The first regional online round table on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights and the rule of law

Strasbourg 28 April 2020
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© Shutterstock

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The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for the authorities of all Member States of the Council of Europe. They need to respond to this crisis effectively, whilst ensuring that the measures they take do not undermine the Europe’s founding values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law and remain proportionate. The standards set by the European Court of Human Rights and other Council of Europe bodies are always a reflection of the best practices of European states. Under current circumstances, the Organisation’s primary responsibility is to provide its Members with a platform for discussion on how to tackle challenges related to the crisis and to give an overview of existing legal framework. 

This was the objective of the regional online round table “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on human rights and the rule of law” held on 28 April 2020 with the participation of representatives of Constitutional and Supreme Courts, Government Agents before the European Court of Human Rights, Ombudspersons, Ministries of Justice, national training institutions and universities from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia and Turkey.

The event was opened and moderated by Mikhail Lobov, Head of Human Rights Policy and Co-operation Department, and featured overview of the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, provided by current and former ECtHR Registry lawyers, on a range of issues arising from limitations imposed to containing the pandemic. Such matters include, for instance, obligations of states to ensure right to life, protection from inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to privacy in the light of access to medical services and personal data protection, and deprivation of liberty in correlation with the restriction of movements.

Several questions to address in further debates crystalised during a dynamic discussion between the participants, which numbered more than 60 at its peak. Among those questions were the access to courts and issues of online trials, and the pandemic itself as an overall new challenge to human rights regimes, which emerged well after the last global pandemic happened over a hundred years ago.

The discussion platform with relevant information and best practices will be subsequently expanded to other Member States, with regular tailor-made country-specific and regional webinars which will become “a marketplace of ideas” on how to deal with specific human rights and rule of law issues. This might eventually translate into new standards to be considered by the Council of Europe.

The online round table complemented other Council of Europe actions related to the pandemic, which included the launch of a dedicated web page and publication by the Secretary General of a toolkit for member states on respecting human rights, democracy and the rule of law in the framework of the COVID-19 sanitary crisis.

The activity was organised in the framework of the joint programme of the European Union and the Council of Europe “Horizontal Facility for the Western Balkans and Turkey 2019-2022”.