Celebratory event for the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights – Speech by the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of the Europe Miltiadis Varvitsiotis (Athens, 04.11.2020)

“November 4, 1950 is a historic day for Europe. For its soul and deepest essence were encapsulated in a text. Europe is not just a geographical area or an economically delimited area. It is a set of values. A way of life based on timeless humanitarian principles. The heart of Europe is the ideas it stands for. And its quintessence is a long tradition of promotion of Democracy, the Rule of Law and Human Rights “.

It is with these words that Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs and Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe Miltiadis Varvitsiotis began his speech on the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights, during an event organized today by the Greek Chairmanship in the Senate Hall of the Greek Parliament.

The keynote speaker of the event was the President of the Hellenic Republic, H.E. Katerina Sakellaropoulou. The title of the speech was “ECHR, Democracy and the Rule of Law”, in which she noted that the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights was an important day for Greek and European legal culture. She also added that it was also a happy coincidence for the Greek Chairmanship in an otherwise difficult semester, due to the pandemic. Above all, however, the anniversary stood, she noted, as a reminder of our high responsibility, legal, ethical, and political, to safeguard our institutional achievements and our rights in the new conditions that are currently unfolding in Europe.

The event was also honored with the presence of the Speaker of Parliament Mr. Konstantinos Tassoulas, the Secretary General of the Council, Marija Pejcinovic Buric, the President of the European Court of Human Rights, Robert Spano, the President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization, Mr. Rik Daems, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatovic, and the Head of the Greek Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Mrs. Dora Bakoyannis.

During his statement, Mr. Varvitsiotis pointed out that respect for Law is not a tradition foreign to Greece, as he showed through a historical overview that included references to Heraclitus, the Athenian Democracy of the classical era and excerpts from the First Modern Greek Constitution of Epidaurus. “It was one of the most democratic, liberal, radical and progressive Constitutions of its time, an expression of the need of our ancestors to join ranks with European developments leaving behind the lawlessness of the East,” the Alternate Minister commented. He added that, continuing this long-standing legacy, Greece was one of the first countries to ratify the European Convention on Human Rights, which is being honored today.

Then, Mr. Varvitsiotis referred in detail to a series of challenges that Europe is facing today and call for constant vigilance for the achievements of the ECHR.

Among other things, he stressed the threat posed by the pandemic to our lives, but also to our Democracies. “Democracy, the rule of law and human rights can never be collateral losses of a health crisis. As much as covid-19 might have affected our way of life, it must not alter our core values,” he said.

Referring to emerging religious fundamentalisms, he condemned the recent terrorist attacks in Paris and Vienna, and emphasized that religious fanaticism had no place in the open societies of Europe. “Europe is identified in the collective consciousness with respect for all religious beliefs, freedom of expression and tolerance of diversity. Europe will not stop defending these core values. Unflinching, coordinated, united”, he noted.

The Alternate Minister also commented on the growing challenges posed by populism and misinformation, as well as migration, noting that “Europe is not going to compromise on respect for human dignity, gender equality or the protection of health from dangerous tribal and family traditions”. In the same vein, he stressed the need to reverse politically the instrumentalization of democratic institutions and the lack of protection of minorities by certain governments, as well as to promote the rule of international law as a means of resolving disputes.

Finally, Mr. Varvitsiotis said he felt proud, because the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe managed, despite the limitations of the pandemic, to communicate its vision “for a Europe with more and better Democracy”. In giving a brief overview of the Chairmanship, he made particular reference to the implementation of thedigital E-Chairmanship, which brought the Organization closer to European societies, as well as to the Athens Declaration, which revitalized the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, as he commented, it was not possible to finally have it adopted unanimously, as three of the 47 member states withdrew their support at the last minute.

In relation to the other significant legacy of the Greek Chairmanship, that is the establishment of the Observatory for the Study and Teaching of History, the Deputy Minister commented that “Greeks have suffered from irredentism, fanaticism from its neighbors and attempts to falsify the historical truth. We believe that the study of history should not divide peoples, but unite them”.

The speech of the President of the Republic Katerina Sakellaropoulou

The speech

The speech of the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs Miltiadis Varvitsiotis

The speech pdf

The speech by the President of ECtHR, Robert Spano

The speech pdf

The recorded event

Message from the President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Anders Knappe

The speech of the Speaker of Parliament, Konstantinos Tassoulas

The speech of the Head of the Greek Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Dora Bakoyannis

See the relevant tweets here

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