Retour Virtual meeting with Nordic Ministers for Foreign Affairs and inisters for International Development Co-operation on “Human rights, democracy and the rule of law perspectives on the COVID-19 pandemic”

11 September 2020
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Dear colleagues,


Human rights, democracy and the rule of law are the pillars upon which the Council of Europe is built.

And I know that these values are shared by participants in this discussion.

But even among the Nordic countries, the means of tackling coronavirus have varied.

So, we cannot be surprised by the diversity of responses across Europe.

The Council of Europe’s mandate is to work with national authorities and help them take measures that are both effective and in line with their legal obligations as member states.

These aims should run in parallel.

Yes, it is understandable that in an unprecedented and emergency situation, there may be measures that encroach on people’s freedoms.

But the purpose of these restrictions should be to save lives and the right to life and to equitable access to health care are human rights that the Council of Europe defends.

And we have been clear about the limits.

For example, new laws or other action must comply with national constitutions and international law.

Democratic debate must be free.

And there are rights contained within the European Convention on Human Rights from which there can be no derogation or exception at all.

The prohibition on torture and inhuman or degrading treatment for one – which requires an adequate level of medical care for people deprived of their liberty.

Across our Organisation, we have been proactive in supporting member states to achieve the right balance and clear that the current situation cannot be used as a means to silence those who are critical of government.

In April I published a toolkit to help authorities ensure that their COVID-related measures are efficient but proportionate and limited in time.

Our Venice Commission has spelled out some of the principles, conditions and guarantees that should be maintained in, for example, the conduct of elections.

And our monitoring bodies have been hard at work, not least those relating to our Istanbul Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Many more women have been exposed to this during the confinement period and we have sought to share best practice on the way authorities can respond.

Women are not the only group to have experienced challenges.

LGBTI, Roma and other minorities have encountered problems, and we are determined to uphold our principles to their benefit too.

These sentiments will underpin a political declaration intended for our Ministerial Session in Athens later this year.

But we are not waiting, we are acting, and it is positive to hear the ways in which others are doing the same.