption, to launder their reputations and turn illicit wealth into status, influence and power.


                In a wide-ranging discussion, participants touched on how some PR firms may not know what harms they are enabling. Others may be more aware, for instance using anonymous social media to attack their clients’ opponents. Michela Wrong’s experience of ‘a tide of vilification’ was sobering.[3]


                There was general agreement of the need for change. As the CEO of the CIPR, Alistair McCapra, put it: “if we don’t want to become a gangster paradise, we need to act.”


                So what’s to be done?

                General regulation of PR as a profession is unlikely to be practical. The solutions suggested included both carrot and stick.


                Carrots included: raising awareness of the risks & human impact of kleptocracy; and promoting good practices like transparency, client due diligence and reporting suspicious activity to the authorities.


                Sticks included: more naming and shaming, supported by better resourcing for journalism; investigating PR agencies alongside regulated professions; and better regulation in specific areas such as SLAPPs or on-line harm.


                There was talk of an overall goal of changing the culture of the PR profession, to take an ethical approach to kleptocracy. Could the next generation of young professionals help drive change?


                A wider problem

                PR is only one of Britain’s so-called enabling professions, helping wrong-doers enjoy the ill gotten gains of kleptocracy and corruption at vast social cost. In 2022, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine raised the heat more generally on lawyers, accountants and others.


                Since then, the Government has put great emphasis on improving the supervision of professions and tackling enablers through the second Economic Crime Plan and two recent Economic Crime Acts.


                A number of civil society initiatives are also working to drive change, such as The UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, The Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession, Principals with Principles and The UK Anti-Corruption Coalition.[4]


                But change remains elusive. For now, it seems the wider problem of butlering persists. Many states beyond Russia are seen to be involved, from Saudi Arabia to China. Last month’s evidence to the Business & Trade Committee suggests that the overall problem of economic crime may be getting worse.[5] And every crime needs its enablers.


                A wider solution?

                Recent legislation should deliver real improvements in Britain’s defences against economic crime. But the acid test when it comes to professional butlering is: what will change the established culture, in the teeth of ferocious commercial incentives?


                This could be addressed head on, at the same time as new laws come into force. For example, professional bodies could promote awareness of the risks of tangling with kleptocrats and build associated good practices into their work.


                However, a crucial link in the chain may be missing. Change will not happen overnight or by itself. The agenda will need to be consistently pushed among professionals and their institutions, alongside all their other priorities. This will probably take several years of consistent work, with creative approaches to build pressure and urgency for reform. It could be done, for instance, by some new specialist initiative, some kind of Kleptocracy Unit, working across professions. It could even be run by and for the next generation of professionals, as an engine of change.


                Without such an initiative, there is a risk that this new report’s recommendations will gather dust on the shelf. As ever, the heart of the question is not only what should be done, but who is going to make it happen.


                At the Joffe Trust, we would love to talk about any practical ideas we could support to help the UK’s professions kick the butlering habit, and close the UK’s doors to dirty money. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


                Alex Jacobs has been the executive Director of the Joffe Trust since 2018. He was previously a board member and worked closely with Joel Joffe for 20 years. He has a particular focus on illicit finance and supporting non-profit leaders. (


                [1] Robert Verkaik, Butler to the World by Oliver Bullough review – oligarch’s paradise, The Guardian, March 2022,

                [2] Thomas Mayne, What’s the Risk? PR & Communication Agencies and Kleptocracy, Foreign Policy Centre, March 2024,

                [3] Michela Wrong, I criticised Rwanda’s leader – now I wake up screaming after constant online attacks, The Guardian, January 2024,

                [4] UK Anti-SLAPP Coalition, see:; Institute of Business Ethics, Taskforce on Business Ethics and the Legal Profession,; Principals with Principles, see:; UK Anti-Corruption Coalition, see:

                [5] Business and Trade Committee, Oral evidence: Implementation of Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Act 2023, HC 522, House of Commons, February 2024,


                Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


                Photo credited to Menelik Samuels.

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                  Op Ed: Out of the spotlight Belarusians’ struggle for freedom continues amidst persistent repression

                  Article by Joanna Szymańska

                  March 2, 2024

                  Op Ed: Out of the spotlight Belarusians’ struggle for freedom continues amidst persistent repression

                  As 2024 dawned, the world found itself plunged into deeper socio-political upheaval, with ever more tumultuous events dominating global headlines. Overshadowed amongst these was the elections that took place in Belarus last weekend, the first since the fraudulent presidential vote in 2020 and the subsequent mass protests.


                  On 25 February 2024, Belarus elected 12,514 local council deputies and 110 deputies to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly. The outcome was of no surprise, and further reinforces President Alexander Lukashenko’s iron grip on power. Meanwhile, Belarusians continue to endure an unprecedented level of repression, which similarly has seen little coverage, since the events of four years ago.


                  Nevertheless, the year 2020 undoubtedly stands as a haunting memory for Lukashenko. In August of that year, thousands of Belarusians took to the streets to defy the dubious official results of the presidential election which secured Lukashenko his sixth consecutive victory. People voiced their strong dissent while waving the historic white-red-white flags: a symbol of a democratic and independent Belarus, later banned by the authorities. Protesters believed that the rightful winner, and thereby the next president, was Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whose growing popularity became an escalating problem for the regime in the lead up to the elections. As a result, she was threatened, and ultimately forced into exile, where she remains today.


                  The months that followed brought with them mass repression on a scale that the country had not seen before. Many active protesters had to flee the country. Those who did not want to or did not manage to on time, were detained, imprisoned, tortured, or even killed. The experience of the 2020 mass protests made Lukashenko even more ruthless and extremely determined to prevent any future challenges to his power.


                  In February 2022, just a few days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including from the territory of Belarus, the regime in Minsk conducted a sham constitutional referendum to further consolidate power. The referendum, among other things, served as a tool to remove presidential term limits, give a lifetime immunity to Lukashenko and constitutionalise the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly, a body introduced by Lukashenko in the 1990s. Officially, this group of about 1,200 people, selected from among local and national officials, is tasked with providing support to the Government and acting as a voice of ‘the people’. It has the power to declare martial law, initiate the process to remove a president from office, or even overturn presidential election results. The purpose of this group is clear: it has been formed to prepare the ground for when Lukashenko no longer serves as president.


                  In 2023, the regime was able to ban or dissolve most political parties through new regulations that forced all political parties to re-register, under much stricter requirements.[1]  Out of the 15 parties previously registered in the country, only four were confirmed in October 2023 by the Ministry of Justice as successfully meeting the new requirements.[2] They were Belaya Rus, the Liberal Democratic Party of Belarus, the Communist Party of Belarus, and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice. Not surprisingly, all of them are considered pro-government and support the regime.


                  As a result, the outcome of the February 2024 elections was easy to predict, further reinforced by the opposition forces in exile calling for a boycott of the vote.[3] The OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) was not invited by Belarusian authorities to conduct impartial election observation.[4] Instead, the regime invited observers from the Advisory Council of Heads of Electoral Bodies of the friendly Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) member states.[5]


                  The lack of strong mobilisation by Belarusians against the highly questionable way in which these 2024 February elections have been held, can be explained not only by the call of the opposition in exile to boycott them, but also by the pervasive terror which has persisted inside the country since 2020. The Government of Belarus has stepped up its efforts to excessively hinder people’s ability to speak out or protest by introducing or amending various repressive laws. According to official data, by November 2023, the number of criminal cases on charges related to “extremism” surged to 16,000.[6] As of December 2023, at least 960 NGOs were in the process of forced liquidation.[7] Amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus have effectively outlawed human rights work and independent media, criminalising “working on behalf of unregistered or liquidated organisations” and making it punishable by imprisonment.[8]


                  Activists, human rights defenders and journalists have been added to the list of ‘extremists’; currently even a single ‘like’ under a social media post written by those on the list can result in criminal charges. Independent media has reported that Belarus and Russia plan to unify their lists of ‘extremist’ individuals and organisations, allowing coordinated repression of independent voices.[9]


                  Given the level of repression, the courage of Belarusians who actively oppose the regime continues to amaze. A day before the elections, on 24 February, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reported on X (formerly Twitter) that her address to Belarusians about the anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Lukashenko’s sham elections was displayed on 2,000 screens in public spaces throughout the country, an action organised by BELPOL, a coalition of former police & security forces officers.[10]


                  According to the Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’, currently there are 1,411 political prisoners in Belarus.[11] Many of them have faced inhuman treatment, denial of medical care and no access to lawyers. Nasta Lojka, a prominent human rights defender who was sentenced in 2023 to seven years in prison for ‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social enmity or discord’, reported that she was forced to remain in a courtyard without any outerwear for eight hours in temperatures below ten degrees celsius, after which she fell ill.[12]  A few days before the elections, on 20 February 2024, it became known that a 63-year-old political prisoner Ihar Lednik died in the Minsk regional hospital. Such news does not always make headlines in the western media, but it is crucial to highlight that Ledinik is the fifth political prisoner known to have died in Belarus since 2021.[13]


                  Families of many political prisoners have not heard from their loved ones for months, many do not know if they are still alive. This includes Siarhei Tsikhanouski, blogger and husband of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, or Maria Kalesnikava, one of the leaders of the opposition. Many other political prisoners have very little or no opportunity to send and receive letters. With the continuous disbarment of lawyers who can represent the victims, access to any information related to the well-being and condition of political prisoners is increasingly limited. As recently as last month, the security forces have raided homes and detained family members of former and current political prisoners.[14]


                  More than three years after the 2020 protests, the regime continues to do everything in its power, with a vast arsenal of violent means at its disposal, to spread fear and terror among its citizens. In the face of the ongoing repression, the West must strengthen the support for Belarusian civil society, which, despite the mounting challenges, continues to be very active and vibrant.


                  We must continue to show unwavering support to the brave people of Belarus repressed for exercising their fundamental human rights and demand the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners. As Tsikhanouskaya called for recently, sanctions against the regime must be tightened.[15] Thanks to Belarusian and international investigative journalists, we know about the instances of sanctions evasion in the European Union, and the European community must address this as a matter of urgency.[16]


                  Belarus might not be front page news, but the struggle for a free and democratic country continues.


                  Joanna Szymańska is the Acting Head of Europe Office at ARTICLE 19. She has extensive experience of working on freedom of expression issues in Central and Eastern Europe.


                  [1] CSO Meter, Belarus launches campaign of forced liquidation of political parties, July 2023,

                  [2] Alexandra Boguslavskaya, Ban any opinion: are the authorities of the Republic of Belarus building a party system?, DW, November 2023,

                  [3] Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to Belarusians: “This day is for you, not the regime. Spend it wisely!”, February 2024,

                  [4] Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, The OSCE ODIHR regrets that the Belarusian authorities did not invite observers to the upcoming elections, Elections*-2024, February 2024,

                  [5] Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections, “Seriously underlines the credibility of this kind of company.” Pavel Sapelka spoke about international elections* monitoring, Elections*-2024, January 2024,

                  [6], The Prosecutor General’s Office has counted more than 16 thousand “extremist” crimes since 2020, Reformation, November 2023,

                  [7] LAWTREND, Monitoring the situation of freedom of association and civil society organisations in the Republic of Belarus December 2023,

                  [8] OMCT, Belarus: New amendment to the Criminal Code leaves no room for legal human rights activities, January 2022,

                  [9] Maria Yeryoma, Belarus Weekly: Belarus, Russia to unify lists of ‘extremists,’ coordinating repression, The Kyiv Independent, February 2024,

                  [10] Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Twitter post, Twitter, February 2024,

                  [11] Viasna, As of February 28 1411 persons in Belarus are considered as political prisoners,

                  [12] ARTICLE 19, Belarus: End persecution of human rights defender Nasta Lojka, April 2023,

                  [13] Viasna, Political prisoner Ihar Lednik died. He had health problems, February 2024,

                  [14] European Parliament, New wave of mass arrests in Belarus of opposition activists and their family members, February 2024,

                  [15] Todd Prince, Tsikhanouskaya Calls On U.S> To Support Belarusian Opposition, Tighten Sanctions on Lukashenka, RFE/RL, December 2023,

                  [16] OCCRP, Lithuania Cracks Down on Sanction Evasion Schemes after OCCRP Investigation, March 2023,


                  Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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                    Two Years On: New recommendations for the safety of journalists working on the frontline

                    Article by Maria Ordzhonikide and Valeriya Chudarova

                    March 1, 2024

                    Two Years On: New recommendations for the safety of journalists working on the frontline

                    The London-based charity Justice for Journalists Foundation (JFJ), in partnership with the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, has been collecting open-source evidence and satellite imagery of attacks on media workers during the war in order create better ways to protect journalists heading to the war zone. Maria Ordzhonikide and Valeriya Chudarova from JFJ, explain more about their work and recommendations for journalists working on the frontline.


                    After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine two years ago, thousands of Ukrainian journalists found themselves becoming frontline correspondents almost overnight. Dozens of foreign journalists also arrived in the country to report on the war. Without these professional and citizen reporters the world would not have been able to understand the extent of the unfolding catastrophe.


                    However, a high toll has already been paid, as according to the National Union of Journalists, at least 16 media workers have died while performing their professional duties, nine media workers have died as a result of collateral damage and at least 54 journalists have died while serving in the armed forces.[1]


                    At JFJ, in partnership with the National Union of Journalists in Ukraine, and with the financial support by UNESCO, we have been collecting open-source evidence and satellite imagery of attacks on media workers during the war in order to create safety recommendations (outlined below), risk assessments and HEFAT training for journalists heading to the war zone.


                    Over the course of the project, we have obtained and processed information about 35 instances of both fatal and non-fatal attacks against media workers in Ukraine, involving at least 55 journalists from countries including Ukraine, Turkey, Czech Republic, the USA, Russia, Ireland, the UK, Italy, France, Japan, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Portugal, and Lithuania.


                    Verified data confirms that 12 media workers have died as a result of enemy shelling. This includes six foreign journalists: Arman Soldin, Frédéric Leclerc-Imhoff, Mantas Kvedaravičius, Pierre Zakrzewski, Oksana Baulina, Brent Renault; and four Ukrainian journalists: Oleksandra Kuvshinova, Maks Levin, Bohdan Bitik and Yevheniy Sakun.


                    2024 has already seen two journalists and one fixer for the Turkish news agency Anadolu injured by Russian shelling on the Park Hotel in Kharkiv. Additionally, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty camera crew came under mortar fire while working on the front line.


                    Having analysed the collected data and interviewed the victims and witnesses of these attacks, JFJ has identified the key risks journalists were facing while reporting from the war zone and developed preliminary safety recommendations for media workers covering the war in Ukraine. These recommendations do not cover all aspects of journalists’ safety, but will be useful for those who are reporting from Ukraine.


                    While some physical attacks against media workers become public, not all cases are known. In particular, this concerns journalists working for smaller regional publications, freelancers, and fixers. While journalists working for more prominent media outlets routinely receive essential training prior to their trips to war zones, and have both access to the necessary equipment and support, the safety of freelancers and local team members is in their own hands. They often have to deal with costly expenses alone, while also assessing and mitigating their professional risks.


                    JFJ and its partners aim to increase the safety of media workers in Ukraine by creating and maintaining a secure database of evidence related to those attacks and ensuring media workers are aware of their risk mitigation options.


                    Safety Recommendations for Journalists



                    Completing a hostile environment and first aid training course is crucial before travelling to the conflict zone. Skills developed during this training will help media workers learn more about the basics of safety; how to conduct a risk assessment; how to act in dangerous situations, and potentially save their fellow crew members’ lives. Even if you are a well-trained journalist and have a lot of experience covering conflicts, because all wars are unique it is essential to refresh these skills every year.



                    Conducting preliminary risk assessment and developing a specific risk protocol prior to travelling to the war zone should be mandatory for all media workers in conflict zones. It is vital to understand the specificities of the regional context, including tactics, combat uniforms and weapons used by both sides.


                    While planning the route, informing your colleagues or management about your whereabouts is key. Remember the safety basics, i.e., avoid using the same entrance and exit roads while planning your route.



                    While on assignment, keep in touch with locals to keep up to date with what is happening in the area you plan on travelling to. Do not rely on outdated information, even if it is just a couple of days old. In the area of direct combat operations, get new information as often as possible.


                    When visiting an unknown area, conduct a preliminary terrain analysis. Never rely on technology, learn to read physical maps, and navigate the terrain without the help of gadgets whose signals can be tracked.



                    Evidence shows that the Russian military targets hotels favoured by international and Ukrainian media representatives. When choosing your accommodation, try to avoid hotels that could become a target of such an attack. Avoid staying close to administrative buildings, railway junctions, warehouses and other strategic objects that can be targeted. The best option, when possible, is to rent a flat discreetly. Regular safety considerations should not be forgotten: the building should not be tall and should have an easy escape route in the case of attack. Familiarise yourself with all the entrances and emergency exits in advance.


                    • PROTECTIVE GEAR

                    A journalist must be fully equipped with protective gear on the frontline, including a bulletproof vest and protective helmet with the inscription “PRESS”. Avoid wearing military-style clothing as there is a significant risk of being confused with military personnel.


                    • MARK AND PREPARE YOUR VEHICLE

                    Marking the car with a “PRESS” inscription is vital. Do not go for options like “TV” as in Ukraine it might be read as “V”, which is used by the Russian Armed Forces. In case of a drone attack, the usual “PRESS” sign can be hardly visible. Consider using polyvinyl magnets, which are easy to apply and remove. The marking should be large and visible on all sides of the car: on the front, on both sides, and on the roof.


                    To avoid being identified as military personnel and becoming a target, avoid marking your car with any signs associated with the military (such as yellow tape, white crosses, etc.), even if this is suggested by the local armed forces.


                    Ensure that the car is in good condition and has spare wheels, as well as other necessary tools for emergency repairs.


                    • BEWARE OF SWITCHING CARS

                    Make sure your vehicle always has clear “PRESS” markings. Try to avoid changing vehicles, and do not get in a car with unknown people or military personnel, who can be targeted by the opposing military. Be careful when using taxis to travel to dangerous areas. Ensure that your driver fully understands the risks; will not abandon the crew in case of an attack; and has the necessary spare parts for the vehicle in case of an emergency.



                    Never rely on technology while in the conflict zone. If you are a journalist working for a media outlet, try to obtain a satellite phone. This can often be costly for freelance journalists who can use a cheaper alternative, like a satellite navigator. Always have a backup plan if the technology fails.


                    Remember that both sides use electronic warfare equipment near the combat zone, while mobile gadgets may not work properly or provide unreliable GPS navigation data. Avoid using your GPS in a combat zone unless you have no other means to determine your location.


                    For more information, please see –


                    Maria Ordzhonikide is Director of the Justice for Journalists Foundation and a member of FPC Advisory Council.


                    Valeriya Chudarova is the Research Manager at the Justice for Journalists Foundation.


                    [1]NSJU, List of journalists who have died since the beginning of full-scale Russian aggression (updated), February 2024,


                    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the authors and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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