Videoconference of the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe with the institutions of the Council of Europe (3.6.2020)

M. Varvitsiotis: The objective of the Greek Chairmanship of the Council of Europe is to turn over a new leaf in human rights protection

The adoption of the “Athens Declaration”, which will constitute a new charter of principles and a new chapter in the framework of protecting human rights, is the objective of the Greek Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

The strategy of the Greek Chairmanship was presented by the Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, during his introductory speech, in his capacity as Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, during today’s high-level videoconference, in which –for the first time- participated the heads of the Council’s institutions, with the eternal symbol of Democracy and global civilization, the sacred rock of Acropolis in the background; in that spot, where, 2400 years ago, another pandemic took place, serving today as a historic example of how a sanitary crisis can affect democracy. He added that “today’s challenges, such as the sanitary crisis we are currently experiencing, require collective answers and the best forum for such a discussion is the Council of Europe”.

The main topic of the discussion was the theme of the Greek Chairmanship which is the protection of human life and public health in the context of a pandemic in full respect for human rights and the principles of democracy and the rule of law.

“The sanitary crisis was not only a threat for human life, but was also a threat for our democracy,” underlined Mr. Varvitsiotis, highlighting that “the harsh measures that were implemented, which imposed significant restrictions on fundamental rights and freedoms, must be temporary, proportional and according to scientific data proving their necessity”.

“Public health and democracy hold a special place on the pyramid of our values as well as on the long-term European policy, our cultural, social and legal tradition” he noted.

He remarked that “the principles of democracy, Rule of Law and respect of human rights lie at the core of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights for the last 70 years; they are the values that guide us in these trying times”.

The Alternate Foreign Minister also noted the economic consequences of the pandemic on the real economy and the labour market. Nevertheless, he added, emphasis should be given on the broader sociological and human consequences.

This is why it is imperative to adopt a set of principles regarding the management of a pandemic in the form of an “Athens Declaration”, during the upcoming 130th Ministerial Session, which is scheduled to take place in Athens, in November 4, 2020. “These principles must be the guidelines for us all: the citizens, the organizations and governments. A Declaration, which will turn over a new leaf, and introduce a new chapter in the book of human rights protection” concluded the Chair of the Committee of Ministers, Mr Varvitsiotis and underscored that this will be the first such a text will be produced, as such placing the Council of Europe in the frontlines of human right protection.

Ms Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, after commending the Greek Chairmanship on its initiative to organize today’s discussion, stressed the importance of the Declaration, scheduled by Athens for all institutions of the Council and added that “this is an excellent way to mark 70 years of the European Convention on Human Rights, which has united so many in our continent”.

Along the same lines with regards to the importance of the Athens Declaration for the Council of Europe and the world, was the intervention of the Chairwoman of the Greek Delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and New Democracy MP, Ms Dora Bakoyannis, when referring to the experience gained through the COVID-19 pandemic and how it can be best utilized in the future. “This future is about the Greek Chairmanship. An honest discussion on the principles and values is required as well as on the ways we can better respond to the needs of a constantly evolving society, in times of crisis and emergency”, she added.

The following high-level officials participated in the discussion: Mr Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly, Mr Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights, Ms Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Anders Knape, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, Ms Anna Rurka, President of the Conference of INGOs, Mr Gianni Buquicchio, President of the Venice Commission, Mr Giuseppe Palmisano, President of the European Committee of Social Rights, Mr Mykola Gnatovskyy, President of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Ms Maria Daniella Marouda, Chair of the European Commission against racism and intolerance, Mr George Nikolaidis, Lanzarote Committee Chairperson, and Mr. Alexandros-Linos Sicilianos, former President of the European Court of Human Rights.

Publications regarding participants’ speeches:

Rik Daems, President of the Parliamentary Assembly: “COVID-19 : le Président de l’APCE, se joignant aux autres dirigeants du Conseil de l’Europe, demande instamment des garanties démocratiques pendant et après la pandémie”

Robert Spano, President of the European Court of Human Rights: « Protection of human life and public health in the context of a pandemic – Effectively responding to a sanitary crisis in full respect for human rights and the principles of democracy and the rule of law »

Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights: «States must give a renewed impetus to realising human rights for all»

Anders Knape, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities:  «Unir les forces de tous les niveaux de gouvernement pour surmonter la crise COVID-19 »

Giuseppe Palmisano, President of the European Committee of Social Rights: « La crise de Covid-19 a douloureusement révélé que la préparation est une question de droits sociaux »